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West Virginia weekendWest Virginia weekend

Wow, how did we arrive at the middle of summer so fast? I hope this issue of AOPA Pilot finds you relaxing with family and friends and, of course, flying! Summer is a great time for flying events large and small. Whether you spend a week with thousands of fellow aviation enthusiasts at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, or just get together with a few friends for a breakfast fly-out, summer’s more relaxed pace makes this the perfect season for pilots to spend time together.

Wow, how did we arrive at the middle of summer so fast? I hope this issue of AOPA Pilot finds you relaxing with family and friends and, of course, flying!

Summer is a great time for flying events large and small. Whether you spend a week with thousands of fellow aviation enthusiasts at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, or just get together with a few friends for a breakfast fly-out, summer’s more relaxed pace makes this the perfect season for pilots to spend time together.

It’s also the perfect time for pilots to introduce flying to those who may never have experienced its rewards. And my summer kicked off with a chance to do both in an unexpected place—at a meeting of association presidents.

The event, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was held at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. “America’s Resort,” as The Greenbrier is known locally, was once famously home to secret underground bunkers intended to keep the federal government operating in the event of a nuclear disaster. It was also home to a charming little airstrip right on the property. The bunkers are now defunct and the landing strip is now a golf course, so I flew my Bonanza into nearby Greenbrier Valley Airport (LWB) in Lewisburg for the meeting.

The group of about 100 national association chief executives is one I have been a part of in years past, so it was great to return representing AOPA. The exchanges are always filled with insights, and ideas flow freely over the three days of meetings. Most important, new friendships form and old ones are strengthened—this is why traveling to meetings is so important.

Of course, the AOPA team could not let an opportunity like this just fly by!

We decided to experiment with a concept that has been on the drawing boards for a few months—taking our general aviation story to non-general aviation audiences.

Let me assure you, serving members comes first at AOPA. However, if we are to build more support for general aviation, we must speak to people outside the pilot population.

To give meeting participants a taste of general aviation, we placed our AOPA simulator display near the main meeting room. One of our talented staff from the Pilot Information Center was present to answer questions and ensure people had a good “flight” experience.

To be honest, we created a sensation. Those who tried it enjoyed the opportunity beyond what I could have imagined. They engaged me in conversations about flying that we would never have had without the simulator creating a connection. Several wanted to talk about their long-held desire to fly. Others wanted to know how I use general aviation aircraft as the president of an association.

All of the individuals attending this meeting host their own meetings, and all look for interesting member activities. I think we may have found a new way to reach non-aviation audiences and build understanding and support for GA.

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman flew into LWB with AOPA’s 2009 Sweepstakes Let’s Go Flying SR22, and we invited people who came to see the simulator to consider a flight in the real thing. As you can imagine, those who logged time in the Cirrus were thrilled with the experience.

While the goal was to expose nonpilots to GA, I never want to miss an opportunity to meet with AOPA members. So we sent an e-mail invitation to members who live nearby. I thought it would be enjoyable to have coffee with a few members on a Sunday morning and give them the chance to see the sweepstakes airplane.

To my surprise, people started arriving at about 8:15 a.m. for the 9 a.m. event. There were multiple airplanes in the pattern and the ground crews were parking all types of aircraft. In all, more than 30 airplanes flew in with about 70 members. The tower chief took pictures. “More aircraft than we’ve seen here at one time in quite awhile,” he proclaimed. The restaurant on the field, Dutch Haus, provided more and more coffee, bagels, and other treats for our growing group.

We had a good talk. I had a chance to discuss our campaign, General Aviation Serves America, and to answer a wide range of questions. It was heartwarming to hear people talk about how valuable their participation in our Legal Services Plan turned out to be or how they resolved a medical certification question with a call to our Pilot Information Center.

This was more than just a great way to begin my summer. It was also an outstanding reminder of how many people who do not fly have a genuine interest in aviation and will seek out opportunities to experience flight if they are presented in the right way.

We cannot tell our story too often. General aviation does serve America and we need to keep reminding our fellow Americans of the facts! (See “ GA Serves America: Cowboy Cadillac,”)

All the best this summer—enjoy your freedom to fly.

E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected].

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