Flying For Fun Professionally

I have always stumbled a little over the concept of recreational flying, or sport flying. Somehow those words—even though I know the intended meaning—don’t quite go together with the absolutely serious task of flying.

The problem is that flying, any kind of flying, is potentially lethal. An airplane can’t lift off until it obtains enough speed to be dangerous, and it can’t slow below that speed without becoming really dangerous. So at all times during flight we need to be in positive control and there is no way to hit the “pause” button and reconsider our situation. Continue reading

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was here at AirVenture on Thursday and again reminded everyone that we must take a professional attitude toward our flying, no matter what kind of aircraft we fly, or why we fly it. The Administrator—a very experienced pilot who worked his way up from instructing to a captain’s seat with a major airline—repeats this message wherever aviators gather.

Flying like a professional has nothing to do with getting a paycheck for your work in the cockpit. Nor does it take an advanced pilot rating, or thousands of hours to fly like a pro. But what is necessary is an attitude that forces you to identify the risks in your flying and the necessity to mitigate those risks as much as possible.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt addressed general aviation issues and answered questions at a panel on July 28 at EAA AirVenture. Photo by Hilary Lawrence

The starting point for assessing the safety of your flying is to recognize how serious and eternal the consequences of an accident can be. Pilots who fly for a scheduled airline or for charter are forced by the rules to make these pre-takeoff safety determinations because the lives of paying passengers are in their hands. But is that different than when we take our family and friends up for a spin? It shouldn’t be. An accident will have lasting and permanent impact on anyone, not just those who paid for a flight.

Can the pilot of a recreational airplane fly like a professional? Absolutely. But that pilot faces a more difficult task than those who fly in a more regulated environment. The pilot of an experimental airplane, for example, assumes some additional duties of making sure the aircraft is the best and safest it can be─a job that is mostly handled by manufacturers and regulators for standard category airplanes. Self discipline and the ability to use a cold eye to identify unreasonable risks is required of any who fly, but particularly so for those piloting experimental airplanes.

The Administrator has made improving general aviation safety one of his top priorities and he reported to the crowd here at AirVenture that strong positive gains were made in the accident rate in 2010. But he also reported that the trend was not so good this year, and that so far July has been a particularly bad month for general aviation accidents.

It is a true but useless statement to say that the big majority of general aviation accidents are caused by “pilot error.” That probable cause of an accident is essentially useless because it does not explain why the pilot made an error, and what can be done to prevent other pilots from making the same error.

For example, if a pilot flies an airplane with a lightly loaded wing in strong winds and crashes, was the loss of control in the wind the pilot error, or the decision to fly in the strong wind the true error? I think we all know the answer to that.

The only valid way to reduce the number of general aviation accidents is for all of us to consider all factors that impact our flight and be certain our airplane and our skills match the challenge. Events during flight may make the true professional fall back to a backup plan, but they should never take him by surprise. The Administrator is correct. We can fly for fun professionally because flying like a pro is an attitude, not a job.

This entry was posted in Airmanship, Flying for Fun, Industry & Government, Safety. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Flying For Fun Professionally

  1. Angus Mc says:

    Perhaps it was my background in military aviation, where the “business” of flying was always serious (even when the flight was fun), but Mac’s article really resonated with me. A friend and colleague of mine (and experimental pilot) from the University of Iowa recently lamented (only half joking) that his 5000+ hours of civilian first pilot time didn’t count as much as my 1500 of military time to our sponsors. I knew what he meant and why. From my first sim hop as a student to my last flight as a jet instructor, the “discipline of safety” was ingrained in our way of flying. That allowed us to routinely take our craft to the limits of their performance and return home safely.
    That discipline is largely a part of the EAA culture as well (cavalier banter over drinks notwithstanding.) The enemy, for us, is complacency, ego, and get-home-itis. The symptoms: the abbreviated preflight, the missed checklist, the cursory glance at the weather. We’d all do well to heed Mac’s admonition about professionalism. I take it as a badge of honor that, after an extended preflight brief to a passenger, she turned to me and asked, “Dad, why do take this so seriously?”
    I just smiled.

