Passenger in RV-12
7 min read

I have given a lot of people rides in both my RV-6 and now in my RV-12, and I always enjoy it as least as much as they do. Having been blessed with owning a Van’s RV for nine or ten years now, it’s easy to forget what wonderful little airplanes they are. Just as humans can get used to just about anything, there is a similar risk of getting so used to things that they start to be taken for granted – flying with people who have never been in a small plane before, or pilots who have never experienced the physical freedom of a nimble little sport plane, tends to remind the owner of what a special privilege it is to have one of these things.

I have to be honest, though: I don’t remember everyone I’ve given a ride to, but they sure do remember me! There’s one guy at the airport who has had to remind me twice now that he took a ride with me.

And now as I write this, I realize that I’ve forgotten his name.


On the other hand, there are some rides that are very memorable. There was a 50-something guy who had never flown in an airplane of any type, despite a life-long interest. And, of course, many of the very pretty young women are easily recalled.

Passenger in RV-12

Some passengers aren’t easily forgotten.

And then there was Phil.

Phil called me one day last May to introduce himself as a fellow RV-12 builder in search of a ride. Naturally I told him that I’d be happy to give him one, and all he had to do was let me know when he wanted to come out to the airport. There was a pause… then he somewhat reluctantly told me that doing so would be a three-hour round trip. “No problem,” I told him, “I’ll fly out to Zanesville and you can meet me there.” That’s less than a half hour trip in the 12, so it was no big deal at all.

The ride was memorable mostly because of how effusively ebullient he was. I’ve seen that in younger people, and sometimes in 50-somethings as mentioned above, but seldom in the late-60s to 70-something group. That’s not to say that they don’t enjoy or appreciate it, because they do, but this guy was almost giddy.

When we landed, we went through the obligatory “Can I give you same gas money?” dance, wherein they offer a couple of times and I respectfully decline.

Besides the fact that accepting money flies right in the face of FAA regulations, I really don’t think it’s necessary. I enjoy the flying, and the hourly costs of flying an RV-12 are so low that my out-of-pocket cost is nearly insignificant. And besides, I’m really just re-paying the debts incurred from those times in the past when it was me who was asking for/receiving rides in RVs.

This willingness to share the experience is by no means unique to me – it’s really just part and parcel with the mores of the RV community.

What I have failed to realize, though, is that what I consider to be nothing more than a small favor may very well be measured at a far higher worth to the recipient.

Obviously Phil had been one of those who received more than what I thought I was giving. I could tell this was the case when I got back to home base and picked up my phone to close my domestic flight plan (the text I send home to tell my spouse that I had cheated fate once again) and saw that I had a text from Phil telling me to make sure to look over to the passenger side – he had left something in the plane.

I did so, and found two wadded up $50 bills.

Sigh. Very few of them have ever resorted to subterfuge to get past my barriers.

I had to do something with those bills, so I eventually decided to stash them away in a couple of places where they may someday become handy in one of those situations where I suddenly find myself in need of some cash. Believe it or not, I still run across airports that don’t take credit cards for gas.

I never forgot Phil’s ride, but it had receded to the back corners of my memory until late last December when I received a message from Phil’s wife telling me that he had passed away in November.

She told me that she was contacting me because she thought I would want to know how much that ride had meant to Phil.

I did.

I took a day or two to absorb the news, then remembered that I had taken a couple of pictures of him during the flight, which is something I try to do with everyone who rides with me. I was able to dig those out of my picture repository and send the better of the two to her, for which she was very grateful.

Then I had another thought.

I never know how to approach emotionally sensitive things like this, so I cautiously composed another message to her that went something like, “I apologize if this is inappropriate, but if you need help selling the kit, please let me know and I’ll be happy to assist.”

RV-12 in flight

The RV builder/pilot community is a tight-knit one.

She took me up on the offer this past weekend, so I drove out to the very nice heated garage where Phil had been building the plane in order to assess the situation. In order to sell the kit, I would have to have a pretty good idea of what the state of the build was, and just as importantly, how well organized it was. As it turned out, it was in extremely good condition, very well organized, and looked like it should be very easy to sell.

As I was looking around the shop, I also suggested that she would have no trouble selling the specialty tools as well. As I was winnowing them out from the more day-to-day tools, I came across one that I need myself, so I told her I would be making an offer on it.

When I had all of the airplane parts separated out from lawnmower parts and the like, I asked her how much she wanted for the tool, based on the price I found by looking on Aircraft Spruce.

She paused, clearly thinking it through, then finally said, “Well, I guess I need to know what your fee is going to be first.”

I have to confess to being momentarily stunned by the question; I can’t imagine anyone in the RV community would even consider charging a fee for what I had done for her.

I told her that there would be no fee; in fact, it was a nice opportunity to use the knowledge that I spent three years building, only to never need again.

Happy to do it!

She thought for a few minutes, then said “How about $100 for the tool?”

Perfect! I actually remember where I stashed away those two $50s!

Thanks, Phil!

Oh, she also asked if I had known that Phil was ill at the time we went flying together. I had not, but as it was cancer, he probably did.

