Let’s Go Flying Archive

Going the extra (nautical) mile

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Over the past nine years that I’ve served as AOPA’s media relations director, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Molly McMillin, aviation writer for the Wichita Eagle newspaper, on a number of stories. I’ve always found her reporting to be insightful and eminently fair. She goes to great lengths to get a story right.

Now she’s gone the extra mile.

Molly recently earned her private pilot certificate, training and taking her checkride in her father’s 1956 Piper Tri-Pacer. She blogged about the experience and the thrill of receiving her permanent certificate – the one with Wilbur and Orville on it – in her Air Capital Insider blog. You can read it here: http://bit.ly/eISHGD.

Congrats, Molly!

Molly’s in an enviable position among her fellow reporters – and not just because she’s now a pilot. She covers a beat. Beat reporters get to learn about a particular industry, in Molly’s case aviation, learn who the players are and what issues are important and why. So their stories are often more nuanced and really help their audience understand an issue.

General assignment reporters, on the other hand, have to be instant experts in anything and everything. That can make my job quite challenging sometimes, when dealing with someone whose total aviation experience is riding in seat 17B. By the same token, I see it as an opportunity to expose someone new to aviation in general, and general aviation in particular. Sure, it’s not as good as taking someone up for a flight in a GA plane, but it’s a chance to increase understanding and maybe burnish the image of GA a little among the non-flying public.

Occasionally we get very lucky and hear from a reporter who has some experience with general aviation, or if we really hit the jackpot, one who’s a pilot, like Molly.

If you’re a pilot, you can help share the knowledge by taking a reporter flying. If you’ve never taken someone up for an introductory flight, AOPA has a brochure called Take ‘Em Flying! that offers some ideas.

Who knows? Your efforts might lead to better coverage the next time a small plane becomes the big story in your community. You might even plant a seed that grows into a new pilot! Like Molly!

Chris Dancy
AOPA Media Relations Director

‘It feels good’

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

It’s not often that I get to take someone on his or her first GA airplane ride, but when I do, I’m not sure who is more excited—me or my passenger.

During Labor Day weekend, I took up my youngest passenger, Sara Moore, a sixth grader in Reedy, W.Va., a rural farming community where I grew up. My dad had made sure that he put plenty of sick sacks in the pilot side pouch of his Cessna 172… just in case.

After walking Sara through a pre-flight, briefly explaining how the Cessna 172 worked, and talking through the passenger briefing and runup, I had one final piece of advice: Let me know if her stomach started to feel queasy.

Once we were about 300 feet in the air on the climbout from Jackson County Airport, soaring above the trees and the snaking Ohio River, Sara looked out at the clear blue sky—zero haze and 50 miles visibility—and then back at me, with her brown eyes wide open and a grin spreading from ear to ear, and said, “It feels good!” I knew I wouldn’t have to reach for those sick sacks on this flight!

Sara recorded video and photographed the West Virginia foothills, her house, and the elementary school. Then, I asked if she wanted to fly. After a bit of hesitation, I offered to fly with her for a while until she felt comfortable. A few climbs, descents, and gentle banks later, I slowly moved my hand from the control wheel unbeknownst to her.

She’s a natural pilot! Soon, I was taking pictures of her flying straight and level and letting her navigate toward the airport, using a powerplant in the distance as her aiming point. She flew for about 10 minute before asking me to fly so that she could take more pictures. After landing, she gave me a Silly Bandz—in the shape of a jet, no less—as a thank you for the flight. (Now I feel really cool—they are the most popular trading item among students.)

When asked the favorite part of her flight, she was speechless—understandable for seeing your home and town from the air for the first time.

I’ve always loved flying, building camaraderie with fellow pilots, and tackling new certificates and ratings. But nothing compares to the feeling of giving someone his or her first experience in the air or in a GA airplane. Flying is truly a gift, and those first flights are some of the best gifts I’ve ever given to people: It feels good!

Happy National Aviation Day!

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Did you know that today is National Aviation Day? It wasn’t at the top of my mind, either, until I heard it mentioned on the radio while I was driving to work this morning.

August 19–the birthday of Orville Wright–was designated National Aviation Day by presidential proclamation in 1939. Don’t confuse it with Wright Brothers Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the brothers’ first successful powered flights on December 17.

While National Aviation Day hasn’t captured as much of the nation’s attention as, say, Labor Day, we as pilots should celebrate the occasion in an appropriate manner. Let’s go flying! And what better occasion to introduce our passion to somebody unfamiliar with general aviation?

Members everywhere

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

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.

Fly the Zeppelin!

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Flying a Zeppelin is, well, a gas. Now you can experience it yourself. When I wrote the feature article in the February issue of AOPA Pilot , pricing and details of the pilot experience program hadn’t been finalized. Now Airship Ventures has the details on its Web site about how you can fly America’s only Zeppelin. For about $3,000 you can spend a day learning about the big airship and then climb aboard and fly it around the San Francisco area. Now, there’s a Father’s Day gift dad will appreciate more than that paisley tie. And don’t forget, Valentine’s Day is even sooner….(note to self, send URL to Brenda!).

Go flying in a Tecnam light sport aircraft!

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Visit a sport pilot school via the video below. This one, Chesapeake Sport Pilot, happens to be 90 miles from Frederick, Maryland (AOPA headquarters), at Bay Bridge Airport on the Chesapeake Bay. Get this; the chief flight instructor in the video, Helen Woods, is a marine biologist with a master’s degree in marine science. Her students can identify from the air a school of manhaden, a porpoise, and cow-nosed rays. There are tons of rays in the bay next to Bay Bridge Airport. Here she describes the Tecnam P92 models. They rent for $90 to $100 per hour and include a low-wing model. Up you go! Click here if the video does not play.

Hard to beat GA utility

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

It’s hard to believe that more than 31 years after I first soloed an airplane I still get jazzed about how much fun it is to fly general aviation airplanes–and how efficient such flights can be.

A few days ago we had a need to move an airplane from Frederick, Maryland, to Brandywine Airport northwest of Philadelphia. We were taking the airplane to Penn Avionics at OQN for some avionics work. Senior Editor Dave Hirschman (minutes after landing the Sweepstakes Archer on the 20+-hour return from AOPA Expo in San Jose!) posed that we move the airplane to Penn ASAP before the weather went bad. I agreed.

So I fired up my Bonanza at about 4 p.m. and flew in formation with Dave up to Brandywine–about a 35-minute flight. Minutes after landing there, we were southwest bound back to Frederick in the Bonanza, landing at FDK at about 5:45 p.m. after a glorious night flight.

Google Maps shows that driving the trip would take more than 2.5 hours each way, including a circuitous journey around Baltimore. So imagine if you needed something else done around Philadelphia and didn’t have access to an airplane. You’d need most of a business day to accomplish what we did in less than 2 hours.

Days later I’m still thinking, “How cool is that?”

What are your favorite uses for a GA airplane? Share them with us. And don’t forget to let non-pilots know about the Let’s Go Flying! web site where they can learn about the utility of GA flying. We shouldn’t keep this a secret.