  2. As to “was it pilot error or the decision to fly in high winds”, they are the same. IOW the pilot made the error. However we undertake many “dangerous” actions in our daily lives and driving a car is one. That the nonchalant attitude we have towards driving is reflected in the 35,000 plus killed in accidents each year and that is remarkably down from a high of over 50,000.

    I have always been a stickler for proficiency rather than currency. If I had no where to go I’d go out and practice maneuvers up through the commercial level. To me steep turns were learned at 60 degrees of bank and that’s the way I practice them. Unfortunately it’s difficult to get a qualified pilot to go along when I want to do those steep turns and I like to practice them under the hood too. <:-))

    In all the years I've been flying I've had a few close calls and a couple of engine failures. Knowing my limits, those of my airplane, and being proficient saved my bacon a couple of times. The engine failures were both on take off with one being a ruptured diaphragm in the spider on top of the engine and the other a broken oil line.

    And yes, I've had my share of humbling moments.

  3. I thought I was the only one who squirmed when the adjectives “sport” or “hobby” or “recreational” were paired with the gerund “flying.” I’m glad to see it’s not just me.

    I’ve been a columnist for EAA Sport Aviation for the past 18 months. EAA’s reinvented magazine is absolutely world class — the most professional publication in GA in my opinion, and one I’m very proud to be associated with — but its title “Sport Aviation” has always made me a bit uneasy. Although flying is something that evokes pleasure, passion, enthusiasm and joy (among other emotions), those of us who aviate must never lose sight of the fact that it is very serious business and terribly unforgiving of human error.

    I just looked up the definition of “sport” and found the following:

    A sport is an organized, competitive, entertaining, and skillful activity requiring commitment, strategy, and fair play, in which a winner and loser can be defined by objective means. Generally speaking, a sport is a game based in physical athleticism. </blockquote.

    While I can certainly relate to the "entertaining and skillful activity requiring commitment" part of this definition with respect to my flying, the "competitive" and "winner/loser" and "physical athleticism" parts are not at all applicable to the kind of flying I've done for the past 45 years and 7,500 hours. It seems to me that perhaps "Passionate Aviation" or "Enthusiastic Aviation" or even "Joyous Aviation" might be a better title for the magazine.

    But I'm not holding my breath.

    • ““Sport Aviation” has always made me a bit uneasy. Although flying is something that evokes pleasure, passion, enthusiasm and joy (among other emotions), those of us who aviate must never lose sight of the fact that it is very serious business and terribly unforgiving of human error.”

      Profound! What a statement! EVERY “Sport Pilot” is far more likely to die enroute to the airport than while flying, even the most ignorant and least experienced of the “Sport Pilots!”

      As a controller, I have seen some REALLY stupid stuff done by “Professional” pilots! By the same token, I have seen the same from “Private” pilots too! The deal with the “Professional” pilots is that when something really stupid happens, it usually involves TWO (or more) “Professional Pilots” at one time. That bus in the sky isn’t being flown by just one “Professional.”

      Like any other professionals, I have discovered that respect for the rules and accepted guidelines seem to have faded a bit by the professional, … maybe it is just because they have it in their mind, “I’m a professional!.. I would recognive a problem if it occrued and be more capable of handling it!” Problem is, this routine, nonchalant attitude can just creep up and into the operations of professionals. After all, I have read about pilots passing their destinations without even realizing it and have actually worked Professional Airling Pilots that because they didn’t get “Direct to the Airport!” cancelled IFR and proceeded direct, and refused “Stage Three” service while carrying paying passengers in the back of their “Professional” air carrier Jet! …. and even landing in swamps while they tried to figure out what was wrond withe their landing gear!… How many of these “Professionals” were in the cockpit at these times? Why wasn’t at least ONE of them flying the aircraft? I am PROUD to be a lifelong “Sport Pilot” and NOT ranked amound the “Professionals!” … Like Babbit!

  4. Paul Wisgerhof says:

    As a relatively low time JAR/PPL holder, I have to say that a good part of the attitude of young/new pilots is honed and developed by the flight instructor. If you have it hammered into you that “you will pre-flight that aircraft every time, even if you are just going back up after landing to refuel” and other safety/professional guidance, there is a very good chance you won’t kill yourself by missing a plane fault. That said, missing a “pilot fault” is something that takes both training and experience. Darwin weeds out the “bold and/or stupid” pilots, to our mutual detriment. On the other hand, cost will prevent some of us from getting truly professional recurrent training, or high quality sim time to test our skills – or lack thereof – in a safe environment.

