Question of the Month: What Are Some Fun and Different Things We Can Do with Our Club Plane?

I was talking to my fellow British aviator friend George at the airport the other day, and the topics moved around, as they do, from aircraft maintenance, to complaining about the lack of “pattern etiquette” being shown by some visitors to “our” airport, and then about our plans for flying adventures in 2024.   Hearing about a new restaurant which recently opened at an easy-to-fly-to-airport got me rethinking about what we can do with our very unique privilege, our freedom to fly, especially compared with almost every other country in the world.

This prompted me to think about my flying in a slightly different way.  Not only is it fun and earns me money, but perhaps we all have an obligation to fly as much as we can in order to keep general aviation vibrant, relevant and yeah, fully in the face of those who would prefer we just go away.  The constant threat of ATC privatization, user-fees, airport closures, local authorities who have no idea about what we do and why we do it (but who are, nevertheless, along with breathlessly-sensationalist tabloid reporters, instantly jumped-up, self-made experts on all things aviation), and with activists bemoaning everything that they don’t like, don’t understand or that will simply make them money, are threats that we must take seriously or go the way of many other countries.

So, what can we do?  Well, we must fly as much as we can to maintain our relevance and voice, as well as staying safe and proficient to reduce the number of “accidents” that regularly fuel the fires of discontent and bigotry against us.  What a wonderful reason to go flying!

George and I also chatted about the times our spouses fly with us.  It is always a treat to share our passion with those we have a passion for.  We, of course, are quite happy just to pootle around the patch.  To the uninitiated it might look like we are just burning holes in the sky, whereas in reality most of us take these solo opportunities seriously to practice and stay proficient.  A few steep turns here, a few stall recoveries there, a spot of slow flight—and some precision approaches and landings elsewhere.  We get a lot out of this type of flying, but sometimes it is nice to just, well, go somewhere!  I get it—flying for flying’s sake is not everyone’s cup of tea (crazy as it sounds), so what can we do to keep ourselves active, to support our amazing and one-of-a-kind GA freedoms, to support our airports and so help them solidify their immense economic impact and job creation/retention that benefit from what we do as a hobby, and perhaps as a living?  Yes, dear friends, we must flex our wings and exercise our privileges as much as possible to fully enjoy and protect our freedom to fly!

I’ve written about places to go and things to do in several previous articles, but let’s pull together in one place some less traditional ideas. Now, even though the title of this article mentions doing things in a club plane, it of course applies equally to sole aircraft owners, co-owners and renters.  Basically, what are some ways we can utilize the privileges of our certificates?

  1. Food:

    An all-time favorite is, of course, a flight towards food.  Most of us know about the airport restaurants within an hour or so of our base, but want if we want to stretch a bit and search out new gastronomic delights?   Along with restaurants actually on a field (umm…Air-Sonics…taxi-up and eat?), there are many more that are within easy walking distance of an airport, and there are still others that are just a short drive away. 

    A good website to discover these gems is: 

    There are several really nice features on this website.  For example, you can enter a route and search for restaurants along that flight plan.  I use this feature when doing multi-day across-country flights in slow aircraft. Even though I carry food with me on such trips, it is such a treat to stop off for a restaurant lunch along the way.  My favorite is to stop over night and then wake up to a hearty breakfast before heading off for a day packed with flying adventures.

     Another nice feature is the selection of distance to restaurants within a given radius from a reference airport.   For example, show airfields with restaurants within 150 NM of S39, Prineville, my home base—here are 18 of them—and then expand the search to show additional restaurants within a short walk of an airport—increases to 38 restaurants.  It is quite amazing to see what we have been missing!  Before we moved to Oregon last year, Louise and I used this website and discovered a new Mexican restaurant (La Fiesta) in the terminal building at Altoona-Blair Airport (KAOO). This is well worth a visit…and we enjoyed the fare with friends on several other occasions.

     By the way, this can become a bit obsessive…finding new places to go for food, but it gets even better.  After finding a foody location, I then poke around the area and look for other attractions.  As another example, searching for food around Luray airport (LUA) in Virginia, quickly reveals the world class caverns just 15-minutes’ walk away—, or just a bit west of Altoona is Johnstown Airport (KJST), with an array of museums dedicated to the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889—

    Looking for more?  Another fantastic destination on the East Coast is Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay…look for KTGI on a sectional and you’ll see what I mean.  Then there is First Flight Airport (KFFA) at Kitty Hawk.  On the West Coast there are treats such as visiting Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Museum ( just across the road from McMinnville Airport (KMMV) in Oregon.  Another place in Oregon that I cannot get enough of is WAAM (Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum) based at Ken Jernstedt Airfield (4S2), in Hood River.  This is not only amazing for the (flyable) vintage aircraft but also that it is located right next to the Columbia River Gorge which is, quite literally, gorgeous.  Go on…make a weekend of it!

