The Southwest Airlines captain did a double take as I stepped aboard the Boeing 737 and turned right. “Mr. AOPA! I need to talk to you when we get to Nashville,” he said, spying my AOPA PILOT shirt. “Glad to,” I said as the cattle behind me propelled me down the narrow aisle. Already the cabin seemed full even though I had scored a “B-11″ seating sequence–not bad in the Southwest scheme of things.
Later, shuffling my way toward the front of the cabin in Nashville, a flight attendant near the door saw me coming and alerted the captain. “You got a minute?” he yelled from inside the cockpit.
“I’ll wait right here in the jetway,” I said, still wondering what he might want with me.
In a minute Captain Granville D. Lasseter II stepped out, his giant hand absorbing mine in a handshake. “I have a beautifully restored 1968 Piper Super Cub and I want to take more kids for rides. Any advice on how I can do that?” he asked, going on to explain that he lives in a fly-in community near Houston. The Cub is his “around the patch” airplane. An early Cessna 210 is his traveling machine. Standing there in his crisp Southwest uniform, it was clear right away that Lasseter loves to fly.
I reminded him about the EAA Young Eagles program and AOPA’s Let’s Go Flying program, all designed to introduce people to aviation, especially young people. Truth is, it can be tough to reach kids. Even the Girl Scouts shuns actually flights for their scouts for fear of liability. One way is to invite scouts, students, and other youth organizations to your airport to see your airplane. Take note of those who seem most interested and maybe make arrangements separately with their parents to take the kids for flights.
It was nice to see a pilot so enthused about reaching out to kids and using a general aviation airplane for such a noble cause.
I was still feeling the glow of the Lasseter meeting a couple of days later when I was returning back to Baltimore, this time from Dallas. After our stop in Oklahoma City, my seatmate also noted my PILOT shirt (yes, I did change shirts). “What do you fly?” he asked.
I told him about my Bonanza and Dan Linebarger of Dallas told me about his Cessna 182 with a Continental IO-550 upgrade. “It’s the last airplane I’ll ever need,” he predicted, obviously enchanted by the wonders of the highly capable Skylane wing and airframe mated to a very powerful engine. As the Southwest 737 filled up again, Linebarger told me that he mostly volunteers his time to worthy causes these days, including flying his 182 to Mexico carrying medical supplies. Of course, while he’s there he also stops in at some of the tremendous fly-in resorts located along Baja California’s hundreds of miles of coastline. Having flown in Baja a few times myself, we compared notes on where we have visited. He knows the peninsula much better than I do, including many isolated communities in need of medical supplies that would take days to deliver over dirt roads instead of a few hours aboard an airplane.
Lasseter’s and Linebarger’s stories of how they use their airplanes inspired me, making the airline flight seem much shorter and more comfortable than it might otherwise. I couldn’t help but wonder how much good work such as that performed by these two pilots will stop if general aviation is slapped with user fees and onerous security regulations.
The chance encounters reieterated to me the need for those of us who understand the value of general aviation to shout it loudly, such as AOPA is attempting to do with our GA Serves America campaign.
I hope you, like Lasseter and Linebarger, will continue your good use of general aviation airplanes and when you do, make sure you tell your friends, mayors, legislators, and the media about it. Together, we can secure a bright future for general aviation.