Accentuate the positive!

Spend enough time reading this site or any other aviation publication, and you’ll eventually get to the articles or comments sections stating how there just simply isn’t enough interest in general aviation for it to survive. The various threads I find can usually be boiled down to low interest, high cost, more rigid regulations, little understanding from the non-flying public and so forth. All these outside threats thrown together can make it quite difficult to look for any positives in flying personal aircraft. It can be perfectly understandable for a pilot to feel cornered and start to feel that his or her avocation is on life support.

Happy pilot
Stop complaining, start flying, says the author. Good advice?

That having been said, if we spend so much time writing and thinking about all the negatives in GA, it is quite difficult to think about the positive aspects that would actually entice a non-pilot to consider flying. Let’s face it: we’re not exactly shining examples of good aviation advertising. In fact, we can be frighteningly good at shooting ourselves in our collective, proverbial feet.

Think about it…someone who wants to get into aviation starts to do his research. It’s not too difficult to look up this website or those of any other aviation publication out there. They find some very informative articles and also look at the comments sections of these articles to find out what pilots are thinking. I can say from personal experience, that had I read some of these comments, I would wonder, why even bother? Clearly pilots are not having any fun themselves, so I might as well go do something else.

Instead, why don’t we ask ourselves what we can do to improve the flying experience?

Fly: I know this sounds almost too simple, but simple is oftentimes the best. Just fly, for whatever reason you feel like. Want to travel somewhere? Have at it! Feel like an expensive breakfast? Go find that great airport diner you love that’s 60 miles away. Have no destination whatsoever and just want to enjoy time aloft? Don’t need my permission.

Invite someone up: Is there someone you know who has always wanted to know about flying? What better way to introduce them than taking them up? I’ve taken plenty of family and friends up with me over the past five years of my flying life, and I’ve never regretted one flight. Even if they never consider learning to fly themselves, their being up with you helps demystify aviation and keeps that one more person firmly in GA’s camp.

One more thing: While the wheres and hows of taking someone up for a first flight could easily fill another article, it should go without saying that you should *NEVER!!* try to show off with what I’ll call “Watch this!” maneuvers. Simply being able to control a flying machine and offer a smooth ride is impressive enough.

Consider your audience: In my personal experience, at my age (31), I’m often the youngest one in the various pilot groups I belong to. It is an oft-repeated desire for more young people to get involved with aviation. So, how to do this?

The first thing is realize that they’re no longer riding up the airport on their bicycles. They’re getting involved by working at FBOs, practicing on computer flight simulators, and joining related organizations like the Civil Air Patrol. They’re watching flying videos on YouTube (I seriously can’t get enough of those), or making one themselves. The Aviation Good Old Days of the 60s and 70s have no bearing on them. It’s academic history; good to know, but has no direct impact on their flying lives.

Reconsider costs: Clearly, aviation is not a cheap avocation. It’s brought home every time we get our bills from the fueler, FBO or flying club. However, I’m here to tell you that committing aviation while living under a modest budget can be done. Going back to my previous point, because I grew up after the so-called heyday of aviation, I have never believed that flying wasn’t expensive. It was simply something I considered and budgeted for. I have yet to really “make it” in the world, so budgeting can get challenging, but I can still grab one of my flying club’s 150s or 172s and spend some time aloft without breaking the bank.

Aeronca Champ
There are plenty of fun airplanes available for under $30,000.

Also, considering your aircraft mission can go a long way to making flying as expensive or affordable as you’d like. If you’re used to flying a Mooney or Cirrus 40 miles to grab lunch once every other week, it might be time to reconsider the airplane you fly. There are still great and very airworthy airplanes available out there for less than $30,000. They may not have the latest and greatest in avionics and comforts, but that’s not why you really got into flying, right? Telling me how much cheaper and better it was “way back when” simply does nothing for me but smack of sour grapes.

Consider the context: We in the United States still have a remarkable amount of freedom when it comes to deciding where and when to fly. In my home state of Washington, I can look out the window, check the weather forecasts and decide on a whim to go burn some avgas. I do not have to file a flight plan, I do not need to tell someone exactly where and when I’m going (unless you’re IFR), and the only barriers to me are distance and gas (well, and the Pacific Ocean, but let’s not go crazy here). There’s plenty of room around and under the Seattle Class B airspace to maneuver, and I’ve never had anything less than courteous encounters with the tower, center or TRACON controllers in the region. There is still a phenomenal amount of empty airspace out there.

Also, the tools available to pilots nowadays are simply nothing short of amazing. From standalone traffic spotters and GPS moving maps to the amazing aviation apps available on our mobile devices, it’s possible to have cutting edge avionics for little more than cost of your phone and your app subscriptions.

Reconsider the “Good Old Days:” John Zimmerman made note of this. Many pilots seem to think that if we can just go back to how things were 40 years ago, we’ll be good. Time, unfortunately, does not work that way. There were circumstances that are not repeatable anymore and I invite you to read John’s column for the specifics, but suffice it to say, it is still possible to create your own personal “good old days” in the here and now. Every time I take my wonderful wife up, I am adding to those good old days that I’ll remember, when we both get older, and I don’t plan on stopping.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we not be concerned over what is going on in the greater world. Certainly, we as human beings have a talent and almost God-given right to complain about how things are (besides, how entertaining would family gatherings actually be, if someone couldn’t complain about something?). However, I hope I have at least pointed out that there is much to appreciate about general aviation. If we can occasionally focus on those positives, then we can entice more to our ranks.

