Sleeping grandkid
3 min read

My wife and I have six grandkids and when we go flying, we like to take one of them with us. The kids know that they get to go for their first plane ride when they turn four years old. Well, Ava turned four in October and asked when she could go for her first airplane ride.

Grandpa has a set of rules he flies by for the first plane ride. The weather needs to be perfect. Sunny, no clouds which might produce thermals, light breeze, and moderate temps.

Finally, February 23 was one of those days. We keep our plane at the south ramp hanger at the Dane County Airport (MSN), and after we got to the hangar she got a preflight briefing along with the airplane. She is asked, more than once, if she is scared or nervous. If either, we will go to Culvers instead (we will go to Culvers either way). I do not want her to think she has to go flying just because she has been asking to go.

She gets to help push the airplane out of the hangar and watch the final checks. In goes the booster seat, then I lift up Ava and strap her into the seat. Again, I ask if she still wants to go flying. She says she is ready to go.

Sleeping grandkid

This is what success looks like.

I get in, close and latch the doors, get the headsets on, and go through the before start checklist, explaining what I am doing and checking. She’s four—more interested in watching the National Guard jets take off.

Engine start, radios on, lights on, ATIS copied. I ask again if she is ready. For me, she is the go/no go decision maker. I check our mics and headset so we can hear and talk to each other. Then I tune in clearance delivery, talk to them. call ground, talk to them, and taxi to the active for a run-up. All is good.

Now, here is a new rule. At any time, Ava can call off the flight by saying stop. But once we get into the air, she has to be able to hang in there for 45 seconds because that is how long it will take me to call the tower for an expedited turn to land, bend it around, and be back on the ground.

I get a thumbs up.

So I add full power, the nose comes up, the wheels are off, and we are flying. I look at her and the look of astonishment is amazing. She says wow. We make our turn to the north level out at 2500 msl as I throttle back and enjoy the ride. I show her Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house, some farms and cows in the pasture; all the while her nose is pasted to the window. She is enjoying it and Grandpa is enjoying it even more.

Twenty minutes into the flight, we start a slow 180-degree turn back to MSN. I listen to ATIS, call approach, and am told to expect straight in to runway 21. I tell Ava that we are heading back and that I will really need to listen to the controllers on the radio. She understood because I had explained all this before takeoff.

I called tower and was cleared to land on 21, so I set up for the approach. When I next checked on my passenger, she was asleep, leaning up against me.

Other grandkidisms:

  • Jackson remarked, “Grandpa, cars sure are small from up there.”
  • From Porter, when I told him it was his plane to fly (his hands have a solid grip on the yoke), “OK Grandpa, but you my have to help me.”

Now that is a great day of flying.

Tom Schuster
Latest posts by Tom Schuster (see all)
30 replies
  1. Grant
    Grant says:

    I always enjoy reading about children getting their first taste of flying in light plane. Those also sound like good rules for whenever my wife finally decides she’s ready to go up with me! (My adult daughter already has several times.)


    What a great read! First airplane rides are special, and to be able to do that with your grandpa is even more so.

  3. Tom Stackhouse
    Tom Stackhouse says:

    Well done. I especially like the rule that the grandchild is asked several times about “go-no go.” Did this rule develop after an episode with one of the other children?

  4. Thomas Rich
    Thomas Rich says:

    Thank you for sharing, proud grandpa. “Pappy” is looking forward to implementing these wise “Grandpa’s Rules”. We have 5 and “The Bean”, #6, is due before the end of February.
    Happy New Year, Pappy

  5. Tina Herington
    Tina Herington says:

    So happy you are able to get them flying. Our kids are 5 and 7 and fly with us routinely, usually they just complain that they are bored. They have absolutely no idea what they are being given the opportunity to experience!

