Friday, July 5, 2013

Encounter with a Gypsy

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
5 Jul 2013 N21481 SDC (Williamson, NY) - 5B2 (Saratoga Springs, NY) 1.6 1172.0

The sense of community among aviators is an amazing thing.  A love of airplanes and flight can create an instant bond between strangers, drawing them together to swap tales at any of the thousands of airports dotting the nation.  It is a connection so strong that, within minutes of landing at a new-to-me airport, I can almost instantly engage in an enthusiastic conversation with complete strangers.  This sense of community is one of my favorite aspects of flying.

Unfortunately, the non-flying public seems to view aviators as a cloistered group of elitists who are not welcoming of the general public.  Instead of seeing a friendly, open community, the uninitiated see this:

What newcomer would feel welcome by a sight like this?  I appreciate that fences help keep deer off the airport and protect airplanes from the criminal element, but they are deleterious to public relations.

Perhaps that is why, after her first trip to the airport with me, my mother remarked with surprise, "wow, airplane people are just like boat people!"  This was my mother's way, in southeast Michigan vernacular, of saying, "wow, I had no idea that pilots were so open and friendly!"  Boaters are notoriously friendly and it is not just because they get to drink beer while exercising their avocation (at least, I would like to think so).

Pilots are very friendly too, once you get past the intimidating fence.

Enter Amber Nolan, the self-styled "JetHiking Gypsy", a professional travel writer and non-aviator who had the audacity to challenge those fences with a big smile, a lot of enthusiasm, and an ambitious objective.  Amber's goal is to "hitchhike" across all 50 states by general aviation while documenting her adventures.  Along the way, she is learning that the pilot community is very welcoming of anyone interested in flying.  As an "outsider", she is gaining unique insight into the aviation community.

In my opinion, the JetHiking Gypsy has a unique podium to create bridges between the flying community and the general public through her tales of general aviation adventure and camaraderie.  From a public relations perspective, I think her mission is a positive one for general aviation, an opportunity for non-flyers to understand what aviators and general aviation are really about.  Arguably, taking to the sky with the Gypsy is a better excuse to fly than the average $100 hamburger run.

When Ray from Le Roy told me that Amber was looking for a ride from Rochester, NY to Saratoga Springs, NY, I was more than willing to volunteer my time and ship for all the reasons cited above. And, selfishly, the destination was a new one for me and I was craving an excuse for a short excursion out of the immediate area.  I emailed an offer to help that included a link to this blog and an open invitation to Internet-stalk me before accepting a ride.

Suitably vetted as a volunteer pilot, the biggest challenge was waiting out the spate of IFR weather and thunderstorms that has dominated Rochester skies for the past two weeks. On the morning of July 5, we met at the Williamson-Sodus Airport for departure.  Coincidentally, it was the very place where she experienced her first general aviation flight.  In fact, Amber's entire cross country odyssey began from the Rochester airport in July of 2012.

We did some aerial sightseeing over Chimney Bluffs before climbing over some scattered clouds for a direct flight to Saratoga Springs.  Amber shared some of her stories of travelling the world as a writer and I shared some of my favorite flying destinations (we had Jekyll Island, GA in common).

The time passed quickly and, before long, we dropped back down through a hole in the clouds and approached Saratoga County Airport.  After so much focus on instrument training and flying in circles, it was a treat to fly someplace new outside of the immediate Rochester area.

Photo by Mike, courtesy of Amber

At Saratoga County, we met Mike, the pilot of a Cessna 180 who had previously offered to fly Amber across the state line into Vermont.  Walking into the FBO, the Gypsy was greeted as a celebrity with a shout of "hey, it's the All Fifty States Girl!"  While the line staff hung on her every word, I chatted a bit with Mike who had some interesting aviation experience beyond mine.  It was a great morning of flying and aviation community.  That afternoon, Amber reached state number twenty-nine by landing in Basin Harbor, VT.

I have always tried to do my part for aviation PR by giving rides to anyone willing to entertain the idea. That is most definitely a one person at a time approach. Through her writing, Amber stands to reach a much broader cross section of the general public than I ever could. When she is done, I think she will have an amazing story to tell, one that will be good for general aviation. I wish her the very best of luck in her quest and am looking forward to reading all about it.


  1. I've been loosely following her journey for a while now. You're right that it's great publicity for GA.

    She was in my area earlier this year and I missed her. I'd been hoping to offer a ride if she was ever nearby, too!

    1. Hey, Steve! She was a lot of fun. As you might imagine, she has some great stories to tell. And, hey, her course across the US is a bit of a random walk, so you never know when she might reappear.