Dwindling pilot population – The Series

The pilot population has been dwindling for a number of years. This 10 part series is intended to be a look at why that is the case as well as giving a few potential solutions to the problems.

We will look at some explanations for why the number of pilots is decreasing from a flying as a hobby perspective. I firmly believe that if we make flying as a hobby more attractive and attainable the number of pilots will go up. Some of these extra pilots will surely go on to become commercial pilots as well.

In addition to looking at why the pilot population is decreasing we will also look at what we can do to help the situation. Some of my solutions are out of reach for most pilots, but other solutions show that every pilot can make a difference.

Obviously I haven’t hit on the ultimate solution to the dwindling pilot population. This is meant as a way to get every pilot thinking about the issue, and hopefully find some ways to start reversing the trend one pilot at a time.

Each part of the series will be listed below and linked to as they are posted.

What are your thoughts for some of the reasons that the pilot population is shrinking?

Shop Around For the Right Airport

I am fortunate enough to live within 25 minutes of three different airports. If you are in a situation similar to myself, do yourself a favor and do some shopping before choosing one to fly out of.

The first airport that I flew out of, AOH, is the biggest and is more business oriented than the other two. This airport has the newest, most modern airplanes to rent, but this also translates into being the most expensive to fly out of.

At AOH, you will likely see other pilots, but most will be commercial pilots that are transiting the area. It is always interesting to talk to these pilots; however, since there are few locals to be seen, it isn’t easy to build pilot relationships.

The second and third airports would seem very similar at first glance. Both are smaller general aviation airports with little business traffic. They have comparable runways and both rent a single Cessna 172 for roughly the equivalent price. Because of this, I didn’t think the experience would be any different at these airports.

Thinking the experience would be the same, I next flew out of OWX since it was closer to where I worked. Most days this airport is like a ghost town. There was almost never anyone hanging out at the airport. People would come, fly, and leave. This makes it difficult to build pilot relationships.

After changing jobs, I now work closer to VNW, so that is where I am now flying out of. This airport has pilots hanging out most of the time. Every time I go to this airport, I see at least one pilot that is also there.

In my first 5 times flying out of VNW, I met as many local pilots as I did at AOH and OWX combined. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. It is wonderful to have more experienced pilots around to gather knowledge from.

It is nice to actually feel like part of a community rather than a lone pilot operating from a ghost town. If I could turn back time, I would still learn to fly at AOH because I had such an awesome instructor. However, I would have skipped over OWX. Even though it was closer to where I worked at the time, there just wasn’t that feeling of community that exists at VNW.

So if you have multiple airports to choose from, when shopping around do not only take into account the cost and convenience, but also look at the quality of the instructor(s), and especially the atmosphere and community at the airport.

Doing so will not only make your flight experience more enjoyable, but it will help keep you flying since you aren’t going it alone.

United States Airspace – Special Use

*** This series is meant as a general guide, and is not guaranteed to be comprehensive or even 100% accurate. You should always consult the FAR’s rather than trusting this blog to have the final say.

Prior in Series: Class A Airspace

At anytime throughout your life, hurdles may placed in your way. Sometimes the hurdles are so big or dangerous, we take a detour. Other times with due diligence we are able to overcome them or even bust right through them. Each hurdle is different, but most can be classified into different types.

These hurdles are special use airspace. It is important to understand that these airspaces warn pilots of activities and surface areas that may be potentially dangerous.

Prohibited Area
Sometimes life places hurdles in our way that we simply cannot overcome, and so we are forced to take a detour. One that always gets my blood pressure up is the train that is sitting idle on the tracks.

My options are either to sit there until the hurdle is finally removed so that I can proceed, or I must find a new way to get to my destination.

A prohibited area is that train stuck on the tracks. You cannot go through a prohibited area, so you are forced to plan your flight to avoid them.

Prohibited areas are established for national security and occasionally environmental protection. An example would be the area around the White House.

If you ignore the train on the tracks and try to drive through it, you will surely meet up with some police that will be checking you for drugs. If you ignore a prohibited area and try to fly through it, you will surely meet up with some military aircraft that will be considering shooting you down.

Restricted Area
Do you hate construction projects while you are traveling? I sure do! There are times when these construction sites are impassable. For instance when a bridge is getting worked on around here, the road is often closed indefinitely. In these cases, it is time to detour.

