Our goal is to provide safe and fair checkrides in an environment that allows applicans to do their best to achieve their goals.
Charles grew up boating and playing on Lake Martin. When he reached the age of 16, he became intrigued with the idea of flying because driving was just not fun enough. He found a job parking cars to pay for his training at Bessemer Airport. He became a private pilot just after his 17th birthday. It wasn't long before the idea of seaplanes began to interest him (he had seen a float plane parked at a dock near Willow Point for years and thought it was extremely cool). Unfortunately, there were no means to actually accomplish float flying at the time. In 1996 he bought his first airplane, a 1966 Cessna 206, on wheels. In this airplane he achieved his instrument rating and had many adventures.
He finally tried float flying in 1997 in a J3 Cub. The nostalgia of the cub and the idea of float flying was very exciting. He showed up ready for adventure and learning. His experience was not what was expected. The instructor was a pushy, yelling, know-it-all type, and the experience was not the Margaritaville-in-flip-flops kind that he had hoped for. Nor was it a positive learning experience. It was boot camp with a drill sergeant instructor. No prep was done. Charles lost hope and did not complete his second day of training. Abuse was not the ticket that he had purchased. He knew that there had to be a better way.
A Better Way
Some years later he was hangar flying with a friend at Bessemer Airport and he learned that this guy had a float plane for sale. It was a Cessna 150 on floats, and turned out to be the same 150 that Charles had seen as a youngster on Lake Martin. From his Cub experience he was a little wary of under powered float planes, but this one had been upgraded to 150hp and had a STOL kit on it. He was easily talked into a test flight on Lake Guntersville. Needless to say the plane was bought. Charles found an excellent instructor who took the time to really teach float flying. He had to import an examiner from the Nashville FSDO, who happened to fly Canadair water bombers and a Consolidated PBY on occasion.
The Need for A Seaplane School in Alabama
After several years of enjoying the plane and wishing that he could share this love of flying floats with others, Charles recognized that it was not easy to get into seaplanes if you live in Alabama or much of the country for that matter. There are very few seaplane schools and some of them are just factories pumping out ratings. Seaplane flying should be a fun learning adventure. The training should be enjoyable, informative, and it should leave the new seaplane pilot with more than just a slip of paper and a merit badge. The new seaplane pilot should be left with cool stories, new skills, and a wanting for more. So Charles became a CFI.
The seaplane school is ready
All the elements were now in place to form WaterWings Seaplane School, and we have been providing new adventures ever since. Charles has thousands of hours giving seaplane instruction. He does it because he loves it- the fun of flying, and the fun of introducing pilots to new worlds nearly unimaginable in a land plane. This is not a job for Charles- it is a lifestyle and a mission.
Multi Engine Training
Eventually Charles wanted a plane for travel. He bought the Twin Comanche from the same guy that he purchased the Cessna 150 from. He spent a couple hundred hours getting to know the plane and the world of multi engine flying. The Twin Comanche is a great aircraft. It is very efficient for a twin and arguably the most efficient twin to buy and fly. It operates on a total 16 gallons an hour and flies at 160kts. Charles upgraded the avionics to very functional levels and made the plane a very nice learning and cross country platform, and now it is available for you to train in and gain/maintain currency.
In 2005 Charles purchased a Piper Cub. This too was an eye opening experience. The Cub is a very sweet aircraft in just about every way. It is a simple airplane and a great trainer. Charles found the Cub an escape from the busy world of business and the complications of life. It flies really slow. Charles noticed all kinds of interesting sites near the airport that he has flown over for the last 20 years. The open door and slow speed allow a view that cannot even be described. The limits of Plexiglas and lots of speed are epic. The Cub is the perfect plane to "just go fly" and you learn something every time. Sometimes that lesson is just humility. Charles again put in a couple hundred hours in the Cub to get competent enough to instruct in it and now he offers this piece of history to the flying public for tailwheel training, currency, or just a chance to unwind in a classic aircraft.
Gliders and Soaring
In 2009 Charles found himself looking to broaden his horizons again. The Cub and the Cessna 150 had shown him that simple and slow flying was a very pleasing experience. How could we get simpler and even slower. For simpler he decided to start glider training in Sylacauga with the Sylacauga Soaring Society, now the Central Alabama Soaring Association, and he progressed to get his private and commercial glider ratings, and the CFIG Glider Instructor rating. If you want a taste of soaring then you should contact CASA,Central Alabama Soaring Association for an introduction.
To go even slower than the Cub Charles chose helicopter training. This was a tough project, since there was not much of an organized training operation in the Birmingham area. Charles drove to Pell City and trained in a Hughes 269/TH55 helicopter with Greg Turley. This was a great challenge and a huge learning experience. You can do things in a chopper that are simply impossible any other way. Charles earned his private rating and found it tough to keep current in the chopper without a local rental chopper available. Charles eventually bought into a Robinson R44 Raven II. This is a really great ship. It has respectable airspeed, air conditioning, carries four, and this one is an instrument trainer. Again Charles went through all the ratings and now can offer private, commercial, instrument, ATP, and CFI/CFII helicopter training in the R44.
The Husky comes online
Eventually the C150 engine became a bit long in the tooth. Charles has replaced the engine and it is happy and strong again, but in the mean time Charles purchased and began training in a 2000 model Aviat Husky on Wipline 2100 Amphibious floats. This turned out to be the plane that most people prefer. It is roomier, has more power, cache, and is an instrument ship equipped with a WAAS capable GNS-430. We can now train to ATP standards and you will get a taste of amphibian flying.
The Super Decathlon
In 2013 Charles found himself in need of another challenge. That challenge turned out to be aerobatics. Charles bought a 2006 Super Decathlon. It is an awesome airplane for learning acro. The window can stay open for taxi and climb, and then you are at a nice cool altitude for rolls and loops and such. Acro for me is like golf. I love it and I keep getting a little better every time I practice, but there is always more to learn and more to polish.
We have two facilities, both are 8000 square foot hangars. The first is at Shelby County Airport (KEET) where we do the majority of our training these days. This is an awesome airport with a great staff and vibrant pilot community. It is a model for other airports to follow. We also have a newly built facility near Alexander City (KALX).
Charles is very laid back. He is not going to talk more than he has to so that you can enjoy the flying and learn the skill. He is not too quick to grab the controls so that you can learn the feel and the get an occasional taste of the thrill of making a mistake. He is not going to let you hurt your self or the aircraft, but we all learn a little by dealing with a mistake. Charles is not going to sugar coat your performance if it is lacking but he is also not going scream at you. Flying is supposed to be a fun learning experience. If you are not having fun then we have failed.
In August of 2018 the FAA Designated Charles Welden as a pilot examiner for Private, Commercial, and Instrument Ratings in single and multi engine aircraft.