In the late 1970s, I was flying for an air charter company in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One morning a group of six people arrived in town on an airline flight from Ohio. They had rented a vacation house in Georgetown, Exuma, and hired us to fly them there because Georgetown had no airline service.
A lady, I guess in her 50s, was one of the passengers. When she saw our Cessna 402, she would not board because she was afraid of flying, particularly of small planes. Visibly shaken, she apologized to her friends and told them to go without her. Her friends tried to change her mind, but the conversation seemed hopeless.
Stepping in, I suggested she just try sitting in the cockpit to see what it was like to be in a small plane. After some coaxing, she agreed, as long as it was not a trick to close the door and lock her in.
I promised, and she stepped up the airstair, sat in the copilot seat and stared intently through the large windshield. To everyone’s surprise and relief, she said, “I will try it, but only if we don’t fly too high.”
With her in the copilot seat, we loaded up the bags, got everyone onboard and took off heading east at 1000 feet.
Reaching Bimini, I went down to 500 feet flying over 75 miles of teal blue water over the Great Bahama Bank, where you can clearly see the bottom 25 feet below. She said not one word the whole trip. She just kept staring out the window at the water passing below.
Passing Andros Island, I pointed out blue holes, the barrier reef and the Tongue of the Ocean. Flying over the Exuma Island chain, she just kept looking down studying the many tiny islands with sandy beaches and giving no hint as to how she was doing with her fear.
At Georgetown, while I was unloading the baggage, she tapped me on the shoulder and shocked everyone by asking, “Where can I learn how to fly?”
I told her when she got back to Ohio to look in the Yellow Pages for flight schools, or just go out to her local airport and look for signs that say “Learn to Fly.”
Occasionally I would think about the lady from Ohio and how her fear seemed to evaporate during and after the flight.
Months later, our office handed me a phone message from some lady in Ohio thanking me for having her sit in the cockpit and to let me know that she had just soloed and looking forward to her getting private pilot certificate.
This experience stuck in my mind for years afterward. Every time I had the opportunity to fly a charter with a fearful passenger, I would experiment with placing them in the copilot seat. Invariably, fear was overcome by pleasure because of the view. The results were predictable, and I made a game of it, always winning. But certain conditions had to exist. The passenger must have a forward view through a large windshield with the plane flying at low altitude.
I did this for years not realizing the significance of what I was doing. I was learning why the vast majority of people fear flying and why a few love it and become pilots. I also learned that non-pilots are not afraid of flying, but conditioned through decades of exposure to airline travel in airliners with portholes that restrict their field of view to the extent of visual disorientation to the environment.
One day it dawned on me that if the aviation industry would develop a large airplane that gives passengers a panoramic view, it would lay the foundation for a new dimension to air travel.
But engineering an airplane like that is nearly impossible given the purpose of commercial air travel which is to provide transportation, nothing else. The mission of an airplane designed for entertainment is completely different. So different a mission like this for commercial airplanes has never been recognized.
I envision fleets of slow and low flying airplanes like this carrying tourists over scenic flight paths that wind throughout the world with interesting destinations as stepping stones.
This is similar to what cruise ships, scenic trains and buses do. Only an airplane does not need roads, tracks or harbors. It only needs a runway.
Every form of commercial transportation has vessels specifically designed and operated to provide leisure transportation in the soft adventure travel market, except the aviation industry.
One day in 1993, I was sitting at a lunch counter unable to get this idea off my mind. I took a pencil and a napkin and made a rough design of a 30-passenger airplane I named “Skymax.” For years, and to no avail, I have been trying to get this idea into the mainstream aviation circles.
I have written numerous letters to big companies like Disney and Bombardier explaining the idea and trying to find someone interested in developing a plane like this. I received some replies, but no one really understands it because the paradigm for the utility of airplanes is so firmly imbedded in the mind of the public and in aviation people as well.
That paradigm is: Go Fast, Go High, Go Far, Carry Lots of People, Cargo and Weapons all while the pilots sit in front enjoying the view and passengers in back anxious to land and get off.
I have a short YouYube video made that illustrates my concept.
- A new aircraft – and a new dimension to air travel - January 3, 2019