    Do you live in the Midwest?  Fly to the Pioneer Village Museum at Minden, Nebraska, (0V3), right alongside ruts of the Oregon Trail, to see a mind-blowing array of cars, engines, and more—breathtaking!  From their website:  ”You can see a priceless steam carousel, 17 historic flying machines and marvel at 100 antique tractors. See the world’s oldest Buick, a 1902 Cadillac and a 1903 Ford, both designed by Henry Ford, plus 350 other antique cars, all displayed in their order of development”.  Gosh!

    Another website I use to search out new destinations is…AOPA Destinations!  Start at this link but then use the tabs, filters and options to zero-in on particular features.  Note the three tabs above the map:

  1. Airport Directory: The “search” box allows you to enter a known airport ID, City and also State. There doesn’t seem to be a way to enter multiple States.
  2. Explore Place to Fly: The sub-tab, “Activities” now pops-up showing more filter options, such as Restaurants, Museums, State Parks, etc.
  3. Events: This is really handy to find events near you but of course it does rely on someone actually adding the event to the tool…easy enough to do, but has to be done. Perhaps your club’s Social Officer would take on the task to advertise upcoming club social events open to the public?

     Talking about events, another tool to find out what is happening in your flyable area is Social Flight (  Again, don’t forget to post your airport and club events, such as fly-ins, cookouts, airport open days, Wings and Wheels, etc.  Many EAA chapters post their meetings and breakfasts on this site, so there are usually plenty of places to go in the summer months.

    Quick plug:  The chapter to which I belong, chapter 617 based at Prineville Airport, Oregon (S39) holds a fantastic cooked breakfast starting 8:00 am every third Saturday of the month, followed by an FAA FAASTeam WINGS safety seminar, presented by yours truly.   Come along and join us!

    Similarly, EAA chapter 1345, based down the road at Bend Airport (KBDN) hold their meetings every second Wednesday of the month—with the BBQ fired-up with burgers and more, starting at 6:00 pm. 

    By the way, the AOPA Flying Club Finder is actually part of the Destinations webpage.  Don’t forget to use the Finder to contact other clubs and perhaps start a trend where clubs host each other for fly-ins or even long weekends.   Another fun thing to do is to drop a pin randomly on a sectional chart and find out all there is to know about the closest airport and surrounding areas.  Call up a local flying club and/or EAA chapter to get local advice…and then fly there.  You’ll be amazed at what you will find and the friends you will make.

    Okay—I think you’re getting the point by this time!  Use food as the anchor to find new locations, and new locations always present new opportunities for making new friends, education, hikes, attractions, and so on.  I can’t possibly cover all of the country in this article, but perhaps your club could start a local directory of places and attractions to share.  In fact, I think is an excellent project for the AOPA Flying Clubs Team to coordinate, as local knowledge is priceless…stay tuned!

    Oh…and don’t forget to do a weight-and-balance for you and your passengers after all that food!

    1. Passport Programs:

      This is where you fly to a particular location, record the fact using some system, and then claim “prizes” for having competed certain requirements.  The prizes might be as simple as a well-done certificate, or as elaborate as an embroidered leather jacket, as offered by some State programs.  The point, of course, is not so much the prizes (although a leather bomber jacket is rather special) but to get people flying for all the reasons mentioned at the start of this article, and to support our airport system, local businesses and so on.  This is why some States create and manages such programs—take Virginia, for example.   The requirement for the very high-quality leather jacket is to fly to all 66 public-use airports, visit five of the wonderful aviation-themed museums scattered throughout the state and attend (at least) three FAA WINGS safety seminars.  Places to go, things to do, proficiency along the way, earn a phase of WINGS, and you support airports though fuel sales, and local businesses when you head into town for food or other purchases. 

      On the topic of heading into town, another website to bookmark is which is a map-based tool that helps you locate airports offering courtesy (aka crew) cars.  From experience, courtesy cars come and go pretty quickly, so I advise calling the airport before you depart…if nothing else, to understand how to find the keys after hours.  I’ve had lots of experience with courtesy cars (the good, bad and ugly), and have even led the charge to get courtesy cars placed at several airports over the years, so I’ll add this topic to the list for a future Question of the Month article…there is plenty to write about on this topic!

      We’ve heard of flying clubs doing similar but lower-key passport programs as a way for members to get out and fly.  Many also couple this with a “no empty seat” suggestion to encourage members to take others along.  As always, watch that W&B!  In such cases, the prize may be a free ticket to the summer barbeque, or something else club related.

      Before we leave passports programs, I’ll touch on a couple of practical points...actually, thinking more about it, I’ll add how to create and run such a program to the ever-growing list of ideas for a future QoM, but in brief:

  1. The old method of providing a passport booklet, where participants literally “stamp” the appropriate airport page with an inked rubber stamp, is just old-hat and very unreliable. The program organizer has to print the booklets, provide unique stamps for each airport in the program, and then provide information about where the stamps are located on each property. Sometimes it is inside the terminal building, which may well be locked when you get there, or perhaps in a box (like a red mailbox) outside the terminal or often by the gas pump. Either way, I cannot express the frustration when not being able to find the stamp, or the inkpad/stamp is missing or most often dried out, so you revert to trying to rejuvenate it with water. Alternatively, you can take a date stamped photo of the airport and hope that the program admin will accept it as proof of your visit.
  2. The modern way to do this is to base it on an “app”—what we used to call a program, but apparently that is too difficult to say these days. This reduces administration to a web page or an actual on-device application, with some back-end automation to keep track of participants’ progress. The “stamping” challenge is solved by posting unique QR codes at each airport, and of course, “it” knows where you are from your GPS position. This is very neat and relatively low maintenance once it is up and running. I’m going to trying rustle up interest for such a State-wide program in Oregon this year, and I’ll write about progress and tips in a yet another upcoming Question of the Month article.

