Archive for January, 2010

The Lyon Aviation Museum

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

This week I had the chance to spend some time in Southern California, talking aviation and meeting with people who are as passionate about flying as you and I. One of the highlights was a visit to the beautiful Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

The museum was started by retired Air Force Major General William Lyon–a pilot with vast experience in both the military and civilian arenas–to inspire and share the stories of aviation’s past. The collection is quite remarkable, as is the talented man who assembled it. Maj. Gen. Lyon has achieved professional success in the military, real estate, home building, and banking industries, among other ventures. But aviation must be counted among his true passions, and the museum is a powerful testament to that.

Museum President Mark Foster shows me around the impessive exhibits.
Museum President Mark Foster shows me around the impessive exhibits.

Among the aircraft on display is a B-17 Flying Fortress named “Fuddy Duddy” that once carried General Dwight Eisenhower, then served as a fire bomber, and later made several movie appearances, including in “Tora Tora Tora.”

There’s also a DC-3 and a North American B-25 bomber among other beautifully restored military planes. There’s even a collection of military cars and motorcycles, including a motorcycle with tank-style tracks that was sometimes used to tow aircraft.

A variety of military vehicles, aircraft, and motorcycles bring history to life.

A variety of military vehicles, aircraft, and motorcycles bring history to life.

Museums like this one are great showcases for the history–and even the future–of aviation. You can learn more about the museum on its website (, and if you’re in the area, I encourage you to go and take a look. It’s well worth a visit.

The State of the Union for GA

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

I want to share a few thoughts with you about President Obama’s State of the Union Speech.

Over the past few decades, I have seen, studied, and even helped to craft State of the Union speeches.  These speeches take dozens of people, from all parts of an administration, more than a month to put together.

They are highly anticipated, given with much fanfare, and followed up with a massive communications effort.  And, then, they are pretty much forgotten.

Even if it isn’t remembered for long, last night’s speech is important because so much effort has gone into creating it. It tells us not only what the President thinks about the State of Our Union, but where he hopes to lead the country over the next year.

I anticipated an eloquent speech from a gifted communicator, and the President did not disappoint.

It was clear that the President wants to re-establish his connection with the working men and women in America. He wants to create jobs–including jobs building and improving our transportation infrastructure. We will work to make sure our vital aviation network is included in those efforts. 

The President also wants to help small- and medium- businesses. That is admirable. But I have to wonder how that will work with some of the budget ideas the Administration has set out.

For the aviation community, the true test will be in the details of the Federal Budget Proposal we expect to see on Monday. In the past, the Obama Administration has said it wants to impose billions in user fees to help fund the aviation system.

But why would the Administration pledge to support small- and medium-size companies, then turn around and burden those same companies with new costs just because they use general aviation?  

We can only hope that policies intended to create jobs and nurture small- and medium-size companies, will also support general aviation, not penalize it. We know that general aviation can create jobs and help companies grow. We have worked diligently to make sure that our elected leaders know that, too.

For now, we must wait and see how the Administration’s good intentions translate into concrete actions and hard numbers.

More on all of this on Monday when the budget documents are released….until then, stay engaged!

Plane Crazy in California

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

As I travel around the country, at every stop I make I can’t help but be impressed by the energy, activist spirit, and knowledge of the people I meet.

Cathy Hansen, our AOPA ASN volunteer extrodinaire, introduced me and did a lot of the legwork for my visit. Photo courtesy of Mike Massee.

Cathy Hansen, our fantastic AOPA ASN volunteer, introduced me and did a lot of the legwork for my visit. Photo courtesy of Mike Massee.

On Saturday, Jan. 16, I found myself in Mojave, California–the featured speaker at the airport’s Plane Crazy Saturday, an event that takes place every third Saturday of the month to encourage the broader community to come out to the airport, talk to pilots, and enjoy some of the camaraderie and fun that the GA community has in such abundance. Cathy Hansen is AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer at Mojave, and she did an incredible job helping to organize and support the event. She’s also a great example of the role an ASN volunteer can play, helping to bring together key parties to talk about regulatory and airport issues that affect everyone. Not to mention her role as a liason to the neighboring communities.

I learned about Plane Crazy Saturdays, and had a chance to spend some time at this great airport in California’s vast Mojave Desert, thanks to Jeff Holle, who won an “AOPA Fly-Out” at Oshkosh last year. He said he wanted me to fly out to his airport in Mojave, and so I found myself at the home base of the nascent commercial space travel industry–this airport is home to the folks who designed, built, and flew Spaceship One, winning the X Prize. They continue to build and develop innovative aircraft, some of which I was lucky enough to see!
About 500 people came to the Plane Crazy event, and they had plenty of insightful questions for me. Photo courtesy of Mike Massee.

About 500 people and more than 100 aircraft came to the Plane Crazy event, and the audience had plenty of insightful questions for me. Photo courtesy of Mike Massee.

You might hear the word “desert” and think I’m talking about the middle of nowhere, but don’t make that mistake. The Mojave sits just outside such major Southern California population centers as Los Angeles and San Bernardino, so it came as no surprise when some 500 pilots came to participate in the event and ask me some very well-considered questions.

We were also joined by California Assemblywoman Connie Conway and Assemblywoman Jean Fuller (no relation to me).  Pilots in the area can count themselves lucky to have representatives in Sacramento who know aviation well and are supportive of GA.

As I generally do when talking to pilot groups, I offered an update on the state of GA, talked about the role of the GA Serves America movement, and discussed how our advocacy efforts are helping  to shape our future. Then I took questions from the crowd.

You might be interested to know that a pattern is starting to emerge in these questions. Everywhere I go, someone asks me about the declining population and what AOPA, and individual pilots, can do to resolve this challenge. First, let me say how heartened I am by the fact that so many pilots are taking an interest in this issue. There was a time when talking about the decline in the number of pilots was greeted with a nod and a yawn. But today, pilots everywhere really “get it.” There’s power in numbers and we need new pilots to help us maintain our voice in Washington and in communities nationwide. Pilots are GA.

To the thousands of pilots who want to help, let me say this. Growing the pilot population is absolutely a priority for me personally and for AOPA as your association. We haven’t found a magic bullet for this one, and frankly, I don’t think there’s one solution. But I will tell you that we’ve got the best minds in the industry–not only from AOPA but from other aviation associations–working on it and we intend to come up with a clear course of action. In the meantime, I encourage you to participate in AOPA’s Let’s Go Flying program (, EAA’s Young Eagles program (\, or any other program that supports the goal of helping others become involved in aviation.

I am headed back to Frederick now, but I will be on the road again soon. You can follow my speaking schedule at and I will stay in touch about where I am headed next.

Keeping out the cold

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Like the rest of the country, Arkansas is suffering under the extremely cold weather we’ve been having. But when I arrived at Stuttgart Municipal airport on Saturday, January 10, the cold temperatures on the ramp were more than offset by the warmth of the welcome I received.  Not only did area residents drive in to meet me, those from farther afield arrived in some 20 airplanes as well as a couple of helicopters. It made quite an impromptu display on the ramp.

Everything about this airport is a testimony to the resilience and dedication of the GA community. The airport was devastated in 2000 when a tornado ripped through the FBO, leaving total destruction in its wake. But after a lot of hard work, the local community has built the airport back up, turning it into a vibrant GA field.

After I arrived, I was lucky enough to have lunch with area pilots and business owners, as well as John Knight, director of the state’s department of aeronautics. Stuttgart flyer and jewelry store owner Bobby Wilkerson was kind enough to let us use his wonderfully warm hangar, complete with vintage vehicles, for lunch. We enjoyed a delicious regional specialty, catfish, and talked informally about the issues that matter most to pilots.

After lunch, I got to talk to the group about all that AOPA does, as well as the importance of getting involved on an individual level–especially in this election year. Of course, the people who came out to the airport on this frigid day had already demonstrated their willingness to get involved, and the area is fortunate in that many of its elected officials know the value of GA. In fact, both Arkansas senators, Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, as well as Stuttgart’s congressman, Rep. Marion Berry, are members of their respective GA caucuses.

As always, the audience was interested to know more about the GA Serves America movement, but one of the best questions I got was on the issue of aging pilots. A 65-year-old pilot in the audience wanted to know, “How old is too old to fly?” After telling me his wife thought he was already too old and would no longer fly with him, I had the privilege to introduce him to another member of the audience–still flying at 89.

I am continuing my travels all week, and will be in Mojave, California, on Saturday, January 16. So, if you happen to be in the area, come on out to the Plane Crazy Saturday event at the airport. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind!