Saturday, February 19, 2011

Defining Moment

If I were asked to describe what our fly-in is all about, I might first start out to mention all the aircraft, different makes and models, number of wings, landing gear, etc. This is my normal response to questions about the event and I answer this way because for those who haven’t been, that is all they really want to know.  Yet this quietly bothers me.
During the past decade, you’ve likely read my thoughts on the fraternity mentality that has invaded aviation. It seemed to arrive in the 90’s and for the longest time I felt its presence took away from aviation. This is why the question of what our fly-in is all about, often worded briefly as “what do you have there,” bothered me so much. With this question, people were first looking for the identifiers of an “A-list” fly-in or “B-list” fly-in and then they were deciding whether or not to attend.
I’ll be the first to admit there are places where more intense collections of antiques gather, paved surfaces where more heavy iron can be found, and cold static museum campuses where more high rollers show up to hand out the money in exchange for rewards. I’ve been to every one of these places and they do very little for me. Because of this, not too long ago I realized maybe the fraternity mentality is good for our kind of aviation.
Perhaps the narrow minded, glory seeking, Nomex flight suits with flammable tennis shoes wearing warbird types are weeded out because of it. And maybe the stodgy condescending low time spotless vintage aircraft types would go somewhere else because of the common folks here at our event. And hopefully those who believe old airplanes should be parked for eternity would simply know better than to show their faces here. And you know what, I was right.
I was recently reading an editorial written by a previous employee of AOPA. In his paragraphs, he lamented the demise of the middle class in aviation, quoted a source for his statistics that I believe to be questionable, and backed it up with anecdotal knowledge from his time at AOPA. And yet, I do not think he knowingly or intentionally misguided anyone with his beliefs. No; in fact, I believe his experience has misguided him.
You see, I contend that if anyone spent time working for AOPA, they would come away with the idea the  middle class of aviation is disappearing. Have you read AOPA, scanned their emails, or observed the growing number of elite AOPA branches? Yes, I am pretty sure that if you were part of the AOPA culture, you would either be run off or you would fit right in to their culture of $15,000 panels, turbine aircraft, and editorials about civility. And if you fit into this mold, you likely don’t visit Lee Bottom.
Here at Lee Bottom Flying Field, if a warbird is present, the pilot is likable. If a vintage plane is on hand the owners are approachable. Were an experimental to be sitting here, the owner might try to help you build one yourself. And if someone drives in, then they came to help out. That’s quite simply the kind of people we have here and we’re extremely proud of it.
As evidence of this, during the fly-in, a bubbly female volunteer went for her first plane ride. Here's the rest of the story.
Ken and Terri Bittner have been coming to our fly-in for many years. Every year they insist on helping. Then a few years back they suggested they could do a 50/50 drawing during the event to help raise money for the airport. When we said yes, they went all out. Ken made a two sided sign he could wear over his shoulders, he and Terri put on beanie caps with propellers, and they went around the airport twisting arms with their wonderful personalities. The winner would get the usual 50% and a colorful propellerized beanie cap just like the ones they were wearing.
When the drawing was held on Saturday, a friend of ours from Florida held the winning ticket. Jim Jarvis is an attorney that gives attorneys a good name.  Simply put, it’s hard not to like his never ending desire to get a little more fun out of life. Therefore, when he won, all his friends offered to let him buy drinks.  Jim had other ideas.
After winning, Jim did something special with his new found bucks. He took part of the money and bought  Jackie, one of our volunteers possessing an infectious personality, her first ride in a biplane. He then took what was left over and donated it back to the airport fund raising drawer, thus creating the defining moment of last year’s fly-in.  Enjoy yourself, share the fun, support the airport.
After the only rain-out ever, one year before, our event came back strong to offer something special. And in doing so, it attracted the best bunch of people you could ever hope to have in your back yard. Among them are firefighters, plumbers, ship-builders, electricians, doctors, machinists, airline pilots, restaurant employees, small business owners, teachers, lawyers, truck drivers, bankers, you name it, they are represented. The real people of aviation haven’t disappeared, they’ve merely quit going where they aren't welcome so they  can go where they are.
You folks are the best!

