Category Archives: Advocacy

Learning to Fly: What’s the 1st Solo Like?

by Chris Findley, CFI

First solos are amazing.   You will remember it for the rest of your life.

Me with 397 in 1988

I remember mine.  Cessna 172.  Tail number 80397.  July of 1988.  I had been flying for 2 years and was anxious to turn 16 so I could solo.  My parents were excited too and planned a post-solo party for me.  It was a humid July afternoon and as usual I was worried about pop-up showers forming.  None did.  The wind was calm.  This was it!  My instructor told me to do three touch-and-gos on my own and I couldn’t wait to get in the air. It was amazing, especially for this 16 year-old kid from Mississippi.  The landings went well and soon I was walking back to my friends and family as I hummed the theme from “Top Gun”. 

On the day of the solo you will most likely start out with a discussion reviewing the material you have been learning as a part of your training, much of it will probably focus on procedures.  Once in the plane your instructor will probably have you do a few touch & go’s and you may sense that the solo is near.  You’ll be concentrating to make these landings some of your very best.  As you make each landing, you may notice that your instructor is unusually quiet.  My students often ask me if I’m ok when they don’t hear me in their headset.  Generally in flying this is a good thing.  As you get better, the instructor has less to say! 

After a few landings your instructor will tell you to taxi to the ramp and may have you shut down the engine.  Then he will take endorse your student pilot’s license and your logbook and you’ll know that the solo is finally here!  With a smile and a handshake your instructor will tell you what he wants you to do, “Make 3 full-stop landings and then taxi back to the ramp.”

Some instructors then walk inside for a cup of coffee.  Others, like me, will stand to the side of the runway with a handheld radio and watch your landings. They  aren’t there to intimidate you, but to celebrate with you.  It’s a big moment for your instructor also.  

You’ll taxi out to the runway on your own for the first time!  Out of the corner of your eye you’ll notice the vacant chair next to you and it will hit you- you’re going to fly by yourself! 

On takeoff  you will find that the airplane climbs really well with that right seat empty.  Your trip around the patter will go quickly and you’ll be setting up for your first solo landing.  Most students notice that much of their training will begin kicking in automatically.  Your power settings, pitch attitudes, flap settings, and airspeeds will flow and soon you’ll be crossing the threshold, rounding out and entering the flare.  The plane will seem to hang suspended over that runway for eternity, but soon the wheels will make contact and you’ll slow to a stop.  You may find that you’ve been gripping the yoke a little more tighter or that you’re sweating a little more than normal.  But the exhilaration you feel will be indescribable. 

You’ll start your taxi back, perhaps give a quick wave to your instructor, and do it all over again. 

You have just done what many people never have the experience of doing.  Lots of people fly in airplanes.  Only a relative few can say they actually have flown an airplane.  Congratulations!


A Twist on the Sunday Drive: Fly!

What if we adapted the "Sunday Drive" concept to our flying?

by Chris Findley, CFI

The “Sunday Drive” holds an iconic place in American life.  Like front porch swings, sidewalks, and town squares, a family drive in the country on Sunday was a mini-getaway for the family.  There was no rush, no elaborate plans, no particular agenda.  It was using the car for more than the normal weekday commute.   It was about using the car for leisure, for recreation.

The notion of the Sunday Drive has all but disappeared from the American consciousness.  As the pace and pressure of modern society has increased, our intentional use of leisure has diminished.  It is pretty rare to see people simply taking a walk in a park, or chatting with neighbors across their back fences, or just getting away together for a little while.  But today’s Private Pilot can renew this age-old and forgotten tradition of the Sunday drive, but with a twist–the Sunday flight.

As a licensed pilot, we know the immense sense of accomplishment in nailing a crosswind landing, in navigating our way around weather, or shooting a near perfect instrument approach.  But if we are not careful we will forget that the airplane is more than a training platform, a handy way to commute, or a way to earn some additional income.  One of the greatest gifts of flying is flying for the sheer joy of it.  Why not block out some time to simply enjoy time aloft- a Sunday Drive of sorts?

