David Faile: Master of the Skies

By Sheryl Knapp

Master Pilot and flight instructor David Faile fearlessly flies rescue missions and regularly assists law enforcement with drug busts, yet he is still haunted by a World Literature class he took in college more than 40 years ago. It was the last required course he needed for graduation, and the professor told him that he would never pass because of his struggles with reading and writing.

Faile ultimately passed that course, graduated from college, and went on to build airplanes and to make his mark certifying pilots. In 1999 he was named the National Flight Instructor of the Year—one of fewer than 700 pilots nationwide to earn the title Master Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) out of approximately 700,000 CFIs in the United States, and one of only five aviation educators worldwide to merit the prestigious title eight times.

Words of Wisdom

Find something that you’re interested in and are good in, and work hard at it.

David Faile
The Road to Self-Discovery

Growing up in Weston, CT, Faile struggled with reading and writing, but as he recently said, “no one knew what learning disabilities were then.” Eventually he switched from public to private school, where he ended up having to repeat fourth and fifth grades. But it was during that time that he learned how to read and spell, having found a teacher who finally knew “all the right buttons” to push.

Despite his academic difficulties throughout elementary school, Faile did not become aware that he had a learning disability until high school, when he saw how much harder he had to work than his peers. He found himself consistently working evenings and weekends, passing up parties and trips, just to earn C’s.

Yet even with this new awareness, Faile could find little about what learning disabilities were—or how to address them—and was continually trying to figure out why he struggled. He thought he would finally get the answers as a student at a teacher’s college, but soon learned that even his professors did not understand his struggles.

It was only after his children were diagnosed with LD that he began to understand his own difficiulties. Although it has been a long road, he is finally beginning to come to terms with his diagnosis. A pivotal moment occurred when he learned that a flying student – who was also the Vice Chair of a major corporation—also had a learning disability. Until then, he was skeptical of claims that successful people also struggled with learning. He has since grown less inclined to hide his diagnosis from others.

Technology is his savior. In school, when he wrote he wouldn’t use words he couldn’t spell. Today, he uses his iPad and other digital tools for almost every facet of his life, including drawing up and consulting flight plans. With computers and spell check, he is finally able to employ his full vocabulary.

Strengths & Talents

Although he still doesn’t always view himself as successful, Faile is beginning to discover the talents that come with his diagnosis. He recalls a particularly difficult course he was required to take in college, involving music theory. The professor, aware of his academic struggles, willingly provided extra support—but this support turned out to be unnecessary. David breezed through the course, mastering even three and four-part harmonies, ultimately finishing at the top of the class. At the time, he could not understand why he found it so easy.

More recently, he was called in on a mission to locate a missing man, a disabled Vietnam veteran. The state police and rescue workers had searched in vain for more than two days. Faile found the man, alive and safe, in 40 minutes.

He can use both his hands interchangeably – shocking restaurant observers as he writes and eats simultaneously. His most valued accolade, however, came recently in the form of an email from a former flying student in New Canaan, CT, now a physician in Minnesota. The former student recounted what a strong impression David had made on him, stating that he could “still hear your voice,” and requesting that David teach his 16-year old son to fly. A master of the skies indeed.

Sheryl Knapp, A/AOGPE is the founder and President of Literacy Advocates. Knapp has Associate Level certification with the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators.