Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Future for Lee Bottom?

"An end result, imagined clearly and acted upon with expectation, will always force the circumstances necessary to bring about its own manifestation, no matter how unpredictable, unlikely, or even impossible those circumstances may have previously seemed." --A Note from the Universe
Lee Bottom Flying Field has some of the best supporters in the world. Over time, other airport owners have confirmed it. Most of them simply cannot believe how well our Lee Bottom Family steps up when needed. Every year, our calendars ship out to enthusiasts all over the world who share a single passion, the sport of aviation. Along with that, thousands upon thousands of people read our reports from the field and editorials found in NORDO News and elsewhere. Sometimes members of our family don’t see eye to eye with us but more commonly they do. Whatever the case though, they know they are welcome to say whatever they want as long as their passion, their goal, is the long term survival of the field. To all of you who do everything you can to support Lee Bottom and aviation, we want to express our most sincere thanks. As you read the following paragraphs, we hope you don’t get the wrong idea. Read it, absorb it, and if you have any questions send them our way.
At least once every year, usually around the fly-in, the wear and tear on us begins to show. Anyone who has been reading our NORDO News for the last three years can attest to that. But what causes it? Do you really know? Having discussed it at length between ourselves for many years, we have now decided it’s time for us to plot a new future for Lee Bottom Flying Field.
Before I discuss the future of the field, I would like to discuss some background issues. Let’s call these “Things we all know are true but may not discuss”. To help you fully understand what it is like to own an airport like Lee Bottom Flying Field in the modern world, I will have to break the green wall of silence; a code known only to flying field owners. This unspoken vow of silence is best described by a very well known and well worn quote from the movies, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”
Although I believe that most people can’t handle the truth or, at the very least they don’t want to hear it, I firmly believe it is far better for everyone to know it; all of it. Therefore, let me get straight to the point. Owning and operating a flying field is not always that fun. Really, it isn’t. In fact, it can be, and often is, a huge pain in the ass. As any owner could tell you but they won’t, it sucks money far faster than any aircraft, and it requires the expenditure of most your spare time to maintain it. There, I said it. That’s not the first time though.
Through the years, Ginger and I have explicitly warned people, those who excitedly notified us about their intent to purchase land and construct their own field, that is was a bad idea. To date, every single one of them has, at some point in time, conceded they should have listened to us. Acres of valuable farmland that produce profit, leveled and maintained for the use of aircraft, is the most illogical and financially unsound bit of thinking I have ever known. Yet, whenever we drop our guard and share this with people, they look at us like we’re joking. We aren’t. If you want proof, just think of all the airports and strips that have closed during the past two decades. If they’re so great, where did they go?
So why then do people think flying field ownership would be great? We know why. Every day of every year, some pilot who loves to fly goes to the airport, jumps in their airplane, and does just that. Along the way to the air they see friends, other airplanes, and they think about something they enjoy; flying. Once in the air, they have fun. If they fly to an aviation event they see more people like themselves, they have a good time, and then fly home still having fun. When they land at home, having just had a great flight, the airport is the last thing they see. All this combines in the mind to form the subconscious notion that the airport is the source of all aviation fun. But ask yourself, how many vintage automobile enthusiasts take out twenty acres of farmland to build a lane and a half, pot-holed, gravel road to drive around on? None. Yet, the simulated 50’s diner in a garage is so cliché that there are companies devoted to selling items that help you build such a thing. To old car enthusiasts, the diner is the airport, yet none of them go out and try to build and operate a full scale diner just to attract cars. That would be stupid. And yet people still think owning an airport would be great. Maybe that’s our fault.
Ginger and I have always tried so hard to be positive in telling people how great Lee Bottom is and how much we love meeting all the new people, we’ve actually made airport ownership seem easy. When we were up to our elbows in crap, sometimes literally, we put out posts about the joys of mowing the grass. When more dollars went out than came in, we posted about how nice it is to watch planes take off and land. But for the longest time, we never told people how hard it really is because when someone asks you how you are doing, they want to hear “I’m doing great” and when things are not good they really don’t want to hear it. There comes a point though where people should be told how difficult it really is and that’s what we’re hoping to do. Yes, there have been many great times and we have made some great friends because of the airport, but it certainly hasn’t been a cake-walk. Admittedly, if it weren’t for all the people who contribute every year, we’d have sold the place ages ago when we had the chance. And of course, there’s the fact that we love it and want to see it survive against harsh realities.
