Best in the West, Best of the Best

Zoan Harclerode, flight instructor at the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, stands by one of the aircraft she uses to train her students Oct. 31, 2017. Harclerode was named the winner of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association National, and Western Region, flight instructor of the year based upon the 2017 Flight Training Experience Survey. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

Zoan Harclerode, flight instructor at the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, stands by one of the aircraft she uses to train her students Oct. 31, 2017. Harclerode was named the winner of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association National, and Western Region, flight instructor of the year based upon the 2017 Flight Training Experience Survey. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

Zoan Harclerode, flight instructor at the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, poses at her desk with her Westeren Region and National Pilot of the Year awards Oct. 31, 2017. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association recognized her from among 2,012 nominated pilots.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

Zoan Harclerode, flight instructor at the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, poses at her desk with her Westeren Region and National Pilot of the Year awards Oct. 31, 2017. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association recognized her from among 2,012 nominated pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- There are about 95,000 certified flight instructors in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and Zoan Harclerode, flight instructor at the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, is the best of them all.

Harclerode was crowned AOPA’s best flight instructor following its 2017 Flight Training Experience Survey. The survey focuses on four elements: educational quality, customer focus, community, and information sharing. AOPA found excelling in these factors provides an optimal flight experience.

“I looked to see who the regional winners were,” Harclerode said. “They were from big schools in bigger cities. I never thought it would be me. Then I thought, ‘why not me?’”

She was one of five regional winners – she won the Western Region – and from that elite group was selected as the best of them all. She came out on top of 2,012 other nominated trainers from within the organization.

“Zoan has passion and really loves what she is doing,” said Chris Moser, AOPA director, flight training initiative. “She works with a lot of military veterans and takes the time needed to help them learn. Basically, whatever is needed, she’ll do.”

Moser said the organization looks for the pilots who rise to the top in the surveys, then forward those names to a committee. The surveys are graded according to who the committee members think is the best based on the feedback.

When her surveys were reviewed, Moser said the committee noted strong positive student feedback related to Harclerode’s ability as an instructor.

She passed the credit on to her students.

“I could not have better students,” Harclerode said. “They got me these awards.”

Winning accolades demonstrates the school has instructors and pilots who are dedicated to doing things the right way, said Harclerode. The instructors at the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center have the extra burden of having Air Force rules to follow, in addition to typical regulations placed upon flight schools. She doesn’t see the extra scrutiny as a disadvantage, however.

“We should be an example to other schools,” she said.

For instance, Harclerode said data shows that instructors who attend regular safety meetings have better safety records. The industry recommends these meetings, which she said are required for the Air Force affiliated schools.

“We have great safety records,” said Harclerode. “We have monthly meetings, which is an example of what the industry says and we have the records and procedures to back it up.”

She has been flying for three decades. Her love of aviation began when a boy she dated in high school took her for a plane ride.

“That’s pretty much when I got the bug,” Harclerode said.

Ten years later, after college and getting married, she obtained her private pilot’s license. After a period of time working in the hotel industry, she took a leave of absence and a few months later became a certified instructor.

Being an instructor allows her to witness people achieve their dreams. Providing them with the tools to do so is something she rather enjoys.

“A lot of things we do as instructors is like parenting,” Harclerode explained. “We teach students how to make the right choices and we are proud of them when they do.”

She has 7,000 hours flying and has flown many different aircraft including Great Lakes and Stearman biplanes, Citation jets and an F-16 Falcon flight simulator. Harclerode is rated to pilot helicopters as well. Out of all of the craft she has the pleasure of piloting, her favorite is whichever one she’s is sitting in.

“I learn something new every day,” she said. “I feel blessed that I get to go up and be in three dimensions every day. I get to do what not many people can do, and do it every day.”