Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ultimately, I Remember the Good Things

The original military hangar used by Rhoades.
Mixed throughout life are those moments when you are told someone or something you treasure has ceased to exist.  Often times it turns out to be a person you were good friends with in school.  If so, you stop to think, “That sucks”, and move on.  It’s life.  Stuff happens.  You wish it wasn’t so, honor their memory, and take the next step forward.  The older you get the less shocking these things become.  Yet there is one death that’s different.
It’s hard to explain but if you’ve experienced what I’m about to discuss you know exactly what I’m talking about.  You remember because of the unexpectedness of it.  What is it?  The end, the death, the final nail in the coffin of someone or something you never knew you cared about.

Here’s how it typically happens.  You’re talking with a family member back home and they mention some obscure person from your childhood has passed or an old burger joint hang-out has closed for good.  Whatever the case, everyone thought it to be mostly a side note to your life, but when you heard of its demise it was obviously so much more.

Remember the movie “Stand by Me”?  The main character had only a narrow window of time with one friend before life went on without him.  Yet when the character Chris Chambers, the long lost friend, was stabbed and killed, the main character’s life (Gordie) stood still so he could put their story to words.  Their time together had been ages ago and relatively small, but it was formative.   Therefore, it was something he just could not move beyond without a proper remembrance.
The other day I got my “old burger joint” call.  Well, actually it was a text.  And it wasn’t a greasy spoon either.  Nope, for me it was the place where I had what I would call my first true commercial aviation job – Rhoades Aviation.  They were closing for good.
Rhoades also had Convairs.  Just like everywhere else everyone wanted the
bigger plane except me.  It required a training contract and I loved the 3.
My time at Rhoades physically exists as logbook entries.  Somewhere between barnstorming and flying for the airlines I recorded hundreds upon hundreds of hours flying their DC-3's.  That’s pretty much it as far as most people know.  Yet, like I referenced earlier, when I heard the news I immediately realized how much more those hours meant.
Where do I start?  My stint with Rhoades was a time of giving up.  For many reasons, I gave up my dreams of business to do the easy thing, fly.  Flying had always come naturally to me so it seemed to make sense to trade the one skill I had for steady income.  But to get to that point I knew I had to get more multi-time.  That’s where the DC-3's came in.
Back then, just like today, everyone said there was only one way to the airlines; become an instructor then go to the regionals.  Well, I may have given up but I wasn’t fully down.  That process simply did not appeal to me so I went in search of a job at Rhoades.  Everyone told me I was wrong and that it wouldn’t work.  But, if I were going to sell my soul I’d at least do it my way.
How far from the mainstream was my chosen route to the regionals?   I told a good friend what I wanted to do, he picked up the phone with me still sitting there, called Rhoades, and Bud (their operating manager) said, “Tell him to go get his multi and show up for class on X date.  It was two months away and that’s what I did.  There was no application, no “where do you see yourself in five years” interview questions, and no flight evaluation.  Although I’m sure the nearly 2000 hours of tailwheel and radial time didn’t hurt, the truth is that nobody wanted to work there.  Kids of that era, again just like today, had no interest in those oily old birds and to get a call from one with useful experience must have made them wonder if it was a joke.  It wasn’t.
I sat right there in that very airplane many times.
By the end of that year I’d received four degrees worth of education and a few lifetimes of experience.   We flew as many hours as the law allowed then figured out how to fly another 20.  VOR to VOR sans autopilot was the name of the game.  We did it in the Midwest at all hours of the night, without radar, XM weather, or any fancy gadgets that would allow us to leave our charts on the ground.  We had weight and balances but they were all lies; mostly on the part of the shippers.  Because of this, we determined safety of flight by putting our fist on top of the tailwheel to see if it fit in the gap between the fuselage.  If it didn’t, something came off.  Otherwise we went.  Did I mention it was all uphill?
Yes, the DC-3s floor is uphill and, although we had a winch to help, as pilots we loaded our own freight and secured it for flight.  Sometimes there was so much cargo we had to get a ladder and enter through the hatch just aft of the cockpit.  Built into the left side of the fuselage it was known affectionately as “the hamburger hatch”.
During a trip to Alaska, Ginger and I stopped at Buffalo Airways before most people
ever even knew they existed.  Inside sat a turbine 3 that looked very familiar.  I asked
where they got it and they said, "It just arrived yesterday.  We got if from a company
named Rhoades".  I never flew this one.
If it was raining outside it was raining inside and if it was snowing everything inside was frozen. Several pilots carried trash bags to shed the water and sleeping bags to sit in while at the controls.   God forbid you had food poisoning.  The trash can was the lav.
While there I learned never to fear the FAA and only respect them when they earned it, how to see, feel, and avoid weather when it was pitch black, and methods for comfortably flying in conditions most pilots today believe will kill you.  Another valuable piece of knowledge I gained was that the MEL list is actually a maximum equipment list.  And truth be told, most planes are perfectly safe fully maxed out with deferrals.  Maintenance from a pen really is magic.
Other notable lessons learned included the fact that the chief pilot will always claim everyone wants to fire you for what you did but that he saved your job.  Along with that came the insight that as long as you never killed anyone nobody was going to fire you; even if there was a recording of you using the F-word four times in one sentence.  In fact, once the higher-ups realize you don’t give a shit, they pretty much leave you alone and you might even get away with killing someone as long as you can still earn them money.  It’s the threat that binds people; letting go of the fear unlocks the chains and shuts down management.
Sitting waiting to be burned.  Yep, it's true.  The very first Rhoades DC-3
now belongs to the City of Columbus.
I also came to understand better, some things I already knew.  People who want cargo transported and people who want to be moved, want to do so for the smallest monetary amount.  If you can’t meet their demands, there’s always someone else willing to do it cheaper.  When you yourself stand on a slick wing in the rain and pump 759 gallons of gas and five gallons of oil, you are reminded how much it takes to move the machine.  Things break, pilots who think flying is supposed to be glamorous throw hissie fits, and the government is always there to get in the way or take its cut; sometimes both.  It isn’t easy and the aviating is just a part of it.
Did I mention I learned how to fight in the cockpit?

