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Aviation-based gender reveals are a growing trend among Gen Z parents

By Ben Forrest | June 11, 2024

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 57 seconds.

As the sun set over Lake Huron on a slightly-overcast evening in mid-April, a Cessna 172 aircraft from Papple Aviation descended to 600 feet above the coastal town of Goderich, Ont., and released a puff of blue powder out its left window.

On the beach below, a small crowd of about 40 friends and family erupted with joy.

Pilot Bart Postma, a former Canadian Forces Snowbird who joined the Papple Aviation flightseeing company after retiring from the Royal Canadian Air Force, climbed to 1,000 feet, banked, and returned to Goderich Municipal Airport.

The beach crowd celebrated with hugs and happy tears.

Blue powder meant a baby boy for first-time parents Devin Singleton and Brooke Whetstone. Operation Gender Reveal was complete, a resounding success.

“It’s always fun,” said Summer Papple, a seasoned general aviation pilot with 2,390 flight hours who, along with husband and fellow pilot Tyler, owns and operates Papple Aviation.

“I mean, all scenic flights are fun. People are out to have a good time, they’re excited, maybe a little nervous. But these [gender reveal flights] are just that much more than the average.

A Papple Aviation plane flies over small-town Goderich, Ont. Papple Aviation Photo

“There’s that added element of excitement. It’s a really fun, exciting moment to be a part of.”

Aviation-based gender reveals are relatively new–an invention of the social media age–but they’re increasingly popular among Generation Z and younger-Millennial parents.

Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms are awash in the gleeful videos, and a handful of helicopter companies proactively court them as a key service offering.

The fixed-wing community in Canada is slightly behind, but starting to catch up. Papple Aviation began offering gender-reveal flights in early 2024 and fields several inquiries a month from families looking to make a lasting, impactful memory ahead of their child’s birth.

“We’d heard enough about them, and just figured we’d see how it goes,” said Summer Papple, whose company has two main bases in Goderich and Seaforth, Ont., with satellite locations in Wingham, Lucan, Kincardine and Port Elgin.

The couple also owns the general aviation airport in Wingham, a community best-known as the birthplace of Nobel-Prize-winning author and master of the short story, Alice Munro.

“You could do [the gender reveal] as high as 1,000 feet, but you’re going to get a lot better, more vibrant color, if you can do the flight at about 500 or 600 feet,” said Summer Papple.

Papple Aviation Image

“It’s just a straight, level pass at that height, and then climb back up to 1,000. The other gender reveal flights we offer this summer will be over private property or our own farm near Seaforth.”

The flying for gender reveals is simple and routine, with no aerobatic elements. Parents are tasked with sourcing their own environmentally-safe powder—pink for a girl or blue for a boy—which the Papple crew folds into a thick plastic sheet that resembles a shower curtain.

They roll up the plastic like a burrito and hold it together with rubber bands, later unfurling it through the window during a flight to release the powder. Some helicopter operators use a spray can instead; in any case, the spectacle is a hit with Gen Z parents and their friends.

“We didn’t want it to be something common or traditional, or something you see all the time,” said Singleton, 25, an emerging designer and entrepreneur originally from Tennessee, now living in Goderich.

“It’s a very special experience as a whole … and I think in a lot of way, it symbolizes that traditional saying of the sky being the limit—not only for ourselves, but for our coming son, too.”

Singleton and Whetstone, his girlfriend of eight years, decided on a plane-based reveal after a scenic flight with Papple Aviation in September 2023; they discovered they were pregnant on New Year’s Day but missed the anatomy ultrasound due to a month-long trip to Vietnam in February.

Proud parents-to-be Devin Singleton and Brooke Whetstone embrace following their gender reveal flight. Devin Singleton Photo

After returning home, they told family they were expecting a baby and brainstormed ideas for the gender reveal. Singleton’s father suggested a helicopter powder drop, but there were few local options. One thing led to another, and they decided to hire a plane for the same purpose.

“I texted them [Papple Aviation] the idea, and they called me right away,” said Singleton. “I have nothing but good things to say about the process, from start to finish … their customer service is essentially flawless.”

It’s impossible to say if the gender reveal trend will continue; it remains a small, but growing, part of Papple Aviation’s business. But it’s certainly an of-the-moment phenomenon that young families and general aviation businesses have both embraced.

“I think it’s really just people who are looking for something fun and unique,” said Summer Papple. “It becomes a big celebration … and something unique that everyone’s going to remember.”

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