Sarah Brown Archive

The man behind the real ‘Propwash Junction’

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Billed as coming “from above the world of Cars,” Disney’s Planes gives an imaginative glimpse into the world of general aviation. And while the animated film, which hit theaters Aug. 9, takes a few liberties with the story of a cropduster turned international air racer (it is, after all, an animated children’s film), it’s grounded in the real world of small airplanes.

I wrote an article for the August issue of AOPA Pilot about the research that went into the film and the airport, Leaders Clear Lake in Minnesota, that inspired Dusty’s hometown of Propwash Junction. Bob Leaders, the owner of the airport, hadn’t known that the airport he carved out of a farm would help shape filmmakers’ portrayal of small airport communities. Recently, Craig M. Lieberg wrote to me after reading the article to tell me more about the man behind the real-world Propwash Junction.

“We had just walked home down one of the two driveways of the airport, which has been our home for the last 35 years,” he wrote. “We looked at the picture of the old gas truck, which was the inspiration for ‘Chug’, we are very familiar with that sight.”

Lieberg shared the impact that Leaders has had on pilots in the local community:

The human interest side of your article, is a story of a man who selflessly has dedicated his life to his love of aviation, and helping his fellow man find pleasure in their love of flying. In my opinion, Bob Leader has done more for GA than anyone else I know of in this area. He has spent his life helping the common man find a way to pursue their passion of flight. Bob is now over 80 years of age and is on the job 7 days a week, living just west of the runway, on the property, with his wife. Having bought the original farm property around 1968, he carved out this little airport, which is privately owned, but publicly used, averaging about 60 aircraft on the ground year around. Currently operating the business with the help of two of his sons, and a hired A&P, they maintain aircraft from J-3 Cubs to [Beechcraft] Queenairs, float planes, ski planes, spray planes, all matter of anything that flies. At one time years ago, a DC-3 and a C-47 sat under the windsock. Many a poor man has come, swept floors, stripped paint, plowed runway and taxi-ways, repaired equipment, and got his pilot’s license. Only to go on and help the next guy do the same. I wouldn’t be flying today if it weren’t for Bob Leader.

Planes may help get the next generation excited about aviation; translating that excitement to a new generation of pilots will likely involve the pay-it-forward attitude of pilots like Bob Leaders. Disney’s Planes tells the story of a small-town airplane with a dream. How fitting that an inspiration for it offered many future pilots a chance to follow their own dream.

A friend overhead

Friday, September 14th, 2012

I wrote this week about a Coast Guard rescue of two pilots stranded in a sinking Cessna 185 floatplane off the California coast. Pilot Chris Verbil contacted me this morning to tell me the rest of the story.

I had written about the Civil Air Patrol airplane that located the downed aircraft, the California Highway Patrol airplane that continued circling when the CAP airplane ran low on fuel, and the Coast Guard crew that lifted the two men out. But tying everyone together was a Socata Trinidad at 8,500 feet, relaying messages between lower aircraft and Oakland Center.

Bob Lenox, the pilot of the Trinidad, had been on his way back from a fly-in in Paso Robles with his wife when he heard communications breaking down between the CAP airplane and Center, Lenox told me later today. The airplane lost radio contact, and so Lenox began relaying messages. He continued relaying messages and giving status reports, keeping the aircraft in sight, for about an hour and a half, he said, until the father and son on board the Cessna were safe inside the Coast Guard helicopter. In a Socata users group online, Lenox shared his side of the story, calling the diversion an “inconsequential inconvenience to help out fellow aviators.”

No pilot wants to face an emergency landing on rough seas, but it’s reassuring to see how the aviation community can come together in an emergency: CAP, CHP, CBP, ATC, the Coast Guard, a fellow pilot, (and others?) all played a role in getting the pilots home safe. Bravo.

-Sarah Brown