2011 Calendars Hanging on Walls

Have you seen the latest Lee Bottom Calendar? If not, look for them hanging in hangars, offices, and homes of friends near you.
Each year, we produce only 1500 of these old fashioned calendars and they go out to Lee Bottom Family members based on a specific set of rules. Primarily though, these go out to people who have visited one of our events. The few that go elsewhere are people who have done something great for aviation, or who have gone out of their way to support our cause; survival of the airport.
If you didn’t get one, the next time you visit one of our events make sure you register. Again, this is the primary way to get one. Now in their 25th year of existence, they have developed a real following and earned somewhat of a collectable status.
If you have never received one, the calendars are produced in the shape and size of gas station calendars of years past. The only thing that changes is the annual airport motto and the single photo. Despite only two changes per year, the effort involved in choosing them holds up production every year.
We start looking at photos in October and find ten to twenty we like; the goal is to find a picture that speaks for our airport. Then we cut them out, clip them to old calendars, hang them on the fridge, and walk by them over a few days to see which one stands out. Almost always, by using this method, we find one that is an obvious choice. This year that wasn’t the case. It came down to a tie.
As you can see, these are wildly different yet they both speak volumes about our airport. Through the years, we have developed a great airport family and because of this we really loved the Taylorcraft photo. But ultimately, it was the multi-aircraft photo, the bottom of the two, that won. Knowing many people other than the calendar owners would see them, we wanted people to look at it and see the great cross section of aviation represented at our field.
As for the motto, it was an easy choice. The level of thinking on this planet seems to be decreasing every day and we believe this motto will ring true for the members of our airport family.
Or course, there is one other thing about these calendars that is important; fund raising. As the events and airport have grown, so have the expenses involved with keeping it alive for all to enjoy. Along with each of the calendars comes a donation card.
Last year, your donations allowed us to purchase fuel for mowing the runway, tractor repairs, an aerator for the grounds, a tram for events, grass seed for land hard hit by drought, a new windsock, and numerous other items like grease, mowing blades, and equipment tires.
If you like what we do here and you want to see it continue, we hope you contribute to the airport operation  fund. Every cent goes back into the airport. If you didn’t receive a calendar and you would like to contribute, you can also go to our website and do so there.
We hope you enjoy them.

2010 Fly-In Recap

We apologize for taking so long to get back into the groove of NORDO News newsletters. During the past few years, our “winter break” has gone from two weeks to four months and we hope you understand. So now, on with the news.
Last year’s fly-in was a great success. Thankfully, despite harsh winds and questionable weather elsewhere, a large percentage of our airport family turned showed up and made it yet another enjoyable weekend of aviation. Thanks to all of you for fighting the wind to be here. Your attendance saved the event.
Yep, that’s true. Ginger and I had both decided to make the 2010 event the last one. We were beat up, used up, and fed up. The things that you do to put on a fly-in are beyond the realm of believability unless you’ve done it yourself. And then when things go well, it’s easy to become a slave to it. That’s what had happened to us.
The Thursday of the fly-in, I was prepared to tell everyone on Friday night, during dinner, that this would be the last one. Then planes started to arrive. One by one, flying machines brought more of our friends to the party. And, with each new name on the list, I felt the pressure building for the announcement.
Although I don’t remember telling anyone I was going to do this, I believe people could see it on our faces as most asked cautiously if this was it. Well, it was. And yet, by the time dinner came round on Friday night, somehow the notion of ending it had gone. In its place though was a new attitude that would see it through, albeit with slightly revised methods.
After a great flock of aircraft attends your event, over 375 in case you’re wondering, it’s just damn near impossible to let such a great group of people down. So, when all was said and done, we put our thoughts on the table. After a lot of ideas, both of us agreed to do it but ONLY IF we could find people to assume the responsibility of several areas of the event. We could no longer handle being slave to the machine.  Furthermore, we had to find someone to handle all the food and everything to do with it. And finally, we had to decide what we would do with the airport long term, meaning thirty years or more down the road. In the end, we got two of the three and are close to some decisions on the other.
Currently, we have had some wonderful people step up to take responsibility for parts of the event. A few more would be helpful though. We also found a food concession company that will be handling all the food; Friday lunch through Sunday breakfast. This company will be able to take credit cards, will not require RSVPs for dinner on Friday night, and will not require you to pre-buy tickets for meals.  This frees us up from the fear of another devastating loss like the one in 2009 and gives us back a huge amount of pre-planning time that was always committed to the food supply and the logistics of making it happen. It also frees up our guests who often had to worry about having cash on hand or needing to RSVP.  The arrangement that we've made with this company is that they will provide quality food at a reasonable price and in return, we are not charging them anything to be here.

