Selling Your Family on Flying

Your beaming family has just arrived at the airport for their first airplane ride with you as captain. The smiles on their faces, fueled by excitement and anticipation, will be surpassed only by their delight after you have introduced them to the wonders of flight.

Every soon-to-be pilot has dreams like these, but that’s not always the way it goes. Here you are, wrapping up your private pilot training, psyched about the upcoming adventure of flying with friends and family. But as you get closer to realizing your dream, you discover that your family isn’t quite as enthusiastic as you might have hoped. Everyone is proud of your accomplishment. They just aren’t yet comfortable with the idea of joining you for a flight.

Chances are your loved ones haven’t flown much, if ever, in light airplanes. Since you, the family’s proud new pilot, once dinged the family car, or can’t fix a broken sink, or sometimes forget to turn off the porch light before going to bed, family members sometimes worry that their new aviator might not yet have what it takes to be a skilled, safe pilot. Besides, they’ve heard about your travails during training, your struggles mastering crosswind landings, and how you felt momentarily lost on your first cross-country. After all, you did earn your certificate only last week.

How Do We Encourage People We Care About To Fly With Us?

First we must be sensitive to the subliminal effects of stories and apprehensions we share with our families during training. Family members may not pay much attention to these comments at first, but as your checkride approaches, they begin subconsciously to note whether you seem confident or not. So be careful not to tell too many “There I was,” stories. Instead of being impressed by your bravery, your future passengers may become alarmed at how dangerous it all sounds.

One private pilot I know is married to a woman who is petrified of flying, but in a noble effort to share his enthusiasm, she flies with him anyway. That’s a wonder, because this guy makes even the most docile flight sound like a life-or-death struggle with the elements and the airplane. Every flying story is peppered liberally with phrases like, “I barely maintained control,” and, “The controls were virtually ripped from my hand by the crosswind.”

Obviously this fellow wants to impress his audience with his masterful flying skills, but the effect has been to drive his family away from his favorite hobby and to scare friends out of ever joining him in an airplane.

Of course part of the fun of piloting is sharing adventures and challenges along the way, but be careful how you embellish those tales. Be sure to include the happy outcomes, new skills, and increased confidence that resulted from those experiences. Don’t tell war stories in front of nonpilot friends and family!

An Enjoyable First Flight Is Crucial

It’s easy to see why a smooth first flight is so important; it gives passengers the confidence they need to believe in you. You may get only one or two opportunities to introduce loved ones to flight, so it’s critical not to blow it. Depending on how those first flights go, your passengers may fly regularly with you in the future, or never step aboard again.

So do all you can to deliver each first-time passenger a wonderful experience. Fly early or late in the day, avoid wind and turbulence, and handle the controls with supreme smoothness.

Although you’ve just invested many hours mastering flight maneuvers, those are not the skills to demonstrate on the family’s first flight. A surprising number of new pilots try to impress passengers with their newly acquired flying skills by performing stalls and steep turns. This can be a disastrous error, because once family members become frightened of flying, there’s a significant chance that they won’t try it again. Piloting airplanes is like riding motorcycles⸺”driving” is a blast, but riding as a passenger can be scary because you have no control. Scare your passengers on their first ride, and your career as family pilot may be over, permanently.

Also, first flights with newbie passengers should be brief⸺twenty minutes to an hour, depending on how they respond. Show them some local landmarks, fly over the house, and maybe land somewhere for lunch. (Avoid tight circling over those landmarks!) Best to deliver a short and “dull” ride leaving them begging to go again, than to overdo the experience.

Appropriate skills to demonstrate on first flights are smoothness, great takeoffs and landings, and perhaps cross-country navigation. In short, your mission is to fly like a professional pilot.

What Makes Us Pros In The Eyes Of Our Passengers?

Certainly good judgment and precision flying skills head the list, but consideration for your passengers is also important. When you talk to your passengers about safety and comfort, they are likely to straighten in their seats, arrange their collars, and assume a serious expression. Now you sound like a professional pilot, and your passengers will notice the similarities.

One mark of a professional pilot to which everyone can relate is the preflight briefing. After all, that’s what happens on every airline flight, right? So along with regulatory obligations to brief your passengers, here’s an opportunity to help put your passengers at ease. Before starting the engine, spend a few moments explaining what’s going to happen from start-up through taxi and takeoff. For example, every passenger who’s seen a disaster movie knows the meaning of a flashing light or a beeping horn, right? Emergency!