When I got the news Rhoades was closing, I knew I should pay them a visit.  Two days later I stood in the FBO talking to Bud Robertson.  There was something I just had to do; thank them.
It was great to see Bud again.  Today he’s on his second heart and says he feels better than he has in fifteen years (I started there 15 years ago).  But before we moved too far from the subject, I expressed what I felt was most important, “Today I fly 747’s all over the world and I want you to know it was this job that taught me what I know, and it was this job where I learned to safely do things that scare most of the people I work with.  It has helped me get the job done when others wouldn’t or couldn’t and again I wanted you to know that”.  Bud got a big laugh from the things that scare people part and then he said that he’s had a lot of guys come by through the years who told him the same thing, and he repeated “a lot of guys”.  Then, as he looked to the horizon, he added a reflective sounding “Yeah, A LOT OF GUYS”, and hesitated. He was running the list in his mind.  For a few seconds, if you could have seen his thoughts, a novel could have been written.  Up until today Rhoades had been a hold-out.  Now it was all going by and was about to end.  And in that moment I was so glad I had made the effort to visit.
Anyone who claims they know exactly how this works is lying.
I’ve called the operation at Rhoades many different things through the years.  Of course I’ve also been known to call my best friends things like “asshole” or “fuckstick”.  It’s what we do as pilots; they're just words.  Ultimately though, if you have any skill, you learned it or honed it somewhere and you should be thankful to those who offered the opportunity.  There are many people who have done so for me.  But today I specifically remember Jack, Bud, Darryl, JD, and the rest of the folks in Columbus Indiana.  Without Rhoades I would not be who I am today.  Blame it on them.
I still can't believe we had to wear white shirts.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

FAA, The Original EPA

Did you feel that America?  When you woke up, could you sense the change in your status?  Only yesterday you were an upstanding citizen merely washing your car as your kids played with their radio controlled quad-copter.  Today though you’re the parent of criminals doing something that could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in fines.  What is it?  It’s their toy of course.  Haven’t you heard?
If you’ve been following politics in 2014, you most surely have heard about the EPA’s attempt to regulate non-navigable waterways.  What are non-navigable waterways?   Well, in short, they’re that ditch in your yard and the pond you built into the landscaping.  Yes, that’s right.  The EPA wants to have regulatory control of your ditch.  And what does that mean to you?  For starters, washing your car at home could generate huge fines if it can be determined anything other than pure water flowed off your vehicle and into the drain.  Even silt, fine dirt, could land you in big trouble.   Crazy isn’t it?  But that’s not your problem.

