Archive for March, 2010

Back to the future

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Ready for takeoff!

Ready for takeoff!

I always have a great time when I am traveling for AOPA and talking to members, general aviation business leaders, airport representatives, lawmakers, and others who help make the GA community so robust. But once in a while, I also get to really indulge my pilot side.

That’s what happened today when I made a stop at a company that calls itself America’s smallest aircraft manufacturer–WACO Classic Aircraft   in Battle Creek, Michigan.

WACO President Pete Bowers took me on a tour of the facility where craftsmen build WACO Classic airplanes.

Now, these open-cockpit beauties owe a lot to the planes of a generation or two ago, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the instruments–panels full of glass with all the latest technology. What a fabulous way to merge the past and future into an airplane that is both nostalgic and capable.

The new WACO YMF Model D will soon be in production.

The new WACO YMF Model D will soon be in production.

I was lucky enough to get a flight in the new WACO YMF Model D, soon to move into production. What fun! It’s hard not to smile and remember why so many of us love flying for visceral, as well as practical, reasons when you’re doing lazy eights, chandelles, and steep turns in an open cockpit plane over countryside that’s just beginning to take on spring’s vibrant green hues.

History in the making

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
Tom Wathen and I standing in front of his full-scale replica of the original de Havilland DH.88 Comet, Grosvenor House, that won the England-to-Australia Air Race in 1934.

Tom Wathen and I standing in front of his full-scale replica of the original de Havilland DH.88 Comet, Grosvenor House, that won the England-to-Australia Air Race in 1934.

This morning I enjoyed an inspirational trip to one of California’s oldest surviving airports, Flabob Airport near Riverside. The field has been around since 1925, and started life as Riverside Municipal. Today it is privately owned by the Thomas W. Wathen Foundation, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to education through aviation.” They even have a high school on the airport, with more than 100 students enrolled.

This wonderful little airport has a lot of history and is fortunate to have a team of dedicated guardians who want to preserve that history and ensure that the airport has a place in the aviation world of today and tomorrow. You’ll find some great photos from the past, as well as some nice aerial shots and helpful fly-in information for today, on its website (www.flabob.org).

Tom looking over plans for the future of Flabob.

Tom looking over plans for the future of Flabob.

Tom Wathen is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the airport, and he’s got some exciting plans for the future, even as he works to preserve the past. Once again, I am seeing just how much a handful of dedicated individuals can do when they get engaged!

Thinking of the future

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I had a great opportunity today to spend some time with ICON founder Kirk Hawkins talking about the future of general aviation. If you were at AOPA’s Aviation Summit last fall in Tampa, you may have seen Kirk talking about ICON and his commitment to light sport aviation. If you missed him live, you can still see what he had to say in the AOPA Live archives .

ICON founder Kirk Hawkins (right) is excited about what LSAs can mean for aviation.

ICON founder Kirk Hawkins (right) is excited about what LSAs can mean for aviation.

Today the ICON A5 amphibious light sport airplane is in test flights, and Kirk expects it to go into production late next year.

As excited as he is about the progress on his new plane, Kirk is even more excited about what light sport aircraft can do for GA. He talks a lot about putting the “sport” back into aviation–and argues that it’s time we pilots admit that much of our commitment to flying comes not from the transportation benefits but from the emotional high we get from piloting our own planes.

Kirk believes that the right kind of aircraft combined with the lower entry threshold of the light sport pilot certificate can revolutionize our industry. And he just might be right.

The A5 certainly has the look and feel of a sports car. And the advent of the light sport pilot certificate has made it easier and less expensive to enter the world of aviation. It’s the kind of synergistic combination that could entice plenty of enthusiasts to become active pilots.

Kirk and I talked a lot about the importance of bringing new people into flying as well as the critical importance of good training–two key elements of “engagement” that AOPA is focusing on this year and into the future.

His enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s great to see entrepreneurs like Kirk bringing new ideas to fruition in GA. We’re all working toward the same goals–protecting and promoting general aviation now and for generations to come, and it’s wonderful to hear those ideas echoing across the entire spectrum of flight.

Engaging new audiences

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

 

All year I’ve been talking about getting engaged and I had a great opportunity to do that today in downtown Los Angeles as part of the launch for Mike Torchia’s Shape Up America Campaign. (Some of you may have met Mike at AOPA’s Aviation Summit last fall; if you didn’t you can see him talking about the importance of health to pilots on AOPA LIVE at www.aopa.org/aopalive.) This event was everything we have talked about and tried to do in terms of bringing the aviation experience to new audiences.

People gathered by the thousands in Pershing Square park in downtown Los Angeles to spend a Sunday afternoon learning more about their health and how being healthy can help them fulfill other dreams–like flying.

We brought along a flight simulator, and kids and adults lined up to try their hand at flying and learn more about general aviation. The energy and excitement was wonderful.  And for some of the younger participants the whole experience was magical.

Kids and adults were excited to try the flight sim.

Kids and adults were excited to try the flight sim.

As for the adults, over and over again I heard comments like, “I’ve always wanted to fly but…” The “but” is usually some misconception about GA, like “you have to be rich” or “I’m not smart enough” or “it takes years”. I find that people are always pleased to learn that the barriers to becoming a pilot are much lower than they imagine. And who knows, some of the people we touched today may make their way to an airport in the future.

But even if they don’t rush out and start training, they’ve had a positive experience and learned something good about GA–and that benefits us, too. And, for the kids, today’s experience may help nourish their dreams for the future.

Introducing LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa added to the excitment of the event.

Introducing LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa added to the excitment of the event.

I had a great time bringing a taste of aviation to a whole new audience. And when it came time to officially launch the program, I even got to introduce LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and talk a little about the connection between good health and living your dreams. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon!