Charity Airplane Rides

with Philip Greenspun

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This page explains the offer of a sightseeing airplane ride with Philip Greenspun, to be auctioned for charity.

The Pilot

Your pilot is Philip Greenspun, who holds an FAA Commercial pilot's certificate with instrument, multi-engine, single-engine seaplane, and helicopter ratings. Greenspun has more than 1300 hours of flying experience including trips from Boston to Alaska (twice), Mexico, the Caribbean, Labrador-Newfoundland, and back. Born in 1963, Greenspun studied engineering at MIT, receiving bachelor's, master's, and a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from that school.

Greenspun is also an FAA-certified flight instructor.

The Plane

We will be flying in a Cirrus SR20 airplane. This is a simple modern 4-seat airplane with excellent visibility through large Plexiglas windows. The plane is similar in capability and size to the Cessna 172 and Piper Warrior but is made with more modern materials and techniques. The Cirrus SR2x series is built in larger quantities than any other in-production 4-seat airplane. The particular SR20 that you'll fly was purchased new by Greenspun in May 2005.

Who does the flying?

The SR20 is equipped with dual flight controls. If you want to try your hand on the side-yoke with straight-and-level, some turns, etc., we can climb up to a safe altitude and you'll see how easy it is to fly an airplane. I'll do the takeoff and landing, though!

When we fly

Wind and mid-day heat produce a lot of turbulence here in New England. So it is best to fly on a day that is forecast to have calm winds. Early mornings are usually the least windy and therefore calmest time of day.

Starting Airports

Greenspun and the Cirrus are based at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts. This is near the intersection of Rt. 128 (I-95) and Rt. 2, about 15 miles NW of downtown Boston. In some cases, it may be possible to start your flight from any of the following New England airports: Providence, Hyannis, Martha's Vineyard, Nashua, Pease (Portsmouth, NH).

Where we go once airborne

Taking off from Hanscom/Bedford it is often possible to get permission to fly right over downtown Cambridge and Boston to take photos. This airspace is owned by Logan Airport and they are generally very accomodating unless unusual winds force them to direct landing airplanes over the city instead of over the water. During foliage season there are beautiful nearby hills and river valleys. A personal favorite is to fly down the Merrimack River to the beach at Plum Island then fly at 500' over the beach to see the houses and then Cape Ann, including the Crane Mansion, Rockport, and the port of Gloucester.

How many people can fly

There are three empty seats in the SR20 but we are limited to about 400 lbs. for passengers and baggage. Usually that means two adults or one adult and two children. One of the ways that the airplane achieves better gas mileage than an SUV is by being very small. The interior is smaller than an old Volkswagen Beetle and is not a comfortable place for very large people, though a 6'2"-tall person can sit in the front.


I'm not a daredevil and the Cirrus is not certified for aerobatics. We won't be doing loops or any scary abrupt maneuvers. Small airplanes have a bad reputation for safety and there is no question that it is safer to sit at home on the sofa than to be flying through the air at 150 miles per hour. A lot of accidents happen in bad weather; we will only fly on a day when the weather is clear so that we can see the sights. Flying at night is more dangerous than flying during the day; we will be flying during the day. Takeoff and landing are the most dangerous portions of a flight. We try to minimize those risks by flying from large airports with long runways at which your pilot has landed many times before. At Bedford, for example, Greenspun has done literally hundreds of landings. The main runway is 7000' long, enough for a Boeing 757 airliner; the SR20 requires only about 1000'.

[The example of JFK, Jr. often comes up when people in New England think about small airplanes. He became disoriented when flying at night in hazy conditions over a dark body of water. JFK, Jr. had a Private pilot's certificate and no instrument rating. You will be flying during the daytime on a day with good visibility over land. Your pilot has a Commercial certificate, an instrument rating, and dozens of hours of experience flying airplanes straight through clouds (i.e., zero visibility).]

To the charity

If the underbid is at least $500, feel free to "split the donation" and sell a second ride to the underbidder. (To be concrete, if Joe Smith is the highest bidder at $750 and Mary Jones is the next highest bidder at $700, you take $750 from Joe and $700 from Mary and I give both of them rides.)

The typical Cirrus charters out for $250 per hour, so you can put down the value of the donation at $250.

Winners can contact me directly via the email address at the bottom of this page or by calling 617-864-6832.

To my fellow pilots and airplane owners

If you would like to use this page as a model for your own Web site, please feel free to do so with hyperlink credit back to My personal experience with sightseeing rides at charity auctions has been very positive. The first time I donated a ride in my plane (a Diamond Star DA40), it sold for $1200 to benefit a school for autistic children. I then went to the auctioneer and said that I would be willing to donate a second ride. Thus was $1000 collected from the underbidder.
Text Copyright 2006 Philip Greenspun. Photo: Elsa Dorfman.