Taking People Flying For The First Time

‘All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind’ – Martin H. Fischer


A lot of people have never been in small planes and there is a certain apprehension about going up in one for the first time.

Some of this is understandable; these people have only been exposed to general aviation as a result of news reports when an accident occurs. They just don’t have the familiarity with the thousands of flights a day that take place without incident.

In a way, it would be like asking someone who was only familiar with driving cars from reading the accident reports of 30,000 fatal accidents in the US each year to sit down, strap in and have fun.

So, as pilots, we have to look for signs of nervousness and figure out how to put those fears at ease.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had a chance to take four airplane virgins up for their first flights. This is the story of those flights.

Getting Settled

The day begins by gauging the mood of the passenger. This is always easier with someone you’ve known for a long time. Since I’ve known all three people for more than a decade, and one for more than twenty years, this was easy. All were talkative and laughing nervously.

One told me that he had gotten to edge of the airport property, seen the planes on the ramp and almost turned around to go home.

Like most general aviation airports, ours has some smaller, older planes on the ramp and he panicked because I hadn’t prepped him for what kind of airplane we would be flying.

Our plane is small, to be sure, but it’s a nice looking late model Cessna. If I had prepped him, then he wouldn’t have had trouble making the turn into the parking lot.

I’ve found that highly technical people like to be involved in the pre-flight. For them data is important. So for one of my passengers we spent nearly 30 minutes doing the pre-flight together. Other people want you to have an air of authority. Do you job quickly and efficiently and get the plane off the ground.


Sitting at the end of the runway looking out the window is stressful for a lot of people even when they are flying commercially. While I have always gotten excited to feel the jets push me back in the seat, a lot of folks worry about what can happen in the worst of circumstances.
Now take that same person and put them in a small airplane where they are looking forward so that the can see the end of the runway, the edge of the airport and the trees beyond and their stress factor is amplified.

Pilots are obligated to give a passenger briefing that includes things like keep your hands and feet off the controls, where the exits are and that there is a fire extinguisher between the seats. Many airports have marker beacons at the ends of runways and verifying VORs and such will create unusual noises. It’s great to make sure to give the passenger a heads up that they will hear those kinds of noises from time to time and that they are normal.

Aside from comforting the newbie, it also is good to let them know to expect those noises so that as you are passing the middle marker they don’t ask what the beeping is at the same time tower is requesting a turn or handing the flight over to center.

I like to add a few things that are designed to give my passengers something to keep their minds on. A panel has a dozen or more flight instruments on it. I’ll sometimes show the passenger the airspeed indicator and tell them they can watch as it rises and we’ll take off when it says 65.

Making sure people bring a camera is another fun distraction. Remind them to get it out and take photos or video as the plane leaves the ground.


Once in the air and established in cruise it’s good to match the flight plan against the time you noted before takeoff and give an estimated time to the destination. This lets people know that the takeoff phase is over and they don’t need to expect anymore excitement for awhile.

Ask again if they have any questions. Often people will have noticed something during takeoff and want an explanation.

Be ready for anything.

I’ve had people ask what various buildings are, how do wings work, questions about various instruments are, how does one become a pilot, how old is the plane and if I’ve ever had an engine fail. Just to name a few.

One of my recent three flights was IFR because I knew the persons personality and that the skies would be quite smooth despite the clouds.

This flight was extra fun as we took off on a dreary, modest visibility day and quickly popped through the 700ft ceiling into bright sunny skies at 2,000 feet with unlimited visibility.


On the way to the destination I showed him how the ILS would work and, as with the airspeed indicator on takeoff, told him about the crosshairs and how he could watch those and if we kept them pretty close to center then once we got below the clouds the runway would be right in front of us.

After the Flight

The last thing to do after the flight is to make sure to give people something from which to remember the trip. That same camera comes in handy at this point. If you can do so while stopped at an intersection, grab a quick shot while they are still excited from the flight. Then make sure to take more in and around the plane after you’ve parked on the ramp.

Those photos will be something that they look at for weeks to come, so make sure to take enough that a few of them turn out well and you’ll have helped them make a memory in more ways than one.

