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!”

Please support Greg’s Flying Carpet Podcast, Blog, & Student Pilot Pep Talk Facebook Group!

Make a one-time donation, or better yet, subscribe your ongoing support. Thank you! Greg

“Star Power” Greg’s August, 2017 Flying Carpet column

For pilots to be interested in space and science fiction is only “logical,” but few of us personally experience the interface.

I met Chris Barton when he was executive director of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra.

He was intrigued by piloting, so we launched on local flying adventures. Even while savoring the controls, my friend was captivated by Meteor Crater and the unearthly volcanic landscape where Apollo astronauts trained for moon missions.

Our friendship and Chris’s flying were interrupted when he joined Florida’s Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra as executive director. So when he phoned recently about returning to Flagstaff for a concert, I offered to retrieve him from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport by Flying Carpet.

Navigating a Class B airport requires planning, but it’s always a kick. Phoenix controllers welcome light aircraft, and Cutter Aviation offers complimentary airline shuttles.

My first minutes with Chris were consumed by departure and taxi clearances. He oohed and ahhed as we swooped over futuristic clusters of docked jetliners on early turnout. Only after escaping congested airspace could I ask, “What’s new?”

“Actually, you won’t believe it!” exclaimed Chris…


Top photo: Chris Barton (L) with Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander William Riker in Star Trek, The Next Generation.

Lower Photo: Star Trek: The Next Generation stars Michael Dorn (“Worf”) and Jonathan Frakes with Chris and Angela Barton and family.

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


©2017 Gregory N. Brown

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

“Low and Slow” Greg’s July, 2017 Flying Carpet column

Ever wonder if you’re the only one apprehensive about launching on your first long light-plane journey?

A pilot buddy recently launched on a 1,000-mile cross-country.

Like most of us, he greeted his first extended light-plane journey with both excitement and trepidation.

He studied route and airspace, calculated fuel and weight-and-balance, took two written tests, and checked out in a Diamond DA-40. Although initially apprehensive, he phoned me exhilarated following solo landing practice.

“That was so much fun I can’t believe it!” he said, detailing each successive landing like a newly soloed pilot. “Now I’m stoked to fly that cross-country!”

My friend and his family live in southern New Mexico, 10 hours’ drive from relatives. When he mentioned that private flying would be perfect for such trips, his wife encouraged him to join the local aero club. This first mission would be to collect her and the kids from visiting her folks in Dallas…


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


©2017 Gregory N. Brown

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

“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…”


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.)


©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.


©2016 Gregory N. Brown

Greg’s “Airplane Geeks” podcast interview

Greg-SharlotHallFCopening_JanCollinsphoto_5024eCrSmw1200For you Airplane Geeks podcast fans, I had the pleasure of being their guest this week.

We spoke mostly on flight training and flight instructor topics, along with their usual news and industry features. Here’s the link for those interested in listening.

Thanks to Max, Max, Rob, and David for having me!


For more guidance on this topic, see Greg’s book, The Savvy Flight Instructor 2nd Edition.

“A Pilot Again!” Greg’s June, 2014 Flying Carpet column

GregBrownFT714_1570edeSmw1200Back in the cockpit after nine years away

What a kick, for Mary Katherine Jackson to experience her dad piloting an airplane. Sure, she knew his credentials, but their previous father-daughter flight was nearly beyond memory, when she was just six years old.

Richard Jackson crafts exhibit prints for fine-art photographers. The day we met, he was printing National Geographic’s iconic, “Afghan Girl,” cover photo for famed photographer Steve McCurry. Only when we later began working together did I learn of Richard’s aviation background. As a US Air Force combat photographer in Viet Nam, he documented military action from such legendary aircraft as the F-100 “Thud,” C-130 Hercules, and Chinook and Huey helicopters.

Following his tour, Richard qualified as an instrument-rated commercial pilot. He’d accumulated 1,100 hours and was training for his CFI when personal and career pressures derailed his flying during a busy period of his life.

GregBrownFT714_1566eSmw1200Then, 2½ years ago, Richard and I flew from Flagstaff to Phoenix to proof some prints. Remembering his piloting background, I offered the controls as we taxied out. He never returned them.

Seven years after his previous flight, Richard expertly took off, negotiated traffic and radar vectors to Sky Harbor International Airport, and landed, all from the right seat. Based on the joy in his eyes and his virtuoso performance, I urged him to get current again.

