Plane & Pilot
Sunday, May 1, 2005

First Flight

Alleviating a non-pilot’s fears of little airplanes

My interface with the non-flying public has been limited, and I don’t talk much to non-pilots about the problems of flying little airplanes across big water. In conjunction with my work here at Plane & Pilot, however, I’ve given more than my share, probably 50 or so, of first flights to non-pilots. Those experiences have taught me a thing or three about how to carry out a flight with a pretty nervous passenger.

Recently, I had a chance to review those lessons when I took a friend and his fiancée, Liz, for what was her first flight in a light aircraft. My friend is a seasoned aviator and a former aircraft owner for years. His fiancée was young, intelligent, accomplished, enthusiastic—and frightened of anything smaller than a 737. She had flown before, but only on airliners and never on one of those “little planes.”

Like so many other non-pilots, she was a victim of the media’s misinformation, but to her credit, she was smart enough to know it. She had most of the stereotypical fears, notably about flying in a single-engine, propeller-driven airplane. I had a nice Beechcraft F33 Bonanza available for the flight, but to help allay her fears, I used a twin-engine, pressurized Cessna 340 instead.

Before departure, I spread out a Los Angeles sectional chart and showed Liz where we were and where we were going. We took some time to discuss the route and some of the things she’d see, and I emphasized that we’d be well above any nearby mountains.

I seated Liz in the right front bucket seat for most of the trip so she’d have the best possible view, both outside and inside the airplane. She could see everything I was doing, and I took great care to explain what was about to happen before it did, from power changes to gear and flap deployment to banks, climbs and descents. I deliberately limited the hop to a half-hour and flew to an airport only about 80 nm away. I also flew higher than I normally would, climbing all the way to 9,500 feet in search of very smooth air.

The day was relatively clear, and we departed fairly early, when the air was calm and the view was great. I dialed up the pressurization to the max so her ears wouldn’t give her any discomfort and kept climb and descent rates within modest limits.


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