Phatic speech is what we say without thinking to start a conversation. “What’s up?” are the ones I hear most, and for the past 30-some years my answer has been the same: “Anything above eye level—it’s a relative term.” This usually stops people in their tracks because they didn’t expect an answer, especially one they have to think about.
“Flying fun” is another relative term, because fun is a personal pursuit. Below is a case in point. Unless you live in Alaska (or somewhere like it) earning a seaplane rating doesn’t make much sense for most pilots. I mean, really, without taking off your shoes you can probably count the number of places that rent floatplanes to rated pilots off the street.
But as a friend from my EAA days, Mariano Rosales (with Table Rock Aviation manager Brandon Nesmith in the back seat), clearly shows here, learning how in a Cub, with the door open, sure looks like fun to me, and I’d give anything to be in his place (if I fit in the front seat of a Cub, that is)!
In his blog at the Air Facts Journal, John Zimmerman acknowledges this relativity in Want to Fix Flight Training? Have Some Fun. His honesty is startling: “As flight schools we’re selling the wrong thing. Instead of offering a fun and unique experience that is rewarding at every step, many flight schools are simply trading $10,000 for a piece of plastic that says Private Pilot.”
And he explains, succinctly, why it’s the wrong thing. “For better or for worse, the student pilot of 2012 is very different from the 1970s man who walked into the local Cessna Pilot Center. In particular, customers today are after meaningful experiences, not necessarily checking the box. “The aviation lifestyle” may sound like a catchphrase, but it’s what most student pilots are seeking.”
John, I was one of the men who learned to fly in the 1970s. I can’t speak for the rest of them, but I, too, was looking for the “aviation lifestyle.” Flying fun for me is about adventure, which is anything that challenges me to fly precisely with plus-or-minus-nuthin tolerances. And I was fortunate enough to find a flight school (Eagle Aviation at Long Beach, California) that delivered on your six points of fun.
Eagle Aviation mixed up the lessons, and customized situations for every student. Seeing my affinity for steep banked turns, I learned to spin and recover (part of the training syllabus) before I soloed. When I wasn’t flying, it was a great place to hang out, and like Cheers (without the beer or bar stools), almost everyone—students and instructors alike—knew my name, just as I knew theirs.
I’m sure showing the utility of flying wasn’t the point, but introduction to short and off-field landings were the subject of one Saturday lesson. The school was having a fly-out picnic for its students that day, at a dirt strip about 45 minutes away. I had a half hour to plan the flight, and to make it interesting, I had to navigate solely by pilotage, a skill that needed practice.
Embracing student pilots and giving them some instant gratification probably wasn’t a conscious part of the fly-out decision, because Eagle Aviation held them often. It was more about having fun, something the school’s owner and designated examiner knew something about. In 1974 she became the first woman to race T-6s at Reno, and it was her beautiful blue SNJ-6 parked on the ramp that drew me to that corner of LBG. Rumor had it that she first flew the T-6 as a member of the WASPs.
What’s sad is that in the decade of visiting flight schools across the nation during my Flight Training days, Eagle Aviation proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Cold and serious and professionally antiseptic, they were the opposite of any kind of fun. Even the people who worked there seemed unhappy and counting the minutes until quitting time. And that’s still the feeling I get when I visit FBOs and flight schools (but I haven’t yet visited Table Rock Aviation, where flying fun seems to be plentiful). And yet we wonder why newcomers aren’t turned on by flying? –Scott Spangler