Be assured that if you don’t explain it ahead of time, the eyes of your passengers will be glued in terror to that little blinking transponder reply light throughout the flight, until, that is, the stall warning grabs their attention upon landing. Point out before starting the engine that passengers may notice flashing lights during the flight and perhaps hear a horn, and that all of it is normal.

Explain how you’ll be steering with your feet en route to the runway, that pretakeoff safety checks will include running up the engine, and how after takeoff you’ll be banking and reducing power. It also helps to use a signal, like raising your right hand, when you’re busy or receiving radio calls to notify passengers that you require silence. Once aloft, fly with smoothness and alert passengers about what to expect under various flight situations.

Turbulence is particularly frightening for passengers. Never, ever schedule a first airplane ride when bumps are likely or the weather looks threatening for any reason. If you do anticipate a few bumps once in the air, use your training to point it out ahead of time.

“See those hills, Barb? Since there’s a breeze blowing over them from the west, we may experience a few bumps until we get to the other side.” Barb now knows what to expect, so mild turbulence will bother her less. And if it remains smooth, she’ll be suitably impressed by her knowledgeable pilot all the same.

When weather or other circumstances do cause you to cancel a flight, or if you must land somewhere other than your intended destination, don’t stress about it. Be conservative and proud of it. Your family will greatly respect you for no-go decisions, and will feel more confident about flying with you in the future.

What Flying Missions Will Engage Our Passengers?

As previously mentioned, it’s best to keep newbie flights smooth and relatively short until you’re certain your passengers have reached a healthy comfort level. But once achieving that comfort, you may face different challenges enticing them aloft.

Pilots often think that since they love flying, their friends and families will too. If only life were that simple. The fact is that few passengers have fun just “flying around,” especially early on.

That’s why it’s usually best to offer flying as an avenue for doing other things family members enjoy, rather than trying to get them to love flight itself. Instead of cruising around aimlessly for an hour, plan a destination where the advantages of going by air are obvious. Fly your husband somewhere in an hour that would require hours to drive, say to lunch with his buds across the state. Whisk him to the beach or off to a fishing adventure. But whatever you do, make his special interest possible through your piloting.

What makes a given flying trip really fun is having a destination. Family members might hem and haw a bit about flying around locally just for fun. But when it comes to a real mission, like flying to the mountains to pick up the kids from summer camp, now that’s exciting, and everyone wants to go.

I was already a pilot when I met my future wife. Jean put up with a certain amount of flying because it came with the territory, but she was not particularly interested in flying regularly. The breakthrough came when I suggested a trip to visit her folks.

An easy hour-and-a-half flight to her hometown saved four and a half hours of driving, including negotiating metropolitan Chicago. More importantly, my wife quickly realized that I’d gladly tolerate an otherwise difficult weekend with the in-laws if I got to fly there. It proved to be one of our better understandings, and Jean learned to use it most effectively.

“Want to go to Mom and Pop’s next weekend?”

“Well, er, I was planning on, er, cleaning out the garage.”

“Listen, Greg, we could fly up on Saturday morning, see my folks for dinner, and then fly back after brunch on Sunday.”

You can guess who won that discussion every time.

As friends and loved ones become more comfortable with aviation, their appetite for adventure will increase. Introduce them gently, and in most cases they’ll gear up for bigger trips as you progress as a pilot.

Still, keep your early flights with friends and family from being overly ambitious. One fellow I know wanted to make his first trip with passengers something they’d remember, and he undoubtedly succeeded. Having learned to fly in the Phoenix area, Joe decided to fly three close friends in a Piper Cherokee to a small airport in southern Utah for a family reunion. This is an ideal use for a light airplane, but it meant a trip of several hundred miles over mountainous terrain in the heat of summer.

Joe’s preflight homework was thorough, including careful fuel and density altitude calculations, plus selection of alternate airports along the route. On the morning of departure Joe made his first mistake. Not wanting to inconvenience his first-time passengers with a pre-dawn departure, he hosted them to a leisurely breakfast before taking off mid-morning. In the heat of a Southwest summer day, afternoon turbulence ranges from continuous moderate to occasional severe, so smart pilots plan flights only early in the day.

Just over the Utah border, Joe became uncertain of his position and deviated off course looking for landmarks, which of course is usually a mistake. The harder he looked, the more lost he became, until he finally decided to deviate to an alternate airport selected along the way. By then the air had become turbulent and his passengers? faces were buried in air sickness bags.