Not long ago my family and I made our own Sunday drive/flight.

Base-to-final @ 1A7. Runway is just to the L of the river in the photo

The idea was simple.  I had spotted this out-of-the-way airport while on a training flight with one of my students.  A quick scroll through the GPS showed that it was  Jackson County Tennessee (1A7).  I saw that this 3500′ strip  was nestled between some lovely Tennessee hills with a river running parallel to the runway, only yards from the pavement.  The field was unattended, dotted only by a single large hangar on its western side.  The approach has you flying between and around the hills, and then upriver on final.  It is really picturesque.  It is also convenient as it is only about :20mins from my home airport.

The following Saturday rolled around and was a perfect VFR day.  My wife Sheryl packed a picnic lunch and brought our boys to meet me at the airport after I finished up with a student.  I re-checked the weather for the afternoon, loaded up the Cessna 172 and took off for our destination.  The flight didn’t take long and everyone was all smiles as we winged over the Cumberland plateau.  It was a cool and crisp early fall day -one of those days when you and it even seems, the plane, love to fly.

1A7- Jackson County, photo courtesy of

After landing, I taxied us to the ramp and shut down the engine.  We climbed out to a wonderfully calm and relaxing scene.  There was no one there.  The only sounds were the sound of nature and the popping of the cooling engine.  We found a spot in the grass, laid out a blanket and had our picnic.  After we ate, the kids played tag on the empty ramp while their mom and I just took it all in.  Now if this all sounds sort of Norman Rockwell-ish,  let me assure you this was a rare moment in the Findley house.  Our home is just as stressed and chaotic and tired as any other.  In fact, most of the time, I think we tend less toward Norman Rockwell and more toward Jerry Springer!

But this day stands out precisely because it was a break -a mini-getaway.  There was no pressure, no agenda, no real plan other than to go flying and have a picnic.  Stress was low, relaxation was high.  My logbook shows that it  took about a total of 1.3 hours on the hobbs which included a little sightseeing on the way back.

With every change in season various flying magazines and blogs suggest a host of destinations to their readership.  From Maine to the Bahamas to back-country strips in the northwest there is always an adventure for those with the time and resources to take them on.  I’d love to take a week and fly to the Bahamas.  But I don’t have the time or money to make that happen.  The beauty of the Sunday Drive approach is that it is quick, affordable, and do-able for the weekend pilot. It’s also a great way to introduce non-fliers to the joy of flying.

The beauty of the Sunday Drive approach is that it is quick, affordable, and do-able for the weekend pilot. It’s also a great way to introduce non-fliers to the joy of flying.

Here are a few ways you can make the most of these little outings with friends or family:

1.) Grab a sectional and draw circle with a 50NM radius around your home airport.  These are airports that are within 30 mins of your home airport in any modest trainer.

2.)  Research the field and what’s around it. Check with the AOPA’s Airport Directory for information potential sites.  Also check out which is a great site for just these kinds of excursions.

3.)  Be willing to go low-key.  Pack a lunch and have a picnic.  Enjoy the flying and the company even if the meal is ham sandwiches and sweet-tea.

4.)  Be patient and do your planning in advance.  That way when the next great clear day of weather comes, you’re ready.

The Sunday Drive mentality can be a needed break from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.  While not many people take these drives anymore, pilots can give this time-honored tradition new life.  So do a little exploring in your own backyard, find a field, make your plan and make it happen.

I’d love to hear your stories.  Email me your Sunday Drive experiences and what airports make great getaways! You can reach me at

Plane Guilt: The Unfortunate Stigma of Aviation

by Chris Findley, CFI

Recently I was having a conversation with a Charter Operator’s team about possible ways to increase their visibility and market share.  I mentioned the use of customer testimonials as part of their advertising.  They responded, “But our customers won’t do it.  They feel like people will judge them negatively because they used a private charter.”