  5. Michael Sheridan says:

    I increasingly see plane in the unfortunate-named “Sport” class as using every bit of creativity and experience to make the light plane “fly like” a Grumman (Tecnam Sierra) or even more so the Tecnam 2008, often compared to Cessna 172 in its solid feel, vs. the very light weight non-metal planes. (No I don’t work or affiliate with Tecnam, used here as an example). In other words these planes (including at least two that are basically the same plane but going for traditional certification route and carrying 4 passengers. One gets the feeling they always could, and have decided to leverage the work done in that the brutal business of “light sport” and which is finally facing a shake out –the survivors have these qualities: don’t fly like a twitchy, cheaply made, super light touch, are built in a half-baked “factory” and who are finding the well-heeled older individual would rather have a balanced aircraft (not AT ALL as simple feat of design) with a “heavy” and balanced feel on the stick–from a company with the cash to have a real support structure rather than 2 outposts in the entire US. Another quality of the (expensive) survivors is that they have an amazing set of instruments–synthetic vision, etc.
    My point here is that the very cheap, very twitchy, tacked together, never spin tested consensus plane makers, are dying. Why? Because the “guys” who buy the “professional feeling” light sport know they are profession feeling, a la the Beech and Cessna,but which they have left behind due to the THIRD CLASS MEDICAL. And why have they left? BECAUSE OF THE THIRD CLASS MEDICAL. MEDICAL CONDITIONS ARE FACTORS IN ESSENTIALLY NONE OF THE ACCIDENTS–READ THE NTSB REPORT. In my opinion, the “consensus” has really become the escape from the meaningless third class, and led to a select group of nice of airplanes that fly right in spite of their weight restrictions. 80% of the others will never survive because in spite of the hype about the new $900 plane, the planes that are being sold are actually $130,000-$170,000, that fly right and are full of instruments, like the inexpensive Dynon synthetic vision that is truly a game-changing, life-saving instrument. In short a professional instrument that will save lives. Won’t be long until a heads up display is next. Dynon or one of the others is no doubt making it already.

    The real point of this is that the “sport” category of the ultra-cheap plane is a joke. The sport category is easily $150,000 (Cessna SkyCatcher) for a demographic that is afraid to lose their flight privileges, yet want a “real” airplane. The CHALLENGE is now to inure a professional approach to this new very light but increasingly “real airplane” knowledge from the Cessnas and Tecnam’s applied to it WHOSE PRIMARY BUYER IS AN OLDER BUT VITAL PERSONAL WIHING TO ESCAPE THE NONSENSE OF THE THIRD CLASS VIA A DRIVERS LICENSE. So how, working with this new class of high quality plane maker, to we make professionalism part of this new group?

    How many LSAs would be sold without the drivers license provision, given that these planes are surrogates for the full sized Cessna, Beech, Piper (not the sport, they learned their lesson, quickly)

    Or is the simple obvious solution to get rid of the third class, use the drivers license and end the fool’s errand of making a 1300 pound plane feel like “the real thing” and redefine the “sport” as a “general aviation aircraft” the best of which will take their place with Piper and Beech, and completely end the distinction of “Sport”

  6. We all have different things we like about aircraft and the aircraft mentioned cover a wide range of “feel” and control harmony but I’d not describe any of the Beech I’ve flown as feeling heavy on the controls. If any thing the Bo and Barons are often described as light and responsive, with excellent harmony. The Bo, like the Pipers has interconnected ailerons and rudder controls which makes the first few cross wind landings … interesting if you’ve been flying Cessnas. <:-)) So far I've found only one downside to the light sport and that is … it's light, but is fun to fly in wind. However if you need some one on each wing tip to put it away you're pushing your luck.

