Long time friend of the brand, certified flight instructor, commercial pilot, and more, Mark Pollard has been such a strong representative of the LIFT Aviation that we chose to 'put it on paper' and make it official! Being able to officially partner with someone with as much experience and and knowledge in so many segments of aviation is invaluable as we continue to develop and produce products for the greatest pilots in the world.
We hopped on the phone with Mark and chatted a bit about his background in aviation, what he likes most about flying, MP Aviation and more!
Tell us about your history with flight...What got you into it? When did you realize you wanted to be a pilot?
Honestly, I have no real answer as to how I got started with aviation, I was just born with it. Although I cant stand that cliché, when a pilot says that they were born with their love of aviation, I had no one in my family that was a pilot, or related to or involved in aviation. I always gravitated towards airplanes even as a baby, so there was just something ingrained in me from the beginning, that loved airplanes and wanted to do something in aviation. So that was just the path I took. No one really pushed me in that direction, It just kind of happened!
At what age did you get your start in aviation, or taking your own interest in flying?
I did my first flight lesson when I was 9! I actually still have a picture of it, my dad took it of me in the back of a Cherokee 140, it was pretty cool, and that was my first actual flying lesson. And then from there I would go to air shows and stuff like that and tried to be around aviation as much as I could.
It wasn’t really until later on, around 14 or 15 that I started to go for my certificates and ratings. At this point all I knew is that I just wanted to fly, I didn’t really look at it as a career path or a job opportunity, because I didn’t know what that looked like as a livelihood or career until way later. I wanted to just be a Pilot, In the big picture of things.
After perusing my private pilots license and civilian licenses, I ended up joining the Navy at the age of 19, right out of high school working on F-18 Hornets, so I was in the aviation community profession doing that, and it wasn’t until I was ready to get out of the Navy that I realized flying as a career might be the right path for me. Other members of my department were telling me to go get all of my commercial ratings and be a civilian pilot, make a bunch of money, and enjoy not being on call 24/7 and that arguous life style, so it wasn’t until then that someone told me to go do “that” or go do “this” and that really expanded my view on where I would fit as a professional pilot, or the things that I wanted to do, or the things that I could do! I had no idea.
At 24 I left the military, and took a few jobs in the aviation space, one as a component repair mechanic and didn’t really apply my self to really go for it, because I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I had to kind of fall into a lot of this stuff or by chance, and then I asked questions, and even then I didn’t know what questions to ask until I had like 500 hours of civilian flight time.
What are some of the highlights you've enjoyed the most during your flight career up to this point?
I can certainly look back and remember my first aerobatic flight and who I did it with. Shout out to Edward Doerr, he is an awesome flight instructor up in Alaska. He took me up in a Citabria, and said “look, here is what you can do in an airplane”, and I was like “Holy cow” and I had no idea, again its one of those things, that I just didn’t know, you can go to air shows and see all of that but until you have the chance to do that, I just had no idea that I could just go do that in a plane, and that opened up a totally new world, that I’m obviously obsessed with now. This was kind of a hallmark moment for me.
I have had the opportunity to fly a bunch of really cool and interesting airplanes, but it has been really fun owning an Extra 300 and being a part of that community that owns, takes care of, and flies these airplanes.
Getting my first introduction into the war bird scene as well was exciting. Getting to fly the B17, the B24, B25, P51, just all those iconic airplanes and getting to be a part of that scene and community of taking care of warbirds.
Gosh, I am probably forgetting a lot more highlights in my career. I’ve had the opportunity to be in a couple movies, lots of air-to-air photo shoots and magazines and things like that. I've just had a lot of really cool opportunities, over the years, where people have just said “hey, what are you doing right now”, and the stars align, and I get to do all of these cool opportunities.
What do you enjoy the most about flying?
It’s been a real challenge, you know every pilot will tell you they are the best pilot in the world from an egotistical standpoint and I’m a good pilot, but I'm definitely not a natural by any stretch of imagination. It is something I have had to work hard at my entire professional career and even civilian career, as far as, you know, dedicating a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears and really applying my skills and determination to increase my skill set. To make sure I am constantly learning, evolving, and progressing in my flying. Honestly this has been a long journey of application of the different skills I have learned. Flying at a high level is very task heavy on the mindset and physical/mental progression has been a constant priority for me that that keeps me and others interested in wanting to learn new things.
