Engage Your Passengers!
When I lived in Wisconsin, Lambeau Field was always a favorite among my passengers!
A big part of being a pilot is sharing our love of flight with others. One way many of us do this is to give our friends, family, complete strangers their first ride in a general aviation aircraft.
As an instructor, these kinds of flights have become second nature to me. I love giving intro flights to just about anyone who wants to go.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about giving an introductory flight and it made me realize how many of us have our own things we like to do differently when giving a first flight.
I have my own routine. Out of curiosity, I took a very informal poll of fellow pilot friends to see what their routine is for an introductory flight.
The key to a successful introductory flight is really engaging your passenger so he or she feels like they are contributing to the flight. I’m writing this from the perspective of a flight instructor who’s given many intro flights and I’d like to share some of my ideas with you for your own flying!
This is the phase when someone tells you they think it would be cool to take a flight in an airplane sometime. Or maybe you’re waiting around at the airport at a pancake breakfast waiting for potential Young Eagles to drop in.
There’s likely a few different ways this can go. Anyone who’s had this experience knows what I mean.
You’ll have the kids who have no fear and can’t wait to go, but mom or dad is hesitant.
You might have a child who is obviously interested but has some reservations. Airplanes are new to them; they don’t understand how they work.
What about the teenager who thinks it’s really cool to fly a plane and asks a ton of really great questions?
I’ve encountered adults who had a childhood dream to learn to fly, but as we all know, life gets in the way. Sometimes they just want to go up for one flight to learn a little more just to satisfy that itch.
I like to gauge the comfort level of my passenger before deciding when to take them up.
For example, my mother gets motion sickness. Obviously 2:00pm on a hot July afternoon is probably not a good time to take her up. I took her for her first flight with me at sunset on a cool October evening. The last thing I want to do is to scare anyone!
All too often, I think we skip over explaining the pre-flight when giving an introductory flight. Our passenger is usually really excited and wants to just get going and isn’t interested in what you’re doing.
I’ve also given flights to individuals who want to know absolutely everything about the aircraft.
It’s important to figure out the level of curiosity of your passenger so that you can build in additional time to go over the pre-flight in detail if needed. If my passenger isn’t interested, I normally explain that I need some time to pre-flight the aircraft and they just end up plane-watching.
If your passenger is curious about the aircraft, make sure you take the time to explain the flight controls and how they impact your flight. This is also a good time to give an introduction to the instrument panel. Do this now rather than during flight so your passenger can watch as you taxi and take off.
You can use this time to show your passenger aviation weather. I like to explain how aviation weather differs from the weather we see on TV or read on weather.com.
Normally, I’ll show them a METAR/TAF reading (I’m still old school and look at the un-translated version.)
I’ll explain that I’m looking at the wind direction as well as speed and explain the implications of wind during taxi, take-off and landing. I also show them how to check weather at altitude. In my experience the winds aloft forecast seems to always be a hit. The weather person on TV doesn’t talk about the temperature at 18,000 feet!
Start-up and Taxi
Since I’m a CFI, I normally sit in the right seat, even if my passenger has said that he or she doesn’t want to fly. I often have to explain that my airplane isn’t set up like a car where the driver has to sit on one side. I explain that it’s like a driver’s ed car where the instructor could steer, brake, etc from the right side.
Depending on the airplane, if it’s difficult to start from the right side, I’ll have the passenger help me fire it up.
If you’re not a CFI, you’ll likely sit in your normal spot. You can still find ways in your aircraft to engage your passenger in engine start-up. You could tell them their job is to watch the static port gauge or the should watch for engine oil pressure. Give them a job to do!
As long as your passenger is willing and able, let them taxi a little bit. Hopefully their legs are long enough to reach the rudder pedals! Let them get a feel for the rudders.
The natural tendency is to hold the yoke like a steering wheel. Let them move the flight controls so they can see that the yoke doesn’t control the nose of the airplane. This is one of my favorite moments when they come to this realization!
After run up and before taxiing on the runway, I like to explain what to expect during take-off. Normally I point out the airspeed indicator and show them what it will read when we start to rotate. (Make sure you explain what “rotate” means!)
During takeoff, I like to explain what I’m looking at both inside and outside the airplane. I explain that I’m watching the airspeed, listening to the engine, watching engine instruments, watching the runway.
Of course, this is when it’s nice for your passenger to have a “job”. He or she can let you know the status of the instrument you’ve given them to watch. I like to do this so they feel like they are part of the take-off process.
The rest really depends on the comfort level of your passenger. Some will want to fly the airplane completely; others will be content with the ride.
Flight and Landing
This is a great time to take some pictures. Remind your passenger to take them! They may be so caught up in the moment that they aren’t thinking about their camera.
I’m pretty sure that most of us who have given introductory flights knows that you’ll have people who want to do steep-turns and power-on stalls.
You’ll also have passengers that a 5-degree bank is enough for them.
Of course people like to sight-see and see things that are familiar to them. I also like to use this time to explain how pilots navigate. For many people, this is the biggest mystery in aviation – how do pilots know where they are going?!
When we are ready to head back to the airport, I like to engage my passenger again and see if they can point out some landmark that’s familiar to them, then talk through how to find the airport from that point.
When performing the before landing checklist, I will have my passenger hold the checklist for me and read it off while I do the checks. This phase of flight really is going to depend on your own comfort level, the passenger’s comfort level, as well as how forgiving your aircraft is.
I often fly training aircraft which are pretty forgiving of a hard landing, but you may be flying an aircraft that isn’t as forgiving. Or maybe you just don’t want someone else landing it!
After your flight is complete, show your passenger how to secure the aircraft and explain why you tie it down or cover the pitot tube. Use this time to reflect on the flight and answer any questions.
Of course, remember to take lots of pictures!
Engaging your passenger should be the focus of your introductory flight. You don’t have to be a flight instructor to teach someone a little about flying during their first flight. The next time you give a first flight, think about some of the things you’d like to do to share a bit of your aviation knowledge!
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