It Just Sort of Happened

Written by Dan Pimentel
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May 2014- The one thing we as humans—and aviators—can count on is that we are all really good at something. We each have at least one underlying passion that gets us up in the morning; something we truly love; a pastime, skill or hobby that makes each day rewarding. But what matters is not how much joy our passion brings us, but what we do with it to help make our world a better place.

            I’m not talking about flying here. Sure, as pilots we must have the prerequisite passion to soar with eagles and poke holes in the clouds... pick your cliché. But in this month’s column, I’m talking about those other skills, passions and hobbies. For instance, playing music.

            For some, nearly every moment of their day is spent thinking or talking about music, much of it with an instrument of some kind in their hands. And if these musicians happen to also be pilots, there is a pretty good chance they’re one of the 350-plus members of the Flying Musicians Association (FMA), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2009 by John Zapp, Sr. and Aileen Hummel.

            Zapp and Hummel are perfect examples of how we can all help make the aviation family a splendid thing by marrying our passion for something in our non-aviation life with our love of flying. The recipe for success is easy: just find that one thing you do passionately, see how you can apply that skill or hobby in the aviation world, and then find others like you to build a network to help launch your project.

            That’s precisely the path Zapp and Hummel took when founding FMA, although they didn’t initially set out to create something that would add so much satisfaction to their lives as well as the lives of their audiences. The FMA you see today at aviation events was created like most jam sessions... it sort of just happened.

            “While attending AirVenture 2008,” Hummel explains, “we were discussing our love for aviation and music and realized that we could identify several pilots who play a musical instrument. It was then that John and I thought that a fly-in to draw together pilots who are musicians would be fun.

“So along with many aviation, music and community helpers, we produced a Fly-In MusicFest on Nov. 7, 2009 at Fort Worth Spinks Airport (KFWS), and have continued to put together many Fly-In Music Jams at various aviation-related events ever since.”

            You may have seen these Flying Musicians at an airshow or aviation event and thought it was very cool. But there is a completely different—and far more important—layer to this association, one that is not so easily recognizable. And that is to connect music and aviation in a way that reaches young people and helps grow aviation. The FMA mission statement explains that it is a group of pilot musicians “sharing their passion while encouraging and educating youth (and adults) in the science and art of aeronautics and music.”

Zapp and Hummel determined when they founded the association that the relationship between music and flying is closer than you might think. “If you come to our forum presentations at Sebring, Lakeland or Oshkosh on the correlation between aviation and music that we call a ‘Symphony in the Sky,’” says Zapp, “you will learn that music students and pilots share a plethora of habits and skills.”

He and Hummel describe these similarities as a complete understanding of the importance of practice, multitasking, fine motor skills, scanning, attention span, ability to work well with others, discipline and acute listening skills.

            An additional goal of FMA is to inspire, educate and encourage youth to embrace the power of STEAM education—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics—all through a connection of aviation to music.

For Zapp, the connection is a natural fit. “The mere immersion in music and aviation helps youth grow immensely while creating self-esteem and helping them to develop goals. Being involved in something that requires effort, patience, practice and discipline keeps the youth grounded, off drugs, and ready to excel,” he explained.

            And Hummel agrees that the science, technology and engineering part of STEAM education is well served when students pursue both music and aviation. “Besides improving self-esteem and self-worth,” she said, “the youth establish a sense of responsibility, belonging and patience. Learning about aerodynamics, what makes an aircraft fly, how you keep it up in the air, calculating weight and balance, outside temperature and runway length, and weather all involve an understanding of the ‘S,’ ‘T,’ and ‘E’ part of STEAM education.”

            Both Zapp and Hummel are seasoned pilots and try to have fun while combining their love of these two pursuits, flying and making music. Zapp is an instrument rated pilot who has been flying a Cessna 172 and an RV-6A for 14 years, while Hummel has earned instrument pilot, single- and multi-engine commercial ratings in her 18 years as a pilot.

            And while fun is at the heart of the FMA, the reasons why the two founders—and the association’s members around the worlddo what they do goes much deeper. “We have two passions,” says Zapp, “aviation and music.”

He continued, “When you have a passion, sharing that passion is a natural progression. Most all of us have had, at some point in our life, a mentor—someone who shared his or her passion to help another. Giving back is a gift, and if you have a passion, share it with enthusiasm while having fun. By doing so, you too will grow and be rewarded.”

            Like so many of us in the aviation family, Hummel wants General Aviation to be sustainable for the future. “It is very important to generate and encourage the interest in aviation among young people. They are our future pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, etc. We need to enlighten them about the jobs that are available in the aviation industry.” And it appears that connecting aviation education and music serves that mission well.

            Growing the association into a big, worldwide powerhouse is not a primary endeavor for Zapp and Hummel, at least not right now. “We currently have members in Australia, France and China who have suggested forming chapters in their countries, but that is a future project. Other than at a few colleges, chapters have not been encouraged due to the amount of work involved. We hope to roll out chapters someday once a headquarter structure and staff is realized,” Zapp said.

            As with any program that has merit as a way to grow aviation, this nonprofit organization always accepts private and corporate donations to keep moving forward. Along with presenting music and workshops at aviation events, FMA has established awards to allow aviation and music students to attend aviation and music events such as EAA AirVenture and MerleFest.

To find out how to help Zapp, Hummel and the rest of the FMA membership continue its mission of having fun while encouraging aviation education, all through the language of music, visit the association’s website. See Resources at the end of this column for information..

            If you can play music and fly airplanes, FMA welcomes you to show up at an event and they’ll fit you in. Logistics is handled by Mike Golas, who can be reached via email at .

The association will celebrate its five-year anniversary on June 21st at Sumner County Regional (M33) near Nashville, Tenn. with its first Fly-in MusicFest since 2009.

            And the next time you see these talented flying musicians at an aviation event, be sure to tell them thank you—not just for the entertainment they provide, but also for how they’re promoting aviation when the microphones are off.

Dan Pimentel has worked in journalism and graphic design since 1979, and is the president and creative director of Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design ( He’s an instrument-rated private pilot and has been writing the Airplanista Aviation Blog ( since 2005. You can find him on Twitter as @Av8rdan. Send questions or comments to .

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