  6. Bob McDaniel
    Bob McDaniel says:

    My granddaughter first flew with me at 2-1/2 and loved it. A week later, I asked her if she was ready to fly with me again. She quickly replied, “Yes, Grandpa. But next time, let’s fly in a helicopter!” I called a friend, and 2 weeks later, she enjoyed a helicopter ride. Since then, she’s flown in a variety of aircraft including a blimp, a Ford Tri-motor, and a powered parachute. Now at 14, she’ll be ready to solo on her 16th birthday. She is a great reason to go flying!

  7. Mark Ramsey
    Mark Ramsey says:

    That picture is heartwarming. Very glad you came up with a formula that works so well and thank you for sharing it with us. My first grandchild got her first flight last month when she was 3 months old. So she had no idea what happened. I can use your strategy when she and future grands get older. I once had a very nervous AngelFlight passenger who ultimately fell asleep. I was talking her through everything just like you. Apparently I either made her so comfortable or bored her to sleep. Not sure which and either is ok with me. So nice when a flight is so comfortable your passenger takes a nap! Well done grandpa!

  8. Kurt
    Kurt says:

    Great Story, Good “Grandpa Rules”, Thank you. Giving First flights to children is exceptionally enjoyable. I look forward to each opportunity to share a “First Flight”.

  9. Greg Johnson
    Greg Johnson says:

    Great, wonderful story. I took my son flying for his first time when he was 4, (40 yrs ago), and more recently have taken each of my 3 grandkids first time flying when they were 4 or older. My son was with us for the first flight of each kid, and those have been the most memorable 4 flights of my life. Took photos, and gave each gkid a certificate and flight related gift after the flight. I never fly more than one gkid at a time, and I’m called “FlyPop” by them and family. Memories for a lifetime. They all love to fly.

  10. Bill
    Bill says:

    For many of us grandpas, there is another rule, the parents(especially the in-law) must insist as well. Not all parents are thrilled and may have concerns with “grandpa” flying their most precious possession. I usually wait till both parents insist, I don’t want that flight to create a division in the family.

  11. David Sproul
    David Sproul says:

    My father taught me how to fly when I was a teenager, but as a liability-conscious obstetrician he taught me to be super careful about who goes flying with me. As a result 99%+ of my flying is alone and I’ve come to accept that. Luckily, I have the proper personality for such a plan. Oh, and I don’t enjoy saying it, but the word is “hangar”. In a published article in an aviation forum I’d hope to see basics like that done correctly.

    • Brenden
      Brenden says:

      Easily understandable why you fly alone. One wrong word doesn’t even come close to being an issue here. It’s a great article and typing mistakes happen. Move on man.

    • Joe
      Joe says:

      The word was used 3 times, only once was it incorrectly spelled (and more probably a typo). I think Meatloaf said “two out of three ain’t bad” – and learn to speak “typoese”.

  12. Mark
    Mark says:

    Great article. My favorite flights are those with people on their first flight. I took my son several times as a kid, but he didn’t get bit by the flying bug. When he was 30 years old he came to me and asked when I was flying next I asked why, he said he would like to go. I am proud to say that he has just gotten his private license with me as his instructor. How great is that!!

  13. Rick Junkin
    Rick Junkin says:

    Thanks for sharing a great story Tom. Its reassuring to see that other grandpas use these kinds of rules to pretty much guarantee the grand babies have a great experience their first time in the air! “Papa Airplane” here, really resonating with “the look of astonishment is amazing!”

  14. Tyler
    Tyler says:

    I recently flew my two granddaughters from Albuquerque back to Phoenix in a C-182Q. It was their first cross-country with me, so we took the long way south to avoid forecast bumps. Most of the flight was after dark, and coming back to the metro area from the desert darkness was spectacular. My happiest moment was actually days later, when they both said they’d rather fly back with me than drive back with their parents!

  15. Uroflyer
    Uroflyer says:

    Great article. I have a 5 and 3-year-old daughter that I started taking at 3 & 1. Your wisdom in this article is evident and my youthful enthusiasm has, unfortunately, many times led to crying, tantrums, and not so friendly conversations with my beautiful wife.