At other times, you can get through the construction zone, but only when the friendly flagger turns the stop sign around so it is a slow sign. These construction zones are similar to restricted areas. You cannot enter a restricted area without permission.

For access into restricted areas, ATC often acts as the flagger, and can give you permission to enter. There are times, however, when you cannot enter a restricted area.

Restricted areas normally contain operations that have the potential to be quite dangerous to aircraft such as artillery or missile firing as well as aerial gunnery. When these activities are happening, restricted areas are completely off limits.

Warning Areas
Have you been driving along and noticed signs warning you of animal crossings, slippery roads, or steep inclines? If so, you know that these areas are particularly dangerous. In fact they are so dangerous that it has been deemed necessary to add these signs to warn you.

Warning areas are like these sections of the road that have their own signs. Warning areas are only advisory, so you won’t have to worry about being escorted by military fighters.

Warning areas are more dangerous than normal airspace. They often are host to hazardous activity, so if you have to fly through them you need to be especially cautious.

Unlike warning signs along the road that can pop up anywhere, warning areas occur over domestic or international waters and start from 3 miles beyond shore.

Military Operations Areas
Have you ever been sitting idle in rush hour traffic while cars are flying past at over 75 MPH in the lane next to you? Wouldn’t it be nice if OnStar could direct you around these congested areas, or just let you through if traffic was light?

Military operation areas are like congested areas during rush hour. These areas are designed for routine training or testing maneuvers. If you go flying VFR through these areas while they are active, you may just feel like you are sitting idle when a fighter jet goes screaming past.

If you are considering going through a Military Operations Area, you should seriously consider talking to ATC. While it is only a dream to have someone guide you while sitting in rush hour traffic, ATC really can guide you through or around a Military Operations Area.

Flying through a Military Operations Area without being in contact with ATC is like trying to go from the idle lane to the 75 MPH lane in rush hour traffic. It can be done, but it can be quite dangerous.

Alert Areas
While driving there are certain areas that it pays to be especially alert at. Intersections with stop lights is one example. When your light turns green, it is definitely a good idea to check that the other traffic has decided to obey their red lights and stop.

Alert areas are the airspace equivalent to street lights. Alert areas often surround high general aviation traffic, unusual aerial activity, or frequent student training.

Alert areas aren’t really all that dangerous by themselves, but like getting the green at a stop light, it is in your best interest to be at the top of your game while flying through them.

Hopefully you enjoyed this series on the United States Airspace. If there is something you feel is incorrect or that I left out, leave a comment and let me know!

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Make Life Happen

Somehow when I was a kid and even a young adult, I knew that the secret to life was to make life happen.  When I was 23, I had a full-time job in my chosen career.  I owned a house, I was a pilot, and I owned an airplane.

I remember thinking back then that I had accomplished my goal of becoming a pilot and owning an airplane.  I accomplished my goal of getting a good job in my chosen field and owning a house.  I also remember thinking that I didn’t have any new goals in life.  Unfortunately I started to become complacent.

Instead of making life happen, I was sitting back letting life happen.  When you sit back and let life happen, it does indeed happen.  Oh boy does it ever!  I lost my good job and eventually replaced it with another job in my field, but I was making only 2/3 of what I was at my previous job.

Suddenly instead of having extra money to invest for retirement every month, I was struggling to find money to fly.  I stupidly decided to keep the airplane, forgo investing in my retirement, and settle for my low paying job rather than finding another good paying job.

Fast forward a few years, and I met my future wife.  I’m not sure if she knows this or not, but she helped me remember that you cannot sit back and let life happen.  You have to go out and make life happen.

For all of you Christians out there who are saying that you are supposed to let God lead your life, I agree with you.  I try to pray every day to have God let me know if I am on the right path or not.  I am once again making life happen, and like my younger self did, I rely on God to help show me which path I am to blaze.

Now here we are at the present, I have a good job, and my family’s only debt is our house.  While I still do not have an airplane, I do manage to scrape together enough money to fly a few hours each year.

The important part though is that I’m not sitting back waiting for life to happen to me.  I am once again working to make life happen.  If you are a non pilot that has always dreamed of becoming a pilot, stop sitting back letting life happen to you.  Start working to make your dreams come true.

