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 Unsung Generosity of the GA Community

WPA Spokane Chapter President Terry Newcomb, Past WPA President Dave Lucke, and WPA member Charlie Cleanthous get ready to load kids

WPA Spokane Chapter President Terry Newcomb, Past WPA President Dave Lucke, and WPA member Charlie Cleanthous ready to load kids in Dave’s 182.

Having transplanted from Denver to the Spokane, Washington area just a couple of weeks ago, I’m already enjoying the opportunity to meet fellow pilots and AOPA members in the state, most of whom also belong to the Washington Pilots Association (WPA).  WPA is one of the strongest and most well organized state pilots associations in the country, and like many such groups, its members generously contribute their time, resources, aircraft and passion for aviation to help others who are less fortunate.

Hutton Settlement kids ready to go fly!

Hutton Settlement kids ready to go fly!

This past weekend, I was able to see this generosity first hand as Spokane members of the WPA volunteered their aircraft to fly 26 children from the Hutton Settlement in Spokane to Priest Lake, Idaho for a day of fun on the water, including swimming, jet skiing, water skiing and more.  Until moving here, I had not heard of the Hutton Settlement, which is an historic children’s home in Spokane, that for nearly 100 years has nurtured, educated and prepared children who are in need of a safe and healthy home.  Each year, WPA members in Spokane fly a group of kids from the Settlement (ranging in age from 7-18) up to Priest Lake.  And each year, according to Settlement staff, this event is one of the most eagerly awaited and memorable days for these kids, all made possible by the Spokane GA community.

Pilot and crew ready to board!

Pilot and crew ready to board!

While full airplanes and my own current lack of aircraft access precluded my travel to Priest Lake, I was fortunate enough to enjoy the smiling faces of all these kids as we loaded them up and watched them take off for a day on the water, a take off that for most, was their first airplane ride ever.  There’s nothing like being around airplanes, fellow pilots and an enthusiastic group of excited kids to even further fuel one’s passion for flying!

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This young lady scored arguably the best seat to Priest Lake in Kyle Kinyon’s beautiful RV-4.

It’s unfortunate that the general public can’t see more of this side of our community, and the commitment that so many of us have for using GA for the benefit of others.  While the media has covered this event previously, there was no fanfare, adulation or coverage of this great story this year-  just a group of pilots doing what they love to do: flying and providing others with exciting and memorable opportunities they might not have otherwise experienced.

So as you and your fellow aviators share your love of flying and contribute your time and aircraft for the benefit of others, be sure to share your story.  Our airport neighbors need to know that the impact of GA in our communities extends far beyond their usually narrow percepetions.

Volunteers re-paint practice runway

Last night saw a group of volunteers in action on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.  A dozen people assembled at 6:15 p.m., along with a pick-up with trailer, painting equipment, small Honda generator, a rake and a broom. The mission: to repaint the markings on the gravel runway.  The goal of the project is to improve aviation safety by providing a place to practice precision landings—before heading to the more challenging back-country strips.

Judging from the fact that a lot of the initial marks, painted in early June, had been completely obliterated, I would say the “practice runway” has been getting lots of use.  The volunteer paint crew waited just off the runway for a few minutes so a Champ could do some last minute touch-and-go’s before the NOTAM closing the runway went into effect.

Kathleen Fagre marks the spot for the paint crew to set their template.

Kathleen Fagre marks the spot for the paint crew to set their template.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Alexander admires the template he designed: hinged for storage and transport, with cords on each end making it easy to move without wearing too much paint.

Kevin Alexander admires the template he designed: hinged for storage and transport, with cords on each end making it easy to move without wearing too much paint.

 

 

 

 

 

Stan Halvarson applies paint to the 2' by 4 ' rectangle, while

Stan Halvarson applies paint to the 2′ by 4 ‘ rectangle, while Tim Berg looks on. In the background, Ron Dearborn and Janet Daley move the second template to the next mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an hour, two 800' by 24' practice runways (one at each end of the gravel runway) have been re-painted.