Still don’t think aviation can be a positive? Consider this YouTube video, and tell me that I’m wrong:

32 Comments

  • YES! As a student pilot, hearing all the talk about how my dream is becoming unaffordable, it is SO refreshing to read this. Your point about how would-be pilots respond to our grousing is especially appreciated. I do plan to create my own “good old days” as I find ways to make it happen!

    • Thank you for reading, Andrea! One of the best feelings you’ll have is when the examiner turns to you, shakes your hand and says “Congratulations.” Best of luck on your training!

  • A good reminder to enjoy what we’ve got while we’ve go it! And so much more upbeat than the thing that usually prompts me with that thought: someone’s tale of losing their medical unexpectedly.

    LOVED the video. I recall flying for the first time in a GA airplane at a similar age. It sticks with you in a powerful way. Not so much the exact memory of the event, but more the feeling and emotion of flying. I bet there’s a better than even chance she’ll become a pilot herself one day.

    –Ron

    • Ron,
      Thank you for your comment. My first flight was much later (about 12), but I’ve never forgotten it, especially when the pilot let me take the controls for a few minutes. I remember this overwhelming feeling of “yeah, I can do this!”

      Thanks for reading!

  • Amen to that! Every time I turn around there’s another story about a crash, the dangers of this or that, the future of Avgas or even GA itself… ect. This captures the true essence of flying. While I absolutely think that knowledge and understanding of the things listed is important, GA is really about having a good time! The ‘Hundred Dollar Burger’ flights, puttering around with the doors open in a J-3, and bringing people for rides on clear blue sky days. Great article.

    • Thanks Chris. I will be the first to acknowledge that there are issues in GA, both externally and internally. However, every so often, it helps to step back and ask ourselves what attracted us to flying in the first place. Case in point, I spent 3 glorious hours Easter morning putting around the North Sound at 2000MSL, for no reason other than it was a perfect day to fly.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Great article! I shared Laney’s video on my blog a couple weeks ago and the enthusiastic response was overwhelming. We can’t lose sight of the sheer joy of being up in the sky! And I agree, there are ways to do it – even on a limited budget.

  • Great article Brandon, I couldn’t agree more, sometimes it seems like aviation is in a mental state of depression… but that just doesn’t jive with my personal experience of aviation which has been incredibly positive.

    The “Lainey’s First Flight” video has been a great rallying point for the positive voices in our community. We need more like this !

    • YES! I agree totally with the thought of “depression.” It’s as if we’ve just given up and agreed to ride the wave down until personal aviation is exctinct.

    • Adam,
      Thanks so much for reading. I was getting tired of the “Woe is us” vibe I’d been getting for quite some time and basically wanted to say “Well, DO something about it!” Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemy.

      Thank you again, and I wish you luck with the Flying Club Initiative.

  • So I’m kind of interested in this part of your article:

    “… it should go without saying that you should *NEVER!!* try to show off with what I’ll call “Watch this!” maneuvers…”

    For most people I take up, I will do the weightless pencil thing, which is really nothing more than a stall. I ask them before hand if they want to do it, and it goes without saying, for most this is the highlight of their flight. I recently took up 7 Scouts who were visiting from the UK, you can see their reactions in this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxQtVtHgw6E

    So I guess I’m wondering if you’d find that a watch this type maneuver? Every single one of them was begging to go up again, and put it down as one of the best things about their trip to the US.

    • Carl,
      I’m of the personal opinion that training maneuvers (stalls, steep turns and such) are not the best way to introduce someone to GA. However, as you point out, there are people who have no problem with them, and you did ask beforehand.

      This is, of course, only my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth, but I appreciate your thoughts nonetheless.

      • Thanks Brendan. I think it depends on my audience, when I take my mother flying, it has to be the most smooth I can ever fly, talk about turning blue during takeoff, I would never think of doing tight turns or the pencil trick with her.

    • The floating pencil thing is enjoyed by some, but for others, lunch would come up with the pencil! I believe taking a conservative approach on first flights is the right thing to do, because it’s so unpredictable how people will respond to even simple things like turns, much less stalls.

  • Brandon,

    I love your thoughts on “the good old days.” It seems like we’re so ready to just throw in the towel and say that aviation is just one of those things on the downward slope.

    It’s madness. We pilots know how exciting and worthwhile to the community aviation is. But if we just tell ourselves “It’ll never be like it used to be,” we’ll sink like a freaking rock.

  • Thank you for your article. I did not start my flight training until I was in my late fifties and have enjoyed every minute and flight since. I was fortunate to purchase a sweet 30 year old C172 am making memories with every flight sharing the thrill of flying with my family and friends. My grandchildren especially love doing dippity do’s. My point in commenting on the plight of general aviation is to say you can make it what you want, start learning when the time and circumstances are right and then take it as far as you want to go or as opportunities permit. In closing, I can only say, I wish I had started flying 30 years ago….I love it so much.

