Most pilots don’t need an excuse to go flying – if the weather cooperates and the aviation budget has money, it’s time to visit the airport. But while flying is almost always fun, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, making the same flights time after time.
That’s not only boring, it’s bad for your flying skills. One of the best ways to become a better pilot is to take on new challenges, whether it’s a new airplane or a new destination. So with that adventurous spirit in mind, let’s consider 25 reasons to get out and go flying this summer. Whether you’re a student pilot with a CFI on board or a longtime pilot looking for a new experience, there’s something for everyone.
1. Chase the $100 hamburger. The so-called $100 hamburger is meant to represent the high cost of a meal at a restaurant when you have to fly an airplane to get there. While it’s certainly less expensive to hit the drive-thru around the corner from your house, it’s not nearly as fun as flying to another airport. Some airport restaurants are greasy spoons, some are fine dining establishments, but all of them offer a great reason to call some friends and go flying. The traditional plan involves flying out for breakfast or lunch, trading flying stories over a good meal, then flying home.
2. Attend a local fly-in. Flying is almost always better with friends, and it’s easy to meet new aviation friends by attending fly-ins. Many organizations host fly-ins, from EAA chapters to vintage aircraft clubs to local airport boards. Find one within easy flying distance and go visit. You’ll meet fellow pilots, see some interesting airplanes, and probably enjoy some home-cooked food too. If you’re having trouble finding an event, check out SocialFlight.com.
3. Give a young person a first flight. There’s almost no feeling that can compete with seeing a smile on the face of a young person on their first flight. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, and it just might change the trajectory of that kid’s life. EAA’s Young Eagles program has flown over 2 million kids to date, and is a great way to get involved. Even if you can’t do that, take a friend or neighbor’s kid up for a flight and introduce them to the wonder of personal aviation.
4. Land at every airport in your state. This goal may be easier in Vermont than Alaska, but it’s still fun to pursue. If your state is too big, choose a section of the state and make plans to visit every public airport. The planning can be as fun as the flying, too. Some states even have formal programs to recognize such flights, like Virginia.
5. Add a rating. If you’ve been thinking about adding an instrument, multi-engine, or seaplane rating, make this the summer you do it. You can block off three mornings per week – with sunrise well before 7am in many places, there is plenty of time to fly before work – and achieve your goal in a few short months.
6. Visit a grass runway. Almost all runways were once grass, and while modern paved runways are far more practical, there’s just nothing like a quiet grass strip on a warm summer day. Find one nearby (there are many public grass runways, and even some private ones welcome visitors with a phone call) and make plans to visit. You’ll get to practice your soft field technique and step back in time to a simpler way of flying.
7. Take a lapsed pilot flying. There’s no such thing as an ex-pilot (your certificate never expires), but some have been out of the cockpit for a long time. If you have a friend, family member or co-worker who hasn’t flown in decades, take them up for a sunrise flight and remind them how magical it can be to go flying. You might just convince them to get current, and new BasicMed rules make it easier than ever.
8. Go on a flying family vacation. If you’re headed to the beach, the lake, or the mountains for a summer vacation, add a little aviation to it by flying to your destination. With some schedule flexibility and good planning, you can save time and have more fun. You might even want to take a sightseeing flight once you get to your destination.
9. Attend a safety seminar at another airport. Summer doesn’t have to mean you stop learning. Find an FAA safety seminar or IMC Club meeting at another airport and fly in to attend. It’s a great way to combine classroom learning with practical application.
10. Fly by a large city skyline. New York and Chicago are famous for their low-level city tours, but there are plenty of other good options, including St. Louis, Boston, and San Francisco. Do some planning to make sure you avoid restricted airspace and recruit a photographer to get some photos while you fly – then enjoy the freedom of flying by such famous landmarks.
11. Visit nature’s most spectacular sights. One of aviation’s most under-appreciated benefits is the ability to get a little closer to nature. Whether it’s a national park, a scenic mountain ridge or a remote waterfall, a small airplane can take you places that are inaccessible on foot. Plan a trip to a nearby spot or make a scenic detour on your next long cross-country and take in the sights.
