Here's What '$100 Burger' Means To A Pilot

When pilots get together to shoot the breeze, comparing notes on where to get the best $100 burger, they're not talking about some fancy-schmancy Wagyu creation topped with Osetra caviar, shaved black truffle, and lobster flambé all on a gold-leaf bun. (Burgers like that do exist; they just come with a much higher price tag.) For pilots, the term "$100 burger" is insider-speak for a quick-turnaround flight punctuated by a stop for lunch at an airport diner. And it's not just about the food.

To be clear, we're talking about private pilots, licensed aviation hobbyists who fly for fun and who want to keep their skills sharp between the bi-annual flight reviews required to maintain a private license. The destination — at least when they are in pursuit of a $100 burger — is almost inconsequential. It's usually a short flight (less than two hours) to any small airport with a restaurant nearby or on-site.

"[It] isn't about flying away for breakfast, though that is the way we think about it," John Purner, publisher of the $100 Hamburger, told Flying in 2021. "It is instead an opportunity to practice our skills by leaving the pattern and flying to an airport we've never been to before."

It's not all about the food

If you think about it as the aerial equivalent of a Sunday afternoon drive, the $100 burger isn't so far-fetched. And who among those of us without a pilot's license — the masses constrained to sharing the road with the rest of earthbound humanity — wouldn't jump at the chance to take off into the wild blue yonder in search of lunch? Hop into a plane instead of a car, and suddenly, horizons and opportunities for adventure stretch far beyond the scope of a Sunday drive. To put it in perspective, consider this example. If you're flying a small plane like a Cessna 172 capable of traveling at 125 mph, in two hours, you could travel 250 miles. You could take off at 10 a.m. from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and sit down to lunch on Michigan's Mackinac Island at a $100 Hamburger-recommended restaurant.

Make no mistake: The pursuit of the $100 burger isn't a hit-or-miss question. Pilots in the know routinely share their favorite pit stops — like Mackinac's Pub & Oyster Bar, one of more than 1,600 pilot-tested eateries listed on $100 Burger, the website Purner has been maintaining for almost three decades. But remember, it's not about the food. As Purner told Flying, "Do this twice a month, and when vacation time rolls around, you'll have the skills and the experience to safely pile your family into your ship. Burger runs are the most important flights safe pilots make. They keep us current."