Seeds of Inspiration

As the saying goes, there’s no place like home! Those who know me well know I am a native Mainer—or “MAINEiac” as we refer to ourselves and our 101st ANG Air Refueling Wing. While I currently reside in southern Massachusetts, Maine will forever be my home. In terms of my aviation upbringing, however, the Bay State afforded me my formal start in aviation as I embarked on the path that led me to today. After high school, I attended Bridgewater State College (now State University) in Mass and began flight training at the New Bedford Regional Airport, (EWB)—a fact that no doubt played into my family’s decision to return to the area when I became Regional Manager.

An important factor leading to my many aviation firsts in the Bay State was my childhood inspiration for learning to fly—back in the Pine Tree State. As I mentioned the 101st MAINEiacs ARW, like many enthusiasts I spent countless hours enjoying the sundry sights and sounds surrounding my local airport—which for me was the Bangor (said with an “OR” not “ER”) International Airport (BGR). At that time my uncle worked at a General Electric manufacturing plant in the industrial park adjacent to the airport. Aware of my passion for aviation, my family would bring me to sit at the picnic tables supplied by GE for plant workers, so I could watch the many aircraft—some unusual—making use of the 2-mile long runway to transit customs, top-off tanks, or practice touch-and-go’s. A few of my favorites were: The Concorde, Antonov AN-225, Panavia Tornado, Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Boeing E-3 Sentry, and a bevy of other military and civilian aircraft.

Why tell you this? Last weekend the Atlantic Aviators—the local chapter of Women In Aviation—held the Grand Opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for their Aviation-themed Playground that now stands along the fence at the New Bedford Regional Airport. Situated between an active FBO and popular airport restaurant—prime airport property—this site could very well have been used for a revenue generating venture. A realist, the reality is this property has set vacant for longer than I’ve been in aviation. With that fact in mind, and no alternative plan in the works, why not use this unique community asset to plant seeds of inspiration and improve the airport’s image among residents?

Like most of you reading this blog, I was fortunate to have grown up in a time when rules were less strict, airport security less imposing, and maintaining interest in all things loud, fast, and seemingly dangerous was not only encouraged but used as motivational tool. I also happen to be from a non-aviation family. Today it seems increasingly difficult for kids from non-aviation families to find or push for those aviation opportunities available to them. The ceremony was particularly special for me as not only did I learn to fly from this airport, but my daughter can now come and enjoy many of the same sights and sounds I did growing up back home. Now she and other children have the opportunity to come out to the airport and be inspired by aviation just as I was—just as you were.

Eventually, my daughter will grow-up to have her own interests and aspirations of which I will support however varied and different they are from my own—except for boyfriends! Luckily, any exposure she has to aircraft and aviation at this young age will only strengthen the industry for tomorrow as she is less likely to fear aviation and more likely to support it, if only on ballot measures. There are likely countless other examples of similar inspirational efforts across the nation, alas so few ever gain the needed lift. So please, as we continue to celebrate this community achievement, seek out opportunities to assist those efforts nearest you—and then tell your Regional Manager about them so we can help tell the story.

Dare to dream—and dare others too! Read more about the Atlantic Aviators effort HERE

The Power of Youth

For pilots and aviation enthusiasts like me it is hard to imagine anyone not fascinated by aviation. The idea of zipping along above flight level one-eight-zero; feeling the squeez of heart-pounding, high-G maneuvers; or flying at tree-top level in a Robinson R-22 are a few of the adrenaline-charged images that come to mind—but these people do exist and like us, maintain strong personal opinions. Simply put, we can’t please everyone but for the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of those whose opinions are not yet cemented, nothing supports our aviation communities’ as much as local airshows and public fly-ins!

