Widely known for his 20-year aviation adventure column called “Flying Carpet” in AOPA Flight Training Magazine, a national magazine published by the world’s largest pilot association, Greg Brown is not your typical aviator.
A licensed pilot since the age of 19 and a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) since 1979, Greg has intense passions for flying, photography, art, writing, and teaching. He is the author of several books including “Flying Carpet: The Soul of and Airplane,” “The Savvy Flight Instructor,” “The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual,” “Job Hunting for Pilots” and “You Can Fly” and has won several Pilot Training Awards including being named 2000 FAA/Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year, as well as being a former Barnes & Noble Arizona Author of the Month. Greg has flown professionally in scheduled and corporate aviation along with flight training, and holds an ATP pilot certificate with Boeing 737 type rating, and Flight Instructor certificate with all fixed-wing aircraft ratings.
As a photographer, Greg captures images from aloft, many of which have been illustrated in his column and books, and boasts several solo museum photography exhibits. He has also served as an industrial, visual and interior design faculty member in Purdue University’s Department of Creative Arts, and led a product design consultancy serving national corporate clients. His design experience includes creative commissions for everything from toys and appliances to medical equipment and automobiles.
Greg holds an MFA in Art & Design and a BS in Architectural Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, following Integrated Liberal Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is an emeritus member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Arts & Letters, Northern Arizona University.
Recently we had the fortunate opportunity to interview Greg, who shared information on his career and shed insight on aviation as well as tips for pilots in training.
You have a column, podcast and book called “The Flying Carpet” -- can you please tell us a little bit about that?
Yes, “Flying Carpet” is the name of my airplane, a Cessna 182 Skylane, and subsequently my column, my book and my podcast. Our airplane is named after that of a well-known 1920-30s travel journalist named Richard Halliburton. After various adventures on land and sea, Halliburton purchased a Stearman biplane and hired a pilot with the goal of visiting what he considered the remotest place on Earth: Timbuktu. From there he traveled Asia, giving first-airplane rides to such characters as the Prince of Baghdad, and headhunters of Borneo. I adopted the Flying Carpet name after my wife Jean and I flew to Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation, for the annual Navajo Nation Fair and Parade. There, to unfamiliar drum rhythms, we experienced lovely Native princesses riding horseback in colorful traditional garb, ceremonial dances of many tribes, and parade announcements in the Navajo language. “Richard Halliburton could not have experienced many more exotic sights than this,” I thought, and named my airplane after his. To me, our Flying Carpet, like Halliburton’s, conveys us on endless adventures of flight.
In my book, podcast, and former column I share my adventures in hopes of inspiring others to fly. I write about conquering the fears of flying and try to engage readers with the freedom, joys, and lessons of surfing the skies.
What were some of your favorite adventures?
I love every flight adventure — gazing out the windshield, going new places, and meeting countless colorful characters along the way are always exciting. For 49 years, I have flown all over North America. Landing at 9,200-foot elevation Telluride Airport, Colorado, shoehorned in a box canyon between 14,000-foot mountains is always a kick, but one of my very favorites is visiting dear friends in Quebec. Nearly fifty years ago I picked up a French Canadian hitchhiker on a post-high-school driving trip, and we’re still friends today. They live in a historic little town on the St. Lawrence River, and we fly in to visit them. Quebec air traffic control is bilingual in French and English, and although we can’t see the international border when we cross it, we can hear that boundary on the radio with a simple frequency change. I never tire of that kick.
What was the scariest experience you’ve had during one of your adventures?
I was flying my wife from Northern Arizona to El Paso for a tennis tournament, and had to make our way through mountains on instruments. I rarely fly instruments in the mountains because that can be dangerous if something goes wrong, but we needed to navigate broken clouds for a while when suddenly our navigation displays began flashing warning messages. It was totally disorienting, and then I realized that our panel GPS had failed, as had our tablet-computer backup. There were no radio-navigation stations within range, but fortunately Albuquerque Center was able to issue heading vectors. For backup I reverted to maps using landmarks spotted between breaks in the clouds. When other airplanes began reporting GPS outages I realized the problem was not our equipment but rather GPS jamming by nearby White Sands Missile Range. Upon clearing the mountains the air traffic controller issued a descent below the clouds. It’s a lesson I always teach — no matter where you are headed when you enter a cockpit, you must always be prepared for every conceivable situation.
You are a flight instructor by day and have written numerous books and articles about your adventures in attempts to share and teach others. What motivates you to do what you do?
I thrive on helping people accomplish their dreams of piloting, when often they never thought they could do it — it’s a huge kick helping others open up their lives and worlds to new experiences and new possibilities.
I also want to motivate people to pursue their passions and give them the confidence to try new things. I teach my students the tools, but as much as possible empower them to make their own decisions.
What are two pieces of advice that you would give to future pilots?
1. Pilots who exercise good judgment rarely need great reflexes. (For example, plan your fuel properly and you’ll likely never need to make an emergency landing.)
2. Make piloting decisions based on facts, not fears — virtually every pilot is nervous on occasion, especially before takeoff in an unfamiliar airplane, launching for the first time to a new airport, or when facing weather challenges. If we stayed on the ground every time we were nervous, we’d rarely take off. Rather, pilots must examine the facts and ask themselves, “Can I safely make this flight based on rational, factual information?” And if the answer is yes, squelch those nerves and take off!
What are the 8 things you can’t fly without?
Tablet computer for backup navigation
Camera at the ready
Charger for phone and tablet
Back-up handheld radio
Survival kit appropriate to route, including water and snacks
Half-frozen water bottles for treating airsick passengers (The first symptom of airsickness is often feeling hot. Cool down by sipping the ice water and applying the cold bottle against forehead or neck.)
A good easy-to-read watch displaying Zulu time, like my Torgoen T25. It is incredibly useful for filing flight plans and reading weather forecasts, especially when traveling outside my home time zone.
My wife, when possible; a licensed glider pilot and the world’s finest general aviation copilot.
Oh, and when flying over remote terrain I always inform a knowledgeable pilot friend of our schedule and route in addition to filing a flight plan — I text them before takeoff and after landing so if forced to land somewhere unexpected, someone who cares can take action and help.
Visit Greg’s website, GregBrownFlyingCarpet.com, and check out his podcast, Greg Brown’s Cockpit Adventures from the Flying Carpet.