Greg Zahornacky is an Assistant Professor in the College of Aviation and teaches the Aeronautical Science Capstone Course, Operational Applications in Aeronautical Science and additionally, Electronic Flight Management Systems and Crew Resource Management. Greg is also on the development team of the new Airline Operations Center that is being constructed on the second floor of the College of Aviation. Greg has been in commercial radio broadcasting for over 20 years and has his own show Monday through Friday from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm on WIKD-FM 102.5 in Daytona Beach.
What motivated you to pursue a career in aviation, and when did you know that you were interested in that field? Who encouraged you to chase your dreams?
When I was the young age of 7, my father asked me if I wanted to go for an airplane ride at a local airport outside of Pittsburgh, where I grew up. My answer to him was a resounding “NO!” I was afraid to go up in “that thing” and refused to go. Fast forward 7 years, and my father decided he wanted to take an introductory flight to potentially attain his pilot’s license with a neighbor who was a flight instructor. He asked me if I wanted to go with him, and this time I said, “sure, why not?” Once we were airborne and flew for about 20 minutes and landed, I had made my decision; I wanted to fly airplanes! The aviation “bug” had bit me…HARD! From that point in my life at age 14, I had a defined direction and felt overwhelmingly compelled to pursue it. I thank my father and mother for their support, because without their encouragement (and money!), I could not have achieved my goal of being a professional airline pilot.
If you could go back to your college days, what would you do differently? Why?
If I could turn the hands of time back 38 years to when I was an undergraduate, I would’ve most certainly APPLIED myself more so! At the time I started my undergraduate program, all I wanted to do was fly, and I did not care so much about the academic portion of aviation! In the mid 1970’s the Aeronautics degree program that I was in did not have the classes that Embry-Riddle has today. I was never exposed to courses at that time such as Crew Resource Management (CRM) and Electronic Flight Management Systems, mainly because CRM did not exist and all of the flying that I did was in “round dial” aircraft. Today’s technologically advanced aircraft have “glass cockpits” which give pilots more pictorial situational awareness. The reason I would’ve been more studious is because I could’ve learned so much more from the professors I had at that time. They brought with them a wealth of knowledge, and I, foolishly, never allowed myself to partake of that precious resource.
What is the biggest highlight of your career so far?
I have been so very fortunate to have MANY highlights in my career(s)! In my aviation career, it was the day that the airline pinned on my Captains wings after passing my check ride on the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80. Directly related to that event was when I was able to take my parents and my wife with me on a trip with the airline, with me as the Captain of the jet that they were riding on! In my radio career, it was when I finally achieved my very own radio show after years of being part-time. In my new career as faculty member of Embry-Riddle, it was the day that I got the phone call asking me to come in and interview for the position of Assistant Professor and the subsequent offer of employment. There have been many other highlights in each of the careers that I have had the honor of doing, and those would range from flying Hollywood celebrities, to flying charters with professional sports teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. In my radio career, it would be meeting some of the biggest names in the recording industry from REO Speedwagon to Aaron Tippin. In my current career as an Assistant Professor, the highlight would have to be the students. I have met so many fine young men and women. They remind me of myself at their age, because you can see the wants and desires in their eyes to be airline, corporate or military pilots. I have been able to watch their progression from graduation to airline pilot status in just a few short years. The gratification of knowing that I may have had some small part in their success is a feeling unlike any other. I am proud of every single one of our graduates; they are focused and resolute in their career paths.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future would be to continually educate myself and stay in touch with the airline industry as a whole. Through the power of networking, I have been able to stay in touch with many of my colleagues that are still flying for a living. By keeping in touch with them, I am able to see and understand what the airlines are doing in terms of their economic trends and the type of aircraft they are flying. This allows me to deliver the most recent and up to date information to my students so that when they leave Embry-Riddle to pursue their passions they are familiar with those trends. Other than that, I have found a home with Embry-Riddle. The colleagues that I work with are all consummate professionals, and I enjoy working with them on a daily basis.