Planting a seed. Curing airsickness. Flying total strangers around a Caribbean island, or lifting the Iron Curtain with a lap around the pattern: These are the kinds of memories made when citizen pilots take someone for a ride in a general aviation airplane, as AOPA editors recounted about some of their memorable flights with passengers. We’re not batting 1,000 when it comes to pitching our passion, as one of the tales makes clear. But our batting average is pretty darn high, and we’re still in there swinging. We hope you enjoy the stories, and we can’t wait to hear from you about yours.
By Thomas B. Haines
James jumped out of the car to chase a couple of pesky turkey vultures hanging around the airport, bounding across the parking lot like a little kid, yet exhibiting the bravado of a confident 14-year-old. He was there to learn about airplanes and for a flight. Weeks earlier he had brought his mentor to tears when he told her that he thought he might like to be a pilot. But his peers just laughed and assured him there was no way that was going to happen for a kid from inner-city Baltimore.
He approached the Bonanza timidly, almost afraid to touch it. After a preflight briefing, we climbed aboard and were soon roaring down the runway while he pressed himself back in the seat—all the bravado gone. He looked scared as we hit a few bumps, which I warned him would happen. I assured him we were fine.
After a few minutes I flipped the throw-over yoke to his side and encouraged him to make small movements. He promptly pushed the nose over significantly, sending the passengers in the back toward the ceiling. I nudged the nose back up and he soon had the attitude nailed. He clearly felt out of his element in the airplane. But after landing I presented him with a personalized first flight certificate and a bag of aviation swag and information. He grinned ear to ear for photos.
You never know which seeds you plant will grow. I hope someday he shows those naysayers in the city how wrong they were. Good luck, James.
By Jill W. Tallman
My kids had flown with me while I was training, and they never had a hint of airsickness. After I got my pilot certificate I decided to fly us to the Luray Airport in Virginia. The FBO there offers a free shuttle to the Luray Caverns, and they were known to have cheaper fuel, too.
So off we go. It’s not a long flight—maybe 45 minutes—but I believe it was the first time the kids had flown over the ridges of the Shenandoahs. It was a little bumpy.
We’re five miles from the airport and the next thing I know, my daughter is saying, “I think I’m going to be sick.” I didn’t have a Sic-Sac. But she was an enterprising kid and she threw up in the sleeve of her jacket.
We landed, cleaned her up, and had a really nice time at the Caverns. She’s not been airsick since, but I’ve never flown since without a Sic-Sac or a reasonable facsimile.
By Thomas A. Horne
I’ve given several first rides over the years. Some really stand out. Back in the 1980s I flew a brand-new Piper Seminole to Antigua for a few days of vacation. I got into a discussion with a young Canadian couple staying nearby, and it turned out they had been sailing around the Caribbean. My being a pilot was pretty exotic stuff to them. Neither had ever been in an airplane before—not even an airliner. I quickly offered a flight. Their eyes darted back and forth between them. You could feel the questions in the air: Is this safe? Is the plane somehow rickety? Who is this guy?
But they were game, so it was off to the V.C. Bird airport. They were impressed by the two engines, and immensely curious during the preflight, gawking at the wheels, the control surfaces, and the fueling process. All that gas being pumped into the tanks!
I briefed them on the cockpit instruments, and my plan for the flight—take off, circle the island, come back and land. OK? They nodded, silently.
I talked through the whole flight, explaining what I was doing so they’d feel in the loop. It didn’t take long for them to relax, then enjoy the sights, which they knew intimately from their nautical perspective. There was the cove they stayed in, there’s the harbor….and there’s their ship! And does that gauge say we’re really going 130 knots!?
Soon enough, we’re back at the airport and on final, then parked on the ramp. Now they’re talking a mile a minute. “It all happened so fast,” was the gist of it. The landing procedure—power reduction, flaps, then gear down, working the throttles and pitch down the gusty final approach—went by in a blur for them. “We’re used to going 10 knots on a good day,” was one comment. Of course. They were sailors. But boy did they like that flight. For a long time afterward, I’d hear from them whenever they stopped in a port.
Other first flights were equally memorable. A night flight on July 4th, flying near Washington, D.C., to see all the fireworks displays. A low-altitude night flight over New York’s Central Park. And I don’t know how many flights to see the initiate’s house from the air. But that Antigua flight was a standout.
By Mike Collins
On Aug. 3, 1998, I agreed to take a coworker up for her first flight in a light airplane. I’ve done this many times; from Frederick, Maryland, one can fly west-southwest about 20 nautical miles to the Civil War landmark of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the Shenandoah River merges with the Potomac. A brief aerial tour, maybe fly over the passenger’s home if it can be done safely, and back to the airport—it usually takes eight-tenths of an hour.
After a careful preflight of the Cessna 172, taxiing out, and explaining the run-up, we took the runway and began the takeoff roll. It was a beautiful day, the air was calm, and as we passed through about 300 feet my passenger said, “That’s enough. I’m ready to go back now.”
She didn’t want to discuss flying at the moment, although her skin color appeared normal and airsickness was not the issue. Nevertheless, the goal is to please first-time passengers, so I gently rolled left onto the crosswind and downwind. Keeping the pattern tight, I touched down softly, and we taxied back to the ramp. Total time on the Hobbs, barely 0.5 hours. I’ve flown a few shorter flights, but never one with a passenger.
By Dan Namowitz
With the exception of a famous landing by a rogue Cessna 172 near Red Square in Moscow on May 28, 1987, GA wasn’t a thing in the Soviet Union, as far as I know.
Nor was it likely easy for a Soviet citizen to imagine, even 10 years after Mathias Rust pulled off his stunt, that there was a place where a private individual could stroll out onto the GA apron at a fair-sized airport, wave to the line crew as they roared by in their fuel trucks, and wander around admiring aircraft without getting in a heap of trouble.
But that’s what we did one day here at Bangor International Airport in Maine—“we” being me and Sasha, a visiting scholar from Moldova, a former Soviet republic. She and a few other visitors from the former USSR had come to our university to study English and free markets under the International Regional Exchange program.
Sasha, who I met at a social event hosted by a faculty member, knew I was a flight instructor, and she expressed curiosity as to what that was all about. I thought it would be fun to present a form of entertainment—an airport tour—that would be novel for her.
She didn’t speak much English yet, and my two semesters of college Russian were decades out of date, but we managed to communicate, with some grammatical goof-ups and accidental humor making it fun.
But when we got to the airport, I did something sneaky. While I was introducing her to the gang at the GA terminal, I snuck a peek at the schedule for the flying club airplane that I was instructing in quite a bit back then. The schedule revealed a brief window of unbooked time, so when we were strolling about on the ramp, checking out airplanes—this was years before you needed a security badge to be out there—I pulled a key out of my pocket, unlocked the door to the Cessna, and said (I think) in her native language, “Want to go for a ride?”
Sasha had a stock answer she used whenever she wasn’t sure if I was kidding around.
I began to preflight.
I got another “Be serious,” when I offered her the left seat, and I assured her I wasn’t joking. In Russian, “I’m not joking” sounds a little like, “Ya ne choo-choo.”
After applying some more international diplomacy, I got her settled into the left front seat, and we fired up for an aeronautical adventure consisting (because of time constraints) of a single lap around the traffic pattern.
The wind was southerly, so we took off on Runway 15 from Lima intersection. The tower gave us left traffic, offering Sasha a great view of the city from her side of the airplane.
During the climbing turn to downwind she asked a question or two, then fell silent, just watching, until we landed.
It has been years since we were in touch, but still I get the feeling that wherever she is, Sasha is not yet entirely convinced that we were supposed to be out there flying that little airplane.
I would reassure her about that if I could, but I think I know what her response would be.
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