Introducing Non-Aviators to the Flying Experience

Shawn Arena

Experiencing the world of flight by actually sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft manipulating the flight controls is one of the most exhilarating, inspiring and surreal events an individual can encounter. And being able to share that experience with friends, family and significant others is an amazing opportunity. But sometimes, it can be difficult to convince them to go up with you, and share the experience. Not everyone is ready to jump into the cockpit right away. However, without being in an actual airplane, there are many ‘ground based’ and alternative flying options that will let them take a peek into the flying experience, and help ease them towards giving the real thing a try.

It’s Almost Like the Real Thing

Aviation, similar to other industries, has benefited from the explosive growth of technological advances. Advances such as the ‘glass cockpit’ and ‘fly-by-by-wire ‘automated systems, have become industry mainstays in commercial aircraft. However, you may have also noticed technological advances have evolved that can make one feel ‘as good as the real thing’ without having to pay ‘real thing’ prices. Flight simulation alternatives have filtered down to the most cost-conscious general aviation pilot.

Ranging from full-motion simulators used at flight schools at nominal costs, to computer-based-flight simulation programs you can easily install and use on your personal computer at home, the options to peek into the exciting world of flight are growing. These high-definition, real-world graphic presentations, allow outstanding platforms that opens a door for one to start looking into the exciting world of flight.

Hangar Flying

Bring them along to spend some time hanging around fellow pilots and aviation entusiasts down at the hangar. They’ll very quickly find out the meaning and importance of ‘hangar flying’. Just as the name implies, one of the most talked about, yet informal activities in aviation is when two or more pilots sit around in a hangar and talk aircraft and aviation.

While these sessions can turn into the ‘fish stories’ of flying, they can also serve a very important purpose of fostering and promoting a passion for flying. This activity can also be incredibly helpful when veteran pilots talk to student or newly minted private pilots. I guarantee you that you will walk away with more firsthand, real-world information than you can find in any flying magazine or even a ground school class. If you are like I was, you become a sponge taking in all they can offer – at no charge! This also helps to set them more at ease with the idea of flying as they hear others talk about it openly and candidly.

While you’re there, you might also take the opportunity to introduce them to the idea of a discovery flight. As I mentioned in a previous article, taking a discovery flight will also allow them the opportunity to get a real taste of the flying experience by taking a quick hop around the pattern in an actual training aircraft.

Also, if there’s an airshow in town, don’t miss it! This is a great opportunity to spend time with a crowd of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, see a variety of vintage and new aircraft and see some great flying firsthand.

Flying Scenarios

Another really fun yet educational experience is to go to a concessionaire which has World War II and current aircraft simulators configured to accomplish a specific mission. My son and I went to one such concession at the Mall of America in Minneapolis…what a blast!

Even though I had been actually flying for several years at that point, this real-world simulation was very worthwhile. I chose the U.S. Navy / USMC FA-18 Hornet and my son chose the P-51 Mustang. There were two scenarios programmed into our session: a dogfight and a night carrier landing. Needless to say, my son ‘waxed my tail’ in the dogfight session, but I greased a perfect ‘trap on the number 3 wire’ on the carrier, one that Maverick and Goose would have been proud of!

Westward Ho

Regardless of the avenue you choose, there remain a variety of opportunities that you can use to help introduce your friends and loved ones to the flying experience. And these is just the tip of the iceberg – in order to keep things brief, I left out (not intentionally) options like hot air balloons, glider flights, ultralights and more. So without getting into the actual cockpit, one can experience the world of flight from as many angles as there are fair-weather cumulus clouds on a spring day!

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