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The resort on Ambergris Cay in Turks and Caicos has its own runway.

Being Fully Engaged

Article appeared in Flying Magazine June/July 2021 by John King

“You don’t know how other people live,” my brother said.  He was not technically correct.  We do know how other people live; we just don’t live that way.

We were not exactly sure what he meant.  There are a lot of things we don’t do like other people do—for instance, we certainly aren’t stylish dressers.

Most notably, since 1969 when Martha and I learned to fly, except for international destinations we have always flown ourselves for travel.  We do know that other people travel on the airlines.  We just travel differently.

We think flying yourself is traveling in style.  That’s because flying yourself is fully engaging—you are participating in life to the fullest.  Our current airplane is a jet that requires two pilots.  Flying it as a crew and taking turns as husband-and-wife captain and copilot is particularly engaging and rewarding for Martha and me.

We use the word “PLAY” to explain the engagement that flying any airplane provides.  (See our article from August 2019 )

Here’s what it means to us:

Passion—pilots have a passion about their flying.  People with a passion put more effort into things.  They persist longer.  And they willingly work their way through difficulties.

Lots of interests—there are a lot of things to study when you learn to fly and the activity exposes you to deeply interesting subjects.

Always learning—flying promotes a habit of learning.

Yet again—pilots repeat all of this because these have become habits.

The brilliant green waters of the Caribbean make flying there delightful.

Being fully engaged like this is, I believe, the ultimate definition of travelling in style.  I believe the best answer to my brother is that people who are not so fully engaged don’t understand how we live—the commitment it requires.

Personal flying makes the world accessible.  Within a week of getting our pilot certificates Martha and I flew our Cherokee 140 to the Bahamas.  At one time we had had a great desire to fly on Frontier Airlines to get to really know the Great American West.  The original Frontier airlines had a “Frontier Pass” (all the travel you wanted on their system for 30 days, for one low price) that inflamed our imaginations.  Through our own flying we have gotten to know and experience the West far better than we ever could have as passengers on an airline.

Flying your own airplane gives you an unequalled platform to view African wildlife.

Flying your own airplane makes international travel an especially rich experience.  We have particularly enjoyed being immersed in the cultures of the host countries.  Most notable was a trip through southern Africa arranged by Hanks Aero Adventures.  We took the airlines to South Africa and once there rented a Cessna 182 supplied by Hanks.  Hanks also provided a portable GPS with the complete route for our photo safari pre-loaded.  We went from beautiful lodge to lodge and landed among elephants, giraffes, hippos and other exotic animals who cleared the dirt runways with unhurried leisure.  It was the experience of a lifetime.

The habit of wildlife of loitering on runways can make them too approachable.

Our friend Dick Smith, a well-known Australian adventurer, has flown himself around the world five-times.  We have been privileged to join Dick on several trips in his Cessna Caravan.  One of these trips was from Australia through Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and through the breathtakingly blue and green Indonesian Archipelago back to Northern Australia.  One of the most interesting parts of the trip was landing at a remote bush airport and attracting an excited crowd of 50 or so fascinated people packed so tightly around our airplane we couldn’t get our bags out.  It is hard to imagine being more engaged with a culture than by flying your own airplane in it.  Most recently we participated in a group trip to Turks and Caicos, south of the Bahamas, arranged by Air Journey.  They assume the handling of the airplanes through the airports and Customs and Immigration.  We had always done this ourselves.  Having Air Journey arrange all of this opens up and makes international operations accessible to a lot of pilots and eased our workload considerably.  Plus, Air Journey arranged the hotels for the group.  It was a great trip to a fabulous facility in a picturesque tropical oceanic location, with great company.  This was the first time we had participated in such a group trip with other pilots.  It was great fun.

A floatplane makes the wilderness waterways of Alaska accessible to a floatplane pilot.

To take full advantage of your ability to travel with an airplane, one more engagement in the form of learning is required.  An absolute prerequisite to using your airplane for dependable transportation is to be instrument rated and equipped.  When we became instrument rated and equipped, the world became our oyster; that same summer we flew our Piper Comanche from San Diego to Acapulco, Mexico and back and then to Barrow, Alaska and back.

When Martha and I taught ground schools in Alaska, we greatly enjoyed flying seaplanes in and out of the magnificent transportation system that Alaskan rural waterways represent.  Seaplanes open up the wilderness to you and get you closer to nature than about anything other than a helicopter.

Besides making you a full participant in life, flying yourself has some practical benefits as well.

Owning and flying an airplane to any destination provides about the ultimate in control and convenience.  You can decide to make a trip in the morning, arrive at your departure airport shortly ahead of your planned departure time, do a pre-flight inspection, and depart minutes later the same day.  Depending on the capability of your airplane, you can frequently fly directly to your destination (without layovers).  You can choose from 5,000 general aviation airports in the US to be close to your destination.  You can choose who goes with you and talk business before and after the flight.  You can spend more time with your friends and family by taking them with you.  Plus, you can travel comfortably with fragile or valuable items such as musical instruments, sports gear and product samples–and bring your pet along, too.

And since you’re the pilot you never have to worry about being late arriving at the airport.  You can be certain the plane will not leave without you.  A San Diego friend of ours, Mike Turk, disliked the rigid schedules of the airlines so much that when he learned to fly a Cirrus, he was hooked forever by the flexibility.  These days Mike and his wife, Karen, trade pilot and copilot duties in their Eclipse jet.