He very likely knew that flight would be the only flight he would ever have in an RV-12. My eyes are getting misty just from writing this.

Now I better understand the worth people may be putting on those rides that I consider to be just another chance to fly my airplane.

It can be quite high.

Dave Gamble
Latest posts by Dave Gamble (see all)
24 replies
    • Rick Ewart
      Rick Ewart says:

      Gee..I had the same response. The love of flight is a very deep experience. Sharing it with others makes it even more rewarding.

  1. Hugh
    Hugh says:

    I enjoyed your story. I have a Cherokee 180 & give rides to whoever is brave enough to come along & the occasional dog. Phil had a dream that would have been incomplete had it not been for you.

  2. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    Dave, beautifully told, thank you. I suspect that if you polled a group of aviators, many of them would recall special flights or favors granted them before they became pilots, by senior pilots who also probably didn’t know at the time how important that flight or favor would become. Your passenger’s spouse’s reaction highlights how little non airplane-people know about general aviation– and especially sport aviation– culture.

  3. Doyle Frost
    Doyle Frost says:

    Dave, thank you for a beautifully written and perfect article. Actual words don’t give you the credo’s you deserve for it.

  4. Jim Conn
    Jim Conn says:

    What a powerful and perfectly written article. I sent the link to all of our local EAA 702 members!

  5. Ben Carlson
    Ben Carlson says:

    Wonderful story. Got a little teary-eyed there at the end. Taking kids and us middle aged folks up is a wonderful thing! I hope to repay the favor once I complete my PPL!


  6. Bill Custer
    Bill Custer says:

    WOW, Very powerful. Thank you so much for sharing that. The gift is always in the giving. What a blessing to be the one who got to give such an amazing gift.

  7. Toodie Marshall
    Toodie Marshall says:

    Thanks for a very sweet article Dave, I too gave a lot of rides but in a glider, now long ago. What I did do was write the persons name in my log book, when I feel the urge to remember my flights, I can re-read my entries. I also had an aviation group in 4-H, gave rides to the kids when the 4-H year was over. More fun! Sharing the gift of flight is so special, I am now a very senior pilot not flying much even though we have a light sport plane. My husband built a Harmon Rocket that we flew to Oshkosh years ago, more darn fun and that was one fast airplane!
    Keep on giving rides, the kindness you share will always come back to you!

  8. Steve Ayres
    Steve Ayres says:

    Thank you for sharing such a meaningful story! All of us, as pilots, have had similar circumstances that we reflect back on with fond memories. One of my first and early introductions to flight was with an 80 year old pilot named Mr. English, in Macon, Georgia, who invited me to fly with him in his Ercoupe. He had parkinson’s disease but as long as he could hold on to the yoke he was fine. I did fly with him, both of us strangers that day, and carried the wonderful memory with me. Later, my first aircraft I bought was a 1946 Ercoupe. I hired a flight instructor for lessons, finally got my PPL and today I continue in the fantastic world of aviation. I will never forget Mr. English and that special ride that sunny afternoon!

  9. Fred Switzer
    Fred Switzer says:

    Thanks for the reminder that flying is a lot more than a set of scientific principles mixed with man-made rules. I have warm memories of flying with my dad, who always worried about my safety in the air, but never turned down an opportunity to fly with me. I have hopes for my son, who will soon be flying the CRJ.
    If each of us would introduce just one new passenger a month to G/A flying, think of the community we could build, as well as assuring the future of aviation!

  10. Mort Mason
    Mort Mason says:

    And a special thanks from all those to whom you gave those thoughtful sharing rides. I know that every single one of them appreciated the ride, and still hold the memories in very special places.

    And thanks for the story. You’re quite a guy!

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  12. Suresh K Bista
    Suresh K Bista says:

    How things turn out is amazing. Your story is very nice. In many parts of mountainous Nepal, there are no roads. No doctors and no medicine shops too. A patient may have to be carried for days before they village or town that has some kind of civilisation. The most to suffer are the women folks. Onetime, I flew a Cessna Caravan to an airstrip in west Nepal. After landing, I was informed by some villagers that a lady had to to be airlifted to a place where she could be get immediate and urgent medical needs. Her husband had gone to get some money for the flight airlift his wife. I felt sad when I learnt that she was nine months pregnant and the baby was already dead inside for a week. I did the flight free of cost as the aircraft was returning empty anyway. Never got know the status of the lady patient later. God Bless.

  13. Trent H Duff
    Trent H Duff says:

    Thanks for sharing, Dave. Special passenger, indeed!

    Suresh, your posts are very interesting and touching as well. An airplane is one of God’s true, very special blessings that we likely will not fully appreciate in this life. Your choice, or agency in what you do with that airplane is your way of showing that appreciation!

    I have long loved Bob Hope’s favorite airline, “Wings of Hope” headquartered here in St. Louis. That special organization has well over 200 small planes around the world for the purpose of flying children in need to the health care they need. I have to plug it here for those with a soft heart and an interest in helping others in great need!

    Meanwhile, pilots can help others by being creative, open-minded, and being available for that special moment. Dave’s article is of that giving spirit.

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