WE'RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
Flying|May 2020
GENERAL AVIATION IN SAUDI ARABIA
Martha King

It was during EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. John and I were seated at a dinner table when a friend brought up a visitor. We were informed the visitor was a prince of Saudi Arabia—and what ensued is the kind of extraordinary conversation that can happen at Oshkosh. I am sorry to say that I did not do a very good job with the conversation; I had no idea what to say to a prince. I later learned he had been a fighter pilot, as well as an astronaut in a space shuttle mission. Had I known those things, I would have done a better job—I do have some idea of what to say to a fighter pilot and an astronaut. Our visitor was His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Salman, an ardent supporter of general aviation and son of the king.

Prince Sultan told us that in order to help promote general aviation, he was planning on inviting us to Saudi Arabia for an airshow. Months went by before we heard anything more. Then a few weeks before the show was scheduled, we received a fax from Saudi Arabia inviting us to the airshow and asking us to speak. Of course, I wondered how, as a female pilot, I would fare in Saudi Arabia. They asked me to send measurements for a coverall robe called an abaya; I took that as a clue that things would be different than I was used to.

The leg on Lufthansa from Frankfurt, Germany, to Saudi Arabia was interesting. As I followed the flight on ForeFlight, it became apparent we were setting up to fly around Syria and Iraq. That seemed like a very good idea to me.

After deplaning in Riyadh, it was immediately obvious this was a place you’d never confuse with Kansas. Most men were wearing the scarves and robes of traditional Saudi dress, and the female inspectors who worked in security had their faces entirely covered by veils, with only slits for their eyes.

At the airport, John and I met many of Prince Sultan’s aviation friends who were gathering from all over the world to support the airshow. Getting to know them was a great experience.

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