Hanging in there? We realize this may be a lot to digest but there is a point to it all.
Airports may be absolutely critical to the sport of aviation but when they are not used or supported they are not fun and they make no sense and they go away. In a world where so much is out of your control, the use and support of your favorite airport and aviation event may seem like a no-brainer. But in the real world, when it comes to talk or action, talk too often talk wins. Let me give you some examples.
1) A few years back, a local power company began erecting towers a few miles south of the airport and making plans to run power lines across the river. We only found out because a local pilot asked us about them. Being so busy with the airport, we had not flown in months and had not seen them ourselves. When we started looking into the issue, it became apparent they had conveniently “missed” our public use airport on the charts. Immediately pointing this out to the FAA brought their project to a halt while a determination on the project was sought. During this process, we put the word out to everyone on our list (around 7000) with emails, phone calls, etc. This was done because the FAA was allowing comments on the project and we wanted to give everyone the chance to speak up for an airport and the sport of aviation. Many people responded with disbelief, others snipped about greedy electrical companies, and others grumbled louder than usual. In the end though, three people commented; three people. YES, you read that right; just three people.
2) Being a mere thirty miles up-river from Louisville, our area has one of the highest concentrations of pilots in the country. This is thanks to the UPS air hub being based at Standiford Airport. Known also as a company that is very philanthropic to local causes, one of three fly-in planning volunteers, who is also a pilot at the company, attempted to gain UPS sponsorship for the fly-in. After several conversations, she was told that if enough UPS people could show they volunteer time at the airport then we would have a good chance of gaining the sponsorship. It was also pointed out that it should be easy because UPS values volunteering so much, they have a way for employees to sign onto the company website and list their volunteer time. Now, I’m not going to tell you how few employees actually did that. Instead, I will just say that we didn’t get the sponsorship.
3) The final example I would like to include is this. Over the past decade, as many as four EAA Vintage board members have lived within 100 miles of Lee Bottom. None of them ever visited the airport or attended a single event.  After years of assuming they were interested in supporting aviation and inviting them to events, we gave up (and took a different approach).
Are you seeing a pattern here?  Ultimately, I believe a lot of people think we get more support than what we do. 
Why are we discussing the subject? Late last year, Ginger and I began planning the next twenty years of our lives. To many of you that may sound odd but that’s how we think; current, five, ten, and twenty years. Our plans included what we’d like to be doing and where we’d like to be at each sign-post. Critical to them all was Lee Bottom.
One thing I’ve never shared about the airport is something Fritz told me shortly before he died. He said he knew I would do everything in my power to keep Lee Bottom an airport but if I couldn’t, then I should do whatever I want with it and move onto a boat in the Caribbean. That’s another reason I loved the old guy so much; we thought just alike. Unfortunately for the boat dealer, I would prefer to keep Lee Bottom an airport. I would also prefer that everyone came along for the ride.
What I’m about to tell you, you’ll never hear anywhere else. Therefore, I hope you read it, take some time to digest it, and then join in the effort. Here goes.
Aviation as we have known it is dead and it is not coming back. Sport Pilot qualified aircraft are not going to bring it back. Young Eagles is not nor will it ever bring it back. Likewise, EAA and AOPA are not going to bring it back. And, unless each and every aviation enthusiast makes it their mission to save the sport of aviation, we might as well go ahead and send flowers in the name of “We sat by and watched” to the funeral home. It really is that simple.
Am I saying we should abandon aviation? No. Am I saying that a lot of people are abandoning aviation? Yes. And because of that, we must be willing to consider new ideas and we must stop the loss.
What can you do? Well, let me say that sending emails to your friends about all the evil things government is doing to aviation is not the solution. Ultimately, you are the government and you must become active. Aviation has always been one of America’s greatest symbols of freedom and if you want your freedom preserved, you must preserve it. If you want something saved you must save it. Yet, in a time when pilots worry “what is the government going to do to my airport next” owners of airports like ours, airports that offer a way around the razor wire, fencing, and SIDA badges, sit here looking for ways to secure a future. Unfortunately, reality dictates that some fields will disappear.