No, your problem is that cute little 8” toy quad-copter you bought your kids.  As of November 18th, that toy falls under the jurisdiction of the FAA.  And, like every plane in the country, it is subject to the rules of airspace.   But wait, you’re off the hook because your kids aren’t flying their toy in any airspace, right?  Wrong!  It’s time to get educated.
You see, the FAA was the original EPA.  In fact, in many ways the FAA was, and still is, a primary incubator for onerous government oversight ideas.  Long before the EPA, TSA, DOE, and others, the FAA had established itself as an eight headed hydra willing to test the governmental limits of ethics, bureaucracy, and common sense.  It restricted free enterprise, stood in the way of advancement, made up rules on the fly, told pilots how they could live, companies when they could operate, and collected data on everyone so it could be used against them should the need arise.

The amount of medical information alone that is collected on pilots would startle most civil liberties champions.  If you want to enjoy the greatest freedom known to man, you’re going to have to tell them if you have herpes.  Whatever the condition, real, possible, or imagined, the FAA insists on knowing about it when you renew the medical required to have a license.  And just to be sure you don’t forget to list a doctor’s visit, occasionally they find some poor soul who forgot to report a trip to the emergency room for a cut to the hand and fine her a couple grand and take her license just to make a point; DON’T CROSS US OR YOU’LL BE SORRY.   On its finest day, it is a disgusting, irregular, vindictive beast ruled by agents that would make the Matrix envious.

If you’re getting concerned, you should be.   Would you like to know how your kids were turned into criminals?  Basically speaking, the NTSB is to the FAA what the FISA court is to any government agency that wants to snoop on Americans.   Little more than a federal organization designed to find the most convoluted and expensive solutions to problems that don’t exist, the NTSB rules so often in favor of the FAA that to describe it as often isn’t telling the whole story.  The official story, just like the FISA court, is that it is unbiased and makes decisions based on facts and logic.  The real story is that the NTSB lives and breathes to give support to any governmental agency, especially the FAA, anytime it asks for backup.  And guess what, the FAA asked for it.
Yes, just like that poor soul who forgot her visit to the ER, a gentleman was recently targeted for using his quad-copter, also commonly called a drone, to capture some video of the University of Virginia.  The FAA, for whatever reason, got involved and decided to make an example of Mr. Pirker.  A $10,000 fine is what he got for “operating an aircraft in a careless and reckless manner”.  That’s the catch all phrase the FAA has used to kneecap pilots for generations.  Like a cop planting drugs on a clean driver, when the FAA has nothing on a pilot but really wants to get the bust, this is the wording they use.  Fortunately though, a federal judge disagreed with their verdict and overturned the fine.  That’s when the agency called their friends at the NTSB.

You know where this is going, don't you?  Upon hearing the case, the NTSB ruled in favor of the FAA.  Unfortunately for your kids, in order to pass this judgement on Mr. Pirker, they also had to define what an aircraft was.  This is what they came up with – any device used for flight in air to include manned or unmanned, large or small.   Did you get that?   The NTSB just gave the FAA regulatory control over everything from spaceships to paper airplanes.  Did I mention that includes the airspace all the way to the ground?
Just in case you’re sitting there in disbelief, for the purpose of clarity, let me spell it out .  The FAA now has regulatory control over ever square inch of airspace in your yard starting at ground level.  If you fly a model anywhere in that airspace you are subject to FAA interpretations of use and you could be fined.  Of course, with them having achieved this so easily, I’m sure the EPA is insanely jealous and will be working overtime to get control of your ditch.  If you don’t want to be fined for the water dripping off your car, you better call your representatives and give them an earful.  Sadly though, it’s too late for your kids.  They’re practically felons and all they did was enjoy the great American dream of flight.
Sorry, kid; you shouldn't have been filming your dog with that toy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Our Fly-In Sponsors are the Best