If you are a pilot that has hung up his or her wings while raising a family, dust those wings off.  Don’t sit back and let life happen while you are rasing your family.  Instead find ways to make life happen.  You will not only be able to share your joy of flight with your family, but you will also be teaching your children a valuable lesson about life.

There may be obstacles in your way.  So what?  They will be there whether you are letting life happen or making life happen.  Life is sort of like canoeing down a river.  You can sit back in the canoe and let the current carry you down stream, or you can get out your paddle and choose which path through the stream you wish to take.

Either way there will be obstacles in your path.  There might be rocks, logs, or sand bars that are just below the surface waiting to stop your progress.  Or perhaps there is a small waterfall just around the bend.  What would put you in a better position to overcome these obstacles?  Sitting back in your canoe letting the current do all of the work, or paddling along choosing your own path?

I say paddle along, choose your own path, and make life happen.  Just as in the canoe you will hit an obstacle and realize that the stream has passed you by, one day you will wake up and realize that life too has passed you by if you just sit back and let life happen.

United States Airspace – Class A

*** This series is meant as a general guide, and is not guaranteed to be comprehensive or even 100% accurate. You should always consult the FAR’s rather than trusting this blog to have the final say.

Prior in Series: Class B Airspace
Next in Series: Special Use Airspace

Senior Living
When we retire, rules disappear and things go back to being a lot like Class G airspace. That is until we get to the point where we are no longer able to take care of ourselves. At this time, we get thrown into a senior living home.

Life here is completely different than anything we have experienced previously. We basically give up control over our lives. All of our time is spent being controlled by the system, and the system is different than anything we have previously experienced.

This is Class A airspace. Everything you do is controlled by ATC. Altitudes now reference standard pressure instead of the local surface pressure, and they are defined by flight levels rather than feet.

Just as some of us will never live long enough to enter this stage of life, many pilots never enter Class A airspace. The reason is that unless you are otherwise authorized by ATC, all flights must be under ATC Control and under Instrument flight rules (IFR). Since many pilots never receive an instrument rating, the regulations prevent them from entering class A airspace.

Another reason many pilots never fly in Class A airspace is because it is high. The airplanes I fly aren’t even capable of reaching Class A airspace, so even if I do get an instrument rating, there is a good chance I will never see Class A airspace.

I’m also hoping to see old age without seeing senior living!

Definition and Rules
Class A airspace starts at 18,000′ MSL and extends upwards to FL600 or approximately 60,000′. Above this altitude, the airspace reverts back to Class E.

In class A airspace, altimeters are set to 29.92″ Hg instead of the local altimeter setting. This helps to ensure aircraft separation. At the speed aircraft are traveling it would be difficult to keep up with local pressures.

As previously mentioned altitudes are not referred to in feet, but rather flight levels. Instead of flying at 20,000 feet, you fly at Flight Level 200 (FL200). As you can see flight levels are in hundreds of feet. So if you are flying FL200, you are flying 200 hundred feet, or 20,000 feet.

To enter Class A airspace your aircraft will need to be equipped with a “Mode C” transponder, and you need to be on an IFR flight plan.

VFR Visibility Requirements
Day or Night 5 Miles

VFR Cloud Clearance Requirements
Day or Night 1,000′ Below, 1,000′ Above, 1 Mile Horizontal

If you look at FAR 91.155, you may think I am incorrect in listing those weather minimums since it says they are not applicable for Class A airspace. However, it is possible to fly VFR in Class A airspace, and this FAR does say that the above table is the minimums when more than 1,200 feet above the surface and at or above 10,000 feet MSL.

The Safety
While flying in Class A airspace, you basically have ATC directing you. However, you can still run into issues with thunderstorms, so if they are sending you towards one, let them know.

This altitude brings about other safety concerns as well. For example there isn’t much oxygen in the flight levels. In Class A airspace, you not only have to be flying the airplane, but you have to be monitoring your oxygen supply as well.

If you start feeling groggy is it because it has been a long day, or because your oxygen supply has a leak, and you are succumbing to hypoxia?

Really though flying in Class A airspace is some of the safest airspace to fly in. It is pretty difficult to run into terrain since you are so high, and it is difficult to encounter an another aircraft since ATC is controlling things.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get the opportunity to enter Class A airspace other than as a passenger in an airliner, but I’m hoping I do. Like I said before, a lot of pilots never get there.

