The product was an easy sell—a flight from Lethbridge Airpark, near Melbourne, Australia, to the Mornington Peninsula on a sunny winter’s day. The problem was getting the customer, my daughter Sarah, through the door.
Since getting my Recreational Pilot Certificate (Australian equivalent of a Light Sport licence) I’ve taken a bunch of people, including siblings and friends, for a fly but a year after getting that stamp in my logbook I had yet to take either of my two daughters.
That changed when I took my youngest, Maddy, 19, for a flight along the coast. I was actually surprised she decided to come up as she’s incredibly anxious when travelling on airliners. But she figured this would be a good way to demystify the miracle of flight.
Apart from a 3000-ft. cloud base, the winter weather brought still air and the odd sunbeam breaking through overcast with stunning effect.
It all went without a hitch until I found myself a little high on final, necessitating a go-around that alarmed her a little, but didn’t stop her from wanting to go up again—mission accomplished.
My eldest daughter Sarah seemed pleased to be Dad Air’s next passenger. Sarah was always more outgoing than her sister and even though she lacks my avgeek genes I was a little surprised when she texted me a couple of nights before the flight saying, “Hey Dad, I don’t want to be the absolute worst but I just don’t know if I want to fly on Saturday :-(. I think I’m a lot more afraid of flying than I realised because it’s kind of been worrying me.”
I felt a little disappointed, but didn’t want to push her so I suggested she should one day come along to the airfield to check things out. To my surprise she agreed to come along that same Saturday to do just that.
That morning brought perfect winter flying weather with barely a cloud and a fresh 10-knot northerly. I was itching to fly, but elected not to mention it during the one-hour drive to the airfield. When we arrived, Sarah actually looked a little excited to see the Tecnam Echo Super and, to my delight, conceded that she’d probably regret not going up before making a determined beeline for the aircraft.
I was little worried she might change her mind as I pre-flighted, but made a point not to rush things or become distracted. Thankfully she still seemed relaxed by the time the Rotax roared into life.
Despite the northerly breeze, we taxied out to for a crosswind takeoff on runway 28, whose blacktop is a little more undercarriage-friendly than 34’s grass.
It’s a longish taxi out to 28’s piano keys—enough time for a nervous flyer to overthink things. I did well not to hurry to this point, but on lining up, in my haste to get her in the air, I pushed the throttle without another look at the windsock and was caught a little by surprise when a gust pushed us to the left as we lifted off.
I managed to contain things quickly enough for her not to notice and as we flew overhead the airfield she declared she felt good to keep going.
It was a little bumpy so I climbed to get above the haze for smoother air. Our Australian Rules football team is the Geelong Cats and I pointed out the light towers of their home stadium; that brought a smile to Sarah’s face that didn’t go away.
I gave her the option of rugged Great Ocean Road or Mornington Peninsula and she chose the latter, which probably sounded safer. Once above Geelong, I slowly descended to 1000 ft. and flew over Peninsula’s ocean sands to Rye before looping around a 1000-ft. hill called Arthurs Seat for a 500-ft. flyby along the bayside beaches—personally reckon this is even more spectacular than flying along the Great Ocean Road.
By this point she was snapping pics on her phone and even enjoyed some banking turns as we buzzed the Queenscliff ferry.
We flew back toward Lethbridge, keeping to about 1400 ft. to stay under Avalon Airport’s Class E. I radioed my position on the Barwon Heads CTAF and again to an aircraft in my general vicinity—that communication seemed to comfort Sarah.
A closer look at the football stadium from 1000 ft. AGL was in order before riding a few bumps out to Lethbridge that weren’t even remarked upon.
The windsock was still favouring runway 34 when we overflew the airfield. This wasn’t the time to practice crosswind landings so I set up for 34 for what I’m convinced was the gentlest landing I’ve ever done—talk about the icing on the cake.
The only downside was forgetting to put the SD card in the GoPro!
I put the aircraft to bed and gave my little girl (OK, she’s a 22-year-old accountant) a hug and told her how pleased I was that she persisted. She responded by saying how proud she was of me and how my flying made her feel safe.
As well as a massive smile on my face, I took a couple of key takeaways from that flight.
The first was to recognise not everyone shares our love of flying and to let them decide when the time is right. They’re more likely to entertain the idea if they didn’t feel obliged to go up just to please us.
The second, which should expedite the first, is to always act professionally regardless of who you fly with. Whether you’re their friend, sibling, or parent, your passengers will look to you for reassurance.
This is where your reputation as a pilot is forged—as it turns out a big reason Sarah had a change of heart was that her sister told her how she felt at ease when seeing me go through all the pre-flight checks.
Now to get my wife to fly with me.
Tips for flying with novice passengers:
- Let people take their time to decide if they want to fly
- Don’t be offended if they have second thoughts
- Try to identify any fears they have and work around them
- Always act professionally and relaxed
- Don’t rush, especially when it comes to pre-flight
- Talk calmly when using the radio
- When appropriate, chat with your passengers like you normally would, and ask how they’re doing
- Explain different procedures and how things work
- Don’t practice or demonstrate manoeuvres like stalls or forced landings
- And for goodness’ sake don’t try stupid jokes to scare your passengers