    What is important is the build quality, ease of flight, ruggedness, and it's performance near the edges of the flight envelope in any particular aircraft. Ruggedness is important in the light sport category as they are likely to be flown by less experienced pilots and regardless of your experience level I'll guarantee not all of your landings are going to be greasers. Some prefer heavy controls and some prefer light. Some prefer a plane that can get in and out of a parking lot while others like those airliner finals and low angle departures. There are pilots who can fly those light sport planes in some mighty strong winds but that is not an approach for the inexperienced, low time pilot.

    They all fly "like the real thing" because they all are the real thing, but those that that fit the sport plane category need to be on the docile side for the less experienced. Will they feel like a 172? Does a 172 feel like a Bonanza, or Cherokee 180? No they don't as each aircraft has its own personality, but they ALL or at least the ones I've flown ALL felt like airplanes even if they felt like different airplanes. Still the sport pilot should learn (Needs to learn) the aircraft they fly well. They need to know their limitations as well as the aircraft they are flying. They also need to learn good flight planning, weather, and hone their judgmental skills.

    I don't mean always go out on calm days as the weather can change quickly and get the fair weather flyer into trouble as quickly as the pilot who goes out in most any kind of weather. Maybe quicker.

    So get plenty of instruction, not just enough to get the license and signed off for the plane and where you'll be flying and go up with an instructor regularly. Even after all these years I make it a policy to fly with an instructor at least twice a year to make sure I'm not picking up any bad habits…OK, for the guys that know me…Any more bad habits. Generally they will really put me through my paces with not only the regular maneuvers, but engine failures and unusual attitude recovery (under the hood) I had one see how long I could fly blindfolded (and at night) which is an experience every pilot should have. How long do you think you could stay upright let alone fly straight and hold altitude. Do that and then think about flying into a cloud. IE, you don't want to do it. That 3 hours most of us fly under the hood just to get the private is no where near enough to safely fly in the clouds, but hopefully if the worst does happen you'll be able to stay in control long enough to make a U-turn and get back to sunshine.

    I've said many times I'm a stickler for proficiency over currency. At my age I'll probably be selling my Debonair in the not too distant future, or as soon as the economy will allow which may not be soon at all. I just put new tip tanks, position lights, and solid state strobes on it so I should get some use out of it, but a 3150# , 190 MPH airplane that drinks 14 1/2 gallons an hour is a bit much for just playing around the patch. Will I move to the sport plane category once I no longer have a medical? I'd really love to have one of the new, aerobatic sport planes, but it'd cost me twice what I'm likely to get out of the Deb, even if it is big, fast, and comfortable. Slippery too<:-)) which is one of the things I like about it. When I get around to it, selling that plane is going to be like losing a family member.

  7. Thomas Boyle says:

    Wow. I’m pretty offended, Mac. I fly recreationally, for sport, and you’re telling me the very existence of that type of flying troubles you! I feel exactly the opposite to you: I have always squirmed when I read those articles (invariably written by a current or former professional pilot) advocating that we should all fly more “professionally”, as if there was something wrong with not getting paid to fly.

    Yes, to this English lover, “professional” means “for money”. It doesn’t mean “expertly,” or “safely” or “cautiously” or “the same route every day, at the same time of day, with a supporting cast of tens or hundreds”.

    There is nothing whatsoever wrong with “sport aviation,” or “recreational flying” as terms, other than your own perception, Mac. Yes, flying involves taking a serious attitude toward safety. So does “sport rock climbing”. So does “sport offshore yacht racing”. So does “sport scuba diving”. So does “recreational drag racing”. No-one tells rock climbers to climb more “professionally” or implies that there’s something cringe-inducing about their very existence.

    Often, it’s inappropriate for sport/recreational pilots to fly “more like a professional”. A professional has a schedule to meet. A professional departs into inclement weather because that’s what a professional is paid to do. A professional is trained for that type of activity, we hope, and has expensive equipment to facilitate it, we hope. A sport/recreational pilot, with more limited training and equipment, instead chooses not to depart at all, to fly tomorrow. That’s a safety decision that comes, not from flying “more like a professional,” but from flying “like a recreational pilot.” Indeed, more than a few professionals could have learned from us sport pilots: not many sport pilots tackle thunderstorms in a C210, but then again we don’t have the professionalism of a test pilot.