I haven’t been able to get that thought out of my head.

There is a stigma about general aviation- that somehow these planes are the wasteful toys of the “rich”.  To admit to flying one or utilizing one for business seems to be tantamount to admitting you have stock in Exxon, own a Hummer, or that you were involved in clear cutting a rainforest.  There’s a stigma.  And ironically it doesn’t matter if you’re flying a Cessna 172, a Cirrus, Baron, or a Phenom.  People will look sort of sideways at you and wonder if somehow you’re the clandestine “millionaire next door”

There are several things that we need to understand about “Plane Guilt” if we hope to overcome it:

The relative nature of the argument. When someone uses what is perceived as “rich toys” either for pleasure or as a part of their business, there is a judgment that happens in many people’s mind.   “Mr. Jones is so extravagant and wasteful to be using that business plane. ” And many clients/owners/operators are very aware of this stigma. The argument that aviation is simply an extravagant and wasteful tool for the wealthy is completely relative.  It’s relative based on one’s perception of affluence and wealth.  What is extravagant to one may not be to another.  In many ways Americans have blinders on and miss the fact we are, in general, an affluent people.  Consider the fact that Americans and Europeans  spend enough on ice cream and pet foods to provide  water, health, nutrition, and education for the entire planet.  Also, consider that 80% of the people on the planet live on less than $10 a day.1  Of course Americans are a generous people too.  Even in the economic hard times we are facing at home, over $200 million was raised in short order for the victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. 2   But realize that this relief was only possible because we, as a people, are successful.  And never mind the crucial role, dare we mention it, that private aviation continues to play in that recovery effort.  Nonetheless, we need to understand the argument that somehow Aviation is more wasteful than something else is really to give in to a selective form of logic that ignores the larger picture.

In fact, most of the pilots I know are far from wealthy (including yours truly).   Most would fall into the middle-class.  They work hard, have families, and developed their flying hobby. Even professional pilots aren’t soaking up the dollars.  The  average salary for a new corporate pilot is $32,500.   Flight Instructors average about $25 per hour before taxes (at 30%).3  Of course these can increase with seniority, but very few are making anywhere near the six-figure income many people wrongly assume. Somehow people have gotten it into their heads that pilots and those involved in GA are wealthy (which equals ‘suspect’).   Those who work in the industry know better.  Flying has a wonderful cross-section of people.  Yes, there are celebrities and wealthy people, but by far most GA patrons and operators are not.

There are plenty of other expensive hobbies that consume thousands of dollars in discretionary income each year.  Is golf looked on with equal disdain?  What about bass-boat owners?  Or Harley-Davidson riders?  There was a time when it was a bit pretentious to have a cell phone (remember when they came in those gigantic brief-case-sized bags?)  Not that long ago to have more than one car or a flat-screen television was a sign of excess.  But times, and stigmas can change.

The Expense of Charter? Charter flying can be expensive.  But it can also be surprisingly affordable.  As I was working on this article I looked at what the cost difference was between airline and charter flights for a trip from Evansville, Indiana to Atlanta.  The average price for the airline ticket was $800.  The charter price was around $780 in a modest Cessna 310.  For a bit more speed, a King Air was $944.  Jet service in a  BeechJet was $1300.  This illustrates the idea that charter can be had for less than most people realize.  Perhaps that would be worth the cost to avoid the hassle and extra fees of today’s airline travel.

But it’s the perception, right?

Overcoming the Stigma by Stories How can we overcome the stigma of Charter/Corporate flying?  We tend to argue from the statistical side, particularly the cost and relative affordability of flying.  But there’s one critical feature missing: emotion.  People often pay for a good or service because of emotion and perceived value.  One of the most effective means of doing this is through the use of stories.

Aviation needs a Jared.

