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First Look: Listen up!First Look: Listen up!

Aviation podcasts keep us fueled

As monikers go, “podcast” isn’t a particularly good one. These quasi-radio shows delivered electronically to your phone, tablet, computer, or smart speaker range from buddy shows that appeal to only the hosts’ friends to wildly successful preproduced shows about current events, science, and virtually any topic you can imagine. 

Illustration by Daniel HertzbergWith a complex delivery mechanism and offering a range of quality and format, it’s no wonder that the word—despite being dubbed a “Word of the Year” by the fine folks at the New Oxford American Dictionary in 2005—was still unknown to two-thirds of Americans in 2008. However, podcasts are on a resurgence, thanks in part to major producers such as NPR and The New York Times going all-in.

Today almost 50 percent of Americans regularly listen to podcasts, and there are more than 1 million unique shows, almost double the number from only two years ago. Spotify, the audio source of choice for millennials, recently paid Joe Rogan $100 million for the exclusive rights to his podcast. So, yeah, podcasts have arrived.

No one in aviation podcasting is getting rich, but thankfully for pilots there are dozens of great shows to choose from. Given the challenge in producing original content, most aviation podcasts are the host-guest format where a host or hosts gab about whatever suits them that day, followed by a guest who relates to their show. It could be instructional in nature, entertainment, current events commentary, or just an interesting person sharing their aviation story. These are labors of love for the hosts and producers. As anyone who has listened to NPR knows, audio provides an intimate connection, so many podcasts make you feel as if you’re in the room with the host and guest. Here are some of our favorite programs to try:

The Afterburn podcast—Hosted by former fighter pilot John “Rain” Waters, the show is red meat for people who love jets and have a keen interest in military flying. Most of the guests are current military pilots, flying everything from the F–16 to the U–2.

Airplane Geeks Podcast—A premier member of aviation podcasting’s old guard, the Airplane Geeks Podcast is on its way to 700 episodes and more than 12 years of goofy fun. The rotating cast of geeks includes journalists, enthusiasts, and lots of friends.

Ask the A&Ps—The newest show in AOPA’s growing stable of podcasts, Ask the A&Ps features you, the listener, as well as maintenance experts Mike Busch, Paul New, and Colleen Sterling. On each episode, the panel answers your pressing aircraft maintenance questions.

Aviation Careers Podcast—One of the great things about podcasts is the ability to dive deep into any subject of interest, and this is where Aviation Careers Podcast shines. Host Carl Valeri is a commercial pilot, and his guests give advice and insight on a broad spectrum of aviation careers.

Aviation News Talk—CFI of the Year and Cirrus expert Max Trescott hosts and produces this weekly show that covers aviation news and fun. Trescott’s soothing voice makes the listening experience enjoyable and engaging.

The Fighter Pilot Podcast—Another ode to military flying, this chart-topping show comes from former Navy pilot Vincent “Jell-O” Aiello. If you’ve ever wondered about how missile systems work, or needed insight into the F–35, this is your show.

The Finer Points—One of the first aviation podcasts, Jason Miller’s The Finer Points began in 2005, making it one of the most popular aviation shows of all time. In it, Miller shares insight on flying that goes beyond the book.

Fly By Night—Charles Stites’ excellent true-crime show about drug-smuggling pilots and the lawmen who chased them is one of aviation’s only forays into the popular format. Each episode is expertly produced, but it’s the unbelievable true stories that make this a must-listen.

The Green Dot—If you’re a member of EAA or love the experimental aviation community, The Green Dot is for you. As you may have guessed, the name comes from AirVenture’s infamous spot landing markers, and this EAA-produced show delivers on all things flying.

Hangar Talk—Five headlines, two hosts, and one guest. That’s the format of AOPA’s Hangar Talk, the biweekly look into all things general aviation. Full disclosure, I co-host with AOPA’s David Tulis, so I may be a bit biased.

Never Again—AOPA Pilot’s “Never Again” column is among the magazine’s most-read sections, and has been for more than 50 years. This podcast takes one reader-submitted story and details what went wrong, and what the pilot learned from the incident.

Opposing Bases Air Traffic Talk—They may do a lot of talking on the job, but air traffic controllers aren’t frequent podcasters. This show is a notable exception, hosted by pilots and controllers AG and RH. Each show features answers to listener questions about all things airspace and ATC.

Pilot Briefing—Made for the smart speaker generation, AOPA’s Pilot Briefing is a quick digest of the week’s news, perfect for when you’re grabbing a coffee, brushing your teeth, or sitting down to settle into work.

Pilot Protection Services Podcast—Featuring the experts who help keep pilots healthy and safe, AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services Podcast covers everything from heart health to aviation legal issues.

Pilot to Pilot—Host Justin Siems is an example of what a corporate pilot can accomplish when he spends that FBO downtime giving back. Each show features Siems’s friends, industry experts, and more aviation notables.

The Rotary Wing Show—Love helicopters and feel like podcasts don’t give them enough love? Then check out Mick Cullen’s show highlighting interviews with prominent helicopter pilots about their jobs, their best flights, and more.

There I Was…—What does it feel like to have an accident? How do you come back from a near miss? From AOPA’s Air Safety Institute, each episode of There I Was… is a lengthy chat with a pilot who has been through a difficult situation and come back to talk about it.

Did we miss any of your favorites? Email [email protected]. Put “podcasts” in the subject line.

Email [email protected]

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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