Back in the early ‘90s, Honda ran an ad for its redesigned Prelude. It showed a bright red model against a city skyline with the caption “You’ll never have your pizza delivered again.” The implication was that with a fun enough vehicle, we will look for any excuse to get out and enjoy it.
As any aircraft owner knows, Honda was right. New owners in particular will happily use even the most laughable pretexts to justify a flight.
Burgers are half-price on Thursday night at an airport 60 miles away? Better get in on that deal.
Fuel is 10 cents cheaper three counties away? It would be silly not to jump on the opportunity.
Fortunately, we can support such justifications with the more legitimate reasoning that in the interest of safety, we need to run our engines regularly and fly often to maintain our proficiency.
But still, such is our level of enthusiasm, it takes very little to convince an aircraft owner to utilize his or her machine for even the most mundane of tasks.
In 2017, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation launched a program called the Fly Wisconsin Airport Passport Program. Pilots and passengers can register for free. Each registered participant receives their own physical “passport” that contains a blank space for each of Wisconsin’s 125 participating airports.
Each participating airport has a unique stamp, which is typically available in the FBO or at the fuel pumps. Visitors simply stamp their passports each time they visit an airport for the first time, and collect stamps to earn prizes. If you collect 42 airport stamps, you get the bronze award, a Fly Wisconsin t-shirt. Making 84 stops earns the silver award, a flight bag. And anyone who visits all 125 participating airports is rewarded with the gold prize—a leather jacket or a patch and a $100 gift card.
Participants can also earn points by visiting eight aviation museums scattered across the state.
Prizes are funded by the Wisconsin Airport Management Association, an organization that has tasked itself with promoting safety, economic value, and public benefit at all Wisconsin airports, large and small. In less than five years, the program has attracted roughly 1,900 registered participants who have earned 50 bronze, 29 silver, and 20 gold awards.
Flights With Benefits
Participants and community leaders report that folks tend to leave the airport, head into town for a meal, and do a bit of exploring during their visits. The program has been a hit during the pandemic, as it provides a way to get out and explore while remaining socially distant. It’s also been a hit at higher levels of state government, garnering enthusiastic support from both sides of the aisle.
The program has even made it to YouTube, where a husband and wife have started documenting their mission to earn the coveted leather jacket on a channel called The Flying Stampede.
In a typical episode, they (and their dog) hop into their 1950 Piper Pacer and share their experiences flying to various Wisconsin airports and exploring the neighboring communities and attractions.
It’s a fun look at what my home state has to offer, and it’s a refreshingly relatable change of pace from some of the more grandiose general aviation content out there. You won’t see any spectacular STOL landings atop remote plateaus, but you’ll perhaps become inspired to get out and explore Anytown, USA, in your own airplane a bit more often.
To aircraft owners, Wisconsin’s program provides a fun, ongoing mission that can be shared with family and friends. For the first time, otherwise indifferent spouses and children might become enthusiastic about taking the airplane out for pizza or saving 10 cents a gallon on avgas. Because after all, what fun is delivery when you can hop into the airplane and make a flight out of it?
Jason McDowell is a private pilot and Cessna 170 owner based in Madison, Wisconsin. He enjoys researching obscure aviation history and serves as a judge for the National Intercollegiate Flying Association. He can be found on Instagram as @cessnateur. You can email Jason at email@example.com with any questions or comments you have.