With ever expanding development and encroachment on airports, some airports will have to go despite how we feel about them. Try as we may, the contraction and consolidation of aviation will thin them out. Fortunately, every change offers opportunities. Lee Bottom is one of them.
Located within an eight hour drive of over 80% of the population of the United States and yet on the last undeveloped section of the Ohio River, the area offers the perfect chance for aviation to come together to save one old fashioned airport for future generations to enjoy. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Yet I feel I must once again point out that opportunity must be met with action; otherwise Lee Bottom too will be a thing of the past.
Is it worth preserving? Should it be preserved? Will it be here in twenty years? We have a plan that would work, but we can’t do it alone.
During the past year, I have personally spoken with some of aviation’s best known movers and shakers about the future of Lee Bottom Flying Field. As usual our ambitions are big and in speaking with these people the goal was to get a feel for how our idea played to a larger market. Thankfully, everyone I have spoken with is supportive and even open to helping. Yet, without your support, we just don’t see the purpose. Here’s why.
Lee Bottom is as much an idea as it is an airport. It is that place you think of when you haven’t flown in weeks; it’s the place you know you will be welcomed even before you arrive; it’s that place from your childhood where you took your first airplane ride. Lee Bottom is what aviation is supposed to be and it is the people who want that to survive who will determine its future.
With that out in the open, let’s discuss the first action item on the list. If we are to move forward with our long term plans for the airport, we feel it is important to first understand the demand, and amount of support, that actually exists for our annual fall event called The Wood, Fabric, & Tailwheels Fly-In. Although this event brought us to where we are today, it continues to cause us induced heartburn and some things must be sorted out for it to continue. Let me explain.
In the past, whenever we have attempted to discuss this subject, the number one response has been something along the lines of “have a cookout and let them pee in the woods”. Although it may seem simple and harmless, to us it says so much more to us. Let me spell it out. If someone thinks the size of the fly-in is the problem, then they do not understand why we are doing this. And, if someone thinks making the fly-in simpler would solve our problems then they too do not know why we are doing this. Here’s where the problem is coming from. ARE YOU READY??? Take a deep breath; let it out; now read: We are not doing this for ourselves.
Yes, we understand that some people likely believe they are just supporting our hobby when they support the fly-in but that just isn’t the case. When you support these events, you are supporting the aviation community by giving it substance; something more than just you and your airplane. You are giving it a sense of community. And if aviation doesn’t want that, then we certainly aren’t going to waste our time grilling hamburgers for 13 people who want free food and entertainment. It is time for people to understand that they aren’t helping us, they are helping themselves. If people are just coming to support us, then they need to stop because they are causing us to continue our efforts to support aviation when the demand doesn’t really exist. Does that make sense? We hope so. It is critical to the future of Lee Bottom.
So, here’s where we are with this project. This Tuesday, we are having a meeting to determine how much interest there really is in the fly-in. If there turns out to be enough people on hand willing to commit to it, really commit to it, people who understand it takes money, time, and effort to host such an event, then we will continue to have it. If there is not enough support, last year will have been the last and we will move on to the next item on the list. If you are thinking this was really short notice, that’s not the case. We invited a core group of people to this event a month ago. The reason we are now telling the larger group about it is because soon there will be several more opportunities for you to become involved in the future of Lee Bottom. It is our hope that you will take this time to consider what it is that you could contribute to the effort so that when the next items come around, you’ll be ready to act. And if you are interested in, truly interested in helping with the fly-in, email us and we’ll get you the information for the meeting.
As I said earlier, Lee Bottom Flying Field has the best supporters in the world. Thanks to them, Lee Bottom has thrived when other fields suffered. Yet if we are to insure a long life for the airport, if we are to protect it from development and the march of time, we must take this opportunity to do so. The realities of aviation are upon us and we must face them head on, early, and strong.