The plane was by now overdue for Joe’s flight-plan estimated time of arrival, so upon landing he and his passengers learned that flight service was looking for the airplane over a two-state area. After calling off the search, refueling, and regrouping, Joe and his passengers proceeded uneventfully to their destination.

Joe’s passengers might never have flown with him again, except that they had no choice, there was absolutely no other way to return home from the remote area. Fortunately, this departure was made early in the morning, and the return flight was as smooth as glass.

Although he made a few mistakes, this pilot actually did an excellent job of completing a challenging first flight as pilot-in-command with passengers. The flight’s safety was never compromised, and Joe’s thorough preflight planning made getting lost no more than a nuisance.

When you think about it, Joe’s was a terrific flying mission to plan with friends, it’s just that a few shorter flights first would have prepared them for the more ambitious trip to follow.

Selling White-Knuckle Passengers

Some people just take longer than others to get accustomed to the idea of flying, and a few will not participate at all. How might we sell white-knuckle passengers?

For nervous types it often helps to invite along an experienced pilot and passenger for the first few flights, even though you could easily handle it alone. A nagging fear for many passengers is that their pilot, however competent, might somehow become incapacitated in flight, leaving them helpless. An additional pilot obviously addresses this concern, while a seasoned passenger soothes nerves as well. Once passengers are comfortable with your piloting performance, most will warm to the idea of flying with you as sole pilot in the future.

Another useful tool for encouraging nervous passengers is “flying companion,” or “pinch-hitter courses that introduce non-pilots to the airplane environment. Graduates gain increased cockpit understanding, can assist with cockpit tasks, and, most importantly, learn what to do if their pilot becomes incapacitated.

Many organizations such as the AOPA Air Safety Institute, and the Ninety-Nines women-pilots organization offer flying companions courses, or you can individually arrange one with a trusted instructor. Some such courses offer only classroom training, while incorporate flight simulators or actual instruction in an airplane. I’m a particular fan of those incorporating flight simulators because fearful flyers get to experience flight controls and instrument readings without the added stress of being aloft.

While not every pilot’s companion wants to tackle such a project, I once gave pinch-hitter training to a 14-year-old who routinely flew right seat with her father. (Her mother, the pilot’s wife, wanted a cockpit backup but would herself ride only in the back seat.) After several hours of instruction I taught the young woman to land their favored Cessna 210, per Dad’s request. The landings weren’t pretty but she could predictably get the plane down safely, and the family was more comfortable knowing they had a backup. In any case, the more your regular passengers know about flying, the more comfortable they’ll be in your cockpit.

Group flying trips can also increase family enthusiasm about flying. Many flying clubs and flight schools organize multiple-airplane “fly-outs” to destinations from dinners to ski weekends. These are great for involving the family in aviation adventures as they include vacation destinations, other friends and spouses for moral support, and experienced pilots. There’s hardly a better way to spread enthusiasm about flying.

When friends and family are slow to gain confidence in our flying, it’s disappointing for us as pilots, but don’t give up. Sometimes it takes a while, but as hesitant passengers gain confidence in your growing experience, many do ultimately climb aboard.

One of the great joys of being a pilot is sharing the adventure of flight with others. Our challenge is to make sure the experience delivers delight, not dread. Once family and friends decide that flying is fun, they’ll ride with us through almost any adventure and, in most cases, keep smiling in the process.

Pilot your airplane like a pro, make flying a great experience, and chances are your favorite passengers will become your biggest fans.

“Hey, wow, Hon! I wasn’t so sure about this at first, but this is really fun!”



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Video: Greg shares flight instructor tips, philosophy, & stories

Hear some of my flight instructing tips, philosophy, and stories in this great interview by John Niehaus of the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI). Thanks, John!

Greg


For more guidance on this topic, see Greg’s book, The Savvy Flight Instructor Second Edition, available in print and ebook.


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“The Day GPS Went Out,” Greg’s January/February, 2020 Flying Carpet column

“Warning! GPS Navigation Lost!” proclaimed my GPS receiver.

Jean and I were bouncing through clouds on instruments at 12,000 feet, over trackless mountains along the remote Arizona-New Mexico border.