I'd like to take a minute to talk about our fly-in sponsors.  Over the years they've stuck with us through thick and thin.  And yet it is their quality of person, the principles and beliefs behind them, that make these folks so great.  In fact, we believe so strongly in only doing business with upstanding corporate and private citizens, we've been known to turn down sponsorships.  Yes, you read that right; if our sponsors weren't the best, they wouldn't be our sponsors.
Of course, it's easy to blow smoke up the skirts of sponsors but we're not into that. Instead, we prove our belief in them by referring their services as often as the opportunity allows.  And you know what? Every time we've ever referred one of them, we've heard great things back about the services or products received.   That's a great sign.  But, we love our sponsors so much we'd like to do more.
When it comes to Poly-Fiber, Signature Engines, and Vintage Pursuits, we have something special in mind for them.  Their products and services will be used in our rebuild of the family Champ (N2665E) that was crushed ten years ago in a freak snow storm hangar collapse.   Their fabric system will cover and color it, their engine services will assist in the conversion, and their consulting services will help us decided on what to include and what to leave out.
As for the other sponsors, I have personally ridden along on several Aeronautical Charters charter flights.  Their pilots are some of the best and their customers always seem to be smiling;  The Bowman Eagles is a flying club full of members who don't just fly taildraggers, they stay involved in aviation.  Most of you know them for being reliable fly-in volunteers here at Lee Bottom and other events;  The folks at Barfing Bee Honey are also reliable friends and volunteers.  Among other things, they head up the volunteers and aircraft parking during the fly-in;  Derrick Engineering helps us in many ways throughout the year and they are firmly placed in our long term goals for a water and septic system that would handle a growing airport infrastructure;  QAM, Inc, is owned and operated by some of the best folks on the planet.  Not only do they volunteer here at the fly-in, but they are constantly looking for ways to help out our communication infrastructure which is greatly hindered by our remote location; Geez Beez Honey offers nature's desert to pilots who fly into Lee Bottom from all over the country and beyond; Gordon Farms is another sponsor - they've helped out in more ways than we can count doing nearly every job possible at the airport or fly-in at one time or another.  And finally there's all of the people who purchased cones or donated money to help with the event; they often act as though they feel they aren't doing enough but the reality is they make up the majority of the effort.  There's power in numbers and they always come through.

Thanks again to all of our fly-in sponsors, big and small, for helping us get the fly-in back on track and making it another success.  Without you, it could not be done.

Never Forget, But What About Those Already Forgotten?

Christmas is approaching and the catalogs are piling up.  Whatever it is you dream of, someone somewhere offers it.  But how much of it do you really need?  Deep down we all know the answer to that, don’t we?  Yet I must admit, whenever the Historic Aviation catalog comes along, I always browse every page.
The Historic Aviation Catalog is easily the best aviation enthusiast wish book.  Yeah, most of the stuff can be bought elsewhere if you have time to look, and most of the items sold equate to shelf clutter or pilot apparel.  But it is only within its pages where most of the really cool clutter and apparel can be found in one easy to order from location.  Well, except for Lee Bottom Caps.
Another thing I really like about Historic Aviation is that it regularly offers forgotten history to those who peruse its wares.  Most magazines don’t do as well as H.A. when it comes to finding and promoting history that never achieved mainstream glory.  Make no mistake though, H.A. is selling memorabilia.  But, in doing so in its own way, I suspect this catalog has spurred recipients to research more unique history than half of our aviation publications combined.  Let me offer you an example.
The latest Historic Aviation catalog delivered a surprise.  Holding down the top left position on page 29 is an SB2C Helldiver.  I’ve always loved that airplane.  Of course, the most likely reason for this passion is also the most likely reason I love Hellcats, Dauntless dive bombers, and just about every other WWII Navy aircraft; my dad served on a carrier in that war.  And yet, the Helldiver isn’t the real surprise.  What makes this one so special is that it is painted in the colors of the Randolph,CV-15.  That’s the carrier upon which my dad served and where all his earliest aviation stories were born.
Never heard of the Randolph?  Don’t feel bad.  Although it had some incredible history, like so many other things, it was inexplicably lost in the shadows of two or three of its peers.   And, until recently there was very little discussion of the ship; then Paul Allen painted his Hellcat to represent one of the famous fighters that was based on it.
Before long, a book about these fighters was taking on new life.  Having been in print for ages, in 2014 it found a second wind and secured a spot on the Amazon Editor’s top 100 Favorite Books list.  Titled Crommelin’s Thunderbirds, it is a “chronicle of their operations off the USS Randolph in the last stages of the Pacific war”.  And since the Randolph was the first carrier ever to go straight from its shakedown cruise into battle and then for it to be in Japan when the war ended, my father was there for it all.
So, as you can imagine, finding a model of a Randolph Helldiver, a more obscure aircraft type, well that was truly a surprise to me.  Somewhere, someone must have read up on the carrier and decided it was time it received more attention.  The folks at Historic Aviation looked at their product the way they do everything else, saw the unique history, thought it would sell to their customer base, and placed it firmly on 1/15th of a page.  It’s a small space but it represents some amazing history.  The next time you’re browsing the web, give it a look.  
Thank you Historic Aviation.  On this Veteran's Day, you’ve likely spurred several people to search out the history of a ship they never knew existed.  This Essex Class Carrier, like so many other ships, was full of people whose stories, for one reason or another, were never told.  That’s a shame; some great men called her home.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

