THOMAS J. NAGORSKI
Owner, Paragon Air Adventures LLC.
ATP-Airplane MEL; Commercial Pilot, Airplane Single-Engine Land & Glider. High Performance, Complex, Tailwheel and High Altitude Endorsed.
Flight Instructor; Airplane Single & Multi-Engine Land, Instrument Airplane, and Glider.
Welcome to my world - southwest Montana and Paragon Air Adventures, LLC. I discovered flying in a typical way for the time -- as a kid bicycling out to Gallatin Field and strolling the ramp, without the intimidation of barbed wire fences or locked security gates. (Ah, the good ole' days. Any wonder why I get protective of General Aviaton at KBZN?)
In 1977, at age 16, a solo scholarship from Montana Wing Civil Air Patrol allowed me to start flying lessons at Belgrade. Aviation soon turned into a family affair; my father, brother and I all began flying within a year of each other. I obtained my private certificate in 1978.
Since they only let you fly F-16s with a college degree, in 1981 I enrolled at Montana State University. That year, brother Joe and I also purchased a Cessna 152, formed Nagorski Brothers Aviation (NBA), and leased our plane to a local flight school. That venture turned into a financial horror from which it took us years to recover (a story worthy of its own blog page). Being slow learners, in 1984 we purchased another plane -- Cessna 170A -- with the goal of flying it to Alaska. We did (another blog topic). After fulfilling its mission, the 170 went on the selling block.
NBA's next venture was to produce and market Tuff 'Nuff headset carry cases. In this pre-internet dark age we found international customers and made it into several pilot supply catalogs. Tuff 'Nuffs are still carried by Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co. The biggest benefit to this project was the hands-on education it provided. I call it my degree in small business (...more future blog material).
Work and college kept me occupied until graduation in June 1986 with a Bachelor's in Modern Languages - German and a minor in Geography. My sister Marie graduated the same time, making it a busy summer.
You need a college degree to fly for the military. After years of work and study and long hours, I had the degree but no longer met the vision minimums, and my pilot slot vanished. Being destined and determined to fly fighters all my life, I really didn't plan on doing anything else for the next twenty years. Suddenly I had to decide on something to do for a living. When the going gets tough, the tough....take a road trip. I loaded the backpack, hocked everything, and rode the rail in England and Europe for six weeks while collecting my thoughts and licking my wounds (...literally and figuratively. I broke my ankle early in the walkabout).
It was 1988 before loans were secured to continue training. I obtained my commercial single-engine, instrument, and flight instructor certificates in Hillsboro, Oregon, before running out of funds. Returning to Montana to regroup, I caught my banker on a good day, signed on the dotted line, and resold my soul to this mistress called aviation. Heading to Bolivar, Tennessee, I finished the multi-engine airplane and instrument instructor training.
From Spring 1989 to October 1996 I was self-employed freelancing in the Pacific Northwest. Ok, I did work as a line instructor for a small FBO in 1992, but returned to self-employment after 15 months. Glider Instructor credentials came in 1995. In October 1996 Paragon Air Adventures LLC was incorporated, leasing space on Gallatin Field (KBZN) in Belgrade Montana (...additional blog fodder). And in February 1999 I became an instructor in multi-engine aircraft, training in Riverside California. Anticipating the needs of pilots transitioning into sophisticated singles and very light jets (VLJs), in April 2008 Paragon became an approved vendor to teach Rich Stowell's Emergency Maneuver Training Program. Combined with a leased Micco aerobatic aircraft, we served the market like never before, with high performance, complex, tailwheel, TAA (technically advanced aircraft), and aerobatics handled out of a single airplane.
The period after 9/11 brought change to the entire industry. Paragon's strengths of high quality specialized training helped keep pilots coming through our door while other flight schools folded. However, just when general aviation was beginning to return to the "new normal," the economic crash threw everyone off balance. People stopped traveling. Old businesses closed their doors. Housing foreclosures soared. Pilots stopped flying. Facing this reality, I moved Paragon off airport into a home office. And since most clients were using their own aircraft, I retired the rental fleet.
If I learned anything in almost forty years of flying, it's that the general aviation market is constantly changing. Nowadays, much GA growth is coming from temporary participants chasing college aviation degrees using government loans and grants to fulfill the dream of high-paying airline careers. That results in a dwindling number of service vendors for those engaged in General Aviation for recreation or business, the long-term advocates.
As a career instructor, my clients needs range from primary training to advanced aircraft checkouts, and most anything else related to General Aviation, such as tailwheel endorsements, specialized projects, business aircraft support, mountain flying, emergency maneuvers courses, and customized regional entertainment training packages. This requires skills only found in experienced professionals seasoned by years serving GA.
I have a sensitivity to value, service, safety, and excellence in general aviation. You don't accept second rate performance from other vendors. Nor should you tolerate it in flying. Paragon's customers have come to expect maximum quality for their purchase. You're not just a student, you're also a client, my boss, the person who keeps the bills paid. I appreciate that you're spending hard-earned money and could take your business elsewhere.
I had a rude reminder of this point. As of June 2016, I am a Multi-engine ATP. The training was conducted outside of Denver Colorado, on Centennial Airport (KAPA). Despite the proprietor's years of experience, established presence in the local market, and State CFI-of-the-Year award, it was my most horrible instructional and customer experience ever! It made me long for a Paragon Air Adventures-type of institution -- some place where they appreciated my business, my expenditure of hard-earned money, and some place with an instructor who understood the difference between coaching and sleep-walking through a session. (...and yet another blog topic.... )
One acquires non-aviation core competencies along the way. I enjoy small business, a sensitivity developed growing up in a sporting goods store. My father was a custom gunsmith, so a study of quality and craftsmanship comes as second nature. In college I was employed by a printing and photocopy franchise, so I can find my way around desktop publishing, design, graphics, production, and Macintosh computers. I have had the opportunity to live a double life as a Technical Support Engineer for RightNow/Oracle for a couple years, so add to the skill bucket MySQL, php, CX, html, knowledge base management, global support, and a handful of other disciplines associated with such work. More recently, my technical instruction expertise landed me a position with Murdoch's Ranch & Home Supply as a Corporate IT Specialist. I call it my PhD in business, as I learn how to support 30 stores and 1,300 employees across 5 western states. And, I get to experience business aviation as a consumer of jet travel, something that builds empathy and deeper understanding of potential solutions to my clients' aircraft needs.
Oh yes... Why a degree in German? It was the hardest thing I could have studied. I was (and am) inept with that strange tongue. A foreign language takes students out of their comfort zone, exposes them to a new way of looking at the world. It forces discipline. And it is a study best guided by a patient and talented teacher. Foreign language training is excellent background for flight instruction. In the airplane I see bright, intelligent, competent individuals face the same apprehensions and frustrations as I did when tackling something odd. None of us are born with wings. It's my job to make the training as efficient, inspiring, and enjoyable as possible.
Glad you found Paragon. Check out the gallery for pictures of my many adventures.
Happy (con)trails --