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Introducing non-pilots to flight

Well, folks, it's working. Student starts really are up. AOPA's Project Pilot and other industry efforts really are recruiting new pilots. We've still got a long way to go, however, and I'd like to ask for some help from you CFIs in one specific area.

As a professional public speaker for corporations and associations, I spend a lot of time sitting at head tables. Those (other than myself) who sit at head tables are movers and shakers who tend to be above average in education, abilities, and income. They could be great learn-to-fly prospects, but often have warped ideas about general aviation.

Shortly after I meet someone at a head table, she is quite likely to say, "Well, Mr. Hood, I see from the program that you are a pilot. I'll never forget the time I rode in one of those little airplanes. Let me tell you about it.."

I cringe when I hear those words, because I know what's coming next. I am about to hear a harrowing tale of someone taken up by a private pilot and scared to death.

The most frequent such story is about the stall. Why, I don't know, but it seems that many pilots feel the need to demonstrate a stall to every passenger. Usually the stall is preceded by the announcement that, "This is a routine procedure. We're going to point the nose up in the air until the world disappears. Then we're going to hold it there until the entire airplane shudders and bucks and you are experiencing stark terror. At that point you will be ready to scream, but hang in there, 'cause the real excitement is just about to start. All of a sudden the nose of the airplane is going to drop like a rock. It is great fun, and after it's over you will realize what a wonderful pilot I am, and how superior to you."

CFIs, please, please tell your students not to do this. Tell them that stalls are for skill building, and not for demonstration to non-pilots. Remind them that airline pilots-among the most respected pilots in the world-never demonstrate stalls.

To an innocent passenger, a stall is not "perfectly routine." (That statement reminds me of how I feel when a proctologist pulls on a rubber glove and says, "Mr. Hood, this a perfectly routine procedure." It may be perfectly routine to him, but not to me!)

I also hear stories of buzz jobs, steep dives, and other supposed feats of daring. Here again, the pilot is obviously feeding his own ego at the expense of his passenger and our industry.

Then there are the stories of just plain sloppy flying-stories of empty tanks, near misses, bad weather, and overweight airplanes. Some of these stories scare me far more than they scare the person telling the story, because I recognize the danger involved.

CFIs, please try to instill in your students a pride in professionalism. Let them know that truly professional pilots look down upon such antics. Explain to them the proper way to introduce their friends to our world.

Taking non-pilots up for a flight is one of the truly great pleasures of becoming a pilot. Please teach your students to do it right.

By Ralph Hood

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