More Grass on the Way

During the middle of October we spent a full week mowing, aerating, fertilizing, and over-seeding all of the Lee Bottom property meant for handing aircraft.  The area worked, approximately 50 acres, was given one of the best treatments it has had in years.  Starting with a 17’ mowing deck, moving to an aerator just eight feet wide, and ending with a spreader that lays down seed in 15’ wide swaths, over 300 trips from one end of the field to the other were completed.
During the week long string of switchbacks, millions of plugs were pulled from the earth, tons of fertilizer were deposited, and around 2000 lbs of grass seed were carefully spread to take advantage of them both.  Ears were further deafened by the mower, arms were made numb from aerator vibrations, a back was pushed to its limits, and more hair was lost.  But then again, that last one could just be the fault of aviation.   Whatever the case, one full week of human existence was given to the Gods of Grass so that others may continue to enjoy no tread wear while expanding their aviation memory portfolios.
Here's to another great year of flying.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Louisville Life Covers The Lee Bottom Fly-In

It's not often an airport or aviation event gets great coverage.  Five to ten minutes of video isn't rare, but seven minutes of excellent media, combined with a positive message, is almost unheard of.  First you have to find someone interested in covering the subject; next you have to get everyone on the same page; finally, everything has to fall into place.  It's for these reasons the best productions sometimes happen by chance.
Several months ago, Ginger and I ended up sitting at a table with Gary and Angela Bartley Pahler.  It was a chance meeting at a restaurant in Louisville.  Ten minutes into the conversation, we had met Gary, heard about their life together, and learned she had been trying to get him to Lee Bottom for some time.  During the early years of the fly-in, Angela was a fixture here at the airport.  If something was going on, she was around, and because of the time she'd spent here she wanted him to see it.
Gary and Angela - They were too busy during the fly-in to get a
photo of them both together.
As for Gary, he is a producer and director at Louisville Life, a show about life around Louisville. Always on the lookout for potential subjects to cover, the idea of the Lee Bottom Fly-In came up. Who can say no to that?  Well, I can.

I am so incredibly tired of people jumping at the offer of coverage without thinking. When approached by someone in the media about the opportunity of having their event featured, people seem to lose their minds.  I guess they can almost see themselves being the next reality star.  But, I'm more cautious than that.

