Introducing flight to a first-timer
September 1, 2017
What can be more beautiful than a flight at noon on a day where the winds are three knots or less. The temperature is a steady 72 degrees. Visibility is unlimited and the skies are perfectly clear. The thought might come to mind, for most pilots that today is a good day to just enjoy the "severe clear" conditions and go flying for the beauty and fun of it. But is there anything that would make it even more fun? Perhaps a "$100" hamburger, or a chance to check out a new piece of property you are thinking about would be reason enough to go flying. But what if you take someone flying who has never experienced the joy of flight in a General Aviation (GA) aircraft?
Think back to your first time in a GA plane. Now imagine that exact same level of excitement and apprehension that the person you are going to take up might be feeling. Your excitement and enthusiasm under normal circumstances would likely be infectious. But remember that your excitement and passion may not yet be theirs. Keep in mind that this is their first time in a "small" plane and they may have a variety of fears, concerns, and questions about flight. What is normal and commonplace for you during a flight, is all new to them and they don't know what the various "normal" noises, bumps, vibrations and flashing lights mean.
You know your first-time-flier will be somewhat apprehensive and may in fact hold some fear based on a myths about flying, perpetuated by those who don't fly or haven't flown, but are happy to give their opinion as fact. So, what can you do to make this flight an experience your new passenger will enjoy and remember with positive excitement and a desire to return to the air? Here are a few ideas and suggestions to help allay your passenger's fears, and to demonstrate your professionalism and safe piloting skills from the beginning of the flight until engine shut down back on the ramp.
First of all pre-plan what you are going to do; what you are going to demonstrate or show them well before you walk them out to the aircraft. Bear in mind that they are going to be in full-trust mode. In other words they are relying on you for information they don't even know to ask about and they will naturally pickup on your attitude, mood and concerns. So the first thing you can do is be calm and let your aviators professionalism exude experienced confidence about everything related to the flight. Also encourage them to bring a camera so they can capture moments in flight and perhaps the beauty of the land below. It will significantly enhance their positive feelings about the flight and flight in general.
Next, brief them about the weather and conditions you are likely to experience this day of flight. Don't overload them with jargon and deep details, but let them know things like possible bumps in the air caused by thermals for instance. Explain why you will do a walk around and that you (the pilot) would like to have them join you and in fact let their fresh eyes back you up in the process. Give them small tasks so they can feel more fully engaged in the flight overall. This helps to reinforce safety and control while it allows them to feel, and actually be, a functional part of the entire flight process. That builds confidence and positive excitement in the new flier and you may then have a willing copilot.
Once off the ground avoid making steep ascents or descents. In fact unless needed to avoid a bigger problem, avoid making sharp maneuvers and pulling "G's". This first flight is not the best time to introduce a (potentially) future aviator to excessive maneuvers and steep turns. While in the air you can demonstrate what the flight controls do and how they work. You can also explain the basic instruments of flight so they too can scan and easily know their airspeed and altitude. Give them an overview of the altimeter, the air speed indicator, the turn and bank indicator, the artificial horizon/attitude indicator, the directional gyro and the vertical speed
Again, this builds confidence in them while they enjoy being a part of the flight, not just a passenger. Positive engagement also helps to quietly and gently remove their myth-based fears about aviation.
While flying, be sure to point out things of interest on the ground. If possible, find something on the ground that would make a great photograph that they can take. Be excited with them and understand that everything they are experiencing and seeing is new to them. But be careful about your level of excitement. If no words have been spoken even for a few seconds, don't suddenly gasp and say "OMG"! If you just realized you saw something cool to show them, they will likely only hear the gasp and the OMG, which could easily undo all the good you had accomplished prior.
Leave them wanting more. Don't make the flight more than an hour. Better yet keep the actual air time to about thirty minutes. This provides plenty of time for you to demonstrate the beauty of flight without exhausting your passenger. Remember they are full of adrenalin and anticipation. As the adrenalin wears off, they get tired. So keep the flight pleasantly short. Your passenger may not tell you they need to get some water very soon, or, they really need to use the facilities. That's because they are excited /nervous and they may not know when the flight will end, unless you made that very clear at the outset. But they are in a bit of a sensory overload so try to be mindful of their potential needs.
Aviation is your passion and a part of who you are. You now have the opportunity to plant that same seed in someone who is not an aviator and may think aviation is dangerous. You can be the one who with gentle excitement, confidence and strength, will break through the walls of fear and misinformation a non-flier may have, and awaken them to the true beauty and fun of flight.