An Interview with Luke Penner of Harv’s Air Flight School
We sat down with Luke Penner, long-time pilot, flight instructor and among the very best Aerobatic Pilots! Without further ado, here’s our interview with Luke Penner.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Harv’s Air Inverted, and what makes it stand out as a flight school?
I’ve been a pilot for nearly twenty years and am the chief flight instructor of Harv’s Air in Manitoba, one of Canada’s largest flight schools.
Harv’s Air is a family business. I am the youngest of three sons, with Harv being my father and the one who taught me how to fly. Harv’s Air Inverted is the aerobatics side of operations at the flight school, which first started in 1997 when we began operating a Pitts S2B where we offered training and aerobatic joy rides.
Harv’s Air Inverted is unique in the flight training space for a few reasons, the first of which being experience. I have more than 8,000 flying hours purely in flight training as a Class 1 flight instructor, I’m a Class 1 aerobatic flight instructor and, most recently, I’ve become a pilot examiner for the aerobatic instructor rating. I’ve dedicated a huge part of my life to improving pilot flight safety by offering aerobatic and upset recovery training to not just pilots in Canada, but in the United States and Europe.
I’m also a successful competition aerobatic pilot where I have finished at podium positions at the Canadian and US National Aerobatic championships. Most recently, I finished 2nd overall in the advanced category at the US Nationals in September 2021. My goal has always been to take what I’ve learned through my own training and competition experience and pass it on to the students who pass through our school. We have several instructors who are dedicated purely to aerobatic training, accompanied by more than 30 additional flight instructors across our two flight schools in the Winnipeg area.
The second thing that makes us unique is our fleet of three citabrias and one Extra 300L which we use for tailwheel and aerobatic training. All of our airplanes are available for solo rental which is also unique in this space.
What made you decide to become a pilot and pursue aerobatics?
There was nothing else in life that has given me the same sense of satisfaction and challenge that flying has! Aviation has led me to places I never thought I would be and has led me to forming wonderful relationships with people all around the world.
It has simply enriched my life.
When I successfully passed my private pilot flight test at 21 years old, my father and flight instructor took me for a celebratory aerobatic ride (my first one) in our Pitts S2B aerobatic bi-plane. I was instantly hooked and knew that this was something that I NEEDED to do myself. I spent a large percentage of my commercial pilot licence flight hours doing my aerobatic training in our citabrias. Then I would take my friends for aerobatic rides and I saw how happy it made them! I loved being able to cause such a positive feeling and emotion in people that, once I obtained my commercial pilot license and aerobatic instructor rating, I started giving rides in our Pitts and my love of sharing aviation and aerobatics has only intensified since then.
What is it like to compete in aerobatics?
Competing in aerobatics is, in a word, intense. The best way to describe it is that it’s like figure skating but in the sky and with an airplane.
You fly three individual sequences in front of judges and you are graded against strict criteria. The name of the game is precision. Not only are you trying to fly perfectly, but it’s also very physical, especially at the higher categories of competition. On any given flight I will experience more than +8G and -6G which takes a lot of physical training and exercise to be able to handle routinely and consistently. The small community of pilots and volunteers who participate at these competitions are extremely supportive of each other and it's really a wonderfully helpful atmosphere. It’s by far the most challenging type of flying that I’ve experienced in all my years as a pilot, but also the most satisfying.
You’ve been a long-time friend and supporter of our product! How has PilotsFriend’s all-natural energy tonic help you perform better in your day-to-day life?
I first was introduced to PilotsFriend when I was given the product at an aerobatics competition in Alberta a few years ago. I instantly loved the flavour, the energy boost and the fact that I didn’t have any sort of crash after unlike some other energy drinks I’ve tried. Flying aerobatics takes immense concentration, so after a long day of work a can of PilotsFriend helps me regain the focus I need to fly as precisely as possible when I practice or compete.
If an aspiring pilot walked up to you asking for advice and you only had a few minutes to give ‘em your best tip, what would it be?
My best advice for the aspiring pilot would be that becoming a pilot is a lot of work, and becoming the best pilot you can be takes an immense amount of dedication.
Don’t be fooled by what you see on social media where everything is seen through rose coloured glasses when it comes to what learning to fly is like. There will be challenging days. You will learn SO much about yourself as a person and a pilot. Be prepared to work hard but also enjoy every moment of the process.