Seconds after that initial warning, my primary flight display announced, “GPS reversion mode: for Emergency Use Only!” (but displayed no position.) My multifunction display restarted itself with a “Maintenance Required!” alert. Next came an “ADS-B (out) inoperative!” warning, meaning our transponder had stopped transmitting our GPS coordinates to air traffic control (ATC).

I was flying Jean from Flagstaff to El Paso for tennis sectionals. Normally we make the 2½-hour journey straight-line VFR. Today, however, layered clouds shrouded the mountainous central portion of the route, so I’d filed under instrument flight rules (IFR). This route spans a huge swath of military airspace that when active cannot be crossed IFR, so I’d filed a circuitous route over Socorro, New Mexico.

My first hint of trouble was when our controller asked, “Are you ADS-B equipped?”

That seemed odd, as he had long been tracking us. He then cleared me to an intersection to bypass nearby White Sands Missile Range restricted airspace, but the GPS died as I entered the fix into my navigator. After I reported the failure, the controller assigned radar vectors around the restricted areas.

Now other pilots began reporting lost GPS, and I noted that the position symbol on my tablet computer had stopped moving…

**Continue reading Greg’s entire column, THE DAY GPS WENT OUT” **. (Mobile-device link.)


Photo: Primary Flight Display in GPS-failure Emergency Reversion Mode. 


(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)


If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

New! The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual Fourth Edition!

I’m excited to announce my new The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual Fourth Edition, coauthored with major airline pilot Mark Holt, hot off the press and now available in print and e-editions!

This new Fourth Edition features many new illustrations and updates, many in full color, and now covers all required ATP-CTP material.

Along with numerous systems and terminology enhancements we’ve updated and expanded coverage of multi-pilot-crew coordination, one of the toughest challenges faced by new turbine pilots, and added an all-new crew briefings section.

Read all the details here!

Those who’ve been awaiting this new edition will want to order this week before ASA closes for the holidays this coming Saturday, December 21st, through January 5th.

Greg

“Powerless,” Greg’s July, 2018 Flying Carpet column

“Hey Greg! I’ve just experienced my first two engine failures—in one trip!”

8-17_JimPitman_Ercoupe-delivery_152549eSm1200Flight instructor Jim Pitman had just ferried a 1946 Ercoupe from Wisconsin to Arizona, and wanted to brainstorm what might have caused the power losses.

The seller had kept the annual current and run the engine regularly, but hadn’t flown the plane in a few years. Following a thorough preflight inspection and engine runup, I departed Rice Lake Regional Airport (KRPD) for Storm Lake, Iowa (KSLB), where I stayed in a neat lakeside hotel.”

After waiting for fog to lift the next morning, Jim launched toward Phoenix with refueling stops at Smith Center, Kansas (K82), Dalhart, Texas (KDHT), and Belen, New Mexico (E80).

Following a slight diversion for thunderstorms, he crossed the Mazatzal mountain range east of Phoenix in darkness, “which was fine because I am very familiar with the area,” and overnighted at his home field, Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (KDVT). After 15.3 flight hours from Rice Lake, all that remained the next morning was 60 minutes to Salome Arizona. Deer Valley Tower issued Jim an intersection departure from Runway 7R.

“When I lifted off, the engine lost power and the plane settled back on the main gear. As the nose came down, the engine regained power just as I pulled the throttle to abort the takeoff.” Back at the ramp, Jim thoroughly tested the engine. Everything worked fine and having so much time in the airplane, he figured the culprit was a one-time bit of water in the fuel. Still, as a precaution he requested full runway length for his next departure…

**Read Greg’s entire column, POWERLESS“**

Photo: Jim Pitman, with the 1946 Ercoupe. See COCKPIT VIDEO of Jim’s engine failures!

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

Greg

©2018 Gregory N. Brown

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

Greg talks “Flight Instructor Professionalism” with Rod Machado, David St. George, and Russ Still

fc-cover-photo-smMany thanks to Russell Still of Gold Seal Ground School, David St. George, Chairman of SAFE (The Society of Aviation and Flight Educators), and renowned aviation author and entertainer Rod Machado for the great experience doing our recent live-stream webinar, “CFI Professionalism: Making the Most of Your Career.”

Check out the archived presentation video for valuable tips on how to succeed as a CFI!


For more guidance on this topic, see Greg’s book, The Savvy Flight Instructor Second Edition, available in print and ebook.