Knowing the song and dance stroking is usually little more than a cover story for a chance to paint aviation as an evil killer of babies and dreams, Gary would end up being the next guy who had to listen to my grilling.  You should never let anyone in the media profession video anything at any aviation event unless you are completely sure of what they intend to do with it.   Angela was always a great champion of aviation, and although I had known her for decades (yeah decades) and Gary was her husband, protecting the reputation of aviation was just something I was not going to leave to chance. Fortunately, as I suspected, Angela was still the supporter of flying she always was and Gary was a very kind and honest man.  So, we agreed to try to make it happen.  The fly-in would be covered. 
And so, that's the story of how a chance meeting over Thai food resulted in Lee Bottom being featured on KET.  In the end, the effort Gary and his crew put out on their days off resulted in some of the best coverage we've ever had.  It is a very well balanced representation of the event and we hope you'll take time to watch it and share it with your friends.
Thanks again to everyone who helped make this segment happen.  It was a great first year back event and it is very nice to see it get such great publicity.
If you missed the link earlier, Click here to go to the Louisville Life website.  Or, if you just want to watch the segment without leaving, here it is.

*Special thanks to Angela for her highly specialized Jeep driving and hat styling skills.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Worth It's Weight in Gold?

There is so much about aviation which is overlooked and taken for granted.  So endless is the list of items required to make flight happen, skills, techniques, and knowledge bases, even those in love with flying often have no idea how much went into the most common and simple parts.  Because of this, aviators also tend to be overly critical of the price that comes with the passion.
Sure, a Ford starter that can be bought at NAPA for $125 should never cost $750 because it’s being sold into the realm of aviation.  But what about the items which are mostly unique to aviation?  How about the spinner?
Photo from
How many pilots have lamented the cost of a spinner when theirs went beyond repair?  “That simple little piece of aluminum can’t cost that much”, is sure to have been spoken a thousand times by aviators shocked to learn theirs was dented by hangar rash or found cracked during annual.  There’s nothing to it, right?
There is more than one way to make a spinner but they all require a ton of work.
If you’ve never seen a spinner made, here’s a great ten minute video to watch.  Keep in mind the prep is not included and the video is edited to keep it short enough to watch.   No crafting of the spinner blank is shown, nor is the construction of the die used to make uniform parts.  The cutouts for the propeller blades are not demonstrated and even the holes that must be drilled for attachment to the back plate are not created.  And for that matter, the back plate construction is also absent.  All that is displayed is the basic shaping.
Yes, I agree sometimes the price of parts can be a little overwhelming.  But the next time you go looking for a spinner and find yourself having seizures on the floor, try to remember all that goes into one.  Everybody wanted to work with their minds instead of their backs remember?   So don’t complain about the people who held true and kept these skills (and your plane) alive by doing what was hard instead of easy.  Enjoy…

Before Complaining Checklist:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Lee Bottom Fly-In Review Part 5 - The Ultimate Review

After everything was said and done, everyone had flown away, and the last box of fly-in "stuff" was put away, Ginger and I felt pretty good.  The event had gone off rather smoothly.
Attendance at the fly-in was better than we expected.  The flow of people never seemed to stop. It was a good crowd but it wasn't crazy.  A plane would land and a few minutes later so would another.  That's how it went.
From what we saw, it was one of the happier crowds we could remember.  New people and regulars alike, they all seemed glad to have made it.   But were we just imagining things?  Did a subconscious desire to feel as though we hadn't lost whatever it was we had bring us to those conclusions?  There was no way to know. Of course, how would we?
Think about it.  When friends stop to say good-bye before flying away, if the fly-in was bad are they really going to say "This fly-in sucked"?  No, they're going to say they had a great time and look forward to the next one.   That's how people are.  So again, how do you know if people actually had a great time?

For me, the best judge is what people say to others when you aren't around.  Some post comments in online forums, others discuss it in conversations you hear of second-hand, and a few send messages that in turn get forwarded to us as "see I told you so's".  Yet, what you never seem to get is an honest to goodness fly-in review from someone who as far as you knew was just there to have a good time like the rest.
When magazines show up to do articles on events, you know they're going to say good things. Everyone knows they're there and nothing is truly pure about their experience.  Can you remember the last time you saw a bad review of a flying event in a publication.  Have you ever seen one? So how then do you get an honest review? That's a great question.
Until recently, I don't think I had ever seen such a thing.  Then someone sent us this link.  It is a review of the fly-in, written by Tori Williams, found at  To say it made us happy is an understatement.
Tori had lived the event from the standpoint of a typical fly-in participant and gone home to put her experience to words.  What she said was heart-warming.  Yet, it was the fact it was unexpected that made it so special.  Nobody who had anything to do with the gathering had any idea of her intent.  What she saw is what you see - or at least we hope it is.
Her review describes the event as if she could read our minds.  Had she asked us, "What would you like for people to take away from the fly-in", what she experienced is very close to what we would have said.  In fact, I can't imagine a better review.
If you would like to see what she had to say, click here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Lee Bottom Fly-In Review Part 4 - And Uncomfortably Honest Discussion