In an hour, two 800′ by 24′ practice runways (one at each end of the gravel runway) have been re-painted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since this crew had worked together previously,  painting progressed at a rapid pace. A small team armed with a tape measure, can of marking paint, the rake and broom led the way, to re-establish the locations for marks that were totally gone.  We learned that raking and sweeping the loose gravel away from the area to be painted gets the paint on the hard-pack surface of the strip, which lasts longer than just spray painting loose rocks.

The paint crew has two plywood templates (designed and build by Kevin Alexander, with UAF’s Aviation Program), which they leap-frog down the runway to mark the 800’ long by 25’ wide practice runway.

With a full crew working on the project, we only spent an hour on the runway.  It took a little longer to clean up, but still left time to enjoy some cold beverages and fresh baked goods at the Air Park before heading home, or on to the next evening project.

Other Practice Runways?

FAA has approved six airports in Alaska to paint markings on their ski-strips. So far this summer in addition to Fairbanks, runways at Wasilla (IYS), and Goose Bay (Z40) have been painted and Palmer (PAQ) plans to mark theirs soon. Soldotna (SXQ) markings survived the winter.  If you are within range of one of these airports, go check it out and see how precise your landings are…
[Update Aug 21: Palmer marked their runway last week, Soldotna is planning to repaint soon.]

Who does these projects, anyway??

What does it take to have a dozen people show up on a Monday evening and work for a couple hours? This project is absolutely a partnership between the airport staff and numerous pilot groups.  The airport files the NOTAM to close the runway, provides a safety plan and makes sure that we are putting the marks in the right places. The Fairbanks General Aviation Association (GAA,) a local airport group at FAI, has taken the lead to organize the work parties.  Ron Dearborn, a charter member of the GAA—who also serves as the AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) Volunteer at FAI, sends an email to local stakeholders, inviting them to participate.  The individuals may belong to any of a number of organizations. At Monday night’s session the following groups were represented: the 99’s, Alaska Airmen’s Association, AOPA, Fairbanks Flight Service, the airport staff and UAF.  Who knows—these folks may find other ways to make improvements that enhance the airport’s value for the users, and to the community.

If your airport has a local airport support group, consider joining.  If it doesn’t, think about starting one (AOPA can help) .  Acting locally is often the best way to head off airport problems before they fester.  See if your airport has an ASN Volunteer.  If not, think about signing up for that program. It is people and groups like these that make it possible to have a practice runway at your airport!

Supporting Alaskan Airports—One at a Time

Reprinted from the Alaska Airmen’s Association’s Transponder

A lot of attention is given to high-level issues in the national aviation media. Will User Fees be thrust upon us? or Is 100LL an endangered species? The headlines frequently overshadow a lot of good work that is done at the local level, often one airport at a time.  AOPA recognized the need for grass-roots efforts at a time when general aviation airports were disappearing at a frightening rate, mostly due to land-use conflicts and economic pressures.  Since airports are typically owned by local municipal governments in most of the country, it was clear that early warning of an impending threat was critical to their survival. (Alaska is an exception here, where the state directly operates 254 airports.)  To address this need, in 1997 AOPA established the Airport Support Network (ASN) Program.

Volunteers were solicited to be eyes and ears at public-use airports, to sound the alarm if a threat loomed that might harm or close the airport.  Presently AOPA has over 2,000 ASN Volunteers nationwide.  Over the years the program has progressed from just “sounding the alarm” to a much more proactive set of activities.  Alaska has twenty seven ASN Volunteers, who perform a wide range of activities that are supporting our airports.  I’ll highlight a few of those individuals, and some of the activities they are engaged in to illustrate how the program works.