Although I was unable to attend Air Venture this year, I was privileged to be able to represent AOPA at the Wings Over Wiscasset Airshow in Maine on Tuesday, August 6—a day that oddly enough, marked my sixth-year anniversary of working for my beloved Pilot Association. The major draw for the day’s event was the magnificent aircraft herald-in by the Texas Flying Legends Museum like the awe-inspiring P-51D Mustang, FG-1 Corsair, the P-40K Warhawk, and US Congressman Sam Graves’ TBM Avenger. These aircraft are no doubt representative of a time in our history when American know-how reign supreme, propelling the nation to Superpower status.

A standard week day for most, community attendance was slow through the early hours but by 4 pm, the local event boasted an excess of 4000 people. Both young and senior alike crowded the flight-line to snap pictures with these aviation legends. Many also enjoyed the surprise visit paid by US Senator Angus King. With only smiles to be had, seasoned pilots light-up at the opportunity to share “war stories”—even if theirs takes place during private pilot training far from any battlefield.

As a father I can tell you, enticing our nation’s youth produces a multiplier effect worthy of repeating. While my one-year old may still be too young to ignite a self-propelled interest in aviation; children are no doubt conduits to their parents.  As anyone with children knows, we spend our free time following our kid’s curiosities—always trying to highlight the educational component to whatever task they’re engaged.  While not every child is destined to be the next Amelia Earhart or Chuck Yeager, their natural interest in all things new, fast, and (seemingly) dangerous, makes the connection to general aviation an easy bridge for parents to cross.

With this in mind, grab your family, friends, neighborhood kids (parental permission required) and Veterans; and head to a community aviation event near you—besides you never know who you might run into while planting the seeds of general aviation: http://pilothub.blogspot.com/2007/12/famous-people-with-pilots-licenses.html

Book Review: The Bishop’s Boys

What was the world like when the Wright Brothers make the first sustained, powered flight?  Most of us are familiar with the year (1903) and the place (the sand dunes at Kitty Hawk), but what allowed Wilbur and Orville to accomplish this feat? How did they succeed where better funded efforts had failed?  The Bishop’s Boys: A life of Wilbur and Orville Wright by Tom Crouch, answers those questions and literally transports the reader back to the decades before and after the introduction of powered flight—setting the stage for the airplanes we enjoy today.

This story is not a quick read, unless you do nothing else for a couple days straight.  The 529 page account is broken into three sections. The first introduces us to the Wright family–particularly Wilbur and Orville’s father, Milton, who had a profound influence on their lives.  Milton was a dedicated church man, who rose to the rank of Bishop in the Church of the United Brethren. In this capacity, he spent much time on the road. Also a devoted family man, he corresponded frequently with his wife and children, providing a rich source of material frequently quoted in the book.

The second section introduces us to the public’s interest in powered flight, which was bubbling over at the end of the 1800’s in the US and Europe.  We meet the leaders of the aeronautical movement, men including civil engineer Octave Chanute, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley, and Otto Lilienthal, the German engineer and aviation enthusiast.  Lilienthal had completed almost two thousand flights in sixteen different models of gliders in a five year period prior to 1896.  The exploits of these individuals, and more, made headlines in the popular press which fanned a fever already in the back of the Wright Brother’s minds.  It was the work of these pioneers that Wilbur and Orville turned to as they started their own investigation into the secrets of powered, heavier than air flight.  While the concepts of lift and drag had already been identified, even initial formulas derived to calculate them, the genius of the brothers was their decision to focus on how to control an aircraft in flight. The famed December 17 flight at Kitty Hawk is today identified as the milestone we associate with the start of powered flight, however put in context of the times,  the aircraft that flew that day was but a prototype that continued to evolve over the next several years toward the first “production” aircraft.

Wilbur Wright instructing a student pilot in Pau, France, passes over an ox cart.–1909.

The final section of the book covers the post Kitty Hawk period. While continuing to improve upon their aircraft design, Wilbur and Orville increasingly had to deal with the political and business world to gain acceptance of their invention.   The brothers attempted to cloak themselves in secrecy to protect the patentable aspects of their work, at the same time trying to sell their invention to the government and to interests in Europe.  The years that followed became the “patent wars” with more time spent in court defending their invention, and less in the shop doing what they did best—solving technical problems to advance aeronautical science.

