Jill Tallman

So long, ‘Oklahoma Aviator’

May 11, 2010 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

Lots of people look forward to getting their monthly copies of AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, EAA Sport Aviation, or what have you in the mail. It’s like the welcome arrival of a dear friend who stays only as long as you want them there. You settle down with that friend over a cold drink or a cup of tea, and for the next hour or so everything else goes away.

For me, that friend was The Oklahoma Aviator. This 12-page newspaper (honestly, it was printed on newsprint) came out once a month. Each time it arrived in my mail slot here at AOPA headquarters, it took me back to September 2004, when I went to Oklahoma to get some taildragger training. My instructor was Earl Downs, publisher of The Oklahoma Aviator, and we flew in his immaculate Aeronca Champ, Youfi. He and his wife, Mimi, welcomed me to their home in Cushing and treated me like family. While I was there, not only did I get my first taste of “real” airplane flying, but I also learned about oil pipeline patrol, and I got to watch a farrier shoe Mimi’s horses. (Every girl loves horses, donchaknow.)

In Oklahoma, I learned a lot about Earl, who has been involved in flying since he and his twin brother first bought a Cub when they were teenagers (or was it a Champ or a Chief? Sorry, Earl). I learned a lot about Mimi, a spiritual person who loves flying (she used to own an Ercoupe!) and horses and dogs and, most of all, Earl. I discovered the unexpected pleasure of  flying in a part of the country where they don’t have to worry so much about busting airspace and looking down the wrong end of an F-16. The Aviator reminded me of all of this, not to mention the fact that  there is a vibrant aviation community beyond my little corner of the world sandwiched in between P-40 and the Special Flight Rules Area.

So I’m sitting here with my friend for the last time. After 29 years (Earl ran things the last six years), the little newspaper is folding. I’m not going to get all pontificate-y about the state of publishing, or print versus online, or the state of GA. I’m just going to wish Earl and Mimi all the best and hope I can get back out to Oklahoma one of these days so we can catch up for real, instead of by newsprint.

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One Response to “So long, ‘Oklahoma Aviator’”

  1. Catherine Cunningham Turner Says:

    It was so nice to see such a fond tribute to the Oklahoma Aviator. My father, Joe Cunningham, originated the paper while serving as the longest member of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission in an attempt to unify the activities of aviation in the state of Oklahoma. Originally, all pilots received a complimentary subscription with the newspaper being solely supported by advertising. And it was printed on newsprint. My father typed the paper on an old typewriter and did the mock-ups in his apartment in Tulsa, OK. I remember visiting him and serving as a stand-in proofreader during the 1980s and again in the 1990s until his death in 1999. Eventually he had to charge a nominal subscription fee but the spirit of the paper remained: a chance to promote and talk about aviation. If there was an airshow in a little community, you can bet that Joe covered it. In later years Joe and his wife Mary Kelley operated the grass strip runway in Cookson, Oklahoma on Lake Tenkiller. One of my last memories of time spent with Joe was of making the drive out to the airport and proofreading the paper, all while visiting with the various pilots who stopped by to sit a spell, drink a cup of coffee, and, yes, to talk aviation. My sister and I were thrilled that Mike and Barbara Huffman and then, Earl Downs and his wife Mimi, kept up the legacy of the Oklahoma Aviator, but like many things, The Oklahoma Aviator had to shut down. I have met many folks throughout the years who read the paper but never knew the men and women behind its publication. There was a sign in my dad’s office for many years that read: airplanes spoken here. Thanks to Mike and Barbara and Earl and Mimi, to Mary Kelley and Joe Cunningham, airplanes were indeed “spoken there.”

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