Congratulations, you are either on your way or about to get started on your journey to becoming a pilot. As you begin this adventure, I would like to invite you to become a part of the community.
What community you may ask? Why, the community of general aviation, of course.
Airports may have foreboding fences and things may seem a bit sterile at some flight schools but there is an active and welcoming general aviation community that wants you as a part of it. They may just need your help in finding you!
Why make the effort to help them find you? Because, the general aviation community can be a key resource in your training efforts. You may find an individual mentor or a whole support network of people to help you along your way. A time may come in your training when you are struggling to get through a learning plateau and your support system can help you move to the next level!
The first individual you are likely to meet in your support system is your flight instructor. A good flight instructor will go above and beyond the basics found in the training syllabus. He or she will introduce you to others in the general aviation community and point you in the right direction for community events.
At some airports, you may see some folks hanging around that don’t appear to work at the airport but always seem to be there. These so called “airport bums” can be another introduction to the local airport community. They tend to know many of the airport users and to know when there are official and less than official events planned in the area.
Airport bums also like to do something called “hangar flying.” While hangar flying, the “flyers” share their aviation stories. Just realize that sometimes these stories have been embellished a bit through the fog of memory or in an effort to increase the entertainment value. You may catch a nugget or two of wisdom in the tales but be careful relying too much on the yarns of those spending more time on the ground telling stories than in the air living them.
Local fly-ins are a great place to meet pilots with an enthusiasm for aviation. Don’t worry if you can’t fly yourself there yet. If the event is at your local airport or one within driving distance, you will be welcome as a student pilot. If you have already started to build your network of pilot friends, maybe you can share the expenses and ride along to the event.
Fly-ins range from small pancake breakfasts to large multi-day proceedings with vendors from across the country and perhaps even an airshow. The small fly-ins tend to be best for building your network while the large gatherings can be amazing!
The Clermont County Airport, where Sporty’s Academy is based, has a fly-in every Saturday at noon. Pilots from all around stop by the airport for a hot dog and some story telling. If you are ever in the area, feel free to stop by and share.
Many airports have a chapter from an organization known as the EAA. While the “E” does stand for Experimental, the focus of this group has broadened significantly to include most of general aviation. In other words, you will find a group of real aviation enthusiasts at a local EAA chapter. Local members want you as a part of their community!
Other organizations may also have local representation at an airport. Ask your instructor or your favorite airport bum to steer you toward any groups in the area.
While flight training may seem a bit overwhelming as you begin, becoming a part of the community can help you sort through many of the details.