Cheating on My 150

Some friends who are non pilots wanted to go to Sporty’s pilot shop.  While they are both non pilots, they are both aviation enthusiasts.  Not wanting to let them down, I offered to fly them there.

They lived close to AOH, so I decided to rent the Cessna 172 from there.  Even though AOH is roughly the same distance from my house as OWX, I decided to drive to OWX and fly my Cessna 150 from OWX to AOH to rent the airplane.

While I had rented airplanes from AOH plenty of times in the past, this was the first time that I pulled up to the building in an airplane rather than a car to rent an airplane.  It was kind of strange seeing my bird on the ramp while I was preflighting the 172.

It almost felt like I was cheating on my 150 while we loaded up in the 172 and took off.  I kept telling myself that this was an irrational feeling since airplanes are just that… airplanes.  However, as I suspect most pilots do, I somehow had developed an emotional bond to that flying contraption that I continuously entrusted my life to.

We had a great flight down to Sporty’s, and while we were there we saw a lot of different airplanes, so my friends had a blast.  I even managed to keep my 150 out of my mind and enjoy the flight in the 172.

After we returned to AOH, I showed off my 150 to my friends.  When I first got into the 150 to fly home it felt strange since I had just flown a few hours in the 172; however, everything felt completely normal by the time I started the takeoff run.

Instead of flying straight home, I took some time to make up with my 150 by just going for a fun little flight.

That was the only time I have ever piloted two different airplanes in one day, and it was a neat experience.  I was familiar with both airplanes, but each one felt strange to me at first since I just came from the other.

Unfortunately since I had to sell my 150 (not because of the cheating… she forgave me for that) it will probably be quite a while before I experience something like that again.  Nevertheless it was a day I will never forget, and that is one of my favorite things about being a pilot.  Not only are airplanes flying machines, they are also great memory making machines.

How many different airplanes have you piloted in one day?  Anything more exciting than two small Cessnas?

United States Airspace – Class B

*** This series is meant as a general guide, and is not guaranteed to be comprehensive or even 100% accurate. You should always consult the FAR’s rather than trusting this blog to have the final say.

Prior in Series: Class C Airspace
Next in Series: Class A Airspace

Bring on the Family
Once we start to get the hang of working life, along comes a wife or husband. Of course they are quickly followed up with children. So now all of the responsibilities we had when we were single are still there, but we now have the added pressure and demands of the family.

When the family enters the picture, life gets a lot more busy and things can seem hectic. Now is the time we have to really get organized. If something doesn’t make it on to the calendar, there is a good chance that it won’t happen.

This stage of life is like Class B airspace. Class B airspace is really a very busy class C airspace. In Class B airspace you have to get a clearance just to enter the airspace, unlike Class C which only requires you to establish 2 way communication.

In other words if they don’t put you on the calendar, you entering the airspace is simply not going to happen.

Many pilots never fly into Class B airspace because they get intimidated by it. There really is no reason for this. If you can fly in Class C airspace, you will be fine flying in Class B.

Definition and Rules
Class B airspace is the busiest and most sophisticated of the airport airspaces. It is also the biggest. Whereas Class C airspace has two layers, class B typically has 3 layers.

There is no standard dimensions or layouts for Class B airspace, but it does normally extend from the surface to 10,000′ MSL. Since Class B airspace boundaries are not uniform, you will need to refer to either a Sectional or VFR Terminal Area Chart to know the specific boundaries for class B airspace.

Class B airspace does not require you to establish 2 way communication prior to entry. It goes a step further and requires ATC to clear you to fly into Class B airspace. If you do not get a specific clearance from ATC, you better avoid the airspace.

As with Class C, Class B also requires you to have an operating Mode C transponder.

VFR Visibility Requirements
Day or Night Below 10,000′ msl 3 Miles
Day or Night Above 10,000′ msl 3 Miles

VFR Cloud Clearance Requirements
Day or Night Below 10,000′ msl Clear of Clouds
Day or Night 10,000′ msl and Above Clear of Clouds

The Safety
Don’t let Class B intimidate you. If you doubt your ability to navigate and communicate in Class B airspace, grab a pilot that is comfortable in Class B airspace. If nothing else, grab an instructor.

