Mentoring: Sharing the magic

Flying is such an amazing experience, I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t think it’s cool on some level.

Because of this mindset I have a real passion for seeing our industry flourish — most of us do. It’s partially selfish, because if people aren’t interested in flying we shrink as a community. If we shrink too much there are obvious bad things that occur.

Many folks believe we have already started this downhill slide and that recreational aviation in the U.S. will look more like it does overseas in a few years.

I think we can all share some responsibility for growing our ranks and seeing our community prosper. One of the best — and easiest — ways to do that is to “share the magic.”

This means going out and evangelizing the virtues of flying. Let it be known that 1) it’s not impossibly expense, 2) it doesn’t require super-human skills and 3) it’s more fun than most people can imagine.

Doing this simple thing can lead people in the right direction. Their natural curiosity will take over and, if they venture close enough, they just might get hooked.

Going a step further, you can reach out directly to people within your sphere of influence and offer to “help” them explore flying. In this way you are taking the first step to mentor that person. That doesn’t mean you need to be highly experienced or some kind of expert. You might be new to flying yourself. It’s the encouragement — the nudge — that they need initially. You can be the spark that sets someone on a course that changes the rest of their life. What a powerful thing!

Jamie Beckett wrote a great article here on mentoring in December 2013. In it he drives home some of the key concepts of mentorship.

Let’s explore some simple ways to “share the magic.” I wouldn’t call it full-blown mentoring yet, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Take social media for example. It’s one of the easiest ways to reach people. If you have something great to pronounce about aviation, post it via social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and the like. In this way you are putting it out there and someone on the other end can potentially be affected.

Depending on your circumstances, this could be thousands of friends or followers. Talk about an amazing reach! If someone out there has an interest, they will like or comment on the post and that’s an opportunity to reach out and engage them.

With some refinement you can create a virtual short list of potential new pilot candidates.

If you haven’t adopted social media yet, I would suggest you let go of what’s holding you back and move into the 21st century, especially if you plan to reach anyone under 30.

Another more “traditional” method is to talk about flying with people around you. It could be as simple as mentioning it in the break room at work, or with neighbors when you are making small talk, or with relatives when you are at gatherings. Always keep in mind any social setting is an opportunity to reel someone in.

I think we have hurt ourselves with the old jokes like, “How do you know if there is a pilot at your party? Don’t worry they’ll tell you!” Unfortunately many pilots, in an effort to avoid that stereotype, have gone underground, only talking aviation with other pilots.

The bottom line is we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about our flying. You can always change the subject. If they start to ask questions and they seem genuinely interested, you’ll know to keep the conversation flowing.

We have a responsibility to not only share in an effort to grow our ranks, but we are also accountable for sending the right message. You should seize every opportunity, but if you are braggadocios or overbearing you are doing more harm than good. If we don’t use a little tact, like Jamie suggests, we risk coming across as weirdos — not exactly the result we are looking for.

Also, we need to be careful we aren’t putting things out there that set the wrong example about safety and regulatory compliance. The proliferation of YouTube is great for celebrating this wonderful experience, but we should be careful of the impression we leave on our audiences (and the exposure to our tickets).

This power we have to share and mentor stands to truly change our industry and reverse the disturbing downward trend we have seen in recent decades. If only a fraction of us actively mentored someone, we have a fighting chance. I would suggest that sharing is the first step in that process. It’s an easy thing to do and you’ll get back more than you give — I promise.

So the next time you have something noteworthy to say about flying, don’t be shy about it. If we don’t promote aviation, who will?

Your first task, if you accept this challenge, is to let us know how you have shared aviation with others. Just put it in the comments below.

Comments

  1. says

    A wonderful concept. WI have been offering discount to any pilot who comes to me for a flight with a new person to do a Discovery Flight and this has been going well.

    Our Mentor program for kids nine years to fifteen years old which is a four weeks program in the summer has produce great results over the past seven years and we are still looking at innovative ways the continue to attract youngsters to our Aviation industry

    Thanks gentlemen for your comments it really helps.

    Errol

  2. John Gainey says

    Hello Brent,

    I grew up in the piney woods of east Texas. The six mile drive from our country home to town and back passed by the small county airport. When I was around the age of 10 some of the local pilots in the area sponsored a “discovery” promotion charging a “penny a pound” for a short introductory flight. My parents bought me a ride in a Cessna-150 and that was the spark that lit the fire.

    Reading your article is a real motivator for me. I pledge to do my part and become an “evangelist” by proactively sharing my love of flying. That short flight so many years ago really changed my life. Now as a successful professional pilot approaching the chronologically advantaged age of 60, I will give back and do my part to help mentor others and “share the magic.”

    Thank you.

  3. Ben says

    Brent:

    Thank you for you article. I agree with your thoughts wholeheartedly except for the expense part. Flying IS expensive and until the manufacturers and FAA can produce viable, affordable solutions, flying will not be within the reach of many aspiring young pilots. Fuel costs, aircraft purchase prices, FAA mandated equipment requirements, maintenance.. to name a few are big deterrents to the goal.