12. Fly to a sporting event. With an airplane, you can be a real diehard sports fan. Follow your favorite baseball team as they travel this summer and visit some new ballparks along the way – it’s can be done in a single day if you attend an afternoon game. Or make a weekend trip to take in a NASCAR race and see the “NASCAR Air Force” parked at the airport when you land. General aviation airports will often get you much closer to your destination than the big city airline terminals.
13. Participate in an air race or poker run. These are classic flying events, where a group of local pilots agrees to fly out from a common airport and visit a variety of nearby airports before returning home. Poker runs usually involve collecting a card at each stop, while air races judge your speed against an estimated speed you entered before takeoff. Both inject a little friendly competition into a day of flying with friends.
14. Flying history tours. From Civil War battlefields in the Southeast to famous architectural works in the Midwest to pueblos in the Southwest, there are plenty of ways to use an airplane to learn about the past. On a visit to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I walked the fields and listened to the tour guide, then flew over the area on the way out. It was a great way to get an aerial view of the spot we had just visited.
15. Amusement parks. Maybe you prefer thrill rides to walking tours of famous places. In that case, find one of the many outstanding amusement parks and plan a day trip. Several of these parks are located close to general aviation airports, so you can spend a day on roller coasters and water slides before flying home.
16. Visit family. A pilot’s license can make it easy to stay in touch with out of town family, so pack up and go see Grandma for a day or two. A long drive can often be shortened to a fun flight, and you might even consider giving an airplane ride to your family members when you get there.
17. Set a new cross country record. What’s the longest flight you’ve ever taken? 100 miles? 1000? Whatever your record, try to break it this summer. The long days mean more flying time to accomplish your trip, and there is no shortage of destinations. Glider pilots have chased badges for years that signify key milestones – try it in your airplane.
18. Write a story on FlightAware. This option takes some planning, but the results can be impressive – over the past few years there have been some truly amazing flight tracks on FlightAware. The goal is to fly a specific route that, using your airplane’s breadcrumb track, writes a message on the map. This could be your airplane model (see right), a message to family members or a picture.
19. Get checked out in a new airplane. Not all new aircraft require a new rating. If you’re used to flying high wing Cessnas, go fly a low wing Piper and see what the differences are. If you usually fly a steam gauge 172, try a glass cockpit model and see if you like it. Exposure to new types of airplanes is a good way to polish your technique and pick up some new tips.
20. Create a flying skills challenge. Feeling rusty after a long winter? Challenge yourself to get current again with a test of flying skills. This might involve flying steep turns and stalls to Commercial Pilot standards, or making a short field landing and touching down within 100 feet of your aiming point. Keep it safe but make it a real challenge – you can even invite a friend and invent a scoring system to make things competitive.
21. Fly to Oshkosh. The granddaddy of them all, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is the world’s largest fly-in and a must-visit at least once for any pilot. The weeklong celebration of aviation includes incredible airshows, thousands of exhibitors to visit, and over 10,000 airplanes tied down next to the runway. Flying in is half the fun, too. It’s not exactly easy, but as long as you’re proficient and you plan ahead it can be a memorable experience.
22. Fly for a charitable cause. More and more pilots are using their skills to give back, and a number of aviation charities have sprung up to support these efforts. You might consider transporting sick children to hospital appointments, flying abandoned dogs to a new home, or doing conservation flights.
23. Go camping with your airplane. There are a number of airports – especially in the western US – that allow camping right next to your airplane. This is a great way to enjoy the true freedom of flying and visit some truly remote places. Check out the Recreational Aviation Foundation for more information about some unique airports that offer camping.
24. Visit another country. Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas are within a day’s flight of almost every pilot in the US. Summertime can be a good time to visit some of these locations, especially Canada, so take the opportunity to add an international destination to your logbook. In addition to being a lot of fun, it’s a good way to learn some new skills and see how aviation works in other countries.
25. Go flying with no plan whatsoever. This is sometimes the most fun you can have in an airplane. Make sure the weather is good and there are no TFRs, but then simply take off and follow your interests. You just might find a new adventure where you didn’t expect it.
Any ideas you would add to our list?