Well, that’s my introduction to introductory flights. Now find someone who’s never been in a small plane before and go out there and fly!

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Dynamic Days in Doha

‘لا مصيبة أعظم من الجهل Literal meaning: there is no calamity greater than ignorance.’ – Arabic Proverb

Having the technical evaluation of our visit to Doha out of the way, it’s time for a few personal reflections. Being a middle eastern country, I was curious as to how I would be viewed as a western female. Within the confines of the Four Seasons, I would say that I was certainly in the majority. I saw several veiled women there, but most of the people I saw in the lobby, tea room and restaurants were men in traditional dress, asian businessmen, other western tourists and of course Rich’s ’round-table’ friends. The hotel attracts many international business people, so the majority of visitors I saw were men. In the evenings there were many more women about, arabic and non-arabic, but they seemed to be there in a social capacity, headed for the bar or a private party.

I felt rather like a queen at QCRI dinners, sitting in the middle of a table of 25-30 men and having the wait staff tripping over themselves to serve me first. The idea that women in Qatar are oppressed by men was certainly a myth from my eyes. When off the grounds of the hotel, seeking out local attractions, the majority of people were in traditional dress and lots of women, although not all, were completely veiled. I never felt out of place, gawked at, unsafe or threatened in any way, shape or form during our stay. A great thing about Qatar is that it is so international and it is not unusual for you to meet people from all over the world so it seems as if dressing conservatively is good enough. I did see a couple of skimpy bikinis at the pool, but for the most part, there is a toned-down feel.

Alcohol is forbidden by Islam, but is readily available in the western hotels (for $13 USD per beer), a handful of restaurants and in the increasing night club scene. Non-muslims can obtain a license to purchase liquor to consume in their homes as well. This speaks highly of the their dedication to the Islamic faith and sense of making others feel at home.

This is the beginning of summer in Qatar and the temperature averaged around 104 degrees fahrenheit for the whole week we were there. While the hotel has 3 pools and a private beach, we didn’t venture into the bath tub temperature waters of the sea until well into the evening hours. I did have lunch one afternoon at the pool when it was a ‘cool’ 99 degrees, but for the most part, it’s getting into the time of year that most people leave Qatar for the summer months due to the oppressive heat. On two evenings, while we were out to dinner, the humidity was incredible, but we were told that it was very unusual.

Upon our arrival, everyone suggested that we visit the Villagio Mall. I’m not a huge shopper-kind-a-gal, but it was worth the trip to see. Unlike the ‘Pearl’, this was definitely a more affordable mall. Its unique features are an inside river, complete with gondola and an ice rink. They have a hockey team that plays there as well as ice skating lessons. According to our host, Ahmed, he and his family spend many days there in the summer.

As mentioned, the ‘Pearl’ is another place to shop. Well, window shop, is more like it. The pearl is an island built upon reclaimed land that features high-end shopping on the outside as well as high-priced, luxury housing. In the center is a marina with many beautiful yachts. I come from one of the wealthiest nations in the world and I have NEVER seen money like this before. You can sail in on your private yacht, shop at Jimmy Choo’s, dine at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze (which we did) and cap off your day with a visit to the Ferrari dealership which is right next to the Rolls Royce dealer. Yowza!

While playing ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ was fun, my attentions turned elsewhere during our visit. The Museum of Islamic Art is a beautiful, new museum dedicated to just that. They also have special exhibitions which stay for a few months at a time. The building itself is a spectacular creation by I.M. Pei and quickly becoming a staple in the Doha skyline.

Another significant landmark is the Islamic Cultural Center which features a beautiful mosque that is shaped like a shell, reaching into the sky. We wandered into the center and were quickly greeted by Omar who was happy to inform us of the teachings of Islam and answer any questions we had. I inquired if the mosque was open and if we could observe prayer, and we were quickly invited in. I was directed to the ‘ladies area’ and instructed to remain in the back so those who wanted to pray could do so with their view unobstructed. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, in a largely christian country, I had never had the chance to go inside a mosque and I was thrilled at the opportunity. Several ladies welcomed me with ‘As-Salamu Alaykum’ and shook my hand. I felt very welcomed, humbled and honored.