Organizing a local airport group  Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) is home to over 300 airplanes tied down on the GA side of the airport, and an additional 175 planes at the float pond.  In the past, tie down holders didn’t have a good way to provide input to airport management concerning issues at the field.  Early in his tenure as the ASN at Fairbanks, Ron Dearborn sat down with other GA stakeholders and, aided with some of AOPA’s materials on organizing an airport group, established the General Aviation Association (GAA) at FAI in 2005.  He chaired the group for its first couple years. By attending regular airport meetings and getting to know the airport management and control tower staff, he established the GAA as a positive voice with these stakeholders.

Ron Dearborn (left) holds the tape while Kevin Alexander marks where to paint a runway marker on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Today, others have taken over the officer positions in the association, freeing Ron to work on special projects and plan future activities. Some of his current projects include serving on the airport’s Master Plan technical committee, and coordinating volunteers to help paint the “practice runway” markings on the Ski Strip.  He also helped organize an airport open house that brought approximately 2,000 members of the public to an “aviation day” last spring.  Ron is justifiably proud that the group, although not large in size, has today become an organization that the airport seeks out when looking for issues that impact general aviation.

Subtle hint to FAI based pilots: The $10/year dues to belong to this local group is a cheap price to have GA represented on airport issues. That is less than the cost of two gallons of avgas.  In addition to current information, you get really good cookies at the association meetings, held several times a year.  Please consider joining, to lend your support to this effort!

Protecting Land Use Around Airports  In 2009 Nenana’s ASN Volunteer, Adam White, learned that a community group was looking to improve the “wellness and quality of life” for their residents.  The project they wanted to undertake was certainly a worthy cause—to expand the size of their community garden from ½ to 10 acres in size. This group, which Adam is a part of, approached the city looking for some land to cultivate. A city official recommended looking at “the area off the end of the runway” as they “couldn’t do anything else with it.”  Adam contacted AOPA for help in researching the issue.  He eventually located the advisory circular on airport design, defining the different zones around a runway, and AC 150/5200-33B, Hazardous Wildlife Attractants on or Near Airports. Armed with this information, he attended the next community group meeting, and was able to explain why this was not a good use of the land off the end of the runway.  Captain Sullenberger, having recently made the dramatic splashdown in the Hudson River after losing his engines due to bird strikes, certainly helped illustrate the potential of this threat.  An alternate location was found for the garden spot expansion. Today, the airport safety zone is used to harvest hay, as opposed to incurring the ongoing cost for continued brush mowing.

Adam White, seen here working on a radio translator at Ruby, uses the Nenana Airport to access numerous remote locations around the state.

An aspect of Adam’s work transcended the Nenana airport. One of the community partners in the group was an extension agent who travels around the state setting up similar gardens.  Following the meeting, Adam was able to provide the agent with copies of the FAA Advisory Circulars. The agent stated that she would make sure that none of their other projects encroached on village airports.  Adam and his family planted and harvested produce from the community garden for a number of years in Nenana, safely away from the approach path he uses at the airport.

Monitoring Merrill Field The busiest GA airport in Alaska, Merrill Field is one of only a couple dozen municipally operated airports in the state.  Surrounded by neighborhoods that are sensitive to aircraft noise, and sometimes in the path of road projects wanting to nibble away at airport property, there are many issues to track.  Jim Cieplak keeps his Cessna 182 tied down at Merrill, and has served as the ASN Volunteer since 2005.

Jim Cieplak, commanding his Cessna 182 that he keeps tied down at Merrill Field.

Along with many local governments looking for increased revenue, the Municipality of Anchorage in 2010 proposed doubling the aircraft registration tax.  If successful this action would have applied not just to aircraft at Merrill Field, but to all the aircraft in the municipality.  Jim worked with the Alaska Airmen’s Association, EAA, the Municipal Airports Aviation Advisory Commission (MAAAC) and other stakeholders to successfully oppose the tax hike.  Upon seeing the benefit of more directly influencing airport decisions, in 2011 Jim applied for and was appointed to a seat on the MAAAC, the body that advises the municipality on rules, regulations and administrative guidelines concerning Merrill Field.