But what about the fly-in, how did it go in 2010?  Well, Friday was an interesting day. The wind was crazy to start and got worse as the day went on. By Friday evening, the preferred spots on the airport all included good views of the landing area from which could be heard random eruptions from those on the ground; “oh, oooh, ooooh no, OUCH” and “oh boy, watch out, YAAAAYYYY" come to mind.  The wind was truly having its way with our pilots and for most it appeared they were along for the ride.
One guy who showed up Friday in an Taylorcraft ended up breaking a bungee. Due to the winds it was not unexpected but we really wanted to take care of this him because he had just flown all the way from Maine. By the way, Mr. Taylorcraft Driver, thanks for that effort. I really hope you enjoyed yourself and found it worth your trip. But back to the bungee.
Through the years we have added more and more capabilities or services to our events and one of these is a maintenance crew. These guys volunteer their time and efforts to help the attendees where needed .  Over the past few events, they have really kicked some butt and helped a lot of people. During the fly-in, they assessed the problem, ordered a bungee overnight, borrowed a bungee tool from another airport family member, received the bungee during the fly-in on Saturday, and had the guy ready to go by the end of the day. They really do great work and we can’t thank them enough for it. Did I mention that on top of that they are really nice guys?
Friday night, the wind finally died down and we all had a great meal, listened to some music,  and watched a movie on the hangar wall.
When the sun started to rise on Saturday, planes were already arriving. I don’t know where these birds were roosting but, with each passing year, as long as there isn’t fog, some of these folks are landing close to the first light of day. This sometimes catches us by surprise but ultimately it helps as it spreads out the arrivals. Often though there is a slow spot after the first responders but this year was an exception.  They just seemed to come at a steady pace all day long.
Attendance was great. Several people we’ve invited for years on end finally made it, many that we’d never met showed up for their first time, and the rest of the collection consisted of a wonderful mix of regulars; people and planes. We truly have a great bunch of people as friends and seeing them all here in their seaplanes, homebuilts, helicopters, certified composites, bush planes, warbirds, metal classics, and antiques really drives that home to everyone who sees it.
That night a great time was had with another movie and pizza. And then on Sunday morning people bugged out with the first light of day. Although the weather was good here, it was questionable where many of them were from, and they were doing their best to beat it home.
When all was said and done, well over 375 planes and 2000 people had attended, and we were determined to do it all over again - with some help throughout the year.

Sorry about that

One of the hardest parts of having such a supportive airport family is making sure they all get recognized for their contributions.  Try as we might, this is not something we want to do.  Please let us know if your name has been left off of a list where you should be recognized. 

Here is one such example.  Hayes, Utley, & Hedgspeth recently emailed us to point out they had been left off the list of those that had contributed to the 2010 airport operation fund.  When we looked, sure enough they were not on the final list that went out with the calendars but they were on our master list.  By the time everything was formatted and sent to the printers, somehow they disappeared from the calendar mailing.  After some searching though, we have been able to figure out what went wrong.   Still though, that doesn't fix the fact that it aggravates us.  We're sorry several of you didn't make the list and we'll be sure you are listed everywhere else.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Every Operation Needs Equipment

The devil is in the details and, when anything expands, the details include equipment. That’s an ongoing issue around here. A few years back we started Sinful Sundays and hoped for ten planes to attend. Last year, every Sinful Sunday attracted around 100 planes. The experience has been the same with the fly-in. With each stage of growth, people, planes, or activities, a new piece of equipment follows. This past season was no different.
With the continual growth and strong attendace numbers for Sinful Sundays and the fly-in established, this year a few things needed to be addressed. One of these included a need for more business space. Lacking was room for selling snacks, food, and even drive-in tickets for the fly-in. To solve this problem, we felt a solution that would also add to the ambiance of the events was necessary. That’s how we ended up with a circus wagon; in its past life a popcorn wagon. And, as with most things, it needs a little work to make it perfect. But, we think you’ll agree it fits right in with the grand scheme of things.
Another issue that has grown from the success of these events is the ability to move people around the airport. Through the years, pilots have always tried to cross the runway while aircraft were operating from it and we just had to find a good solution to this problem. In the past, local farmers used vintage tractors to pull trams around the airport. But then this past year revealed a weakness with this plan when a late harvest left us with no farmers or vintage tractors to pull our trams. In the future, we will be searching out donations of small vintage tractors so we don’t have to rely on others to pull our trams but for now we have come up with a great solution. Actually, Ginger did. I was away on a trip when she told me, “I just bought us a tram.” My head immediately began to spin and continued to do so until I saw it.
This thing was once the Cincinnati Zoo tram and we managed to get it really cheap. The photo here does not show the third people mover that goes with it but I think this will give you a feel for what it is. When all three wagons are hooked up, the “train” can move almost 60 people.
This spring, we’ll be working on both of these items and looking for folks who might want to volunteer to help “rebuild” them. They both work ok right now but need some work to be perfect.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the airport fund last year. Some of the funds went toward these pieces of equipment that will specifically support the growth of airport events.