I am fortunate to have flown so many different aircraft, and airplanes and done so many different things, and I'm still pretty young in my career. I have only been a professional pilot for 11 years and I’ve been so fortunate to do so many cool things. I think, making sure that you keep it fun, is probably the biggest key to doing this; anything can become a job and I try to avoid that mindset so I don't burn out. Trying to remember what you’re doing it for is one of the biggest elements as to why I have enjoyed my aviation career so much this far.
What are some of the most fun to fly aircraft that you've flown or are there any aircraft that stand out as your favorites to fly and why?
I had been flying a pits S2C at a flight school, the 200HP version of the Extra 300, and then also a Super Decathlon. I had been teaching in those doing aerobatic training, upset recovery training, and spin training for this flight school that had a lot of really cool things including a bunch of cool stuff you don’t really see for rent. After getting my ratings there I had kind of went off and continued my career path flying jets, but I had always missed flying that type of aircraft. So I reached out to the school and said, “hey if you ever need a part-time instructor please reach out, I would love to come back and teach part time during my career”. And they said yes! So I ended up coming back just as the school went under new ownership and went back to teaching in the Pitts and Super Decathlon. When you coming back to instruct, the new owner asked “What would set the school apart from the others?” and I said “ buy an Extra 300, he said “Huh”, clearly mulling over my comment. Sure enough, a few weeks later I got a call from him saying that he bought one and I need to go pick it up from South Dakota. I had never flown an Extra 300 before, but I went out and flew this back from South Dakota. Because the Extra 300 was very similar to the Extra 200 it was a lot easier to fly than I had expected. Flying this plane had opened up such a huge flight envelope for me because you really can’t break these airplanes. I mean you can break anything but they are so strong and so robust that the amount of stuff you can do in them is insane. When I started flying this plane it really opened my world view to aerobatics and capabilities of an airplane. And from there I fell in love with the 300.
It was one of those things that you always saw people flying in air shows, I mean yeah you see the Pitts here and there, but in terms of world competition and national competition at the time, the Extra 300 was kind of just the ultimate certified airplane. And for all intensive purposes it really still is, holding the benchmark for the ultimate, certified, 2 place airplane.
Over time, some funky stuff happened with the school and it started to dissolve. Later on, my buddy was trying to sell this Midway, that I currently have now. It was interesting because the stars just kind of aligned, where I was losing the aerobatic flying at the flight school, I really liked teaching and I really like the Extra 300. I was kinda like “ya know what? SCREW IT. No risk, no reward.” And so I bought the Extra and continued to love flying it but now, as an owner, I began to love learning more about the Extra. From an aviation geek standpoint, they are a really interesting plane to learn more about and work on with a unique history.
Currently my airplane is going through annual right now, so I am doing an owner assisted annual, doing the inspection and learning more about the airplane, getting an intimate look inside the airplane. Being involved in the annual has been fun but it's also taught me so much. I get to see on a more intimate level how the aircraft is designed/built and has taught me where the plane is robust and why along with where weak points are or other things to look for on my specific Extra. Learning those details on my Extra is going to help me manage my risk and safety and I wouldn't have learned those things without being involved at the ownership level.
Its really amazing how the Extra can be so capable and yet really safe and well behaved. This is a really cool quality to have an airplane because a good aerobatic airplane is known to be unstable among other little nuances here and there. Walter extra did a fantastic job at pushing the limits of this plane why also keeping the nuances specific to high level aerobatic aircraft under control, making the Extra truly awesome.
Tell us a little bit about MP Aviation...what prompted you to start it? What makes you enjoy the 'teaching aspect' of it so much?
That is really why I started MP aviation, I mean that is MP Aviation. When that school was dissolving and transitioning out, and I was figuring out what I wanted to do, I loved teaching and I loved flying with people so I knew I wanted to teach and I needed something to teach in. So when this came about, I needed to start a business. You know, now that I have the airplane, I have to get people in it. It is in a way kind of a business and kind of a flight school. But not really, it's just me getting paid to instruct people in an airplane, and it's enjoyable because I can teach people that don’t normally get to have these experiences. Some of my most memorable experiences are when I was brought up and shown the cockpit in a commercial plane, so having those experiences where someone says “hey come check this out”, you know people just remember those and that has an impact. So I think about MP aviation in those terms, to try and give someone this experience to remember.
