Archive for September, 2010

Getting up close with unmanned aircraft

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Today my travels took me to Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base, where I was among a group of policymakers and aviation officials invited by Major General Marke Gibson to get up close to some amazing technology and the pilots who fly it.

Col. Peter Gersten and I pose with a Reaper. But when he's off duty, he flies a Cirrus.

Creech is home to Predators and Reapers, two varieties of unmanned aircraft at work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, as well as the destruction of targets, these planes are piloted by U.S. Air Force personnel 8,000 miles away from the aircraft they fly.

Seeing these planes in the air is pretty impressive, but even more impressive is being inside the “cockpit” at Creech, knowing the topography you are seeing is actually halfway around the world.

Col. Peter “Gunz” Gersten, commander of the 432nd Wing and 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing based at Creech, is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the more than 150 remotely piloted aircraft in this, the Air Force’s first remotely piloted aircraft wing, in existence since 2007. He has more than 2,800 flight hours and more than 400 combat hours, and he was kind enough to show us the operations at Creech. But what do you think he does in his spare time? He flies GA in a Cirrus, of course!

In the "cockpit" of aircraft being flown thousands of miles away.

Today I also had the opportunity to see the extraordinary measures our military takes to keep their aircraft out of situations that could put others at risk. Much is being learned from the intense combat operations that have these aircraft sharing airports and airspace with manned aircraft. More work remains before they are integrated into our national airspace system, but rest assured that the Air Force and AOPA agree that safety must be the top priority.

A day at the airport

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

I love seeing airports open their doors to the community. What a great way to build good relationships with neighbors, encourage future pilots, and have fun! This morning I had the chance to be part of “A Day at the Airport” in Bloomington, Illinois, and it was a great event.

These future pilots were excited to be in a real cockpit.

The airport invited pilots, neighbors, and aviation fans to come spend a day eating pancakes, looking at aircraft, taking airplane and helicopter rides, and just enjoy being out with the kids. This was the fourth annual event benefitting the Prairie Aviation Museum —a small but vibrant museum right on Central Illinois Regional Airport (BMI). It’s definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.

I had the chance to talk to a receptive crowd about GA and the value it brings to all Americans. And I got to introduce lots of future pilots to the fun of flying. I arrived in the AOPA Caravan, and the airplane drew a lot of interest from people of all ages.

I was invited to the event by Tanya Leahy, who won an AOPA Fly Out at Air Venture. She spent the morning giving Young Eagles rides to first-time fliers–another great way to get engaged in GA!

There are hundreds of events like this one happening all across the country. If your airport hosts an airport open house or similar event, I encourage you to get engaged and take part. If not, why not start a new tradition? AOPA’s “The Complete Guide to Holding an Open House” can give you the tools you need to start a community

The AOPA Caravan got lots of attention on the ramp.

event at your home airport. Whether you host the event or just enjoy it, it’s a great way to spend a weekend and an even better way to help build the good relationships and positive experiences that can ensure the future of your airport.