    I have no interest in professional flying. I don’t want to turn a joy into a job with a union card. I don’t want to “have to” fly because that’s my job, weather or not. Could all you current-and-former professional pilots please get over your parochial attitude and recognize that those of us who fly for the joy of it, are real pilots too? We don’t have your log books, your hours of boring holes in the sky, although many of us come surprisingly close to matching your hours of maneuvering flight. Many of us don’t have your expertise, but then again, some of us do: I’ll put any practised sailplane pilot, or aerobatic pilot – sport/recreational aviators both – up against almost any professional airliner driver, on the expertise front.

    Sport/recreational fliers have different abilities, equipment, and safety criteria/procedures to professional pilots. We fly, not for the money, but because – and only because – we love flying. We’re sport pilots. We’re recreational pilots. Get to know us.

    You never know, you might learn something.

    • Angus Mc says:

      Hmmm. Thomas makes a couple of very good points, and I am forced to re-evaluate my perspective. Specifically, professional pilots are trained and paid to fly (safely, sure) even when it’s not fun; to be prepared for situations that a recreational pilot wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) consider flying into. My mindset is based on the requirement to fly, and maybe that’s my error. I think need to reconsider the manner in which a sport pilot approaches the whole evolution.

      I like your analogy to rock climbing – their is no way to remove the danger completely, and you have to take it seriously or it will kill you. But there is a world of difference between what I would attempt on a rock face and what I’ve seen “the professionals” do. Similarly, I don’t even think about jumping on my motorcycle if it’s wet out. (Why would I? I don’t have to ride my bike, I haven’t trained for slippery conditions, and the other motorists are much more likely to kill me.) I take these activities seriously, but I’m not sure I’d call it professionally.

      Of course no one is advocating taking this less seriously, or any sort of compromise to safety, but perhaps I’ll change my terminology while I try to wrap my mind around the concept of a “recreational pilot.” Thanks, Thomas.

      • Thomas Boyle says:


        Thanks for your comment!

        I would have preferred the term “amateur”, defined as “one who does a thing out of love for it”, rather than “sport/recreational pilot”, but unfortunately “amateur” is widely understood as “one who does a thing poorly”.

        I also like your word, “seriously”, as in, to take one’s amateur flying seriously.

        Does anyone know a suitable word for a “serious amateur?”

        • Amateur is one word I’d hate to see applied. Although as you say it means one who does for the love of doing something, very few see the word in that light and associate it with inexperienced, poorly trained, or with little training.

          Unfortunately I know of no words that could be used for a skilled, conscientious, well trained pilot who flies just for the love of flying and think Sport pilot and Sport Aviation are good names in lieu of what else is available.

          • Thomas Boyle says:

            I came across an old word recently, that could do good service here: “airmanship”. Unfortunately it can’t be used as an averb – the best construction for that being “fly in an airmanlike fashion” – but it can be used to communicate the core thought in many ways:
            - “demonstrate airmanship”
            - “use good airmanship”
            - “both sport pilots and professional pilots need to maintain good airmanship”
            - “use of proper procedures is just basic airmanship”


