It can’t be true, can it? Is it really possible to combine an expensive hobby, such as aviation, with (the unselfish act of) volunteering? Yes! You can get your aviation fix for a fraction of the cost! Free, actually.
Does the following scenario resonate with you? When I’m flying, the Hobbs meter in my head is just “turning and burning!” Once that Hobbs starts rotating numbers, I don’t want any distractions or unnecessary delays! Then there’s the fuel burn: Headwinds love me. They seek me out it seems. It appears the majority of my flights are flown into a headwind. Argh. How can this be? I fly south to Nashville for a family visit, there’s a headwind. My return trek north a few hours later is also now flying into a headwind. Easterly jaunt, westerly jaunt. It’s almost laughable. The wind Gods are totally against me 90% of the time.
It’s nearly impossible to contain the giddiness felt when there’s actually a tailwind forecasted. At first, there’s disbelief. What? No way. Am I reading this correctly? Refresh the app. Refresh it again. My eyes pop wide open with excitement. I’m now the happiest person on the planet when my ForeFlight app shows solid evidence that there’s an actual tailwind. Gasp! My selfie stick comes out. My inner Maverick comes out. My palms get sweaty in excitement. I can’t believe my luck! There is nothing that can deter me in those moments or remove the smile from my face. Then, the wheels start turning. I start planning last-minute, intentional diversions or additional trip legs. Where else can I go? Who else can I visit?? I want to take my little plane as far as it can go; until the fuel tanks are empty. Not completely empty, of course! It’s rare that my tanks get below half full (optimism inserted: half empty/half full. Get it?). Paranoia keeps my tanks full. I do not want to be one of those stories you read about where the pilot had to make an emergency landing because of fuel starvation. Those stories make me cringe! My tanks are topped off at almost every pit stop. The point is, we know we can “save” money if we have a tailwind. Therefore, It becomes easier to justify more flying. It won’t cost as much!
Pilots love to fly. They love airplanes. They love sharing stories with other pilots. They also love to share their stories and comprehensive knowledge with people that aren’t pilots: complete strangers, people that can’t hear, people that speak a different language, drooling babies, diapered toddlers, even non-humans (pets), plants, rocks…whatever’s close. It doesn’t matter. There are a plethora of sayings about how much pilots love to talk about themselves and their vast knowledge. Pilots aren’t all arrogant. Of course, there are a few. It’s my belief that aviators just love to talk about things that fly! I’ve become one of those people that suffer from diarrhea of the mouth once the aviation subject has been mentioned. Pilots want everyone else to get in on the fun they’re having and the amazing experience of flight.
Many pilots have a hard time flying as much as they want. We spend a lot of time dreaming about it at night and staring intently at the sky during the day. Planning and plotting our next adventure. Checking the following days weather for cloud surfing opportunities is a standard preoccupation throughout my day. The expense may make it difficult to justify sometimes. Do the children really need a three-course dinner?? Come on. Little Joe could stand to lose a few pounds, right? Actual conversation heard in a pilot’s home (maybe): ”No, we’re not ordering take-out tonight. It’s PB & J again. There’s nothing wrong with eating peanut butter and jelly three nights in a row!” Mommy really wants to go flying this weekend. “No; I’m fairly certain that no one has ever died of a peanut butter and jelly overdose.” Child proceeds to google it. Whew! No evidence (you never know)! Stock up on Wonder bread, Skippy and strawberry jelly. 🙂
Is it just me, or does it seem that involvement in aviation either requires free labor (or nearly free) to earn time OR maxed out, flaming credit cards in your empty wallet? Chin up; it will only take your whole lifetime to actually pay back your debts and make any money doing this most amazing, fulfilling thing! Yet, in the United States, we have the freedom to decide if we want to do what we love. As for me, “I like it, I love it, I want some more of it…!”
There are organizations that love aviation as much as you that need your help! Go to an air show. These events are staffed and run mostly by volunteers. These volunteers include men and women who love aviation and want to make it accessible to everyone. Each volunteer is filled with an earnest passion for all things aviation. This is a great group of people who are willing to help out. This is a win/win situation.
Most people at air shows are in a good mood. They’re happy to be there. It’s not like volunteering in the ER. Believe me, I’ve done that. There’s definitely a different vibe. You’ll be surrounded by all kinds of airplanes. You can talk about aviation non-stop. You might actually get tired of talking aviation. It’s never happened to me. I’m just saying: It could happen.
There are an abundance of networking and friendship building opportunities with fun, quality people: pilots, flight instructors, volunteers, administrators, performers, funnel cake vendors…It’s the Mecca of all things related to air shows. At your next aviation event, I urge you to strike up a conversation with a volunteer and find out about their association. If you have a friend or family member involved ask them about their organization’s particular mission. If it is of interest to you, find out how you can get involved. Don’t just join the first group you run into. Do a little research. If you’re really not that interested in filling out paperwork, don’t sign up with the administrative crew! You won’t enjoy it and those nearby won’t enjoy you. No bueno. If you like preparing food, there will be a place for you. If you have a love of vintage aircraft, there will be a place for you. Each community has a need meant especially for you and your unique gifts!
The warbirds have always been special to me. My uncle has been teaching me things about these airplanes for years. He loves to combine history with stories of World War II and air combat. He has a knack for teaching me, without me knowing that he’s teaching me. There have been plenty of “Aha!” moments in our conversations. Plus, there are many friends and acquaintances he has introduced me to over time that I enjoy visiting with around the country during air show season.
He’s getting older and will not be able to fly much longer (he’s been flying for 50+ years). We’ve had long conversations about his flying and life experiences. He’s taught me much about the impact aviation has had on American history. It’s extremely important to me to continue learning more about these airplanes and their pilots so that I can pass that knowledge on to others. Therefore, finding the organization, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), has blended many interests of mine together. Their mission is to “Educate, Inspire and Honor through flight.” That resonates with me. They use their airplanes to keep history alive and relatable through demonstrations and accessibility. I want and need to help with that undertaking. It doesn’t cost me anything and each day offers an opportunity to meet someone new and learn something more about flying. It’s a perfect fit for me. You can find the perfect fit too! Just do it.