It can often be safer flying in Class B than flying in VFR corridors, because of the watchful eye of ATC.

Even though you do have ATC watching out for you, as always you as pilot in command are ultimately responsible for the safety of the flight. As with other controlled airspace, if ATC asks you to do something that will jeopardize the safety of the flight, let them know immediately that you cannot comply.

One last thing unique about Class B airspace is that Student and Recreational Pilots cannot fly into Class B airspace without receiving an endorsement, and even then some Class B airspaces will not allow students to land at the primary airport.

So if you are a student or recreational pilot, be sure to get the proper endorsement before attempting to fly into the airspace.

Intimate Preflights

Preflighting an airplane is such an intimate experience.  I consider it the equivalent of foreplay.  Think of all the things you do to your airplane to get her “turned on”.  I think if everyone thought of the preflight inspection as foreplay rather than a chore, they would do a better job with the inspection and get a little more joy out of doing it.  If nothing else, you would definitely know your airplane a little better.

I typically start the preflight out by rubbing one of her feet.  I visually inspect the brakes and wheels, but I also use my hands to make sure the break lines are connected properly and that there are no loose connections.  Just for good measure, I play a little footsie as I gently kick the tire.

Next I caress her body as I run my hand along the airframe looking for dents, missing screws or anything out of place.  Sure I could just quickly walk to the tail without this step, but I would be missing out on the opportunity to get to know my girl.

The walk along the fuselage inevitably leads me to her tail.  This is where you really get to tease her by putting her in different positions as you move the rudder and elevator inspecting each to make sure there is free movement.  I look at it as getting her to stretch out and loosen up so she is ready for the big event.  You definitely don’t want her to “cramp up”, because that will definitely ruin your day.

After inspecting her tail, it is time to caress her body again before reaching another wheel where I rub her foot and play another round of footsie.  At this point I’m starting to get her juices flowing as I take a sample from the fuel tank to look for water.

Now that her juices are starting to flow, I can put my hands on her great big, luscious wing.  I run my hand all over it as I look for loose screws, obstructions to free movement, and any cracks that might be starting to form.

After the wing, the juices are really flowing as I empty the fuel sump and check the oil.  Next I rub her foot and play a little footsie before inspecting the cowling and propeller.  I close my eyes as I run the tips of my fingers over the propeller.  As I feel for anything out of the ordinary I think to myself how before too long I will have this girl spinning like mad.

Leaving the cowling and propeller behind, I play with her other wing, and once again her juices are flowing as I take a sample from the fuel tank.

Before hopping inside and completely turning her on, I climb on top of her to check her fuel levels.  This is one more opportunity to check that your girl is ready for you to light her fire.  Next I climb aboard, prime her, and start her up.

Since I am a guy, this is written from a guy’s perspective, but I’m sure a woman could write something similar from her perspective.  The idea here is to get you to think differently about the preflight inspection.

Most people view it as a time consuming chore that can be glossed over or skipped if pressed for time.  But the truth is if you want your girl to be ready for you when you are ready for her, you really do need to take the time to get her ready.

Do any of you think of the preflight in this way, or am I the only one?

United States Airspace – Class C

*** This series is meant as a general guide, and is not guaranteed to be comprehensive or even 100% accurate. You should always consult the FAR’s rather than trusting this blog to have the final say.

Prior in Series: Class D Airspace
Next in Series: Class B Airspace

Entering the workforce
Once we manage to graduate from college, life finally gets its hands on us for really the first time. We might have thought we had responsibility while in college, but now we get to find out what the word responsibility actually means.

In college, if you shirk on your responsibilities, you might get a lower grade that can easily be made up. After entering the workforce, if you shirk on your responsibilities, you can lose some pay or even your job.

All of a sudden, you need to take responsibility much more seriously. Class C airspace takes responsibility much more seriously than class D does. In class D airspace, you do have the tower to help you out, but Class C airspace brings about radar.

Now ATC no longer needs to rely on you giving accurate position reports until they can see you. With the help of the transponder that you are required to carry on board, they know where you are even if you don’t.

Definition and Rules
Another way of looking at Class C is the middle child of the airport airspaces B, C, D. It is more grown up than Class D, but not as sophisticated as Class B.