While written in 1989, the book feels timeless. The author tells the story as it happened, with inclusions of quotes from the letters, news reports and documents of the day. The bother’s focus on developing a way to control an airship in all three axes (roll, pitch and yaw) set them apart from others attempting to achieve powered flight.  Fortunately for us, a wealth of documents and photographs survive–and are liberally sprinkled throughout the book.  This isn’t just a story for pilots.  Crouch, who happens to be the senior curator for the aeronautics department at the National Air and Space Museum, also describes the social and political issues of that era. He goes into some detail on the patent war that stifled aeronautical creativity and innovation, and the controversy between the Wrights and the Smithsonian Institution. Tied to a major dispute over claims of the historical significance of Langley’s efforts versus the Wright’s accomplishments, this feud of almost thirty years duration came close to costing us our ability to look up the Wright Flyer that hangs prominently in the Air and Space Museum today.

When I next crawl into the pilots seat of my own aircraft, it will be with a much deeper appreciation of what the Wright brothers—and the other pioneers of their times—did to bring us the gift of flight!

Jessica Cox inspires Alaskan Youth

Last week Jessica Cox made a whirl-wind trip through Alaska, and inspired young and old alike.  If you are not familiar with Jessica’s story, she was born without arms but hasn’t let that stop her not only from living independently, but achieving her dreams.  She does with her feet all the things we do with our hands. But there’s more. She also drives a car (without special accommodations), and fly’s an aircraft—an Ercoupe—as a Light Sport

Jessica Cox addressing 200 students at Hutchison High School in Fairbanks, AK

Pilot.  Jessica’s real gift is the ability to share her story with others, in this case teenagers, and motivates them not to be bound by their own perceived limitations.

For the two-and-a-half days Jessica and her husband Patrick were in Fairbanks, I had the pleasure of transporting them to a variety of speaking engagements, which included two charter schools, the Boys and Girls

After Jessica’s presentation, two girls try to tie shoelaces with their toes.

Home of Alaska, Hutchison High School, and a public lecture at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.  The biggest event was a banquet presentation with youth from a variety of groups including Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol Cadets, a high school Marine ROTC group, 4-H club members, and more.

Jessica does an outstanding job of using her own personal story to convey important lessons for youth. I won’t steal any of her thunder, but these include figuring out how to do what those of us with arms and hands consider trivial—like fastening a four point seat belt harness in the pilot’s seat before her first flight lesson.  One has to look at each new challenge and, as she says, “think outside the shoe.”  She also touches on the need for persistence, such as having to take her driver’s test more than once to convince the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles to issue her a driver’s license.  But perhaps most

During a interview with TV reporter Tom Hewitt, Jessica demonstrates putting on a headset.

importantly, not to let yourself (or others) tell you what you can’t do—like learn to fly an airplane.  AOPA is happy to reinforce that notion with programs such as the AV8RS, a free online membership for teens interested in aviation.

Jessica’s visit didn’t just “happen.”  The dynamo behind the scenes

Dee Hanson documenting Jessica’s presentation at Star of the North Secondary School in North Pole, AK

that brought her to Alaska, is Dee Hanson, Executive Director of the Alaska Airmen’s Association.  Dee

brought Jessica to Alaska in 2010, knew the power of her message, and wanted to make sure it got to youth in other parts of the state. In addition to Fairbanks, Jessica made appearances in southwest Alaska at Bethel and Napaskiak, and flew to the Yukon River community of Galena.  Alaska Airlines and ERA Alaska helped sponsor the visit, along with long list of businesses, aviation groups and individuals.  But without Dee investing hours of her time putting this package together, this campaign wouldn’t have happened.  Hats off to the Alaska Airmen’s Association for making this investment in the youth of Alaska.

And a big Thank You to Jessica for fitting us into her busy schedule.  I look forward to her next visit.