There may not be a reminder about this when you check your Facebook feed the morning of Aug. 19, but be sure to wish Orville Wright a happy birthday when you get up and put on the coffee.
Then go out and celebrate National Aviation Day, observed annually on Orville’s birthday, in a way that only pilots can: by introducing a friend, family member, colleague, or a youngster—especially a youngster—to the joys and wonders of flight.
Help your passenger catch the spirit by sharing the news that all across the country, pilots and nonpilots alike are spreading their wings (quite literally) on the birth date of Orville, who with brother Wilbur “invented the airplane and drove the first heavier-than-air flying machine into the skies over Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903,” as NASA notes on a web page that gives some favorite ways to celebrate the occasion.
The page notes that President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the first National Aviation Day proclamation in 1939—when Orville was still living—to encourage Americans “to observe the day with activities that promote interest in aviation.”
That presidential exhortation to fly brings us back to the immediate subject at hand of introducing someone you care about to flying—perhaps following up on a flight that has been planned for a long time.
What to do?
An excellent aviation pleasure outing, especially for an introductory flight, has three essential components: great weather, a goal, and just the right amount of time in the air.
Weather and time aloft are self-explanatory. Having a goal for the flight can mean having a destination (perhaps incorporating the fun pilot pastime of flying out for breakfast or lunch) or setting out on a nonstop sightseeing expedition.
Has the passenger ever mentioned a specific mission? If it is one that can be reasonably and safely accommodated, there’s your plan for a National Aviation Day flight.
Don’t forget the camera. Professional pilot Raphael Langumier of Quebec, Canada, warmed hearts worldwide with his video of his four-year-old daughter Léa’s joyful response to aerobatics. Whether the photo or video you take captures the passenger posing alongside the airplane on the ramp, or records an aerial scene, it will become a treasured souvenir (and it will help you accomplish one of NASA’s 10 favorite celebratory suggestions, so read on).
Your passenger’s interest in going for a ride in your airplane is as much about flying with you as it is about checking out your aircraft. Even if they have heard you expound on your passion for aviation before, seeing you in your natural habitat—that’s the cockpit—will raise their comprehension of what flying means to you to a new level.
As for the airplane: Give the passenger a penny’s worth of perspective on where it fits into the amazingly wide variety of general aviation aircraft. Don’t get out in the weeds about specs only another pilot would really appreciate.
If you own the airplane, explain how you came to own an airplane, why you like it, how it serves your needs, why you gave it a special nickname. If it is a rental or club aircraft, say a few words about how those members of the aviation family keep nonowner pilots flying, and all of their uses in training.
Of course you will perform a complete and thorough preflight inspection. You may be surprised at how absorbing and reassuring this process can be for a newcomer.
Include in your passenger safety briefing a short description of sterile cockpit operations for high-workload phases of flight. Let this methodical approach demonstrate that the serious business of piloting an aircraft doesn’t detract from the fun of flying; most guests in your cockpit will find it an impressive enhancement of their experience.
Invite the passenger to point out other aircraft they spot during the flight. Identify places of interest along the way.
The question of offering a short stint on the (dual) controls may arise. Think it through in advance, and use your best judgment, given the scenario’s specifics.
Getting an introductory flight on Orville Wright’s birthday will likely give your passenger bragging rights over most other people’s activities on National Aviation Day, but don’t let the celebrating end after landing.
Sufficient time in the day may remain to engage in some of NASA’s recommended activities for observing the occasion, such as having someone take a picture of you with your arms outstretched like wings; visiting a science museum; or having a plane-spotting picnic at the airport.
Afterward, keep the feeling alive by marking your calendars to get together for another flight. If you are both free on April 16, pencil it in and don’t forget to wish Orville’s older brother Wilbur a happy birthday.