700, 10, 10, 9. 3, 60, 40, 600 are all great numbers. Can you imagine… flying about 700 NM in around 10 hours of flight time to 10 airports, in 9 cities, in 3 days, with about 60 other pilots in close to 40 different aircraft while learning about general aviation in your state and sharing your love for general aviation and flying with over 600 school children, many of which could be our next generation of aviators? Yes! That’s what Joey Colleran, AOPA’s Director of the Airport Support Network (ASN) program, and I did September 22-24 when we participated in the 2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour as part of the Kansas Aviation Expo – a week-long series of aviation events in Kansas. In the history of flight in Kansas, this was only the third organized air tour of Kansas.
On Sunday, Joey and I headed up to Wellington, KS (KEGT – Exhaust Gas Temperature? Ha!) to prepare for the start of the air tour on Monday. On the way, we stopped at the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport (KGOK) for fuel, to see how things are at the airport since I had met airport manager Justin Heid at an earlier event this year and had asked me to stop by, and to check out the home of Zivko Aeronautics, the builder of the Edge 540.
The air tour started out at the Wellington Municipal Airport (KEGT) bright and early on Monday. Lots of aircraft, including some who did not participate in the air tour, came to Wellington to kick-off and celebrate its start. Several skydivers brought down the U.S. flag as the local H.S. band sang the national anthem and Randy Hardy flew around them in his Stearman with smoke on as they were coming down. A local ag operator performed an ag spraying demonstration and lots of local students got a chance to walk around all the aircraft. There was a formal presentation of the air tour by Jesse Romo, the Kansas DOT-Aviation Director, and a discussion of the local benefits the airport and its activity and business brings to the community. Each of the pilots also introduced themselves and their aircraft.
Students and aircraft
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback showed his appreciation of the Kansas Aviation Expo program by proclaiming September 22-26, 2014 as “Aviation Appreciation Week.”
From KEGT, we flew to Hutchinson (KHUT) for lunch at the Airport Steakhouse. After the lovely lunch, the pilots departed to the Cosmosphere for an awesome behind-the-scenes tour by Brian Youngers, President of the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education (KCAE), and aerodynamics activities with local students. I’m not sure who loved this visit more… the students or the pilots… Once back at the airport, students interacted with the pilots, learning all about their aircraft, how to become a pilot, pilot jobs, etc. They also got a chance to see a Life Team helicopter and a fly-by by several Stearman and a Navion. I tell you… those kids sure got excited when they turned their smoke on! (well, and the “not so kids”)
From Hutchinson, rather than getting the heck out of dodge, we went to it – Dodge City (KDDC) for the night. Several Boy and Girl Scouts joined us after dinner. Joey and I had a good time showing a group of them (and their parents) the Archer we were flying. They had great questions and we enjoyed linking Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) to aviation by doing a few math problems and science experiments with them.
Tuesday called for stops at Scott City (KTQK), Salina (KSLN), and Topeka (KTOP). We toured and learned about the Spencer Flight Training Center in Scott City – a non-profit center whose objective is to provide access to resources and training opportunities for pilots to keep their skills as sharp as possible and help ensure their safety while inflight. We had read about it but it was great to be able to visit it and learn more about what they’re doing first hand. Great work!
The flight between Scott City and Salina was our longest leg of the trip – 150 NM+ direct with a couple of deviations for airspace so we were ready for lunch upon arrival. Salina had organized booths for several of their based tenants to include military, law enforcement, and K-State Salina’s aviation program.
And we made it to the Capital… Topeka – Philip Billard Municipal Airport (KTOP)… before nightfall to learn about the Aviation Explorer’s Post 8, where Post 8 kids learn about aviation, flying, and leadership. The organization operates two aircraft to provide young people an introduction to aviation and a private pilot certificate! We also enjoyed dinner accompanied by Kansas Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Mike King.
On Wednesday, we were off to Pittsburg (Pittsburg-Atkinson, Kansas, that is…). Lots of students (one of the largest crowds we saw) were awaiting our arrival at KPTS. They watched us land, taxi, and park from the fence. This stop was centered around business aviation because several companies operate flight departments and aircraft from Pittsburg so we talked about using our Piper Archer for AOPA business travel and work. They really understood it when we put it in perspective and worked some example trips with them.
The youngest of the air tour bunch also met us at KPTS – an adorable 13 month old future aviator – with her dad Andy!
Daddy day care
And, because “aviation means independence” everywhere but especially in Independence, KS… we stopped at KIDP for our second to last stop of the trip. A group of kids had already taken a tour of the Cessna facility by the time we had arrived so they were pumped to see the aircraft pull up. We toured the facility where Cessna makes C172s, TTXs, Mustangs, etc and gave the students an opportunity to jump in our aircraft and ask questions.
The final stop of the tour was at Benton-Lloyd Stearman Field (1K1), where we had a hangar party and shared our great air tour experience with other aviation professionals. Stearman Field is a lovely residential airstrip with a cool restaurant but it was a bitter-sweet moment to see the air tour end…
All along the 3-day tour… the pilots developed a great camaraderie and lasting relationships. We were also able to get a couple of rusty pilots back into flying and one worked on his tailwheel endorsement. In addition, we showed the local community the importance of their airport, including the economic impact that their airport and general aviation has on their community and the state.
If that wasn’t enough… Joey and I were able to meet and talk with the wonderful AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteers (ASNVs) along the route. Joey also recruited a few new Volunteers. I say it was a very successful tour.
Joey and I flew one more very short reposition leg over to Colonel James Jabara Airport (KAAO) from Stearman (all 5 NM!) to prepare for Thursday’s Flying Classroom (and Joey’s airline flight back home to Austin).
So, yes, we invite you to consider flying the 2015 Fly Kansas Air Tour, already being organized for September 28-30, for many reasons: 1) you get to visit new airports you may not have visited before, 2) you can learn more about aviation in Kansas, 3) you can introduce young people to aviation and have an impact in their lives, 4) you can show a local community and a state why general aviation is important, necessary, and that they should protect it and promote it, 5) you get to meet some great people and pilots, 6) you can bring friends or family with you (maybe even someone new to aviation!), 7) you can build time, work on another rating, build cross country time, or whatever else you may want to work on, 8) you can share rides with people (several pilots got a chance to fly in other people’s airplanes), and, yes, 9) it is lots of fun!
See you then!