Make Someone’s First Flight a Happy Memory

Rebecca Selvin

With National Learn to Fly Day approaching (May 15), I'm reminded of some of my own "first flights. "A couple months ago, I got a Facebook message from a high school friend whose father had some medical problems. He's now on the mend, but one of the things my friend told me was that her dad still kept a framed photo on his desk from the airplane ride I gave him — I've got to stop and think — about 28 years ago.

The ride was pretty tame. Just up and around, with gentle banks over Florida's Intercoastal Waterway and a tour of his neighborhood. I also let him fly a little, and he did great. Since he never went on to take flying lessons , it surprises me that he's kept the photo close to three decades (He's wearing the old leather helmet and silk scarf that I carry for posing photo ops), though it certainly makes me feel good.

If I had tried to impress him with steep banks and heavy g-forces, I doubt it would have left the same pleasant taste in his mouth. In fact, the "taste" might have been of something much less appealing. And though my friend's father did not go on to become a pilot, I have to believe that his excitement and positive impression of "little airplanes" has been a plus for all of us, even in an indirect way.

I contrast that with my own father's lifelong fear of flying. During his two-year hitch as a U.S. Army doctor in occupied Germany (I was born there in 1952), he was called on to fly out to where a soldier had been injured in a tank accident during maneuvers. Knowing my father, I assume it was a volunteer trip. I never learned the details, but apparently the liaison pilot in a Cub or Stinson decided he'd impress the "doc" with what he could make the little airplane do. As a result, to the day he died in 1999, my dad would always politely decline to fly with me, visibly tensing up at the idea of going up in anything smaller than an airliner. I'll always see that as one of life's little tragedies.

So do use the occasion of May 15 as an incentive to take someone, young or old, up flying. Even if they don't catch the fever, you never know how many people will see the photo on their desk and ask, "So, what was it like to fly?" But keep it simple and smooth. The experience will be memorable either way. And good memories are better.

Call to action: If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, or have any questions about flying technique you'd like answered, send me a note at We'd love to hear from you.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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