We’re all familiar with the broad efforts by AOPA, EAA, and others to promote general aviation to non-pilot constituencies. Films like One-Six Right and the upcoming A Pilot’s Story tug at heartstrings. And merely flying slowly over a neighborhood some severe clear Saturday morning could capture the imaginations of dozens of neighborhood kids.
But when’s the last time you waded into the fray, plucked a specific non-pilot from the masses, and opened the world of aviation to him or her?
It can be as simple as lunch.
I called up my friend Stuart last week and told him that we ought to have lunch someplace near the airport soon so I could show him around and show him firsthand what I babble about all the time. We agreed on a time and I picked him up earlier today at his office. I had grabbed a couple of sandwiches and soda pops from the deli and they were belted into the back seat on the short drive to the airport.
First stop, the GA ramp at Oakland County International Airport (KPTK) in Waterford, Michigan. The airport open house is this Sunday and I had heard that the CAP glider would be on the ramp today for display this weekend. I keyed through the gate and we walked around the glider. GA aircraft of every description were performing operations on 27L and 27R and I pointed out at least five different kinds of aircraft and described what they were doing.
Then it was off to the north side to Sutton Aviation. I fly the Super Decathlon there when training for acro and we were lucky enough to find it on the ramp. I walked around the aircraft and verbally went through the preflight items, pointing out control surfaces, the tailwheel, the constant-speed prop, and other elements. Then I loaded Stuart into the front seat. Stick in his right hand and throttle in his left, I could see a genuine smile cross his face. He asked a lot of good questions and wanted to know what each input to the stick and/or pedals did.
Then it was over to Victor Row to the CAP hangar. Any time I show off the airport to someone, I make a point of plugging CAP. Anyone I manage to get excited about GA is an excellent candidate for CAP.
Stuart seemed to be amused as we drove through the gate and then down the taxiway between the hangars. Heck, I’m still amused any time I drive a car on airport grounds, even if it is outside the movement area.
I opened up the hangar and gave him a tour of the hangar and the G1000-equipped airplane, him in the left seat and me in the right. He had even more questions and was struck by the differences between the Super-D and the C-182T Nav III. That was an opportunity to discuss the breadth of GA and the tools available for different pilots and different missions (not to mention the CAP-specific operations and the specialized features of the aircraft).
Then lunch. We pulled up a couple of chairs to the desk in the hangar and spent an hour eating and just shooting the bull. As though on cue, a guy from an adjacent hangar ambled over and talked for a few minutes. Aircraft ran up, took off, landed, and taxied just outside the door. It was a mild day and the late-summer breeze swirled gently around the hangar door. Every element of aviation that I’ve grown to love surrounded us and the airport seemed to welcome Stuart.
Then we buttoned up the hangar and I dropped off Stuart at his office before returning to mine. Total time invested? 2.5 hours on the personal Hobbs meter. Impact? Who knows.
I’d be surprised if I heard Stuart and an instructor on the frequency tomorrow morning. But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it next spring. And even if Stuart never sees the broadside of a huge cumulus cloud through the front window of a flying machine at 110 KIAS, he’s one more member of the local community who’s been inside the fence and seen what goes on in there. And he’ll bear these sights and sounds in mind when he talks to friends and when he votes.
I think that the big GA campaigns are wonderful. Thanks to Mr. Freeman, Mr. Ford, and all of the others who give their time, money, and support to them. They’re necessary to maintain that beach head in the quest for the hearts and minds of the non-flying public.
But I think that most of us miss the opportunity to do what the broad campaigns can’t: Have lunch.
Go get one of your non-aviator friends, hit the deli, and go out to the airport. Show him or her around. Let him or her sit in an airplane and play with the controls. Introduce him or her to the people there. Eat a sack lunch sitting just inside the hangar door and wave to anyone who taxis by. Show your friend what goes on an average day inside the fence at your particular microcosm of the Big Dream.
Don’t be worried that the experience isn’t sufficiently One-Six-Right-like or not worthy of a cameo in A Pilot’s Story. After all, your heart beats a little faster with such stimulus as this, right? That’s because it is intrinsically beautiful and exciting. And your friend will pick up on it.
We pilots and enthusiasts are in a constant campaign for the hearts and minds of our non-aviator brothers and sisters. And one of the most effective tools in this campaign is so simple that it escapes notice much of the time.
Have lunch. It can be that simple!