  8. Pingback: Flying For Fun Professionally | Left Seat | Share My Aircraft News

  9. I think this is 99% “Hog Wash!” It IS Sport Flying.. Recreational Flying.. Whatever you want to call it! The name of magazines like “Sport Aviation” and others or whatever you call it when you go out to fly for the fun of it has NOTHING to do with the dicipline you maintain while “Sport Flying!” Even if the defination for “Sport” doesn’t exactly fit the framework of what people preceive “Sport Flying” to be…. So What? The definition doesn’t really fit … Sport Fiying, billiards, or even playing chess, but they are still considered Sports!
    I have always refered to myself as a “Sport Pilot”, even as far back as the early 70′s… That is because I have NEVER had the desire to be a “professional” pilot!.. I fly for the fun and joy of flight.. The adventure!… When I take on the act and art of aviation… when I commit aviation.. I do it with as much or even more attention to detail and “Professionalism” as any pilot that has ever pushed a throttle forward or wagged his tail to signal the tow pilot that you are ready to commit aviation. In the 40 years that I have enjoyed “Sport Aviation” I have never run across any other pilot applying thier makeup during any phase of the flight… nor anyone playing a video game or texting while in the pilot seat. Unlike “Professional” pilots that are REQUIRD to fly, even when they don’t feel like it, “Sport Pilots” fly for the fun of it and not when they don’t really feel like it.
    I was a controller for 22 years, each and every pilot heard me say two things when I transfered their communications to another controller, “Be careful and HAVE FUN!” One day I was switching a “Professional Pilot” … Like Babbit!… over to an Orlando Approach Controller and told this “Professional” to “Have fun and Be careful!”… His reply…. “Yea… Right!” I called him back and reminded him that he was not in the seat of that bus in the sky with hundreds of lives in seats behind his because he was FORCED to be there!.. He was there because there was a time that he actually ENJOYED flying and that it was lost in the routine of his “Professional” duty! I could feel him smile as he keyed up the radio, “You know… you are right, I really DO enjoy flying!”
    He made it to Orlando, and I thought about him for a long time that day wondering how many of these “Professional” pilots are flying without a “Sport Pilot” mentality. After all, I have never heard of a “Sport Pilot” flying past his destinaltion because he was busy with his cellphone or a “Sport Pilot having “AIR RAGE” and trying to ram his aircraft into another because another pilot passed him on the downwind… or one dying while applying Eye shadow while on short final.
    “Sport Pilots” received the same flight instruction and are taught the same attention to detail that “Professional” pilots received … from the SAME flight instructors! It is my belief that “Sport Pilots” approach flying with the same sencerity and “Professionalism” as any “Professional” pilot, they just enjoy the flight instead of turning it into work.

  10. Paul says:

    MICHAEL said, “Or is the simple obvious solution to get rid of the third class, use the drivers license and end the fool’s errand of making a 1300 pound plane feel like “the real thing” and redefine the “sport” as a “general aviation aircraft” the best of which will take their place with Piper and Beech, and completely end the distinction of “Sport.”

    Michael, you are so right about the Third Class Medical. It is something that is proven to have little usefulness, other than requiring a mandatory doctor visit, that we should all have after a certain age. It has little to do with aviation safety. It is choking the GA industry as more pilots age, and keeping money away from GA as us older Baby Boomers decide to take up flying, only to discover the hurdles. Many of these Boomers have planned well, so they have money to spend, but FAA medical and Light Sport training availability, is keeping many of them away. The question in the FAA medical states for ,”Your entire life.” For some of us, still in good health, that is a book.

    As an example as to how light sport does not work for many, see how many flight schools have light sport airplanes in the Los Angles area. Many schools claim to teach it, but don’t have the planes. This is for an area of tens of millions of people. How many light sport pilots? How many light sport trainer planes?

    Many light sport planes have their place, but The Medical is becoming a huge drag on an aging GA pilot population. For those who are not flying commercially, self certification, that we all do before stepping in to an airplane, is enough.

    There are conflicts of interest in elimination of the Third Class Medical now that AOPA, and others, make money by helping pilots pass the medical. It will take an effort by the AOPA to prioritize their mission. Pilots spending thousands to pass the medical with their planes on the ground is not a good picture.

    What would elimination of the medical do to the light sport industry? To answer, light sport manufactures have sold only a little over 2k planes in almost a decade. Not exactly going out the door quickly. The market is there for traditional factory airplanes as Michael pointed out, and by the example of sales for the Cessna 162 that of course is a light sport. It’s 1000 orders are almost half of the light sport industry, using the figures given by Dan Johnson. We also see light sport manufactures upping their engine size to bump the light sport speed limit. That shows pilots want a traditional airplane.

    Michael, you are so right. It is, “A fools errand” that needs to stop. Just end the Third Class Medical. Light sport planes will survive simply because of their lower costs, and other GA planes will be flown more by the new pilots coming into GA. Right now the, “Lost medical, must sell” signs on many GA planes, over time costs the Industry huge amounts of money.

    Light Sport was a good experiment. It will continue to have benefits for the consumer by giving a large choice of aircraft, many of them great to fly. It has also proven that the reason for having the detailed medical exam required by the FAA has little to do with aircraft safety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>