Maggie Hettinger said...

Tuesday where? What time?

Dan DeVillers said...

I have been wanting to get down there for some time but have been unable. Do continue what you do. Thanks from a grass strip flier...4N0

Anonymous said...

I started flying late in life (age 46 ). Not long after I started my primary training I ask my CFI when we would be actually landing on a soft runway to which he replied " I've never landed on grass " Thanks to Lee Bottom 30 minutes later on a crisp winter day (temp 17 )in Febuary 2007 myself and my CFI cut our soft field teeth at Lee Bottom . I've visited many airports since then both big and small but nowhere says welcome home like Lee Bottom . Everytime I land there it reminds me that Airplanes were made for and intended to land on earth not concrete. Thanks Lee Bottom .

Bob Waggoner , Louisville , ky.

Anonymous said...

Ron Ransom, Salem, IN
Do not let this Event go by the way- side. I want to help in any way to see this event continue.

I would like to help with aircraft parking or what ever service you need during the next flying event.

Anonymous said...

Many all over the region hope you get past this. I understand completely as part of my job is to make sure 3 small airports survive these current times. So many call and email to complain about not having a perfect facility (at no cost), and to voice very unreasonable expectations even though we've managed to have new lights installed, major pavement repairs, etc.'s not fun most of the time, it is intrinsically rewarding, and yes it must be a calling because it sure as hell isn't the pay!


Anonymous said...

I have loved flying all my life and payed for my own PPL by the time I graduated high school. I've ate, drank, slept and breathed flying for a long time before where I am now. I would assume you are getting close to retirement age. I've also learned along time ago there is more to life than airplanes. Wait for the value of the land to improve. Nobility will get you nowhere. Sorry for the negativity but reality rules.

As you have stated::::
"Although I believe that most people can’t handle the truth or, at the very least they don’t want to hear it, I firmly believe it is far better for everyone to know it; all of it. Therefore, let me get straight to the point. Owning and operating a flying field is not always that fun. Really, it isn’t. In fact, it can be, and often is, a huge pain in the ass.......Aviation as we have known it is dead and it is not coming back. Sport Pilot qualified aircraft are not going to bring it back. Young Eagles is not nor will it ever bring it back".

If you look at history, in the 1930's. aviation was a sport of the very wealthy just like it is today. Will it rebound in you're lifetime. Hell no. Take the money and run unless you wish to leave a name for yourself. There is alot more to life than airplanes. Buy a nice wooded property to hunt, shoot or piss in the yard as you mow it and live the good life. Get a boat or whatever. Quit trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. Again, that will get you nowhere. Fritz knew what he was talking about.

John Freas said...

Clearly the pragmatist above did not read the message so much as caught the words they wanted to read.

The point of the message was not that it's a huge sacrifice to operate the field (although undoubtedly it is), but rather that the fly-in in particular, and the airport in a broader sense, are being maintained and offered as a way to keep the real heart of general aviation alive. There are thousands of pilots just like Bob Waggoner's CFI who go through their lives training and working in aviation without ever seeing the fun, simple, basie pleasure that is general aviation. I too have known CFIs who never landed on grass (note: that's not necessarily a soft field!). Their loss. Every one of my students got to do a simulated emergency landing to a full stop thanks to a nearby grass field, and I remember vividly days at the airport with my dad watching the airplanes take off before we took our turn.

Yes, general aviation is shrinking, right along with the ability of the average person to afford it, but it is not gone as long as we have places like Lee Bottom to re-infuse our spirit with the pure joy of aviation; devoid of baking concrete and whining turbines, control towers and expect further clearance times. The people and the environment that come with a small friendly airport, especially a grass field are the heart and soul of flying for me, and I get it.

