A lot can happen on a 10-minute first flight. According to 12-year-old Landon Howard, he grew wise beyond his years during a short flight in a Mooney over Frederick and Middletown, Md., June 8 during Learn to Fly Day at AOPA’s headquarters at Frederick Municipal Airport.
“It was exciting,” Howard exclaimed after his flight with Shannon Yeager, AOPA vice president of strategic initiatives. “I felt like I was older than 12. It made me feel more mature.”
The budding pilot—he had decided a few months ago that he wanted to learn how to fly—briefly took the controls of the Mooney during the flight and once on the ground declared he wanted to buy an airplane as well.
The free flights, for which Howard said pilots easily could have charged a fee, introduced 216 children and adults to aviation, “whetting our appetite,” as Howard’s mother Deanna Howard, explained it.
Consider Howard’s appetite sufficiently whetted.
The taste worked on others as well, according to Patrick McFadden, owner of Frederick Flight Center, one of the flight schools at Frederick Municipal Airport. By noon the day of the event, he said more than 30 participants had expressed interest in learning to fly at the school and four had signed up for lessons.
While attendees waited for their first flights, they could peruse a static display with 13 aircraft ranging from a hot air balloon gondola to helicopters to biplanes, along with typical training aircraft like a Cessna 172. Vendor booths from flight schools, the Air National Guard, The Ninety-Nines, and others were also set up to provide more information on learning to fly and careers in aviation. AOPA also offered a photo area and a tent with AOPA Jay simulators to let spectators try their hand at taking off, flying, and landing.
But nothing compared to the actual experience.
A few lucky loads of first-time flyers were carried by AOPA President Craig Fuller in AOPA’s Caravan over Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., for a scenic diversion. The experience, for one family vacationing in the area, drew excitement from the children who couldn’t contain their joy after the flight, squealing and running between family in the static display and those still disembarking.
Those who flew in smaller aircraft, including Cessna 172s and a 180, Diamond DA40s, a Cirrus, a Piper Arrow, and a Beechcraft Bonanza, admitted they were a little nervous beforehand.
“I was afraid I would feel airsick, but I didn’t,” Frederick resident Tehsin Ghaffar said after a flight with AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines. “It was an excellent flight, excellent experience. The aircraft was quieter than I thought it would be.”
“It was a lot smoother and quieter than I expected,” said Marushia Zearfoss, who also flew with Haines. Her 15-year-old grandson Noah Zearfoss flew in the copilot seat and said, “It was weird because you could see everything you wouldn’t normally see on the ground.”
“I loved it; it was great,” Marushia said, later adding, “And we got to fly over our house—that was cool.”
Each child and adult who completed a flight also received a first flight certificate, signed by the pilot—a memento, along with photos and video many shot from the air, to help remember the day. For many, the experience was still sinking in as AOPA staff helped fill in the rest of their first-flight certificate. Those as excited as Howard were initially overcome by the experience, nearly at a loss for words.
“Aw, it was really fun,” Howard exclaimed, his head still in the clouds, before his thoughts turned to buying an aircraft and learning to fly.