When Jared Fogle was a junior in college he weighed a whopping 425 pounds.  His father, a doctor, warned him of his weight and the dangers it posed to his health.  After his roommate noticed signs of edema (fluid retention that can lead to diabetes) Jared decided to get serious about losing weight.  He discovered Subway’s new line of low-fat sandwiches and developed his own diet based on eating one veggie sub for lunch and a turkey sub for dinner.  The rest is history and marketing genius by storytelling.  Most of us have seen Jared’s commercials and know that dropped to 180lbs.  The story caught on, despite the initial resistance of Subway’s marketing firm.

In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath make the point that this serendipitous campaign contains all the things necessary to be successful and “sticky”.  It is simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and given by a story.  They note, “Inspiration drives action, as does stimulation.” Later they note the surprise in the story, “[Jared’s story] violates our schema of fast food…the guy who wore 60-inch pants is giving us diet advice!” (Heath and Heath, p222)

Can we find a story like Jared’s?  We need a story that violates the schema, the stigma, currently popular about flying.  Aviation has tended to depend on celebrities to make its case.  That has its advantages.  But perhaps a far more effective and change-inducing idea is to find the “ordinary person” who is utilizing and benefiting from charter aviation and has the courage to tell their story.

Because, we have a story worth telling.  Can we find our Jared?

If you have a story, I’d love to hear it!  Email me:




New T.V. Show “The Aviators”

Very excited to see this initiative!  Excellent possibilities for positive coverage of Aviation.   Help get the word out!


Finding the Right Flight Instructor

by Chris Findley, CFI

**Listen to this article as a podcast:  MyFlightCoach #1.3 >>>

So you’re interested in taking flying lessons, now what?  In my last podcast at, I talked about the resources at your local airport and how most people’s first stop will be the Fixed Base Operator (FBO).  The FBO is often the hub of activity of the smaller General Aviation airport.  The FBO often houses a flight department, fuel and supply sales, and perhaps a flight school.  For most people this is their first, most obvious stop at the local airport because it often the most visible.  Hopefully the FBO gives you some information about flight training or introduces you to a CFI (Certificated Flight Instructor).  The question is now that you’ve done this, what do you look for in CFI and or Flight School?

Too often new pilot trainees simply go with the first instructor they come across.  Very little attention is paid to the fact that you are entering into  special relationship with this person.  You will be investing a lot of time and money with your CFI, usually between $40 and $60.  You will also be entrusting your safety to them and that of your future passengers.  You will pick up habits, for good or for ill, from your instructor.  So it is important, even crucial, to make this decision carefully.  Here are a few suggestions for finding the right CFI for you.

Will they be a good mentor? The best CFIs I know understand their role as teacher, mentor, and coach.  They do more than show principles, they serve as a guide and encourager.  So look for someone you have some sense of camaraderie.   I know some instructors will wince as I say that, but it’s true.  You don’t want to be cooped up in the cockpit with someone whose guts you can’t stand.  You won’t be able to learn or progress very efficiently if you’re preoccupied with the student-instructor relationship. So try to sit down with your potential CFI over a cup of coffee and just chat about the training process and his or her methods and practices.  Remember, you’re looking for a mentor.

Do they operate professionally? Not long ago I was trying to find a CFI at a different airport than I normally use.  I didn’t really have any contacts there, so I called up the FBO and asked for a flight instructor.  There wasn’t one around (we often aren’t unless we have a student) but the gentleman gave me a couple of phone numbers.  I called them both.   Neither one returned my call.  After 2 days, I called a second time. I left voicemail.  I waited 2 more days.  Nada.  I gave up and drove an extra :15mins each way to another airport and worked with a CFI who knew how to return phone calls.