Across from the mosque is the souq, a traditional outdoor market. Souq Waqif is certainly the largest market in Doha, but not the oldest. It has carefully been created to look as if it is hundreds of years old when, in fact, it is only about 5. Never the less, it is a great place to get the vibe of the arab people with many shops, restaurants and often entertainment. A common site is people enjoying shisha, a hooka like pipe with flavored tobacco cubes burning in the top. The rich smells of apple, peach and other fruits are a strong memory in the making. We purchased only a few items at the souq, but the people watching was the highlight for us.

Doha is a modern city with strong, traditional roots. It’s sights, sounds and people will not soon fade from my memory. Their grace, friendship and hospitality was unsurpassed and I truly felt welcome. After this trip, the bridge from Chicago to Qatar and all her kind people seems much shorter.

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The *State* of Qatar

This ‘quiet, little’ country in the middle east has traditionally focused on fishing and pearl hunting, but when the Japanese introduced the cultured pearl in the 1920′s, the industry faltered. It wasn’t until the discovery of oil in the 1940′s that Qatar began to rumble again with life. Fast forward…

Deposing his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has had a unique vision of bringing Qatar into the global spotlight by developing Qatar’s oil and natural gas reserves. In a tandem effort to develop Qatar as a completed entity, his highness founded the Qatar Foundation (QF) for Education, Science and Community Development. His wife, her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser has actively engaged in education and social reform in Qatar for many years and is the Foundation’s chairperson and driving force. Qatar is beginning to ‘have it all’ as far as international cities go: architecture, fine dining (international cuisine), the arts (western and eastern), world-class shopping and much sought after job opportunities in every field. A far cry from the city that made it’s mark by the pearl industry, but in short, Doha is the city that oil and it’s money has built.

The Emir has acknowledged that the best way to advance his small nation is to put an emphasis on education. While there is a University of Qatar, a degree from there does not carry as much weight as a degree from a US/UK institution. Also, many Arabs seek education outside of their countries in either the US or the UK and often do not return after completion. Thus, as part of QF, several US universities have been invited to set up campuses in ‘Education City’ here in Doha with the hopes of drawing top-notch educators, keeping those with degrees in the Arab states and bringing Qatar to a higher level status on the global market. Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A & M, Weill-Cornell Medical School and Northwestern are a few of the choices available.

While Rich was here in October, he visited Carnegie Mellon University Qatar as the University of Chicago and CMUQ are working together in a collaborative effort, but this trip, QCRI(Qatar Computing Research Institute), a member of QF, invited Rich to participate in a round-table discussion for two days so he suggested I come along and stretch the trip into a week. We’ve been staying at the Four Seasons, Doha and things couldn’t be any swankier! QCRI has wined and dined us (ok, not too much wine as there’s no alcohol in Qatar except the hotels and some specific night clubs), taken us to ‘The Pearl’, the museum of Islamic Arts, a dhow (traditional boat) tour along the city shores, the souq (traditional outdoor market) and numerous dinners and lunches. While he’s been in meetings, I’ve taken advantage of the gym/spa and loved every minute of it. We visited Weill-Cornell Medical College to meet with a contact of Rich’s that is helping him with a paper and the Four Seasons was kind enough to send us in a Lexus, complete with cold water, international newspapers to read and a personal driver that would ‘wait while we conducted our business’.

While we’ve literally been given the royal treatment, things are not always peachy for immigrants in Doha. We’ve been told that English is the primary language, but also that learning Hindi, Urdu or Nepalese would be helpful as most of the laborers and ‘help’ come from India, Nepal or Pakistan. Labor is in high demand due to all the building, but beyond the shimmering lights of downtown Doha and the surrounding suburban area, most laborers live in less-than Four Seasons accommodations. I suppose it’s a bit like any other country, but given that we don’t live ‘the Four Seasons Life’ in Chicago, it’s been a bit more noticeable.

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