Aerobatics are awesome and you don’t have to be a pilot to enjoy the aerobatic experience. So everything I do is kind of under the instruction umbrella, because I want to teach you. You get to have fun and learn something in the process.
Tell us a little bit about your history with LIFT Aviation, kind of how we've grown to really 'partner' status and how some of our stuff has become integral or essential to some of the flying you do?
I have little to no shame about how I came on to the LIFT team,, we were talking about helmets somewhere in a thread, and Todd (Senior VP of LIFT Aviation) was like “ You should buy a LIFT Helmet” and I said “you should send me a LIFT Helmet to test and I'll do a review on it." We both chatted a bit further back and forth and eventually agreed on me doing a review on the helmet.
I had some experience with LIFT Aviation years before this exchange took place. I had worn LIFT shoes before a couple of years prior and after good use I just decided that I didn’t really need specialty shoes for flying. Then I kind of forgot about the shoes for a while, but as this exchange between Todd and I was happening, I realized that the shoe brand I had worn back in the day was the same company producing this new helmet Todd was pitching. I remember thinking "That's really cool!" And so he sent me another pair of Talon Pilot shoes and a Helmet to review. I put my Clarity Alofts in the helmet that I was testing and wore it for a few flights to get a feel of it in comparison the BoneHead I was wearing at the time. After a few flights I ended up buying comms to fully build out the helmet and ended up really liking it. It was really comfortable and I was really impressed with it.
I don’t want to be an influencer, I want to try something and if I like it I want to tell people about it; this really happened with the helmet. I just really really liked it, so much so that I wanted to buy another one. I ended up selling some of my older helmets and bought another LIFT helmet which was essentially the beginning of the 'love affair' I still have with the LIFT helmet. The combination of being really impressed with the product and the incredible sales force LIFT has sold me eve further. I could ask questions from a pilot perspective and even though Todd isn’t a pilot, he would be able to answer my questions from a pilot point of view, on que and ready to go. It was really impressive to see this, and you don’t get this from any other helmet manufacturer. When going down the rabbit hole looking at safety precautions there isn’t another company that has answers to a lot of the different safety features in their helmets. When I was looking for context behind the technology, LIFT had it and it made the decision of choosing which helmet to go with so much easier.
I've worn that helmet coast to coast, literally 12 hours a day, and it's comfortable. To me being able to do stuff like that was a huge accolade as to how cumbersome normal equipment is, and the LIFT helmet is just not. With the LIFT helmet hitting all of the major check boxes in comfort, safety, and a strong/knowledgeable staff, it became such an easy to thing to say to people "Hey I really like it, you should buy it too."
And here we are in 2021 after several years of me promoting and supporting LIFT Aviation as a brand. This is easy and they're great guys to work with, I wouldn’t begin to promote a product I wouldn’t like.
Partnership and a friendship is a great word for it...it is refreshing in aviation to be able to see this and be apart of such a cool brand!
What are your goals as a pilot in the next few years? Where do you see yourself?
I have never really been a long goal setter, I really just like to roll with the punches and let things take an organic path. I try my best to be authentic and have things happen organically and naturally. So to that note, whatever MP Aviation becomes in the next 10 years is what it is. If for some reason it’s not around then I guess so be it. I’m an airline pilot to pay the bill and this is just fun. I have tried to do fun things that I don’t want to become a job, I like to control how much I want to fly, so I really like that freedom within MP Aviation. If the opportunity comes to grow MP aviation and I want to then I will.
I plan on competing in at least one, maybe two events this year, and trying to find the time to do that will be something new.
I also started a podcast last year, called, “Fly Cool Shit” and it encompasses all of this stuff like talking about helmets and aerobatics, and warbirds and random stuff. I plan to just have fun with things and see where things go!
LIFT Aviation is thrilled to 'officially' partner up with Mark and look forward to everything in store for us down the road as we continue to work together. Check out more on Mark Pollard and MP Aviation by visiting his website - https://www.mp-aviation.com/