Flight Instructors have a dubious reputation when it comes to professionalism.  Many are great and understand their responsibility and operate professionally.  I know others who regularly miss appointments, are unprepared, and/or fly in poor conditions.  I know one whose practice was to spin the airplane with students on the 2nd lesson!  Intentionally scaring the snot out of a new student certainly fails the professionalism test!  So look for professionalism which starts with reasonable communication (I try to return every inquiry within 2 hours), appearance, organization, and safety.

Can they articulate a plan for your training? Every CFI should be able to give you a two-minute overview of the training process.  This shows organization and forethought.  An organized and clear plan will: 1.) insure that you cover all the necessary training requirements thoroughly and in a timely manner and 2.) save you time and money in the long run. I have a spreadsheet that I use that where I can track my student’s progress through the various phases of training.  I can also share this with the student to show him/her exactly where they are at any given point.  The training plan doesn’t have to be terribly formal, but there needs to be a plan.

Three things to look for in your Flight Instructor:  one who can be a good mentor, one who is professional and one who has an organized plan.  Whether you will be flying at a large flight school or your small, local FBO, choosing a CFI is a very important part of getting your flight training off to a great start.  Don’t be too shy to ask questions or to spend a little time making a wise decision.  You’ll be glad you did.  It will make for a more fun and effective flight training experience.

Learn to Fly Day! 5-15-10

There’s a great new initiative to share the love of flying with others!  On May 15, 2010 at over 300 locations in over 140 cities, pilots and fight schools will offer a free seminar on learning to fly.  They are equipping and requiting volunteers to host more seminars, so visit the site if you’d like to help.  You can also sign up to attend the seminar and receive a free ticket.

If you’re in the North Nashville area (Hendersonville, Goodlettsville, Gallatin) I’ll be hosting one of these seminars at Pope John Paul II High School (directions here).  Sign up for the Hendersonville session at LearntoFlyDay >>>

Sign up for other sessions at:

Catching the LSA Fever

by Chris Findley, CFI

I had the privilege recently of spending some time with Paul Volle of Atlanta Sport Flight and taking an orientation flight in the Czech Sport Cruiser.  The Sport Cruiser has been recently selected for exclusive distribution by Piper and renamed the “PiperSport”.  The Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category has become quite the topic of conversation these days, with many believing that LSAs are the last great hope of general aviation.  I’m usually suspicious of such sweeping praise, but LSA flying has a lot going for it.

First,  it is cheaper to operate on almost every level –purchase price of new airplanes, fuel burn (doesn’t 4 gal/hr sound nice?), insurance, and maintenance.   Secondly, with the limitations of LSA flight (VFR, day only) and the low hour requirements for licensing (20 hours), this puts flying within reach of many more potential pilots.  Training cost for an LSA Pilot Certificate is in the $4,000 range vs.  $8000 or more for a typical Private Pilot.    Third, it’s the planes.  There are some sharp aircraft being produced.  They sell themselves.  But more than that, I think LSAs like the CubCrafter SportCubS2 and the Sport Cruiser (PiperSport) bring back the emotional and adventurous feel of flying.   I believe this appeal is crucial (whether LSA or not)  for flight enthusiasts to share.  Very few of us fly because it makes economic sense to fly.  We fly because we love it.  But I digress…

Paul Volle greeted me right on time at the Fulton County Airport (KFTY) in Atlanta.  We spent a good bit of time just talking about flying and about his background as the founder of the school.  Paul is a former Naval Aviator and instructor pilot with over 150 carrier landings.  His day-job keeps him in the air as an airline pilot for a major carrier.  But talk with him five minutes and you’ll find a passion for flying, particularly for developing new students,  great flight instructors and a truly classy flight school.  All indications are that he’s off to a great start.   ASF’s SportCruiser is kept busy and so are Paul and his three three instructors.   At the Atlanta Sport Flight website you can get an explanation of the Dynon  EFIS, get a virtual tour of the practice area, download the POH for the plane, and watch a cockpit video of a typical traffic pattern.  It’s clearly designed with the customer in mind.  In conversation and operation, Paul Volle is aiming to run this school professionally.  Now off to the plane!