    If we can find a way to approach these issues, I think aspiring pilots and GA as a whole would once again thrive and grow. Just my thoughts.

    • says

      Ben,
      I certainly agree. My website – fixedwingbuddha.com is totally dedicated to that effort. But it’s merely a bandaid. Like you said, we need real industry reform to get the prices in line with reality.
      The only people I know who are keeping the price down – and it’s still high – are the small airports that use legacy LSAs and try no frills. In that environment you can usually rent for $50 and hr plus instructor. That’s almost as cheap as it was in the late eighties. I would love to see more of that grassroots type of activity.

      Brent

  4. Wade Leveille says

    I always strive to invite newbies to the thrill of flying. I have an open offer to the local flight school at SFZ, to take any of their students on my $100 hamburger flights (although no takers yet). I think local pilots should and can work with schools to provide more opportunity for those kind of flights.
    I also act as a BSA Aviation Counselor, hoping to inspire more new Pilots.
    We all know there is a cost, (like owning a boat or RV), but nothing beats owning a plane and jumping in it for an afternoon flight to the Islands.

  5. says

    It’s hard to overestimate the effect a short flight has on anyone who’s ever had even a passing interest in aviation. That sort of thing sticks with you — doubly so if the individual in question is a kid. As I related in a post on my site, a five minute encounter with a flight engineer in the cockpit of a 727 when I was a kid has stuck with me for three decades. It was probably forgotten about an hour later by that FE, though!

    There’s a video of a little girl getting her first airplane ride in an Aeronca Champ which says it far better than I ever could. Tell me that’s not infectious!

  6. says

    Brent:

    Well said. I notice in the comments that people are confusing two different ideas: first is the idea of getting people interested in flying, and second is getting people to sign up for and commit to flight training after a “discovery” flight. I think the two need to be taken separately. Your original post is the one I think is the strongest in that we NEED to bring more people into general aviation. Once we have sparked somebody’s interest, the question of whether or not they go to an FBO and sign up for lessons is a totally different matter. Our job as general aviation pilots is to demonstrate the beauty of flight, and to yell from the mountaintops what it is we love about flying. It’s also to provide information, and to dispel the myths about general aviation that the media seems intent to convince people of. I have found some avenues that worked for me:

    1. Contact the local high school and middle school and offer your services (especially to the science dept and to career counselors) to come in and talk about aviation, careers, safety, etc. You can offer to give a ride to students who express a true interest.

    2. become the local Boy Scouts of America merit badge counselor for the aviation merit badge. I offer the kids who complete the merit badge a free ride in my Great Lakes biplane. You’d be amazed what an impact that has.

    3. There are silent auctions held by many organizations to raise funds for their programs. Offering a ride in your airplane is a great giveaway. A ride in my plane raised $400 for a local charity organization. I was glad to do it.

    4. Make it known where you work that you’re a pilot and that you’d love to take somebody for a ride. I donate a ride in my biplane during the company’s Christmas party. They have everybody interested submit their names and somebody pulls a name out of a hat. It’s become a popular thing.

    5. When you do take somebody for a ride, instead of making it a “see what a hotshot pilot I am” ride, make it a “beauty of flight” excursion: easy, coordinated turns, good weather, concise-but-thorough explanations, NO STALLS, NO AEROBATICS, NO BUZZING. Even if they want a more aggressive ride later, the initial introduction will establish what that person thinks of GA for the rest of their life. You’d be amazed how many people were scared away from GA due to an initial ride that disturbed them. As an aviation writer, I hear these stories far too often.

    I hope we all make an effort to promote GA in every way we can. We tend to be an insular group, and there tend to be strong personalities in aviation. If we keep in mind that as aviators, we become lifelong ambassadors of aviation, with all that the title implies. The whole industry truly depends on our efforts.

    • says

      Marc,
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment! You covered a lot of excellent points – all of which I agree with.

      You definitely have the right idea and that is sound advice for all of us.

      I like how you used the word “insular” to describe us as a group. I think you are spot on.

      Brent

  7. Gareth Williams says

    In my opinion, one of the best ways to promote GA is simply to get people up in the air! I am fortunate to own a 1942 Stearman. So there’s a spare seat up front…I make it a goal to always have someone to share my flight, whether it’s low and slow over the fields or a spot of graceful aerobatics. IT COSTS NO MORE than taking her up on my own – and the Stearman grins are priceless. My passengers (100+ and counting in 2 years) range from 10 to 80 years old…and I KNOW that many of them now have the bug. Some are friends, or friends of my kids (or my friends’ kids!)…others are mechanics in the shop, others just people I’ve approached who are simply hanging out at the airport. Only one thing beats the joy of aviation: SHARING it with others.

    • says

      Gareth,

      First I envious! I’d love to have a Stearman in the barn some day. Secondly, you are setting in a perfect position to give folks a golden era view of what flying is all about. I’m so glad to hear you are doing it right and “sharing the magic.”

      Now can I get a ride?!

