April 23, 2008

Aviation Town Meeting Spurs Passion for Flight

aopa_townmeeting_group_small.jpgI enjoyed a great night of aviation at the AOPA Pilot Town Meeting tonight. Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association President, Phil Boyer, spends about a week each month traveling around the country to meet with pilots and to talk about issues that are near and dear to pilots. I remember attending a Pilot Town Meeting several years ago and was excited to see Phil was bringing his show to Chicago.

I arrived nearly an hour early so that I could save some seats for fellow members of the Chicago Aviation Meetup Group who were going to join me for the event. As is often the case at any pilot get together or at a local airport it is nearly impossible to be alone long around pilots. Within seconds of sitting down I was engaged in a conversation with several fellow pilots. One of which was a remarkable man, Clarence (Clancy) Hess. Clancy was one of the first members of AOPA when he joined for the price of $3 in 1940. He was a Marine Aviator in WWII and also was a co-founder of Wings of Hope, a non-profit organization that delivers food and medical assistance to third world countries. He shared with me and a few fellow pilots some amazing photos including one of him with Jimmy Doolitle who inspired Clancy to pursue aviation. Clancy was recently inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame.

In looking around the room it was obvious why AOPA is working so hard to bring new pilots into aviation as the median age had to be close to if not over 50 years of age. I knew that this particular AOPA event had both presentations for current pilots and for prospective pilots. I was excited that three of the six members of the Chicago Aviation Meetup Group who were able to attend were interested in learning to fly. Mid-way through the evening those interested in learning to fly were taken to a separate room to learn about the steps it takes to learn to fly. As a special gift, AOPA presented them each with a voucher for a free introductory flight. It was great hearing from the three future pilots after the meeting, each of them sounded very excited about taking the introductory flight. A.J. commented that he always knew he wanted to fly, he even was close to attending Embry Riddle to learn to fly but chose another career path. He now wants to get into aviation and stop putting off his dream of flying. He said this event just fueled his interest in learning to fly which was great to see.

Another fun story was from Mark, a private pilot who has not flown in several months. He mentioned this weekend he was outside when his young daughter pointed to the sky and said "airplane". He was so excited he took her to the local airport and showed her the planes up close as they watched from the fence line as planes came and went. He is looking forward to getting current again this spring and taking his daughter flying.

Tonight my eyes were opened once again to what I already knew but just needed a reminder of; all of us pilots are very passionate about aviation. In most cases it is a love affair we have had since we were children. It is our duty as pilots to be good ambassadors for aviation. We need to be vigilantly looking for the twinkle in one's eye when the topic of aviation comes up or one's attention is drawn to an overflying plane and we need to seize that moment to share our passion for flying with that person. I know I find great joy in helping people step away from the fence line and cross over to the tarmac to take an introductory flight or simply to visit an FBO or look at the inside of a General Aviation plane.

Tonight was one of those great nights where I enjoyed the camaraderie of other pilots and remembered again what a joy it is to have the privilege of flying. Thanks AOPA for looking out for the interests of pilots and offering this great forum to bring fellow aviators together for a great evening!

The photo above is of several Chicago Aviation Meetup Group Members along with the President of AOPA Phil Boyer and Clancy Hess. (Left to Right: Rob, Catrina, Phil, Clancy, A.J. & Myself.)

Posted by at April 23, 2008 1:03 AM
Comments

Sounds like a fantastic way to spend the evening!!

Posted by: CJ at April 23, 2008 11:20 AM | Reply

I was there and I can tell you it was a lot of fun. And I spent about two hours after the event listening to Clancy tell me a few tales from his life.

He kept asking me if I was bored and just kept shaking my head no, so he kept talking.

I asked him about Jimmy Doolittle, who as an Army Air officer in WWII, lead the first attack on the Japanese mainland with a squadron of B-25s from on board an aircraft carrier.

"Oh yes. Jimmie," he says. He knew this guy as Jimmie. That's pretty cool.

We should be talking to Clancy with an audio recorder. He has way to many great stories in his head.

Posted by: Rob Mark at May 1, 2008 7:53 PM | Reply

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