Arctic Winter Games: An International Fly-In to Fairbanks

Fairbanks is undergoing an international invasion—of a good sort.  Almost 2,000 athletes ages 13-23, from eight Arctic nation teams (nine, if you include the Alaska kids) have arrived to participate in the Arctic Winter Games 2014.  Think Olympics (on a smaller scale), to compete in games with others from across the circumpolar north.

What caught my attention was how the international participants got to Fairbanks.  Not exactly general aviation—but by a series of charter flights from all over the Arctic.  The aircraft are one or another model of the Boeing 737, with a couple Airbus 320 or 330’s thrown in for good measure.  After studying the planned schedules, I decided to try and figure out where these planes were coming from, so turned to Google Earth, and below is my best approximation of where the flights came from, and roughly how they got to Fairbanks International Airport.

Approximate map of routes bringing almost 2,000 athletes to Fairbanks for Arctic Winter Games 2014

Approximate map of routes bringing almost 2,000 athletes to Fairbanks for Arctic Winter Games 2014

For the past three days, these aircraft have converged on Fairbanks to bring the participants together for a week-long set of games, ranging from snowshoe based biathlon’s, skiing, and dog mushing to indoor events like curling, soccer and traditional native games.  Much more than an athletic event, Arctic Winter Games has brought people across the arctic together since 1970, when the first games were held in Yellowknife. A total of 500 people participated in that event, which included athletes, coaches and supporters.

Fairbanks will see another flurry of air traffic on March 21, when the return migration occurs.  Airplane watchers will have an opportunity to see aircraft with paint jobs seldom seen in these parts (Air Greenland, Flair Air, Air Yamal, etc.) as they arrive to take the AWG participants home.  Hopefully taking with them new insights and inspiration after a week of rubbing shoulders with people from other circumpolar countries!

Alaska Directory of Youth Aviation Education Programs

Youth participating in an airport "traffic pattern" event, under ATC supervision.

Youth participating in an airport “traffic pattern” activity, under ATC supervision.

Do you know a kid who is interested in aviation?  Whether it’s one of your own, a neighbor or someone you met along the way—knowing the programs that are available in your community might help the next generation of pilots, mechanics, air traffic controller or airport managers get their start.  With that in mind, AOPA in Alaska has started a directory of pre-college aviation programs to help connect kids with different aspects of aviation.  They range from classes in middle or high schools, to “build a plane” projects, to a tour program at the Alaska Aviation Museum at Lake Hood.  The Civil Air Patrol has cadet programs in a dozen communities across the state, which are all listed, including a person to contact and the day and time they meet.  Two schools have actual pilot training programs, where a student could end up with a private pilot’s license!

Start something new
I hope this listing of programs will encourage educators or interested parent who might be thinking about starting a ground-school class in their high school, or an after-school aviation club to take that first step. Using the directory, they can find out who is already engaged a similar activity and contact them for ideas on how to get started.

Be proactive!  As an individual, or as part of a local aviation group, find out what youth programs are active in your area, and offer to help. Consider providing (or being) a guest speaker, setting up a Young Eagles flight event, or organizing a visit to an aviation facility.  If someone has an airplane they want to donate for a build-a-plane project, look for a youth group interested in participating.

AV8RS icon path-coverAlso listed in the directory are some of the resources that AOPA has to offer, such as the free-online AV8RS Program for young people aged 13-18.  Teachers may be interested in the PATH Handbook—Pilots and Teachers Handbook—that helps integrate math, science, physics, history and technology using general aviation examples.

The inspiration for starting this project came from my counterpart Yasmina Platt, AOPA Regional Manager for the Central Southwest Region, who developed a similar directory covering the nine states she serves.  If you would like to see what kinds of middle and high school programs are available in her part of the country (New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa), have a look: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Listing-of-Pre-College-Aviation-Programs.pdf.  There may be ideas worth borrowing.  Each program’s website is included, as well as a personal contact.  Kudos to Yasmina for assembling this document, which prompted me to do a similar thing for Alaska.

This is just the start of this directory. I hope to find other programs that are not yet listed.  If you know of a youth program not included in the directory, just let me know. Please include contact information so I can invite them to participate. Or forward a copy to someone involved in the program, and invite them to contact me directly.  Over the months and years ahead, I hope to see a lot more entries added to the list!

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

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.

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.