The message isn't how hard it is or how impractical it is. The message is that the sacrifice and aggravation is only worthwhile if it is doing some good. It is only worth doing if the gift is received and appreciated, and passed along.

I just reserved the local airplane for all 3 Sinful Sundays. Weather permitting, my 6 year old and I will be there with smiles on.

John Freas
Elizabethtown, IN.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Great points about the future of aviation... You are right unfortunately, aviation as we knew it is dead. I fly for the airlines, am a CFI and an A&P/IA. The up and coming younger generation do not care about aviation except for a very few. Facebook, Ipads, Ipods and Kim K are the order of the day. Adeventure is lived through virtual reality and cable/satellite TV. Its too bad, they don't know what they are really missing.

John Freas said...

While it may be that technological distractions make it easier for kids, and people in general to overlook aviation, I think that we've always been an unknown group.

The average person knows nothing about personal aircraft except that they exist. This is nothing new. It was that way when I was a kid. I knew then that my dad and I were part of an almost secret world. One that we shared with a few lucky others who got to see the clouds from above, enjoy the blue glow of taxiway lights on a cool summer night, and the magic of climbing into an airplane in overcast Pennsylvania in the morning and being on the beach in Florida before the sun went down. The inside of the FBO, the pilots chatting in tattered chairs before going up to just bore some holes in the sky. These are things that 99.9% of Americans will never know, and it's always been that way.

At roughly 600,000 we pilots represent less than 2/10 of 1 per cent of the US population. If we quadrupled that number to include an average flying family you're still not at 1%. We have been and always will be a small family, who's flying life is all but unknown to the population as a whole, and misunderstood by most. Contrast that with 8.9 Million households that own that other, somewhat uncommmon money pit: an RV, and you will see just how small our community is. It's not surprising that we are all but invisible to the average person, especially since our aviation world almost never intersects theirs.

It's probably true that the distractions of computer games and reality TV keep some from discovering the pleasures of real life, flying included, but I would bet that the same could have been said of hot rods, drive-ins, and malt shops in the 1950s. Back then a tiny handful of kids were inspired by flight, just as now. The rest were distracted by other things in their lives.

The distractions are different, but I don't know that they have any more impact now than they did before. Rather, the erosion of our middle class has put flight for fun out of the economic reach of more and more people. How often can you afford to drop $100 to go play in the sky with your kids, let alone travel somewhere? For some it's still possible. For others it's getting farther and farther from reach, and for the 99.9% it isn't even on their radar.

For those of us who still hang on though, having somewhere to fly to can make all of the difference, and having something as special as a grass strip with a group of airplane nuts to go visit is absolutely irresistable. I want my boys to feel what that community is like. It's a special feeling that few get to enjoy.

John Freas
Elizabethtown, IN

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what the outcome of the meeting was? Were there any decisions made about the future of the field?


Unknown said...

The field will be here!

Event organizers are currently rallying for time, talents, and funds to ensure that the events match the needs of the field and the level of commitments available.

Many people, organizations, and companies are stepping up. . .

Clyde said...

Good to hear..The Cub will be done c.July '11 so I hope to be able to help 'on the ground' this summer. Clyde

Anonymous said...

Please do not kick sport pilot too much. A big problem I have is I cannot afford to purchase a $100,000.00 Airplane ithink this is a problem for many. The FAA could have raised the weight limits. This would have made flying affordable. alot of airplanes aare out there in the $15,000 and above mainly Cessna 150's

R. Rex said...

John Freas is pretty much right on with his analysis. Aviators HAVE always been a small group in relation to the general population. And he's also correct in stating that the middle class is less able to afford to fly than ever. The traditional good jobs were in manufacturing and, due to Globalization and Technology, are never coming back. Also, the cost of fuel is getting to be beyond the ability of even some well-off folks to afford. (My airplane burns 22 to 25 gallons per hour, so I fly it less than I used to.) Finally, I agree that the young today ARE more interested in virtual life styles than in reality and that's not about to change anytime soon.