    I have learned these lessons the hard way and now have the same rules. In fact today I scrubbed a flight after the winds got blustery. My kids were just as content to do our pre-flight brief, preflight the airplane, and then just sit in their seats with their headsets making airplane noises, calling it a “training mission”.

    The number one rule we now have, our time together is about the journey, not the destination. It’s taken me two years to learn this, but I wished I had had your rules a couple of years back, and have had the sense to listen to them.

  16. Bruce Booker
    Bruce Booker says:

    My daughter and my granddaughter both grew up flying with me. My granddaughter was 19 when she got her private license. A few days later I noticed that she was calling my airplane “our” airplane. That’s a good “problem” to have.

  17. Michael Graham
    Michael Graham says:

    Really? 4 years old? Why wait? We started taking our kids and grandkids the first time we had a trip scheduled. This was typically about at 8 weeks old. Our daughter went with us when she was 5 WEEKS old. That trip was from Wisconsin round trip to San Francisco in November in our Cessna 182.

  18. Farhan Ahmad
    Farhan Ahmad says:

    Thanks for sharing, Tom! Great rules, not only for grandkids, but also younger kids and nieces. I still have some ways to go to get my PPL. I will keep the rules handy when I am ready to take the first young one.

    It’s such a small world. I am also in Madison (WI) and just started training out of the Middleton Morey airport (C29). I do sometimes take lessons in MSN. Maybe we will run into each other one of these days!

  19. Jeff S.
    Jeff S. says:

    All excellent points, but perhaps a too-big step for many kids. Mine, for example was, for various reasons, both shy in trying new things and prone to sensory overload. Hence, I made “checking on the airplane” and hanging out at the FBO a part of our Saturday morning routine. (I know, terrible burden right? :) ). He loved at the very least, running (supervised) around outside and, after a short while, being greeted by name by a large number of his new airport buddies. Next, rather than drive the 1/2 mile from hangar to FBO, we taxied. His angst was mollified by knowing he’d get to hang with his new friends and the putt-putt back quickly became no big deal. Then, in another incremental step, I “needed to check the engine”, so did the takeoff prep, pulled onto the runway, applied full power (which scared him), but aborted the takeoff before reaching rotation speed, the did the now-normal taxi back to the hangar. The first real flight also started a terror sequence, but was just a trip around the pattern, over before the anxiety got too far. Another one of those, then a real 20 minute flight, to an airport breakfast at a place we’d already visited by car. At that point, he was hooked. Anyway, small steps and patience can win over the most reluctant of little fliers.

  20. John M
    John M says:

    Great read! I have a little 21 month old daughter. We are getting ready for her first flight. She already points skyward and says “airplane”. Anyone taken a kiddo up that small?

  21. Bob McHale
    Bob McHale says:

    Took my two grandsons with their Dad on same flight. Did just about the same…explained everything, took it slow, made sure they wanted to fly. They loved it! Constantly finding things and commenting on them in excited voices. When I asked for a little quiet while we came to land, they couldn’t contain themselves. Had to isolate them on intercom for just a few moments. Fun was had by all and they can’t wait to go again.

  22. Vince MASSIMINI
    Vince MASSIMINI says:

    Much the same for my grandkids. My wife and I took one of her nephews up years ago–he was about 6 and really excited. I remarked that we’d fly around and maybe do some touch and goes when we got back. We took off, and he did fine. He remarked about the toy school busses. When my wife told him those were real school busses, he got a bit antsy and asked, “Can be to back and touch and not go?”



  23. Mike Sheetz
    Mike Sheetz says:

    I chaired a festival Wings & Wheels Show event for 11 years. Our EAA Chapter provided Young Eagle rides all afternoon in that day with a lot of folks at the car show enjoying the close proximity to the flying action. The EAA Chapter coordinated a ground school including using a simple parasol experimental where the youngsters could see the flight control movements. Preflight guidelines for the passengers was required. We flew over 130 that first year, and averaged over 80 all the following years. Good memories by all involved!


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