    I should mention that AOPA also has a passport program of sorts.  This has nationwide reach and you can use it to record where you’ve been.  There is also some notion of “badges”, but I confess not to know much more about it.  More here:

    For more on passport programs in general see the April 2021 Event Spotlight article and Flying Magazine October 2021...but heads-up, double check the availably of the programs as I recently heard that the popular Maryland version has been put on hold, probably due to lack of funding…umm…an opportunity for a Maryland-based organization?

  1. Treasure Hunt:

    This is a sort-of variant of a passport program (or the other way around), but with more challenges.  I used to enjoy doing the car version of these back in the day in England.  Participates are given a list of things to find.  An example of a car-based treasure hunt would be the inscription on Bertie Blog’s headstone found in a church graveyard, or some other item, like the number of unique chimney stacks on the roof of the Pickled Pig public house.  The twist is that you are not actually told where to find these things…you have to work it out from clues—perhaps a photograph or a cryptic phrase—you get the idea!

    Be really careful if you intend to organize one of these events.  They get very competitive and that’s when accidents happen.  Be sure not to give everyone the same clues, or in the same order to help space things out a bit.  I’d also advise not making these timed-based, that is, no extra points or tie breakers for being first back to base, as this will definitely ramp up overall risk.

    Another variant is the Poker Run.  I haven’t actually participated in one of these, but from what I can find online, cards from packs of playing cards are sealed in individual envelopes and distributed about five local airports.  Aircraft (teams) fly to the airports (not timed) and pick-up one envelope from each.  On return to base, each team presents their hand and prizes are given by poker-hand value.  Sounds quite fun and definitely gets people out flying, but the prizes are pretty much based on luck rather than skill that comes more into play with Treasure Hunts.

  2. The Journey

I mentioned earlier that I really enjoy long, slow cross-country flights, and especially flying across-the-country.  The variety of countryside, topology, geology and levels of hospitality you will find along these routes is invigorating and restores one’s faith in human kindness.  It would certainly be a challenge for a flying club to organize such an event, and personally I like to do them on my own, but I can see the alure of flying as part of a group to the multitude of small, quiet and scenic airfields that dot this very big country.  I won’t dwell any more on this but suggest that you give it some thought.  So, rather than rushing to AirVenture this year, think about stopping off along the way…you’ll be glad that you took the time to do it.

For much more on planning and flying long cross-country flights, see the August 2023 Question of the Month about my East Coast to West Coast flight last year, but before I leave the topic of long cross countries, I’d like to tell you about my latest favorite book.  Sometimes you find yourself rushing to get to the end a book so you can start the next one on the ever-expanding shelf, but I really wanted the latest one to go on and on.   In fact, I’ve just ordered more books on the same topic, which is…The Oregon Trail. 

There are a few points to make here:  Firstly, the author is Rinker Buck…yes, that Rinker Buck who gave us Flight of Passage all those years ago in 1966.  In The Oregon Trail, Rinker and his brother Nick tackle a different type of cross country from the one they flew as teenagers in their $300 Piper Cub – this time in a covered wagon pulled by three mules.  Secondly, I could fully and warmly relate to the part of their journey that passed though Nebraska, as I lived right there, close to the Oregon Trail ruts, for five years and all things being equal, I’d live there again in a heartbeat.  Reading this book was like being back home.  Thirdly, the route Rinker and Nick took was pretty much the route I took last June, when my Aerobat and I flew from Frederick, Maryland, to Prineville Oregon.  I too followed the Platte River for many miles and stopped off at wonderful airports along the way, and then flew along I80, which now crosses many parts of the trail travelled by the original pioneers and by the Buck brothers on their latest adventure.   Anyway, that got me thinking about my next calling…that of organizing Fly the Oregon Trail Adventures with stops at many of the historical sites along the way, including one mentioned earlier…Pioneer Village Field in Minden, Nebraska.  Stay tuned...!


So, there you have it—some less-than-traditional ways to enjoy flying your club plane, whether with other members or not.  I know I’ve missed out many fabulous places to fly throughout our vast country, but please don’t rebuke me.  Rather, send me details so I can also enjoy and share them.

Next month, given all of the above opportunities for adventure as well as significant challenges, I’ll write about how a club and its members can prepare themselves for different types of flying, including longer “go-somewhere” flights, with perhaps camping out along the way.

     As always, fly lots and fly safely!

Stephen Bateman
Contributor, You Can Fly Program
Steve retired from AOPA in April 2024, but continues to contribute to You Can Fly programs. Contact Steve at [email protected]

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