Without the lines, waiting, lost luggage, transfers, delay concerns or security issues of commercial flights we avoid a lot of stress.

There are many visions people may have of traveling in style.  But my vision is of a zestful, engaged, fulfilled life.  It is hard to imagine anything that can do a better job of delivering that vision than flying yourself in your journey of the world—plus, you meet such wonderful people.


  1. Rick Hays

    First, it was a pleasure meeting you both at the steakhouse Tuesday night during SnF week. You are both icons in the GA world.
    I began my flight training the same month I received my Medicare card. I hope to accomplish a fraction of what you have accomplished

  2. Susan Fremit

    I am a 67 yr old criminal defense attorney and have been working on my PPL in my “spare time” for the past 2 years. (Admittedly, I had to conquer my deeply seated fear of flying in the process, but I have been soloed in a Grumman Tiger for the past 10 months.) I can’t be the only one who knew that learning to fly/flying was NOT an inexpensive hobby or that we were using post-tax dollars. I have enjoyed exceptional assistance from John & Martha during this journey. I read their current post as giving us various different options available to us once we have a PPL. I, for one, did not consider flying commercial to a location and renting a plane at the destination until I read their story about their journey to South Africa. Now I have rethought doing this on a non-international basis. In conclusion, Mr. Weintraub, your posting simply showed your negative shallow thinking and I feel very sorry for you.

  3. Richard G

    For many years flying was the only way to get around for me. I worked down in the Turks and Caicos Islands on Grand Turk taking care of the ATC radar for Miami Center, the VOR, NDB, and radio equipment. I also took care of all the equipment in the Bahamas. I had to fly out there every week. It wasn’t possible back then to depend on airlines.
    It was normal to fly everywhere. I didn’t see it as anything but a different type of car. I don’t fly as much now because for my life now, it isn’t required. I have thought about teaching.

    • Richard G

      By the way, it was your course that got me my pilots certificate back in the 80s. And it was that certificate that got me that job in the Caribbean for the FAA.

    • Richard G

      By the way, it was your course that got me my pilots certificate back in the 80s. And it was that certificate that got me that job in the Caribbean for the FAA.
      Thank you.

    • Modlitwa

      It sounds like your experiences have given you a unique perspective on flying, almost equating it to a daily commute rather than an occasional travel method for most. The critical nature of your work with ATC radar and other navigation aids in such beautiful yet remote locations must have been both challenging and rewarding. Your regular flights to maintain essential equipment across the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas highlight the indispensable role of aviation in connecting and servicing remote areas.

  4. Wayne

    Mr. King, that was a wonderful article and I agree with you 100%. I’m 55 and just completed my commercial certificate in July after getting my ppl in 2017 and my instrument rating in 2019. I’ve worked construction for 30+ years which pays the bills but would like to parlay my new skills as a pilot into a second chapter in my working life doing something I find much more rewarding. And be able to fly on my own terms as you and Martha do. You are both inspirations in the aviation community. Thank you.

    And Mr. Charles T. Reader go for it!!! You need to get back in the air!

  5. Charles T Reader

    I know the feeling, I was a young man that always loved aircraft. I had a good job right out of high school and within two years got married had two boys and always wanted to fly an airplane. I met a businessman, Jim who owned a mill in Philadelphia and was teaching pilots at a small grass strip airport in New jersey. He talked me into taking lessons and he and the the owner of the airport, A WW2 carrier pilot, Manny, taught me how to fly an airplane within 47 hours I earned a pilots license and still have the license. As is the case with a number of people who want to fly, learning and jobs to pay for the rental, requires a good paying job. But my job’s after getting the license to fly required me to travel to various country’s via commercial Airlines and that was the end of my flying days as a pilot, but my travel was now world wide commercial to many countries. I’m now in my eighties and I still miss getting into a small aircraft and just enjoying the thrill. Before I leave this earth I may want to take off and land an aircraft just to get that feeling again. Thanks Jim and Manny.

  6. Paul Weintraub

    I think John and Martha are out of touch with the fact that not all of us have the financial resources they have amassed and don’t have the ability to write off our flying as a business expense either.

    • Lee Buckley

      So, just change a couple things in your life to ease your way more toward what you truly desire….starting with the belief that it can be within your capability to achieve.

      I’ve flown with John & Martha (John is the better stick & rudder pilot – Martha is the better, more disciplined Captain) in their Falcon 20 and I was most impressed with how seriously they each committed to being fully engaged in their respective roles as Captain (Pilot Flying) and Co-Captain (Pilot Monitoring/Not Flying).

    • Ken Karger

      You have to be kidding me? What a mean uncalled for comment. If you are jealous of the fact they created their own success, go do it yourself. My wife and I are retired (dentist and veterinarian) and are now student pilots. My wife and I watch their training videos daily while prepping for our license. We are buying our own plane and want to do exactly what they are doing now. Well done John and Martha. And thanks so much for sharing these flight tales. Inspiring to all of us (or at least most of us). Keep up the good work and keep the videos coming.

    • Kimberly

      There is always a scale, and passion for aviation has a price tag, but I flew my Luscombe 8E all around the country enjoying the PLAY book John described in his article. The airplane needed lots of TLC, but was a modest investment, that I maintained with a little help from a friend. The most my 85hp engine ever used was five gallons per hour. Very manageable. The aircraft cost less than most cars, even used cars! and when we parted ways it was worth more than I paid for it! My adventures flying around the country were grand! I thank John and Martha King for inspiring me then, and they continue to inspire me today!

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