The Jon Melby Story
Early years – Catching the Aviation Bug
Like many of us, it takes a little kick start to gain a strong passion to do the nearly impossible. At age 8 years old, I lived in Duluth, Minnesota where there was plenty of activities for me to stay busy outdoors. One day, my father Lee Melby, asked if I would like to ride along on one of his flying lessons. There was no hesitation in my voice as I said an emphatic “YES”! The view from the backseat of the airplane was absolutely incredible! Especially flying along Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water in the world. It was at that moment that I knew I needed to learn how to fly. Of course, at age 8 years old, I wasn’t old enough to fly an airplane. But that wasn’t going to stop me! So, my flying career began at the perfect age of 8, when during the fall season, I created a pile of leaves in my front yard. I stood the ladder against our modest 2 story home and climbed onto the roof. Standing at the edge of our roof, the other children in the neighborhood started gathering to see what I was going to do. Once the “crowd” was large enough, I jumped like a bird into the pile of leaves followed by a huge applause from the kids in the neighborhood. An airshow pilot was born.
I am an airshow pilot with over 35 years of flying experience. I hold an Airline Transport Pilot rating, surface level and formation aerobatic qualified. I have flown dozens of aircraft types and currently perform in a highly modified Pitts S-1-11B bi-plane. My beginning love affair with aviation is an interesting one. It’s typical with most pilots, but mine (of course) is a very unique one. ~Jon Melby~
Meeting a Legend
At the age of 12, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet legendary airshow pilot Bob Hoover at our local Duluth airshow. Bob Hoover’s sincerity and great personality gave me the inspiration to pursue my dream of flying even further. Watching Bob fly his twin engine airplane in loops and rolls simply amazed me. The grace and ease of flying an airplane like that seemed like so much fun. That totally sunk me, now I had to not just fly airplanes, I needed to become an airshow pilot someday too. Just like Bob Hoover!
When I was 15 years old, my parents moved our family from Duluth, Minnesota to Tempe, Arizona. My parents were ready for a “non snowy winter change”, so right in the middle of my sophomore year in High School, we made the move. At that time, I was playing hockey, competing in Slalom and Giant Slalom skiing, and perfecting my ability in Freestyle Skiing. When we moved to Arizona, I realized very quickly that my skiing and hockey days were numbered. However, one of my new friends that I met in school told me about flying gliders. His father owned Estrella Sailport in Maricopa, Arizona and he said it was the best place to learn how to fly gliders. What was amazing is that the minimum age to solo in a glider is only 14 years old. I was 15 years old and so I reverted back to days of jumping off the roof of my Duluth home. I thought “It’s time for me to learn how to fly a real plane.” I knew that all the other sports I played were going to disappear since there is no snow, so it was clear I needed to become a pilot. Within three months of our move to Arizona, I received a job as a courtesy clerk at our local grocery store. Two months after that I was financially able to start flying a non-powered glider. After my first flight, I was ecstatic! I felt like I was a bird and I figured it out quickly. With this first flight under my belt, I decided that I needed to solo before my 16th birthday. So, in only 8 flights, I achieved my goal by riding a bicycle 45 miles from Tempe to Maricopa, Arizona, all on hot Arizona July summer weekends. In just a couple of weeks and just prior to my 16th birthday, I soloed for the first time in my life. Wow what a thrill that was. I still remember it so clearly even today.
Buy a Plane – Become a Pilot
It was this type of determination that inspired me to purchase a Cessna 150 airplane at age 19, and then hire an instructor to learn to fly it! I owned a car, but couldn’t afford to own both a car and an airplane. So I sold my car and partnered with a friend to buy a trainer type plane. Since I didn’t own any form of transportation, I had to hitch hike to the airport to fly my plane. Looking back at those times, it was very clear that I was motived to learn how to fly. So I did, receiving my powered pilot’s license by flying every day for a period of 3 weeks, yet eventually yearned to do so much more in an airplane. Over the next 14 years, I had owned several Cessna passenger type aircraft, but I wondered “How am I to become an airshow pilot”? That seemed so elusive back then. It’s such a different type of flying and nobody had the answers of how to do it. It’s like going to Hollywood to become an actor. How is that accomplished? Fortunately, about 14 years after I received my powered pilot’s license, I figured out how to do it.
Experiencing the future
One day I was hanging out at the local airport when I met some aerobatic pilots about to go practice. They told me about Aerobatic Competition and that it was a lot like figure skating. There are a
few judges, they watch your routine, and grade you on the quality of each maneuver. To accomplish this, I needed an airplane. So I bought into a partnership in a Pitts S2B. That decision was one of the best decisions I ever made. It changed my life! After a few months of training, I was ready for flying in competitive aerobatics. During my first aerobatic competition against 23 pilots, I achieved 3rd place and received the highest scoring first time aerobatic pilot. In the next two contests, I won first and second place, awarding enough points to become the Arizona State Sportsman champion my very first year of competition. It was then that I knew that aerobatics was my passion and that I really needed to pursue this since it was within my strengths. Have you ever watched an actor or a musician fluidly perform with ease? That means they were working within their gift they had been given. Flying airplanes and flying aerobatics is within my strength. It is fairly easy for me, until I work on the tough maneuvers, but those are just a lot of practice to get them figured out. Besides, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Right?
Living the Dream
When not performing in my airplane, I am a Technical Senior Manager for a major stock brokerage firm. My role there is to manage a team of Site Reliability Engineers that architect data center solutions. I am also the Executive Director of Salute-A-Vet, a non-profit that “Honors Veterans through Action”. I enjoy playing Ice Hockey weekly (I’ve have since 4 years old), golf, snow skiing, playing guitar in our church band, enjoy to travel no matter the destination. I also enjoy spending time with my beautiful wife and my entire family.
Remember, you know what your strength is, so do your best to work within it. Always “Bloom where you have been planted” as it makes for a truly happy and fulfilling life.
~Jon D Melby~