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'Top Gun' marketing

The 1986 film Top Gun did more for U.S. Navy and flight school recruitment than anything for a long time before it or since.

Like most aviation enthusiasts, I watched the movie several times in the theater when it first came out. In the early 1990s I was managing a flight school in Scottsdale, Arizona, with several Scandinavian students, and I asked one of them what got him interested in becoming a pilot. His answer was that he saw the movie “Top Gun in the largest theater in Copenhagen a dozen times.” I am sure every aviator remembers the impact of Top Gun.

The theatrical release of the film sequel Top Gun: Maverick is scheduled for May 27—almost two years after it was originally set to hit theaters. The July 2019 release date was pushed to this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and scheduling conflicts.

This movie can be an amazing marketing tool for your flight school, and it is something you should be planning for with your local theater right now. Theaters sell slide-show advertising as preshow entertainment. They generally limit the advertising to one brand or company. Just think about the marketing impact of your flight school being advertised on the big screen potential customers are seated waiting for the new Top Gun to start. If you have a professionally prepared one-minute video that can also be put up on the screen. Contact your local theater manager for contract details.

Taking this concept of movie theater marketing a step further, I have on one occasion made arrangements to have a flight school display booth in the theater lobby. On two occasions I have arranged to display an airplane at the theater. In both cases the airplane was a Diamond DA20 because the wings are easily removable.

Transportation was via a flat-bed tow truck. The large chain theater’s headquarters approved this display. The first theater I did this at was in Scottsdale, and the movie was Air Force One (1997). Some years later in Provo, Utah, I found it easier to work with a local independent theater. We had a display at the Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theater for the movie Flyboys (2006). All this can be done with a little negotiating.

This discussion of theater advertising brings up the larger topic of outreach advertising. Think of all the places you can show off your flight school to build your name recognition and grow your business. For several years we displayed an airplane at the Barret-Jackson Automobile Auction and Arabian Horse Show in Scottsdale. Look at events in your area where you can arrange for booth space. At these events hold a drawing for a free flight and collect names and contact information for follow-up. If your flight school sends out a monthly or quarterly newsletter, include a square to check on the form for the free flight to receive the newsletter. No matter where you live, there are a lot of opportunities to become the top flight school in your area.

Ed Helmick has been a flight instructor since 1988. He formerly managed a flight school in Spanish Fork, Utah, as well as schools in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Ed Helmick

Ed Helmick has been a flight instructor since 1988. He formerly managed a flight school in Spanish Fork, Utah, as well as schools in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Honolulu, Hawaii.

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