The Flight

The winds were light and variable and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as Paul and I walked across the ramp to the plane.  One thing that struck me was that the plane does look small, but in a sporty way.   It’s like the way a sports car looks small– you notice, but you’re certainly not repelled.   On the contrary, you’re attracted to it.  You want to drive it, or in this case, fly it.

Preflight on the SportCruiser is similar to preflight on any light plane.  Control surfaces are standard.   Only the rudder is operated by cable, the other surfaces are manipulated by actuator rods from the control stick in the cockpit.  The seats are reclined with four-point harness restraints instead of the typical lap belt.  The large bubble canopy offers a great view.  After preflighting and climbing in, we began the start procedures.

The Rotax engine fires right up.  Unlike the typical Lycoming engine the Rotax just “turns on”.  There’s not a real cranking phase.  In the SportCruiser, turn the key, and the engine fires up immediately.  One thing you’ll notice (especially when reading the POH) is that the RPMs with a Rotax engine are much higher.  After starting, idle is set at 1400RPM.  Depending on your prop pitch, you’re looking at a whopping 5500RPM or more on take-off.

Taxi out and runup was uneventful.  After being cleared to depart, I took the runway and advanced the throttle.  Paul cautioned me, “You’ll be at Vr before you know it”   We were, and here I must brag because  I made what has to be THE ugliest takeoff in aviation history.  As we moved past 35 KIAS, I began a gentle rotation.  Nothing.  At 40KIAS, I applied more back pressure.  Not much pitch change.  As we approached 45, I gave a bit more pressure and UP we go (FAST), I nose over, too much, pull back to correct, oops too much.  I was all over the sky.  I finally established the climb attitude and airspeed and and sheepishly turned toward the practice area.

After making clearing turns in the practice area, I tried some steep turns, slips, stalls, and straight and level cruise.   As the hour wore on, I began to get used to the controls.  The way the seats recline, the view over the nose is a bit different.  I found myself wanting to sit higher in the seat.   The plane is nimble, if not a bit sensitive for those used to bumping along in Cessnas and standard Pipers.  That “wounded duck” takeoff was evidence of that.  In flight, my most noticeable mistake was not holding altitude.  This was probably due to the view difference over the nose, but also my lack of experience with scanning a glass panel.

Upon returning to the airport area, we were cleared for a right downwind entry for Runway26.  Our first pattern ended with a go around to avoid a G-IV (I think it was) that seemed to like hanging out on the departure end of the runway.  My second trip around the pattern was more stable than the first.  Airspeed and altitude were on target.  Power goes to idle on downwind abeam the numbers and you basically glide it in.  Stall speed is really low (Vs0 is 32) and with the memory of my lame takeoff, I was anxious about how my landing would go.  But roundout and flare were fine, albeit with a little lateral overcontrolling.  Touchdown was uneventful and my bruised ego was repaired slightly.  This was a touch and go, and takeoff this time was better as well.  This is probably not a testimony to my flying, but to the “learn-ability” of the plane.  You’ll pick up the control characteristics pretty quickly.

Last trip around the pattern to a full stop went well.  Touchdown was not as smooth (ie little bounce) but not horrible.

Paul resisted the urge to laugh during the flight and for that I am grateful!  He was an encouraging instructor and noted that my flying was typical of pilots transitioning to the LSA from other aircraft.   We taxied to the ramp and raised the canopy.  It was a great flight.

If you’re toying around with the idea of flying an LSA and live within reach of Atlanta,  I’d highly recommend Atlanta Sport Flight.  Overall, I think the enthusiasm about LSAs is good for the industry.    There are a lot of questions that remain, especially long-term questions that only will reveal themselves over time.  But it is clear that LSA’s have the potential to fill a niche and ignite some renewed excitement around flight training.  It has for me…I’m looking forward to my next Sport Cruiser flight.