No, I did not leave a zero off in the title to this piece. Although general aviators have long joked about the lure of the $100 hamburger, I think it is time we downsized, right-sized, and economized our way into a larger population. So I recommend the $10 hamburger. It’s available for a tenth the price, but has the potential to pack quite a wallop.
Perhaps some context is in order.
I attended a cook-out recently. It took place on a general aviation airport, beside a taxiway, where picnic tables and portable grills would not be in the way of flight operations. Yet the hungry diners could enjoy the sights and sounds of the airport environment they love so much. It was a good event, too. The grassy infield was strewn with an impressive assortment of aircraft ranging from Light-Sport Aircraft, up through classic biplanes with plenty of compound curves and Golden Age appeal.
As fate would have it, another event was happening down the ramp that day. One of the attendees to that gathering was a fellow named Thom Richard, who flies a hot and highly modified P-51 named Precious Metal, an unlimited class racer that has competed at Reno. All heads turned when the counter-rotating prop started to spin. Nary an eye strayed as the sleek, slippery racer taxied out to the runway. Conversation stopped when the takeoff roll began. It stopped again when the high speed low-pass roared down the runway.
Long story short, it was a good day at the airport, no matter what you fly, or if you fly. And that got me thinking.
Traditionally the view of many in general aviation has been that the way to get people involved in aviation is to invite them out to the airport for a flight. And for some people that works. They know they want to fly, and so when the invitation comes they jump at the chance, or at least accept it and warily approach the flight with a hope of enjoying themselves.
That’s not the case for everybody, however. In truth, most people are a little nervous about flying. The idea of flying in something that’s smaller and lighter than their car only serves to exacerbate their all-too natural case of the jitters. Add to that timidity a first encounter with a tight cockpit and considerably more noise than they had imagined, especially on takeoff and climb-out, and you’ve got a recipe for something less than an optimal first flight experience.
This is exactly where the charm of the $10 hamburger comes into play. What if we stopped inviting people to come out and fly? What if instead, we invited them to come out and sit on the porch of the airport restaurant, grab a bite, enjoy the sights, and have a great conversation? The anxiety level of the newbie would certainly be lower. While they may be nervous about going flying in an airplane they don’t understand very well, they’re not the least bit hesitant about eating lunch.
Hey, it’s a start, right?
While they’re enjoying the sunshine and the unexpected quiet that is so common on general aviation airports, they may catch sight of an airplane in the distance. Whether it’s on the ground or in the air, they’ve got a ringside seat to the operations at the airport – an environment they have little understanding of and lots of questions about. Thankfully, they’re having lunch with a friend, a family member, or a co-worker who knows a lot about airport operations. We can explain how the pilot knows where to go, which direction to fly in, and which runway to land on or take off from. We can explain the myriad signs that make no sense to a non-pilot, and even the color coded lights if we happen to be chowing down in the evening rather than the early afternoon.
While you enjoy the benefit of not spending $100 on fuel to expose your friend to aviation, you are providing a valuable spark to their imagination that will last for a long time to come. Perhaps you’ll come out together again one day to support the local airport restaurant, and get another eye-full of a student doing pattern work, or a businessman headed out on a sales call, or a family beginning their GA-centric vacation. Your friend’s familiarity with general aviation will grow, and hopefully so will their sense of curiosity.
One day you may suggest you’re planning on going flying over the weekend, and since he (or she) has shown interest during your lunches at the airport, you’d be happy to take them along on a quick hop to see what general aviation is all about. And maybe they’ll accept the offer. You’ll have a motivated individual riding along with you who is much more inclined to see their first flight in a light general aviation aircraft as an adventure, rather than an uncomfortable stress-test they hope to endure without embarrassing themselves.
Is the $10 hamburger the salvation of general aviation? Probably not. But it’s a start, it’s inexpensive, and it builds a larger population of aviation friendly people no matter if they go flying one day or not. And that’s a good thing. If we can agree on anything in general aviation these days, it’s that we could use more good things, and fewer bad things. So let’s start small, with lunch, and build on that success.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He maintains multiple blogs and interacts via the Internet at JamieBeckett.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com