Merrill Field is one of fifteen airports in the nation that was selected for air quality monitoring to quantify the amount of lead that aircraft contribute to the atmosphere.  For the past year, a sampler has been filtering the air off the south east corner of Runway 25.  Jim was tracking this effort, and when the initial results were distributed at a Commission meeting, he forwarded them to AOPA headquarters to the national team that is working the 100LL avgas issue.  The preliminary results show that aircraft on Merrill Field are coming nowhere near reaching the limits defined by the national air quality standard for lead.  This helps the national team to keep on top of the situation as they work to protect our access to 100LL, vital to much of the aviation fleet in Alaska.

Jim will continue follow the lead monitoring program, and many other issues at Merrill.   He also serves on the Airport Support Network Board of Advisers, providing input to the program at the national level.

More volunteers needed   These have been just a few examples of ASN Volunteer activities to protect or improve Alaskan airports.  There are many more accomplishments, and plenty of challenges.  The program was grown from a defensive “save the airport” stance, to a more proactive, “let’s promote the airport” effort.  Instead of waiting for trouble, investing the time to help a community understand the value of its local airport is an important activity we all need to support.  AOPA has created tools to help, such as the guide, Holding an Airport Open House. Population pressures that bring development closer to the boundary of an airport are a problem in Alaska. Getting our city, borough and state government to engage in compatible land use planning, to avoid putting schools and residential areas under the runway approach path, is critical to the long term survival of our airports.  To address this problem, AOPA has recently published a guide on how to participate in the planning process.

But it starts with one person—woman or man—who will step up and become involved with their local airport.  If you are willing to consider helping in this way, look at the ASN website for details on what you can do: www.aopa.org/asn  Find out if your airport has already has an ASN. If so, look that person up and offer your assistance. If there is no ASN Volunteer, consider signing up to fill that role, and become engaged in improving your airport.  If you need more information, please contact me directly www.aopa.org/region/ak.  The airport you save just may be your own!

Looking for Volunteers with Spot or Spidertracks units in Alaska

In the past few years devices that combine the technologies of GPS and satellite communication have become popular, with increasing use in the aviation community as an alternate way to either track your flight, or call for help.  A little over a year ago AOPA and the Alaska Airmen’s Association started working with the Alaska Flight Service Program, to explore the possibility of integrating devices such as SPOT and Spidertracks into the flight plans we file.  The idea that a distress call, including your current location, could go straight to Flight Service, and be forwarded to search and rescue, seemed like an improvement on today’s procedure of waiting for a flight plan to become overdue, especially if your ELT failed to function during the landing.

The idea was well received by the FAA who then started working on the many details needed to develop procedures.  Initially Adam White, President of the Airmen’s Association, and I, along with a couple of Flight Service staff members who own one of these devices, generated some “alert” messages, to evaluate the system.  Now, after a season of testing and refinement, the Alaska FSS is to the point of needing a few more pilots to participate in the “beta-testing” phase of this system.  To be clear, Flight Service does not track any aircraft, but has the ability to receive an alert or help message when activated by the pilot.  Upon receipt of a help message, FSS will validate it against a flight plan, and forward the necessary information, including your location, to search and rescue authorities.

Currently, we are looking for about a dozen pilots who:

  1. have either a SPOT or Spidertracks unit
  2. are willing to establish (or update) a Master Flight Plan with their home Flight Service Station and,
  3. would be willing to participate in controlled tests to help Flight Service exercise the system.

We hope to find a few people in each of the three AFSS regions of the state (served by the Juneau, Kenai and Fairbanks Flight Service, or one of the satellite facilities in other locations).

If you are willing to be involved in the program, please contact Tom George (tom.george@aopa.org) or Adam White (president@alaskaairmen.org) for more details.  We hope this testing will go quickly, and allow Flight Service to offer this new service to all interested pilots across Alaska!