“One of these days, I will,” he replied. While Richard’s piloting passion and skills clearly survived, the requisite resources, motivation, and time had yet to converge. More concerning was something unspoken. Experience tells me the confidence to go back to piloting erodes long before the competence does. Flight proficiency usually returns quickly even after a long hiatus; the bigger obstacle is turning the key and driving to the airport. And the longer pilots are away from flying, the less likely they’ll return to it…

READ THE WHOLE STORY in this month’s Flying Carpet column, “A Pilot Again!” (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photo: Richard Jackson treats daughter Mary Katherine to a ride, on his first command flight after returning to the cockpit.

(This column first appeared in the June, 2014 issue of AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2014 Gregory N.Brown

“Pep Rally,” Greg’s May, 2014 Flying Carpet column

StudentPilotPepTalkFacebookGroup-MeyerEclipseJet_0854eSmw1200Share your gift of flight

When pilots-in-training get disheartened, a few well-placed words of encouragement can often keep them flying. So several years ago I organized a “Student Pilot Pep Talk” Facebook group.

Friendships blossomed, and some Southwest-area members recently proposed our first-ever fly-in rendezvous at Lake Havasu City Airport, Arizona (KHII). I asked along student pilot Victoria Coleman, who’d recently celebrated her first solo. When Victoria boasted of her husband Paul helping her study, I invited him too.

Victoria and I agreed that rather than make this a “lesson,” we’d share piloting duties as equals: she’d handle the radios and navigate while I flew. Once aloft, Paul enthused about his wife’s newfound skills.

“We recently bought property in Pagosa Springs,” he said. “Victoria will be able to pilot us there!” Although Victoria was yet to start cross-country training, she’d thoroughly scouted our route and destination airport, and compiled relevant radio frequencies. And though new to aerial navigation, she precisely tracked our location via outside landmarks. It turned out she’s always loved maps, and as a child aspired to be a cartographer.

“You’re a natural at this!” I said.

“I felt that way, until the other day,” Victoria replied. “I recently had a great solo day in the pattern. But last time I flew, there was a light crosswind. I wasn’t sure I could handle it, so I landed. Now I’m nervous about mastering landings, and about flying by myself…”

READ THE WHOLE STORY in this month’s Flying Carpet column, “PEP RALLY.” (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)

Photo: Members of Greg’s “Student Pilot Pep Talk” Facebook Group rendezvous at Lake Havasu City Airport, Arizona. L-R: Mike Hardison, Ken Meyer, Bijan Maleki and Miranda Rydstrom, Brian and Theresa Farley, Paul and Victoria Coleman, Paul Meehl, and Shari Meyer. SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE.

(This column first appeared in the May, 2014 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)

©2014 Gregory N.Brown

Download Greg’s “You Can Fly!” ebook for free!

YCF ebook image-ASA ecrHi Folks,

Get my You Can Fly! eBook for FREE by downloading the new ASA Reader iPhone/iPad App!

Authors Greg Brown and Laurel Lippert write to those who are considering flight training, specifically to answer frequently asked questions about it, and at the same time entice more people into exploring general aviation.”

There are no strings attached. My coauthor Laurel and I, along with the good folks at our publisher, ASA, felt that offering this book for free would be a worthy contribution to get more people into the air to experience the joys of flight we so treasure.

You aviators out there, please share this with your friends who have always dreamed about becoming pilots but didn’t know where or how to start — now they can take that long-awaited first step with some guidance.

Spread the word!


©2013 Gregory N. Brown

Greg’s PilotCast interview: “Adventure Training”

Greg’s take on how to improve the student pilot dropout rate

“The PilotCast crew banters around ideas with respected author and CFI Greg Brown, to discover ways to bring the sense of adventure back into flight training.

“From building a sense of community for new students, to rethinking the flight training curriculum, CFI pay, and becoming a pep-talk-giver yourself, no topics are off limits in this exciting episode.”

Play or download Greg’s interview here (via playback bar at bottom of PilotCast page).

Many thanks to PilotCast‘s Tiffany, Kent, and Bill, for inviting me to join this worthy discussion!

©2011 Gregory N. Brown

For more guidance on this topic, see Greg’s book, The Savvy Flight Instructor 2nd Edition.