Nick Brennan has one message to pilots: Go Fly America. To that end, the pilot has relaunched the Go Fly America Challenge. The concept is simple: Fly to airports, take a picture of a recognizable landmark with a piece of paper showing the Operation: Fly password, and submit it to the Operation Fly website, permanently planting your flag as the official claim holder of that airport.
“Operation: Fly is intended to have one ultimate goal that overrides all else: Ensure that pilots will always have an affordable — or free, if possible — way to have fun and do what they love to do: Fly,” Brennan says. “The challenge is designed to be a vehicle for getting pilots out and meeting other pilots, giving business to airports, and flying places they otherwise wouldn’t have seen.”
The challenge has been in hiatus for about two years, but when it was first launched, the website received 2,295 claims. “The biggest comment I heard when we first ran this challenge was that people saw airports that hadn’t seen planes in months, if not longer,” Brennan noted.
“I think at the core, every single pilot in the world, from the jet drivers down to the ultralight drivers, has a desire to get out and fly as much as possible, but sometimes flying to a remote airport where there is no ‘destination’ present other than the airport itself keeps people away from those airports,” he continued. “Other times, there may be a great airport, with great services and a ton of things to do, but people just haven’t heard of it, so they never travel there. What this challenge does is give pilots the impetus to visit airports they otherwise wouldn’t have visited, and along the way, they are promoting aviation. Every time we go up and fly, we are learning something, and with that learning comes great experiences that we probably would not have had otherwise.”
Operation: Fly is a natural evolution for Brennan, a 400-hour pilot now based at Winston-Salem Airport (INT) in North Carolina.
“After I got my pilot certificate back in 2005, I found quickly that I needed something to keep me motivated to go flying,” he recalled. “I was running out of ‘new’ friends to take with me and flying around the pattern just didn’t quench my thirst for aviation the way I hoped it would, so I devised a personal challenge to land at all public use airports in New Mexico, where I lived at the time. My personal challenge was to take a picture of every airport and issue my own ‘NOTAMs’ to future pilots, so that if anyone visited, they’d have a more personal story about the airport than they would get with the AFD.
“As the challenge progressed, I thought it would be neat if more people could participate,” he continued. “That’s when ‘Go Fly America’ was formed. We took the original concept and formed it into a challenge, where we would attempt to land at all public use airports in the continental United States within one year. We did not hit our original goal, but we had a lot of fun trying, and we extended it for another year and a half afterward.”
A friend, Chip Gibbons, set up the original site, but “unfortunately we were using donated servers and hosting and when that dried up, we took a look at where we were, recognized that we would not hit our goal, and decided it was time to close the doors on Go Fly America. This was met with a lot of disappointment in the users who were still submitting claims.”
While visting the PilotsOfAmerica.com web forum, Brennan noticed several pilots talking about how awesome it would be if the challenge was revived. “A lot of people jumped in saying how much they loved it and how it gave them a reason to go fly, and I figured that there really was no reason to not bring it back — I still have all of the data, the photos, and the airport data is readily available from multiple sources, so why not?”
The challenge is a bit different this time: All public use airports in the United States are open to claim, not just those in the 48 continental United States. And there is no time frame or limit on the ultimate goal of claiming every airport.
Brennan admits that there’s another reason the challenge was stopped a few years ago.
“There was a waning interest in the challenge as a whole, both by the users and the administrators,” he said. “We ran the challenge for so long without any updates, refreshes, new content or anything like that, we had to expect something like that to happen. Since then, I’ve become a lot wiser about how these types of things work, and recognize that in order to keep these things going, we are going to need to keep it exciting, and I am committed to making sure that happens.”
While he said there are a “ton” of projects in the works, he’s not ready to discuss any of them yet. “What I can say is that over the next few years, we aim to take the enjoyment of burning fuel to a whole new level, and I think general aviation pilots are really going to be pleased with some of the cool things that we come up with,” he said.
Brennan concludes with noting that there’s a common saying among pilots: “Flying thousands of hours is different than flying the same hour thousands of times.”
“Why not have as much fun as possible, doing what we all love to do, and building a powerful, content-rich library of information on every airport in the United States along the way?” he said. “After all, if we aren’t sharing our experiences with others, are we really making the most of each hour we’re flying?”
For more information: OperationFly.com