Ever wanted to pilot an airplane? Well, now you can pretend to, thanks to new immigrant Bruce Firstman, who has opened a flight simulator business at Megiddo airfield.
The 67-year-old oleh, who arrived here from Phoenix, Arizona, four years ago, is an electrical engineer and experienced pilot. In the US, he owned his own plane – a Grumman American Tiger – for 34 years.
“It’s a four-seater, single-engine aircraft that cruises at 140 knots,” he says in his deep resonating baritone voice. “I kept it in a hangar in an airport in Phoenix for years.”
When he first arrived, Firstman lived in Afula Illit and later moved to Elyachin, a moshav not far from Hadera, where he rents accommodation.
He tried his hand at several different enterprises until he hit on the flight simulator, which can be used for fun but also has an important role to play in training pilots for advanced licenses.
While still living in Afula, he started his first business in Israel, repairing computers and electrical appliances.
“It didn’t work out,” says Firstman. “It’s not a very affluent area, and I couldn’t make a living.”
Next up, he decided to start a bagel business.
“I rented the kitchen in Kibbutz Mizra, when they were not using it, and hired a baker to make bagels,” he recalls. “The problem was that I couldn’t get a kashrut certificate.”
Not surprising really, since Kibbutz Mizra is famous for its non-kosher products.
His bagels sold well, but without a kashrut license he was still unable to make enough to live on.
That’s when he had the inspiration of opening a flight simulator which, forgive the pun, is really taking off nicely.
Firstman was born in New York City in 1949. When he was a teenager, his family moved to Los Angeles. He qualified as an engineer and was married from 1990 to 1997.
In 1985 he first visited Israel and made countless visits since then as a tourist.
“I have a large family here on both my parents’ sides,” he says. “They live in central Israel and have welcomed me with open arms.”
The wife of one of his cousins is a guide at Yad Vashem and organizes visits of officers to the concentration camp sites in Europe. As someone who is strongly aware of the Holocaust, Firstman finds he has a lot of empathy with his Israeli cousins.
So what made him decide to make aliya? “Both my parents had passed away, my father in 2005, my mother in 2011.
There was nothing to keep me in California,” he says. “I’ve wanted to live here for the last 30 years, and finally I am able to.”
After two false starts, he was not quite sure how to proceed until he had the good fortune to meet a doctor working for El Al whose job description includes taking care of American pilots. From him he discovered that Megiddo airfield didn’t have a flight simulator, unlike Herzliya and Haifa airports, which both have one.
“I was looking for another business venture to get into, and this sounded right,” says Firstman.
He invested a large amount of his savings and created his flight simulator. He feels there is no great need to advertise.
“Everything that happens at an airport, good and bad – everyone knows about it,” he says with a smile.
His Hebrew, he admits, is still bad, and he’s not sure how he is going to improve the situation.
“I tried going to ulpan three times,” he says. “The first time was in Nazareth, and the teacher explained everything in Russian.”
He tried again in Migdal Ha’emek and encountered the same problem.
“To be able to learn Hebrew, I would have had to learn Russian first,” he laughs.
His third attempt was in an ulpan for seniors in Afula.
“I wanted to build my vocabulary, but they weren’t teaching it that way, so again I gave up,” he says.
Fortunately, his Israeli family of nearly 200 cousins can speak English, so he is able to communicate with them.
And he is happy finally living in Israel.
“Baruch Hashem,” he says. “No, I’m not religious; I took the other path and became a fervent Zionist. I wake up every morning and thank God that I’m here in Israel. And with all my heart I thank the Israel Air Force and the whole of the defense establishment for keeping Israel safe.”