“Mentoring and Marketing for CFIs,” Greg’s webinar with NAFI Chairman Bob Meder

 

SFI-2 FrontCover_shadow1200I had the pleasure of being Bob Meder’s guest on this month’s NAFI Chairman’s Webinar. (National Association of Flight Instructors)

As you’d expect, we spoke primarily on flight training and flight instructor topics, with emphasis on key marketing, motivational, and pricing ideas and insights from my new book, The Savvy Flight Instructor Second Edition.

CFIs and flight school operators should find this material particularly relevant.

So if those topics interest you, please have a listen by clicking below! (Also available as MP3.)

Thanks to Bob and NAFI for inviting me to participate!

Greg


For more guidance on this topic, see Greg’s book, The Savvy Flight Instructor Second Edition, available in print and ebook.

“Checkride!” Greg’s April, 2016 Flying Carpet column

On weddings and flight tests…

GregBrownFT416_0401eSmw1200Flight tests are a bit like weddings. Everyone wants theirs to go perfectly, but sometimes problems or distractions, when successfully resolved, add richness to the experience.

Although each of these life events usually goes smoothly, you’ll occasionally hear horror stories. Jean and I once attended a wedding reception where the restaurant caught fire, forcing the bridal party and guests onto the lawn with firefighters.

As with weddings, you can never know whether pilot checkrides are “good,” or “bad,” until afterward. The obvious measure is whether you pass or fail. Common wisdom says that sooner or later every pilot fails a flight test – fortunately that’s not the blot on one’s record pilots often worry about. But it’s not always that simple. Sometimes a failed test teaches valuable lessons. My own worst flight test was not the one I failed, but one I passed.

On my instrument practical years ago, I confused my position on an instrument approach, turned, and started down at the wrong fix. The examiner’s questioning helped me figure it out, but afterward I pondered if and when I’d have caught the error on my own. Although I learned the relevant lesson, it seemed at the time I should have failed so there was little joy in taking the new rating home. The experience haunted me until I got more instrument flying under my belt.

Colorado pilot Tom Fuller is well qualified to contemplate good checkrides versus bad. A 10-year Air Force veteran, Tom earned his private three years ago and is working toward a pro-pilot career.

GregBrownFT416_0169eSmw1200“I passed the oral portion of my initial Flight Instructor Practical Test last month, but did horribly on the flight portion. This came down to being at an unfamiliar airport, having little recent time in the Cessna 182RG I tested in, general checkride jitters, and fatigue. Any one of those I’d have probably been able to deal with, but all three was too much. Live and learn. So I rescheduled the flight portion for two weeks out, and committed to flying the RG as much as possible until then, which ended up approaching 20 hours…”

**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, CHECKRIDE!“**

Top photo: CFI Tom Fuller at Telluride Airport, Colorado. (KTEX)

Lower photo: Tom’s checkride airplane at Denver’s Centennial Airport. (KAPA)

(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

Greg

©2016 Gregory N.Brown


If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!

What’s the difference between Part 61 and Part 141 pilot training programs?

fc-cover-photo-smBased on the number of questions I get, I thought it worth explaining US Part 61 vs Part 141 pilot training programs.

Training under Part 61 is virtually unregulated except for meeting the specific objectives defined in the FAA regulations — that boils down to covering required maneuvers, aeronautical experience, and meeting test standards, pretty much however a given flight instructor sees fit.

Part 141 programs, on the other hand, are individually FAA approved, meaning each flight school must develop a detailed pilot training curriculum including lesson-by-lesson syllabus and extensive record-keeping requirements, and submit it to the FAA for approval. Part 141 programs must by definition be highly structured to be approved by the FAA. As a result, they are one-size-fits-all, meaning that every student must be trained precisely within each flight scool’s approved syllabus. Part 141 programs theoretically can graduate pilots in slightly fewer hours than under Part 61 (35 vs 40) and are required for those seeking government funding of their training, most notably to qualify for VA benefits.

My longtime-CFI buddy Jim Hackman likes to observe that “the best and the worst pilot training take place under Part 61 [because instruction quality can vary across the spectrum], while Part 141 trains for the lowest common denominator.” These days Part 61 programs increasingly incorporate some of the best Part 141 features such as written syllabi and stage checks.

Incidentally, well-run Part 141 programs are great places for beginning instructors to cut their teeth because rigorous syllabi and standardization help them learn to structure training for their students.

Greg

©2016 Gregory N. Brown