Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social Unites Airports & Gives Pilots a Reason to Fly

By Scott Spangler on July 4th, 2016

Brennand-6Employing social media, airports across Wisconsin have taken the $100 hamburger flight to the next level with the Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social. They divided the state in to eight regions or “branches,” with an airport in each of them holding a social every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., or until the food runs out.

The group’s mission statement is concise: Bringing Wisconsin Aviators Together. I’ll say. I attended my inaugural social at Brennand Airport (79C), about 20 minutes from home. I learned about it through the airport’s Facebook post on the event.

Stacks Image 2257Speaking of which, pardon this tangential rant: social media is an excellent way to unite and inform aviators and those whose live around them. So why don’t airports, as a group, make better use of it, especially Facebook? Don’t they realize that everyone who belongs to an airport’s online community is another pebble of promotion that emanates in concentric circles through the vast pool of potential aviators who are their friends? Come to think of it, I think Rob had a rant or two about this same issue on Jetwhine as well.

Brennand-8And now back to Brennand’s social. The Facebook post said it would go on rain or shine, and that you didn’t have to fly in. With a 15-20-knot crosswind perpendicular to Brennand’s 2,450-by-30-foot Runway 18/36, I wasn’t the only one who arrived on two or four wheels. And there was a good crowd on hand to watch those who touched down on three, a couple of Champs, a couple of Cessna 170Bs, and a Yak 52 that got everyone’s attention with two low passes down the runway before landing.

The hangar was bisected by a two-sided buffet line that offered burgers, brats, and hot dogs, baked beans, two big silver bowls of salad, one leafy green and the other a volcano-shaped mass of something pink and fluffy looking. Two boxes of single-serving bags of chips and crisps separated the main course from dessert, a three-dimensional chessboard filled with cupcakes and a table covered by a mosaic of cherry and peach pie wedges. The line started with a donation box (there’s no charge for any of the socials), followed by plastic plates and feeding implements.

Because everyone kept moving around, it was almost impossible to estimate the number of participants. My best guess is between 50 and 75. More important than the number was the span of ages. From strollers to walkers, it was a true three-generation event!

For a moment the social reminded me of a high school reunion, where the members of the various social groups reunited in the same old clusters. But their warm welcome of a stranger quickly dissolved this misperception. In the process, I met some old friends whom I haven’t seen for awhile, and I made some new ones, adding to my list of face-to-face friends.

Brennand-9What nagged at me was this question: How did I not know about this event? Yeah, I’m an introvert that doesn’t get out often enough, but I’m also seriously aviation curious. After dinner I searched out the the Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social website as soon as I got home. 2016 marks the fourth year of the organized social, which started life as the Putt Putt Patrol in Wausau, Wisconsin.

In 2012, two of the state’s more involved aviators, John Chimel and Bob Mohr, both based at Wausau, if I remember correctly, reached out to other airports to see if they would interested in hosting a “Hamburger Night” at their airdrome. Then Jeff Gaier of Marshfield got involved and helped organize the entire state effort and its website and Facebook presence.

Everyone involved, from the organizers to the airports, are volunteers, and as the website makes clear, success depends on social interactions, both face-to-face and online.

In discussing a host airport’s marketing of its Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social, the website says: “In order to make this event successful, you need to contact your local pilots and inform them about your social and invite them out. Socials only work if you encourage your pilots to attend other socials within your branch and other branches. If you don’t attend the other socials, then you will not have the support of the other airports in your branch.”

Brennand-14And couldn’t the same be said for aviation efforts in other states, and the nation as whole? Imagine what the aviation scene would look like if airports created (or paid attention to) their social media presence and worked at building an online community populated by their customers and neighbors? And imaging where aviation would be if airports worked together in events like the the Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social that welcomed people to their world and introduced newcomers to the old hands. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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