Your connection with the sky

Flying mom

Steve and mom on the ramp at KSGJ

Every pilot wants to nail every takeoff, landing, maneuver, and radio call every time.  It’s just the way we are.  But when do you really, really want to get those things right?

When you fly mom.

I spent some time on Jekyll Island in Georgia last week where my parents spend about two months each year.  Last year while I was down there, I realized that there’s an airport on the next island to the north, St. Simons island, (Malcolm McKinnon Airport (KSSI)) and the FBO there has a very nice Cessna 172 to rent.  So I got an instructor, put mom in the back seat, and gave her a tour of the islands and the salt marshes between the islands and the continent proper.

Mom’s uncle used to run the Piper distributorship for Michigan, Ohio, and a couple of other surrounding states.  Her only GA experience prior to that flight was a flight with her uncle in a Cub on floats off the Detroit River.  That’s good for me because that flight last year was the first flight I’d made since October of the prior year and, while the takeoffs and maneuvering were competent, the landings were, shall we say, safe but inelegant.

This year, I wanted to fly Mom again, but put a little more effort into the planning.  I identified a few airports that were more than 50 nm away (I’m building cross-country time for my commercial certificate and I need 50+ nm to make the time qualify) and then set to planning.

Heading to St. Augustine (KSGJ) seemed to make the most sense.  Mom had wanted to see the Cumberland preserve from the air and I wanted a destination airport with a fairly straightforward airway route so that I could file an instrument flight plan and get there under IFR without a lot of hassle.  Plus, St. Augustine has a good assortment of runways so I would be unlikely to have to deal with huge crosswinds.  And it’s the home base of both Patty Wagstaff and James Wynbrandt.

I gave mom the whole brief.  That meant showing her all of the doors (including the baggage door), letting her observe the preflight, and answering questions about the prop, the engine, and the airframe.  I buckled her in and made sure that she understood how the intercom worked and when I’d need a sterile cockpit for takeoff, departure, approach, and landing.

The winds were pretty strong (19 with gusts above 30), but they were mostly right down the runway.  It turns out that the winds had mom a little bunched up, but I made sure that we had an open dialogue about the flight so I could identify her concerns and address them.  I explained that the winds were right down the runway and that, other than maybe ballooning a little with the gusts, we’d be fine.  I think she decided to believe it when she saw it, but she didn’t bolt, either.

The flight went well and we put it down on Runway 2 at St. Augustine and taxied in to Galaxy Aviation for a bathroom break.  They treated us like royalty (complete with golf cart ride to and from the airplane, which impressed mom) and got us on our way when we were through.

The wind was even greater at St. Augustine (I think the airspeed indicator was live even before I gave it the throttle for the takeoff run), but right down the runway.  This time, mom believed me about the wind and was a lot more relaxed about it.

I terminated flight following once we passed Cumberland and did a couple of turns around Jekyll Island before heading back for a straight-in approach to McKinnon.  Lots of gusts and ballooning on the flare (I had to add a little power to avoid dropping it hard on the mains), but not a landing of which I am un-proud.

Mom had a great time and I had a great time flying her.

I though about it a bit afterward.  We should all treat every passenger as though he or she is mom.  Take the time to explain the aircraft.  What the control surfaces do.  What you’re saying on the radio.  When you want your passenger to be quiet (takeoff, etc.) and when you want your passenger to speak up (spotting traffic, etc.).  If we all treated every passenger like we do our moms or other people we love and respect and want to get the most out of the flight, we’d be a long way further along the road that we want to see GA travel.

And it’s really, really cool to just go fly your mom.


One Response to “Flying mom”

  1. Bill Daniels Says:
    March 30th, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Taking a family member or a 'significant other' for their first ride in a GA aircraft is truly cool - one of the biggest reasons for becoming a pilot. It sounds like you did it perfectly.

    Unfortunately, this subject usually isn't taught in flight schools. I wonder how many potential new pilots were frightened away because some freshly minted private pilot took them out to do stalls and steep turns.

    I try to 'choreograph' a first flight so the passenger is airborne less than 15 minutes - always in the smooth air of early morning. I fly as smoothly as possible with no more than 30 degree banks. Sometimes it's just one ILS approach to a full stop

    Then we land for a cup of coffee at the airport restaurant. If the passenger is pumped, we do a longer flight another day. Passengers need a gentle 'breaking in' if they are to love flying.

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