Kirby Ortega spent more than 30 years at Cessna Aircraft before retiring in May as chief pilot for the company’s piston-engine operations.
He was one of the employees who accepted a voluntary retirement package this spring.
Ortega, 56, planned to take a little break before rejoining the workforce.
But 10 days after leaving Cessna, he joined Yingling Aviation as chief pilot of its aircraft management program – a program Yingling is working to grow.
The timing was right.
“We’re building that business very slowly but surely,” Ortega said.
Ortega started flying when he 16, taking lessons through the Cessna Employees Flying Club. His father was an employee. Ortega earned his private pilot certificate at 17.
During one summer break from Wichita State University, Ortega’s father challenged him to earn his instrument, commercial and flight instructor ratings. Ortega took his advice and earned the ratings at the former Ross School of Aviation in Oklahoma, where student housing was a double-wide trailer and 10 guys shared two bathrooms.
Ortega worked as a flight instructor at the Augusta airport during the late 1970s, then joined Cessna in January 1980 as chief flight instructor. He was 23.
During his early years with Cessna, Ortega was laid off twice.
He rejoined the company each time and was eventually promoted to flight training supervisor and then chief pilot for piston engine operations.
He was nominated for National Flying Instructor of the Year in 2002.
At Cessna, his biggest responsibility was overseeing training at Cessna’s plant in Independence and supporting single-engine piston airplane operations.
Cessna, for example, developed the pilot course work when it put Garmin G1000 avionics into its aircraft.
“We taught them how to teach glass — how to teach the digital cockpit of today,” Ortega said. “The customers just loved it.”
Cessna continues to train customers on the avionics.
Ortega also did flight demonstrations for customers, which took him around the world. And he did flights for photo missions for marketing materials and for magazine articles.
“That’s a lot of fun,” Ortega said.
Ortega was married last summer to Teresa, a pilot and Cessna employee, in a wedding at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in the shadow of the Wright Brothers memorial. Instead of rice, guests threw small balsa wood planes.
Ortega has two sons, Kyle, a pilot who works for the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., and Cody, who works for Spirit AeroSystems.
Q. 1 You have logged nearly 24,000 flight hours with no accidents or incidents. Your job has taken you to more than 90 countries.
A. I’ve been to some fantastic places. The last international trip with Cessna was through New Zealand and Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. Part of that also is not only was I doing demonstration flights internationally, but I was taking someone new (a Cessna pilot) to train them (about international flying).
Q. 2 Do you have a favorite airplane?
A. No. But I get asked that question a lot.
Q. 3 What is something not many people know about you?
A. (I have) an appreciation for what we have here in the States. In traveling to 90-something different countries, you definitely see the haves and the have-nots. For example, in India … there’s no middle class. Overseas you don’t see that, nor do you see what you enjoy here and take for granted. And that would be a clean, paved street or medical facilities that you can go to. We have it pretty nice. … We should be proud of that, but we take it for granted. If I could dictate something, I would say everybody in the U.S. has to travel at least once outside for appreciation.
Q. 4 Your new position is to help build Yingling’s aircraft management program. Yingling started recently with managing aircraft for a local financial institution.
A. We’d like to bring more people on board, more customers on board. … When you’re flying the larger airplanes, you have to find the crew, the hangar, the insurance for it. You’re going to handle all of those things rather than an aircraft management company doing it for you. It’s early in the program. We’re still working on the brochures.
Q. 5 What do you like best about flying?
A. The people. The relationships that you build.