AOPA Project Pilot provides members with the tools to find viable flight-training candidates and support them as student pilots with the wisdom and encouragement of experienced pilots through mentoring. A student with a Project Pilot Mentor is three times more likely to successfully complete his or her training. This exciting program is available free to all AOPA members. You don't have to be a CFI to participate. All it takes is someone who wants to share the joy of general aviation and a few minutes a week to help a student along.
I am often asked about my solo flight across the Atlantic or what my favorite flights have been, and I have written about them in this column. Readers might be surprised to know I have favorite airports as well. Finding a treasured new airport to frequent can be just as rewarding an experience and lead to more epic flight experiences. Whenever I fly southeast from Seattle, I jump at any excuse I can use to fly to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When I fly into the Jackson area, I primarily use its neighboring airport to the west—Driggs-Reed Memorial in Idaho. Driggs has the same incredible views of the Tetons as Jackson Hole, is way more laid back, and very welcoming (see " Postcards: Gems in the Mountains," June 2005 Pilot). It is a bit off the beaten path, the food is good, the locals are friendly, and you see an extraordinary range of aviation equipment flying—from gliders and taildraggers to Cessnas and Beavers and even the occasional MIG-17 with an F-5 Fury on its tail.
I recently attended a wedding in Jackson and afterward spent the day carousing around the Driggs airport with my friend Dave Treinis. We planned a scenic flight around the Grand Targhee ski resort and the Grand Tetons (everything around here seems to be "grand"). After an exhilarating flight, we gathered around the outdoor tables at Warbirds Café with a continuously morphing group of locals and visitors from around the world. We were all entertained watching glider tows and other airplanes taking off and landing. Stories were swapped and new friendships formed as visitors hopped rides with the locals and a good time was had by all. Isn't this the way life is supposed to be?
I watched as Dr. Brent Blue brought out a beautiful black Stearman and took H.G. Frautschy for a ride. Later, a man from Germany and his son struck up a conversation with us. Dave Treinis had seen them earlier in the week at the Aviat factory while test flying a Husky fresh off the assembly line. We learned that the man had purchased a Husky and came out to Afton, Wyoming, to see it during production. Dave offered to take them up for a flight too. Dave mentioned to me later that he had often been treated with extraordinary kindness overseas and always went out of his way to make foreigners feel welcome here. It was infectious! Scott "Smitty" offered to fly me around the patch a few times in his Stinson Voyager.
It is very refreshing to know that there are places out there where the airport really makes the community. It also struck me that each of these local pilots were being the ultimate mentors. Give your airport an "infection of flight-itis" by being an ambassador to the world of aviation. Find someone to mentor, and give them the juice. The benefit to the community is huge. Go!
AOPA Project Pilot spokesman