  • Brandon,

    Your writing makes me think of something I have been talking and thinking about for the past year. Here is a Blog post I created last night and published tonight due to your writing.

    DREAM VERTICAL

    When you think of the word DREAM what comes to mind? Dreams can be viewed in so many ways. Example, on Easter Sunday I saw a Radio Flyer Tricycle (pictured below) and thought how young kids have dreams of flying in the sky, being a prince or princess, being Superman, or just being WILD at HEART and living life to the fullest. The light shinning in the picture below represents hope, inspiration, and made me DREAM of my future. Dreams can be vision, hope, goals, the future, and the list goes on and on.

    I DREAM of owning an airplane like a Super Cub on floats, a Corvette, a beach house, a cabin in the woods, spending time with family on exotic vacations, becoming a CEO, owning my own business, and the list goes on and on.

    When you think of the word VERTICAL what comes to your mind? Do you think of going vertical by moving up in a company, accomplishing your dreams of flying in the sky, hitting a big ski jump, rising above the challenges in your life that hold you back? Well, the list goes on and on.

    I’ve had many DREAMS that I’ve accomplished. Like, completing my Commercial Pilots License, a bachelor’s degree, starting a youth leadership program, getting a job at Boeing to pay for my flight training ;), searching to understand my faith and a big one for me is having the time to spend with loved ones in my life. Some of my DREAMS are still out there! To accomplish them I’ll have to keep a positive attitude, stay strong in my faith, and continue to DREAM VERTICAL.

    To DREAM VERTICAL (DV) for me is flying on my own pocket so I gain enough experience to eventually be a Corporate Pilot, believing that I’m inches away from break through, waking up early for a business conference when I just want to sleep in, it’s continuing to network with people of influence when I’m not sure how it’ll turnout, completing a graduate degree, eventually owning an airplane that inspires future aviators, buying a house with a runway, tithing money to trouble communities that brings hope, taking adventures vacations with family and friends, and again the list goes on and on.

    To DREAM VERTICAL for me is to build a program that inspires people to live a healthy life, chase their flying dreams, invest in continued education, be mentored and mentor others, be a leader in their world and make life choices that will create a brighter vision for all.

    I’m developing a program that focuses on helping people DREAM VERTICAL.

    DREAMing VERTICAL is accomplishing goals and creating a vision for your life!

    Do you DREAM VERTICAL? If so, reply and let your vision loose!

  • Brandon you are soooooooooooooooo right. We all need to quit complaining and just fly! I’ve seen the video and thats what it’s all about.

  • Brandon, Your article is the right one at the right time. I hope it goes viral like some things on the web. I have been involved in aviation since my solo flight way back in 1963 when I was in an F.I.P. program with Air Force ROTC. I have flown military (C-130) all over the world, commercial (Delta) for 32 years and laced in between all of that, General Aviation. Now, at 71, I have started the process of obtaining a CFI and maybe a CFII. Aviation has given me so much, maybe, just maybe I can pass some of that enthusiasm on to others. I’m also looking to buy my first airplane (tail wheel, of course). Of all the road blocks that you point out, I would have to say cost ($$$$$) is the major deterrent to most people. Unfortunately, I don’t see that changing, but maybe it’s possible to convince people to prioritize their spending habits in a way that gives real returns, not superficial ones.

    • Dan,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I really hope you finish your CFI, because it sounds like some lucky students are going to benefit very much from your experience. I was incredibly fortunate to have a CFI who was in it for the teaching, and I’ll always be grateful to her.

      As far as the cost issue, again I can only speak for myself, but I genuinely believe that learning to fly on a modest budget is possible (this coming from a person with his own superficial habits!). It really boils down to the value of what you’re paying for. Are you just going up and doing maneuvers in bumpy air for 1.3 hours a lesson? Or are you throwing in some excursions to airport restaurants and fly-ins and the like? There are ways to work around the cost.

      Again, thanks for your comment!

  • Great article Brandon!

    And the video of Lainey is priceless! What a treat to have your first flight in a Cub with the door open! I’ll never forget the first time my instructor took the door off the Taylorcraft.

    All this talk of training and regs and medicals and feds and poor safety records … What if we required every pilot to fly an hour in a taildragger with the door open, just 1 hour each year? I’m willing to bet that getting each one of us back to the roots would do an awful lot to boost safety and rekindle the aviation community!

    • Peter,

      Thank you for your comment! I definitely agree that some time in an older tailwheel aircraft would do wonders to anyone. My first time in a Citabria, I couldn’t stop grinning!

  • I agree with your assessment of the lack of younger people who start flying. I was at recent AOPA event in Michigan where there were 150 pilots. I litterally was one of the youngest there at age 49.

    • Chris,

      It definitely is a strange feeling to go to these group meetings and be one of the few (or only) non-“graybeards” in the room.

      For what it’s worth, I have started to see more younger students and pilots around my airport, and I’ve had a couple friends (and my car mechanic!) approach me about flying. Good signs all around.

      Thanks for reading!

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