Even though Piedmont Captain Rob Middleton had shared the cockpit with his son, First Officer Parker Middleton, countless times flying the skies over southwestern Virginia, this day was different. It’s a day Captain Middleton had been looking forward to since his son joined the Piedmont team. Rob finally had the opportunity to fly a Piedmont Embraer 145 with his son by his side in the right seat.
“Flying a commercial aircraft with my son was a landmark event in my career,” said Rob. “It was a super exciting trip for me. We had been trying to match our schedule for a long time and it was more challenging than we thought.” The pair flew a three-day trip beginning in Charlotte, N.C. (CLT), then on to Tri-Cities in Blountville, Tenn. (TRI), Roanoke, Va. (ROA) and Huntington, W.Va. (HTS) before returning to Charlotte.
Parker had flown countless hours with his dad over the years and says in some ways flying in the cockpit with him on a commercial jet felt very normal. “It was cool to fly with him at this level of flying. This was a meaningful experience for me and an opportunity that most pilots don’t get to experience, let alone at the same company.”
Aviation runs deep in the Middleton family. Rob’s father was a private pilot who would take Rob to the airport at a young age to play in the mud while he took flying lessons. “I grew up in and around airplanes and had a passion for flying,” said Rob. He completed his first solo flight at age 16 and became a private pilot at age 17. He joined Piedmont as a First Officer in 1992 when it was Henson Airlines. His first base was in Lynchburg, Virginia (LYH) and he flew the deHavilland Dash-8. Rob upgraded to Captain in 1997 and became an Operating Experience (OE) Captain in 1999. As an OE Captain, he trained new hire and upgraded pilots in the airplane after they completed their simulator training. In 2001, he became a part-time training instructor while also flying as an OE Captain and took on a role as a full-time instructor in 2012.
“I enjoy helping pilots advance in the industry and watching the lightbulb come on,” said Rob. “I want to help develop their skills and knowledge to understand the profession so they can progress in their career.”
Rob says that as soon as Parker could touch the controls, he was working them. “I grew up flying with my dad and always knew that a career in flying was what I wanted,” said Parker. “Back then, flying with him was just a fun thing we did together. Every day he was off work, we were flying at the airport.”
While Parker was training for his upcoming solo flight, the local airport found his grandfather’s shirttail from his first solo flight and gave it to Rob. After a pilot takes their first solo flight, it is tradition to cut off their shirttail and mark it with the date, location and aircraft number. Rob recognized the plane’s tail number and knew the same airplane was still located in the area only four miles from their home. “The airplane was sold to a former Piedmont flight attendant who restored it and I couldn’t believe it was still operating,” said Rob. He told the owner about his grandfather taking his first solo flight in that airplane and asked if Parker could take his solo flight in the airplane. They agreed and Parker took his first solo flight at age 16 in the same airplane his grandfather took his first solo flight in many years before, an Aeronca 7AC Champ. Parker was honored.
By high school graduation, he had earned his associate’s degree in General Studies. Parker obtained his private pilot license at age 17 and completed his instrument rating and commercial multi-engine rating at Liberty University. During his last year of college, he worked as the chief flight instructor at Smith Mountain Lake Aviation flight school teaching both land and seaplanes. Due to his early flying experience with his father in their Super Cub and in the Champ, Parker also specialized in tailwheel training.
Rob and Parker collectively share a passion for flying seaplanes. “The seaplane is the only airplane we’ve been in together where I’m the more experienced pilot,” Parker says jokingly.
Both father and son are hopeful for their next commercial flying opportunity. “I can’t wait to do it again,” said Parker.