      Regards,

      Brent

  8. John Schmidt says

    I am trying to create another generation of pilots (Google: “Pilot’s Lounge 118″). Been doing it for 13 years now; I’m having some success with it. I’ve had alumni of the class go on to volunteer at the local aviation museum, go to AirVenture, I’ve sent over 12 students to EAA’s Air Academy, some have joined the local CAP, one built his own wind tunnel, and a few have gone on to get a private license. You’re right, Brent. We need to promote, promote, promote our avocation.

    • says

      John,
      That’s awesome! I’ll check out the lounge. These kinds of grassroots efforts are really important and virtually anyone who is motivated can do it.

      Good on ya!

      Brent

  9. Bill Dominguez says

    When promoting, the first step is getting the person into a discovery flight. Or at least that what I always try to do. I know several people who have paid 200+ for one tandem skydive jump, but only one who paid $150 for a discovery flight, needless to say that he loved it. It seems like people see a discovery flight as the first step toward a costly pilot license and since they cannot afford the license, or don’t have the time, they forgo it all together. I always tell them that flying is a lot of fun, even if they do it 2 or 4 times a year with an instructor and no expectation for a license. If we could get more people to go for discovery flights as people go for one time skydiving, it would be a good start. The skydiving FBO in both local airport I currently use are thriving much better than much of the the flying schools, and those flying schools doing very well are specialized in bringing aspiring pilots from other countries. Discovery flights should not be promoted as a way to see if you like flying but something fun anyone should do at least once in their lifetime.

    • says

      Bill,
      You make a great point. I can relate. I went on a “discovery flight” at 13, because I was dreaming of a career as a military pilot. My parents thought it would be a good idea to see if I even liked it. Long story short, I was so enamored that I began lessons immediately and the rest, as they say, is history.

      If we could just get folks to try it, they don’t have to promise to become Chuck Yeager or even get a license.

      Thanks,

      Brent

    • says

      Hi Bill,
      Not to “burst your bumble”, but the so called “Discovery Flight” has proven to be just another alternative to Great Adventure or “something to do” this weekend. Just ask (if there really honest) ANY flight school or CPC; how many students have COMMITED to a private course, and finished, do to the limited exposure of the introductory flight?

      From my own experience; 3 flight schools and an FBO – “ZIP” results!
      Good idea originally introduced by Cessna in the mid 60’s – but to “short” in time, 40-45 minutes, to qualify one’s sincere interest.

      Seems to me you would rather have 100 students who fly 1 hour every other year then 2 students who COMPLETE their license requirement in 6 months? To “each his own”!

      • says

        I think the discovery flight is definitely a good idea. Sure, for some it may just be a “new experience” or something to do on the weekend. For others though, it will be the peek inside the door of a whole new world.

        The problem is what to do from there? A discovery flight is a once and done promotion. If the 45 minutes was enough to grab you…I think you were destined to go the path anyway. For others, however, it may not be enough to fully sell the value, and justify the expense, of license bound training.

        While I am sure it’s not a new idea, this one grabbed me. If you were up for the Discovery Flight but not quite sold on a $10,000 investment how about something comfortably left of in between?

        Where I am training they have a “Fly It, You’ll Like It” program.

        “Fly It… You’ll Like It!

        Flight Training Course

        Cumberland Valley Aviation is offering a new way to get you started flying. The “Fly It, You’ll Like It” course. This course is designed to let you ‘try-on’ your flight training and see if you like it with a small commitment. It allows you to master the basics of flying and learn what is involved in earning your Private Pilot’s License. You receive the same training as a person enrolled in the complete Private Pilot Course. If you decide to continue, Nothing is lost….you will continue to work towards your first solo flight!! Why put it off any longer??

        The course includes:

        3 hours of flight training with a Certified Flight Instructor in a Cessna 172 or Piper Archer II.

        2 hours of Ground Instruction

        1 Pilot Log Book

        Cost: $585.00

        The sky’s the limit! ”

        $585 isn’t cheap but for what you get in the program, it’s an amazing bargain and a LOT more purposeful flying than a Discovery Flight.

        If you don’t get hooked during this time, it probably wasn’t going to happen anyway. You still had a great experience and the expense was perfectly reasonable.

        If you do get hooked and commit, it’s a win-win. The school gets a new student, the student already has bargain priced but logged training time, and GA gets a new member.

        • says

          Ron,
          I applaud the creativity. That kind of outside the box thinking is what we need. So many training facilities act like there are doing the customer a favor. I love this example of truly marketing to the potential pilot.

          Good stuff!

          Brent

      • says

        Rod,

        Valid point. Back in the early 90s we converted about 1 in 10 rides to students. Out of those about half stuck with it and finished. It’s certainly a numbers game and the numbers aren’t great but it’s what we have.
        Brent

      • says

        I can clearly remember my first flight. There was a clear blue sky. I flew a Piper Tomahawk out of Compton CA for just 30 minutes. Today I’m preparing for my IFR check-ride.

  10. says

    Thanks for the plug, Brent. You wrote a good piece that promotes one of the most effective and beneficial methods of sharing a positive view of aviation (or anything else). Mentoring and evangelizing are a powerful combination. Go make it happen! I’m behind you all the way.

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