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King Schools

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King Schools celebrates golden birthday
In 1974, Nixon was President, Rubik invented his eponymous puzzle cube, US astronauts were orbiting Earth on the nation's first space station, and John and Martha King started building their aviation training empire.
John and Martha King started building their aviation training empire in 1974 and it's still going strong today.
Read this story in our April 2024 printed issue.

Fifty years ago, John and Martha King started their aviation training empire. He may have lost his sideburns but the school is still going strong.

"2024 marks 50 years since John and Martha began what has turned into a lifelong passion and an exceedingly successful business," says King Schools CEO Barry Knuttila. "Not only have they helped millions of pilots achieve their training goals, but they also guided the company and the curriculum through countless regulatory changes and technology transformations."

Through that half-century and all its turbulence, John and Martha have acquired a few wrinkles, some grey hair, a hangar full of awards and recognitions, and a lot of fans. Theirs is a story of hard work, shrewd decisions, a few mistakes and a skilful ability to explain complex concepts in a clear, simple and fun way that resonates with aviation pros and learners alike.

"It's humbling to see that our little idea has turned into something so successful and enduring," says Martha. "We love to hear from pilots across the country and around the world who have used our courses to learn something new and pursue fulfilling aviation careers. That's what keeps us going."

The Kings got their start travelling to far-flung cities and towns to conduct in-person ground school courses for aspiring private pilots. Today, the school is a supplier of print, video and computer-based instructional materials covering every aspect of flight training and safety both for written test preparation and guidance in practical flight operations. More than half of all pilots in the US have used one or more King Schools courses as part of their aviation training.

So what is the secret to King Schools' longevity?

"When we paired up, we decided to be equal partners in everything we would do," says John. "In 1974, that was probably a little unconventional, or even revolutionary. But ever since then I have been struggling to be an equal partner to Martha. When it was apparent that Martha and I were serious about each other, Martha's father told me that Martha was the most stubborn person he had ever known. I said, 'I already know that'. I didn't take it as stubbornness, but determination. I wanted to take full advantage of that and, as a result, the business has thrived. Fifty years later our partnership is still pretty unique, and that has been the key to our success."

The overhead projectors and chalkboards in hotel conference rooms in the early days of the travelling ground school soon gave way to video instruction, VHS cassettes and DVDs sent by snail mail, which brought John and Martha directly into learners' homes, allowing learning pilots to study from the comfort of their living rooms. Early this century, the King Schools' library moved online to streaming, making it even easier, more convenient and more cost-effective for the Kings to deliver instruction to anyone, anywhere, in any time zone.

John and Martha have also written two books; LIFT, in which they share their thoughts on entrepreneurship, and Sky Kings, which details their aviation adventures and wisdom gained by trial and error over the past more than 55 years. They still fly their Falcon 10 themselves and maintain a busy schedule of conference appearances and talks, as well as developing new courses.

And they continue to rake in the awards. Already inducted into the Flight Instructor Hall of Fame, the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the International Aviation Hall of Fame, last year they were welcomed into the Women in Aviation International's Pioneer Hall of Fame, with John being the first and only man to gain this distinction. Later this month they will be honoured with the 2024 Richard G McSpadden General Aviation Safety Award at AOPA's Hoover awards reception.

"This recognition means so much to us, and we are deeply honoured to be the first recipients," says Martha. "Richard McSpadden was a great friend and teacher, and we all benefitted from his incredible knowledge, openness and experience."

King Schools has launched a year of celebration to mark the half-century milestone, which will include events, appearances and speeches as well as special offers on King Schools courses and curricula. The website and King Schools' social media sites will be regularly updated with details.

"In 2024, Nixon, Rubik, Skylab and John's sideburns are long gone, but John and Martha King are still educating pilots with insights gained during a lifetime of learning and experience, delivered in their signature style with candour and humour," adds Knuttila. "We're not letting them retire quite yet, so watch this space to see what they'll be up to during King Schools' next 50 years."

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