As a boy, I had always wanted to learn to fly and cannot remember a time when I didn’t have that dream. My father had taken our family to a Confederate Air Force airshow in San Marcos, Texas, complete with the Tora! Tora! Tora! team before my first birthday and perhaps that sparked something. A few years later we moved to San Antonio, where our family lived under one of the flight paths for Randolph Air Force Base and we saw Cessna T-37 “Tweets” joining the traffic pattern on a nearly daily basis. My father, as a history buff, took us to nearly every airshow in the San Antonio area for years. Then one day, I had a logbook of my own.
08/04/2003 C-172 N734AM BAZ BAZ Intro flight, slow flight turns climbs descents touch and gos 2 Ldgs 0.7 ASEL
So reads the first entry in my blue Logbook #1. Ironically, it is actually my second logbook and my second intro flight.
The first logbook is probably still somewhere in my parents’ home, but was lost before this entry in the blue logbook. To divert the story a bit, my first ever flight, with it’s logbook entry lost somewhere in San Antonio, was in a Cessna 150 or 152. I believe it took place the summer after I turned 16. My parents gifted me a discovery flight at Wright Flyers – a fairly well known school back in the day – operating out of KSAT, San Antonio International Airport. I think the flight was after lunch, with a 25-30 year old instructor who let me do most of the flying. It was a bumpy day with lots of puffy cumulus clouds and we flew from the airport over towards the quarry near Alamo Heights, close to the Tower of the Americas, and back. The instructor said afterwards “I’ve got some good news for you and some bad news.” Being the cautious type, I said, tell me the bad news first… to which he replied that it had been a very bumpy flight, and not that great of a day, but my stomach had done very well and he thought I was in good shape it I wanted to continue with flight training. I wanted to start right then and there, but we weren’t wealthy and I knew it was going to take a while to save up enough money to fly.
About five years later, I had saved up enough to consider seriously starting my lessons. My mom took me around to various airports where we looked for the right fit. I well remember an older guy in Bulverde who was so negative about learning to fly that it was a real turn-off, but we kept looking. Back in 2003, you still could look up flight schools in the Yellow Pages and I called several, never feeling like I’d found the right fit. Then one day I saw an advertisement in the classifieds section of the newspaper for an independent instructor and decided to call him up. John W. was a military navigation trainer and flight instructor on the side and we agreed to do a discovery flight. At the time he was using a Cessna 172 at Southern Wings in New Braunfels and was met there for the intro lesson. To be honest, I can’t remember anything remarkable on that flight, except that I felt like it was going to be an OK fit to keep going with lessons. Sometimes a plain Jane flight is the best thing a student could experience! The entry says that we did slow flight, turns, climbs, descents, and a touch and go… we landed and I knew I wanted to keep going. That was a good thing, because the next logbook entry would be on a day I will probably never forget.
My personal experience since then as a flight instructor is that a solid, safe, easy, confidence and trust-building intro flight is the best thing an instructor can do for an average student. Your personal demeanor and attitude will either reassure and build your potential client’s confidence, or possibly turn them elsewhere, or cause them to rethink their desire to fly. You do not need to make a student’s first flight more memorable by doing some stunt, or scaring them. If it’s really their first flight, they’ll remember it just because they were in the air, and perhaps you’ll end up being friends for life.