Your connection with the sky

A Twist on the Sunday Drive: Fly!

by Chris Findley, CFI

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One of the greatest gifts of flying is flying for the sheer joy of it.

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The “Sunday Drive” holds an iconic place in American life.  Like front porch swings, sidewalks, and town squares, a family drive in the country on Sunday was a mini-getaway for the family.  There was no rush, no elaborate plans, no particular agenda.  It was using the car for more than the normal weekday commute.   It was about using the car for leisure, for recreation.

The notion of the Sunday Drive has all but disappeared from the American consciousness.  As the pace and pressure of modern society has increased, our intentional use of leisure has diminished.  It is pretty rare to see people simply taking a walk in a park, or chatting with neighbors across their back fences, or just getting away together for a little while.  But today’s Private Pilot can renew this age-old and forgotten tradition of the Sunday drive, but with a twist–the Sunday flight.

As a licensed pilot, we know the immense sense of accomplishment in nailing a crosswind landing, in navigating our way around weather, or shooting a near perfect instrument approach.  But if we are not careful we will forget that the airplane is more than a training platform, a handy way to commute, or a way to earn some additional income.  One of the greatest gifts of flying is flying for the sheer joy of it.  Why not block out some time to simply enjoy time aloft- a Sunday Drive of sorts?

Not long ago my family and I made our own Sunday drive/flight.

The idea was simple.  I had spotted this out-of-the-way airport while on a training flight with one of my students.  A quick scroll through the GPS showed that it was  Jackson County Tennessee (1A7).  I saw that this 3500′ strip  was nestled between some lovely Tennessee hills with a river running parallel to the runway, only yards from the pavement.  The field was unattended, dotted only by a single large hangar on its western side.  The approach has you flying between and around the hills, and then upriver on final.  It is really picturesque.  It is also convenient as it is only about :20mins from my home airport.

The following Saturday rolled around and was a perfect VFR day.  My wife Sheryl packed a picnic lunch and brought our boys to meet me at the airport after I finished up with a student.  I re-checked the weather for the afternoon, loaded up the Cessna 172 and took off for our destination.  The flight didn’t take long and everyone was all smiles as we winged over the Cumberland plateau.  It was a cool and crisp early fall day -one of those days when you and it even seems, the plane, love to fly.

1A7 photo from

After landing, I taxied us to the ramp and shut down the engine.  We climbed out to a wonderfully calm and relaxing scene.  There was no one there.  The only sounds were the sound of nature and the popping of the cooling engine.  We found a spot in the grass, laid out a blanket and had our picnic.  After we ate, the kids played tag on the empty ramp while their mom and I just took it all in.  Now if this all sounds sort of Norman Rockwell-ish,  let me assure you this was a rare moment in the Findley house.  Our home is just as stressed and chaotic and tired as any other.  In fact, most of the time, I think we tend less toward Norman Rockwell and more toward Jerry Springer!

But this day stands out precisely because it was a break -a mini-getaway.  There was no pressure, no agenda, no real plan other than to go flying and have a picnic.  Stress was low, relaxation was high.  My logbook shows that it  took about a total of 1.3 hours on the hobbs which included a little sightseeing on the way back.  (The 1st picture was taken on the base-to-final turn at 1A7.)

With every change in season various flying magazines and blogs suggest a host of destinations to their readership.  From Maine to the Bahamas to back-country strips in the northwest there is always an adventure for those with the time and resources to take them on.  I’d love to take a week and fly to the Bahamas.  But I don’t have the time or money to make that happen.  The beauty of the Sunday Drive approach is that it is quick, affordable, and do-able for the weekend pilot. It’s also a great way to introduce non-fliers to the joy of flying.

The beauty of the Sunday Drive approach is that it is quick, affordable, and do-able for the weekend pilot. It’s also a great way to introduce non-fliers to the joy of flying.

Here are a few ways you can make the most of these little outings with friends or family:

1.) Grab a sectional and draw circle with a 50NM radius around your home airport.  These are airports that are within 30 mins of your home airport in any modest trainer.

2.)  Research the field and what’s around it. Check with AOPA Airports, the airport directory, for information potential sites.  Also check out which is a great site for just these kinds of excursions.

3.)  Be willing to go low-key.  Pack a lunch and have a picnic.  Enjoy the flying and the company even if the meal is ham sandwiches and sweet-tea.

4.)  Be patient and do your planning in advance.  That way when the next great clear day of weather comes, you’re ready.

The Sunday Drive mentality can be a needed break from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.  While not many people take these drives anymore, pilots can give this time-honored tradition new life.  So do a little exploring in your own backyard, find a field, make your plan and make it happen.

I’d love to hear your stories.  Email me your Sunday Drive experiences and what airports make great getaways! You can reach me at

Read more of Chris' articles at: and

2 Responses to “A Twist on the Sunday Drive: Fly!”

  1. Having seen these pictures, I think I'm going to make the trek up from Knoxville just to see this airport. I could use the cross-country time anyway.

  2. What a great getaway! I've taken to driving Sunday drives, and I agree 100% with you that it's a good way to get away from everything and just enjoy an afternoon.

    I'll have to bug my pilot friend to take me up on a sunday flight sometime.

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