Class C is typically two stacked layers of circular airspace where the upper layer is wider than the lower layer. The lower layer normally has a 5 mile radius and starts at the surface. The upper layer usually has a a 10 mile radius and starts from 1,200′ AGL.

The upper limit of Class C airspace normally is 4,000′ AGL. These boundaries are how Class C airspace is typically defined, but just like Class D has exceptions to its boundaries, Class C also has plenty of exceptions.

As with Class D airspace, Class C airspace requires you to establish 2 way communication prior to entering. As mentioned earlier, Class C also requires you to have an operating Mode C transponder.

Class C airspace also gives us a speed limit. At or below 2,500′ AGL and within 4 miles of the Class C airport, your airspeed must be below 200 knots. Totally not a problem for the aircraft I fly!

VFR Visibility Requirements
Day or Night Below 10,000′ msl 3 Miles
Day or Night Above 10,000′ msl 3 Miles

VFR Cloud Clearance Requirements
Day or Night Below 10,000′ msl 500′ Below, 1,000′ Above, 2,000′ Horizontal
Day or Night 10,000′ msl and Above 500′ Below, 1,000′ Above, 2,000′ Horizontal

The Safety
Flying in Class C airspace is fun! It is a great chance to share airspace with airliners and business jets. It is always interesting to be putting along in a Cessna 152 when a jet goes screaming past around 1000′ away.

With all of the technology in use within Class C airspace, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking ATC will handle everything. However, as always you as the pilot are still responsible for the safety of the flight.

When flying in Class C airspace, you still need to keep situational awareness, and be on the lookout for traffic. Often ATC will tell you which aircraft to follow in, so knowing where you are will help with finding the other traffic so you can be sure to keep separation.

Radar is nice, but it still doesn’t guarantee that ATC will not send you on a collision course with a cloud. If ATC requests something of you that will cause you to break a FAR, interfere with your ability to keep the flight safe, or both, you need to let them know that you will be unable to comply.

The maturity and professionalism of Class C airspace does make it enjoyable. Being an amateur sharing airspace with professionals is a great experience for any pilot. Just be sure to remember the rules, use your radio, and be prepared to say “No”, “Negative”, or “Unable” if needed.

Win an Airplane

If you dream of owning an airplane, but cannot afford to buy one, try winning one instead. Your odds might not be the greatest, but chances for some of these airplanes, don’t really cost much.

Perhaps the most well known airplane sweepstakes is the airplane given away by AOPA every year. All you need to do to enter is either become a new member or renew your membership. You can also get additional entries by signing up for auto-renewal, becoming a life member, etc. If you aren’t yet a member of AOPA, you really should consider it. In addition to the sweepstakes airplane, you also get a choice between two pretty good magazines.

EAA Airventure
Not to be outdone, EAA also has a sweepstakes airplane. Instead of tying the airplane sweepstakes to their membership, to win the EAA airplane, you donate money to the EAA sweepstakes. That money is then used to support numerous EAA programs.

Pilot Mag
If you want a magazine without the membership, but still want a chance to win an airplane, you need to check out Pilot Mag. This airplane sweepstakes is raffling off an airplane for just purchasing a one year subscription. Like AOPA there are additional things you can do to increase your odds as well.

One of the simplest ways to attempt to win an airplane is simply making your aviation related purchases from Sporty’s Pilot Shop. All orders give you one chance to win an airplane. If you are going to make the purchase anyway, why not do it through Sporty’s and try to win an airplane in the process?

Flight of the Phoenix Aviation Museum
The Flight of the Phoenix Aviation Museum is raffling off an airplane to help raise funds. Each ticket in the airplane raffle costs $50, but since only 1,100 tickets are being sold, your odds are better than any other sweepstakes airplane. Even if you don’t win, at least your money is going to a good cause.

1940 Museum
Not to be outdone, the 1940 Museum is also raffling off an airplane. Each ticket also costs $50, but for this raffle up to 2,500 tickets will be sold. Still your odds aren’t too bad, and your money is going to help the museum maintain our aviation history.

Faith Christian Church
I’m not sure what it is about Texas, but even a church in Texas is raffling off an airplane. Again the cost is $50 and proceeds support the Faith Christian Church Building Fund.

If you know of any airplane sweepstakes not listed here, let me know and I’ll be sure to add them. I love to know all the places I can attempt to win an airplane. If nothing else, at least we can dream of plane ownership.