The Commonwealth of Kentucky slogan is “Unbridled Spirit”. That reference doesn’t just speak to the state’s renowned equine industry, and it is probably interpreted by some as Unbridled “Spirits” because Kentucky is also the worlds supplier of Bourbon whiskey. But after learning about aviation education programs in The Commonwealth, I would argue that Unbridled Spirit best describes a bunch of deeply dedicated aviation educators and volunteers we met this week.

Kentucky boasts that there are more youngsters studying aviation and aerospace in this state than anywhere else in the country – and that it is all S.T. E. M. based. What I found most interesting is that the programs we learned about were complimentary, connected and don’t compete – they actually feed each other.

My AOPA headquarters colleagues, V.P., Michelle Peterson and her side-kick, Lauren Otto joined me in Lexington for a couple of days of familiarization about aviation education in Kentucky. We began at the Aviation Museum of Kentucky where every summer the AMK sponsors Aviation Camps of Kentucky. Students are enrolled at three levels – Level 1 (Ages 10-11), Level 2 (Ages 12-13) and Level 3 (Ages 14-16). The 2-day camps are packed with a rigorous program that introduces youngsters to aviation. Camps are held at the Museum on Bluegrass Airport in Lexington and at other locations throughout the state. Since 1996 there have been over 4,000 children enrolled in two intense days of math, the science of aeronautics, map reading, flight planning, a half-hour of flight training and more.

Our next stop was at Capitol City Airport in Frankfort, the home of The Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education (KIAE). Founder and CEO, Dr. Tim Smith, some of his Board Members and volunteers provided us with astonishing insight into its mission to improve student learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and create career pathways into aviation and aerospace throughout Kentucky. Students can transition into college and/or career readiness programs. The KIAE program now has agreements with Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, The University of Kentucky and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, allowing students to receive college credit for their studies. To date, KIAE has established accredited aviation learning programs in 18 public school districts across the state and is now receiving requests from other states to assist them is setting up similar programs.

Eastern Kentucky University at Richmond began establishing higher learning programs in aviation management and flight training in the 80’s. I was privileged to serve on an EKU Aviation Advisory Committee as then, Dr. Wilma Walker, was working to establish the aviation curriculum. When the University was granted approval for a minor in aviation in 1984, 18 students enrolled; today there are more than 150 enrolled in aviation flight and management courses. EKU’s professional flight option is the only FAA-approved university flight program in Kentucky. The University also manages the FBO at Madison County Airport.

Our two-day Kentucky learning adventure concluded with a marvelous and inspiring visit with Kentucky’s 2009 National Flight Instructor of the Year… the incomparable Arlynn McMahon of Aero Tech at LEX. Among a very long list of Arlynn’s accomplishments is a “Teen Aviation Camp” at Aero Tech. We wanted to learn more about it. Arlynn has established an all-summer (while school is out) aviation home (my words) for teens. Essentially a place they can come to at the airport where they can gather with a members-only peer group of other teens interested in exploring aviation. Initially, each summer’s Teen Aviation Camp orientation begins with about 35 teens and their parents. Perimeters and objectives are set… afterwards, the youngsters themselves are involved with somewhat informal activities. Aero Tech provides a welcoming, “safe place” where students can learn about aviation – and they can get dual flight instruction if they like – most do!

As we all are seeking ways to interest others in General Aviation and to increase the pilot population, I believe the learning programs in Kentucky can be a model of how to proceed and how to succeed. The key ingredient is passionate and very dedicated people like we met everywhere we went. We never heard a negative word and their enthusiasm was contagious.


After 40 years of searching for a resolution to Bradley County’s badly constrained Hardwick Field, a brand new airport will hold its Grand Opening on January 25th.

The new Cleveland Regional Jetport, located about 30 miles north of Chattanooga will open with a host of amenities that include a $1.9 Million 8,000 sq. ft. Terminal Building,  a 5,500 ft. concrete runway,  hangars for transient and based aircraft and more. Construction of the airport reportedly came in at a total of $42.68 million of which $19 million were Federal, $11.73 were State, and $6.01 were local dollars. Fund raising efforts are underway to raise private financial support for the airport as well.


