Beyond the burger

100 (almost) excuses to use that new pilot certificate

In the midst of training, it seems impossible that you’ll ever need an excuse just to fly, but there comes a time when all the lessons are over and the challenges aren’t as challenging and you actually need a reason to fly.

Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg
Illustrations by Daniel Hertzberg

That’s where the phrase “$100 hamburger” came from—an excuse for general aviation pilots to exercise their privileges and fly an easy trip of about two hours to someplace to get something. A good old American hamburger can be found at just about every airport café in the country and avgas for the trip in a Cessna 172 used to be about 100 bucks give or take a buck or mile. Now, don’t start raging that times have changed and some (insert party affiliation) politician has made it impossible to get anything for $100; just appreciate the idea that you can, if you want to, now fly yourself to get something to eat.

However, even a greasy hamburger can lose its appeal. In that case, may we offer some other ideas—that may or may not cost you $100 or more—to make use of your pilot certificate?

Adventure calls

Hello, Wilbur and Orville: Visit the birthplace of powered flight, fly to First Flight Airport.

Fly overwater to the Bahamas: Expand your cross-country horizons to the island paradise.

Fly the natural wonders: Yes, you can fly over Yellowstone National Park and look down on the Grand Prismatic Spring.

See the faces: And you can fly near Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial monuments.

Go to the beach: The ultimate beach vacation is a beach with an airstrip.

Go to the backcountry: Difficult approaches to unimproved strips require training and the highest level of skill, but, oh, is it beautiful.

Sleep under the wing: Camping with your aircraft is one of the most joyful ways to enjoy GA.

Be a groupie: Land and enjoy the show. Fly to a concert of your favorite musicians.

Thunder in the mist: Fly over Niagara Falls.

Skyline tours: See the big cities like no one else can—fly the Hudson River corridor, along the Chicago shoreline, over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Use your ticket: You can rent an aircraft in such exciting places as Africa, Alaska, Hawaii, and more.

Leaf peep: The glorious colors of fall are even more glorious from the air.

Get high: The highest elevation airport in the country is Lake County Airport (LXV) in Leadville, Colorado.

Go low: Land at the lowest point at Furnace Creek Airport (L06) in Death Valley National Park, California.

Go south: Key West International Airport (EYW) is the southernmost airport in the continental United States.

Giving back feels good

Fly a humanitarian flight: From pet rescue to patient care, more than 60 public benefit flight organizations operate under the Air Care Alliance umbrella.

Help conservationists: Organizations that protect the Earth are always looking for pilots to help them observe change from the air.

Search and rescue: Join the Civil Air Patrol.

Challenge your skills

Fly in an air race: “Racing for the rest of us”—that’s the slogan of the Sport Air Racing League. Most of its events require pilots to fly a fixed course in day VFR, racing against a handicap speed that is established prior to the event.

Fly yourself to EAA AirVenture: It’s the biggest airshow and gathering in the United States. And a test of your skills—and nerves.

Take a dogfighting class: Yes, you too can be a fighter pilot. There are several companies that offer “combat” flying.

Fly a jet: If shooting isn’t your thing but you have a need for speed, there are companies that can teach you/fly you if you want to part with much more than $100.

Fly to Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo: The annual “spring break for pilots” in Florida is a little less daunting than the big show in Oshkosh.

Compete in a flour bomb drop: Yes, there are instances when it’s OK to drop something out of your airplane—and you win prizes!

Land on ice: Like Brigadoon in its temporality, the sole charted ice runway in the country opens only if it gets cold enough. Check out the Alton Bay Seaplane Base ice runway in New Hampshire.

Feel the fresh air in an open cockpit biplane: “Hey, Google—find me open cockpit biplane rides.”

Oh, Canada: Easy international flying just to our north.

Take spin training: Confront aviation’s boogeyman.

Sounds of silence: Try flying a glider.

Water landings: Get a seaplane rating.

Grass is great: Land on a grass strip—may we suggest the very wide and welcoming Triple Tree Aerodrome in South Carolina?

Fly in Class B Airspace: Mix it up with the big boys in high-density airspace.

STOL: Short takeoff and landing contests are the latest—maybe greatest—way to test your abilities.

Fly a friend

Share your passion: The best way to spread the gospel of GA is by taking one of your friends on a first flight.

Before there was you: Know an older pilot who hasn’t flown in a while? Call him (or her).

Hey, little buddy: Flying a kid will help cultivate aviation’s future, provide inspiration, and give you a great reason to defy gravity for a few hours.

Family matters: Reconnect with those you love.

Romance is in the air: Take a date flying or to an airport restaurant.

Become a CFI: Teach others.

A (Wo)man's gotta eat

So, if you really want to stay true to the $100 hamburger excuse, the website by John F. Purner lists these spots as the “best of the best”:

  • The Mesa Grill, Sedona, Arizona (SEZ)
  • Gaston’s Restaurant, Lakeview, Arkansas (3M0)
  • Harris Ranch Restaurant, Coalinga, California (3O8)
  • Izzy’s Steakhouse, San Carlos, California (SQL)
  • The Perfect Landing, Denver, Colorado (APA)
  • Jet Runway Café, Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FXE)
  • Jekyll Island Club Grand Dining Room, Jekyll Island, Georgia (09J)
  • Pilot Pete’s, Chicago/Shaumburg, Illinois (06C)
  • The Airport Steak House, Hutchinson, Kansas (HUT)
  • Bistro Le Relais, Louisville, Kentucky (LOU)
  • Nick’s Airport Inn, Hagerstown, Maryland (HGR)
  • Nancy’s Air Field Café, Stow, Massachusetts (6B6)
  • Tin Goose Diner, Port Clinton, Ohio (PCW)
  • Jake’s Joint, Ardmore, Oklahoma (ADM)
  • Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant, Ponca City, Oklahoma (PNC)
  • DeNunzio’s Italian Chophouse and Sinatra Bar, Latrobe, Pennsylvania (LBE)
  • Ryan’s Hangar Restaurant & Ace Lounge, Huron, South Dakota (HON)
  • Hard Eight BBQ, Stephenville, Texas (SEP)
  • The Basin Harbor Resort, Vergennes, Vermont (B06)

OK, I admit I didn’t get to 100, but I know you can! By the way, AOPA published an e-book several years ago compiling ideas like this called Aerial Adventures: 99 Ways to Fly from the editors of AOPA Pilot magazine. Find it on Kindle, iBook, or Nook.

[email protected]

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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