Photo By; Gerald Viveirus

L to R: Clay Cook, Ken Robinson, Mayor Bragg, David Swindler – Photo By: Gerald Viveiros


Don’t let the title fool you. This is a prestigious award conceived for an honorable purpose… to improve relationships and communications between airport users, operators and city officials. And each year’s trophy is nothing short of a masterpiece crafted by AOPA member “Capt.” David L. Swindler, the PIC of Navion “Ar Farce One”. Swindler is also the award’s founder. Presentation takes place at EAA #419’s Annual Christmas Banquet by Murfreesboro’s Mayor, The Honorable Tommy Bragg, MBT’s most avid public supporter. I have witnessed a number of these presentations. They rival aviation hall of fame induction from the Mayor’s formal introduction to an always emotional acceptance by the winner.

This years MBT Airport Bun of the Year award winner was Murfeeesboro native, Mr. William Kenneth Robinson, former Operations Manager of the Arnold Engineering Development Center’s Jet & Rocket Test Center. Since retiring in 1991, he has been restoring and flying an Aeronca Champ. Robinson joined the USAF in 1947 and cut his teeth in the new world of jet propulsion as an engine mechanic stationed at Keesler, Chanute and Andrews AFB’s. Employed later by Capitol Airways, he worked on lots of round engines that powered DC-3’s, C-47’s, C-54’s and DC-4’s.

Begun in 1995, this ABY award has now been presented to 20 lucky winners, each receiving Swindler’s magnificent collectable wire model of an airplane, space vehicle or engine the recipient might own or love. I will never be MBT’s Airport Bum of the Year, but I lust for one of Dave’s extraordinary models, crafted with a depth of caring, love and dedication to general aviation so many of us feel and long to express.

State of Tennessee Regulating Flight Schools

Tennessee’s Higher Education Commission – Post Secondary Schools Division is regulating VA Approved, Part 141 Flight Schools under its administrative rules, Chapter 1540-01-02. I submitted our AOPA comments/objections in March of this year saying, in part “This rule discriminates against FAR Part 141 Flight Schools who have invested extraordinary amounts of money into facilities, equipment and aircraft that now must meet the Rules and pay the fees of the THEC at even  more expense, thus their customers/students will have to pay more. The rule discourages establishing a Part 141 Flight School in Tennessee and the jobs that are created as well.” Tennessee’s Part 141 Flight Schools are required to comply with the THEC Rules as well as those of the Veterans Administration and the FAA. All of them differ so the financial and administrative burden is significant. It appears that we are going to have to seek a legislative solution during the upcoming session of the 108th General Assembly.


While attending the Georgia Airports Conference in late October, I spent an absolutely great afternoon at Harris County Airport (PIM) in Pine Mountain with AOPA’s ASNV, Greg Hadley and a half-dozen local pilots, all AOPA members. With a lot of help from Greg Hadley, AOPA and others were successful in saving this airport from closure only a few years ago. Some questioned the energy and effort required to accomplish that and I wish they could see this airport now. There are based airplanes where there were none; a pristine, beautifully maintained runway and ramps, new T-hangars (with a waiting list for more); a rejuvenated, charming little Terminal Building; self-fueling and reasonable fuel prices… topped by a bunch of Southern hospitality, welcoming hand-shakes and smiles that really make you feel at welcomed. While I was there one local pilot popped in the door fresh from his check-ride with a brand new Commercial Certificate in his hand and a local contractor was there for another flight lesson, looking forward to joining his partner and brother as a new pilot soon. This is such an inspiring story and place. I remember when it was not… I didn’t want to leave. Shared stories and experiences, a Cessna 150 doing touch-n-go landings with a new student in a Fall setting at this marvelous rural, resort area airport that makes flying and being a GA pilot fun, like it ought to be. There are many more of these “airport treasures”. Send me stories about the ones you find.