Like our fly-in attendees - the same core passion diverging
into endless expressions of flight
THE DISCLAIMER: For those of you who get it, you can skip this discussion if you like.  But remember, we always like to get your input so stick around if you would like to add your two cents worth.

Everything in life gels with each passing day.  The more time you have to think the more things fall into place.  The more things fall into place, the less worries you with with sharing them.  Reality is a great debater.  It has yet to lose.
I will never forget the reaction to a specific blog post a few years back.  I’ve mentioned it before and I’m about to mention it again.  It described my feelings of driving vs flying to an aviation event.  More specifically, it detailed the overwhelming sensation of participation I get when I fly to Oshkosh and how I feel nothing more than attendance when I drive.  The point was this - there is a difference.
The post caused a stir.  What had been a simple observation of self-reflection turned into a serious debate.  In some places it almost sounded like a fight.  To say I was humored by it all is a great understatement.
In a time of participation medals it struck a nerve.  Of course, the nerve it struck was of those who had always assumed they were participating and never once considered otherwise.  Those who have no problem with being an attendee had nothing to lose.
So how does this all apply to the Lee Bottom Fly-In?
One thing we’ve long attempted to convey to those who come to the Lee Bottom Fly-In is that it isn’t being done for us.  The fly-in has always been about having an event for the “other people”.  They aren’t warbirds but they may love warbirds, they aren’t antiquers but they may love antiques.  They aren’t formation, light-sport, fat-tire, alphabet group, or general aviation either.  They are aviators.  Flying is their passion and the other titles are merely a reflection of that.  Not the other way around.
Because of this notion, and the fact so many aviation events today are highly focused, we’ve had a tough time getting people to understand.  We don’t hold the event to turn a profit, we hold it so that there is a catch-all event for those who love flying; an event where the groups do not matter.
Now, about that so called profit.  It’s no secret we’ve been “charging” for “attendance” since 2007.  It isn’t new.  What was new this year though was an online ticketing service.
During past events, it was possible to visit, enjoy yourself, and fly away without paying.  In fact, almost 30% of people did just that despite our constant reminders of red ink.  Why would pilots do that?
Myself, having contemplated this for ages, witnessed the reaction to the attendance vs participation blog, and fielded questions from a few angry pilots about the online ticketing system, I now feel I have a good understanding of why.  Through the years, aviation has made pilots believe they were participating when they were actually flying their planes to events and attending.
Organizers have coddled them, sucked up to them, kissed butt, and often given them a free pass to everything.  And yet, what was the purpose?  Usually it was, and is, to get them there so they could lay claim to the best collection, the largest crowd, most airplanes, or some other meaningless talking point.  In turn, the public who attended were those drawn to titles and those who flew to the events were those who were drawn to attention.   And for a while, this became the predominant model for all aviation gatherings.  Unfortunately, it also meant they turned into textbook sociological displays of the big frog in a little pond syndrome.
Two decades later, a guy said stood tall, puffed his chest, and spoke words like these into the cameras, “I’ve loved P-38s since I was a kid.  I loved their history, was fascinated by the pilots, and built model after model of them.  I guess it is because of this that when I had the means, I decided to rescue this P-38 for future generations.  I’m not its owner I’m its caretaker and I love sharing it with people”.  The same guy wouldn’t attend any event that didn’t pay his gas, give him a hotel room, passes to the VIP tent, and possibly a sexual favors.  Clearly, he had been enabled by other gatherings that had caved to his demands.  That’s how it worked.  They wanted that plane there and the owners knew it.
Event after event followed the lead and before long you couldn’t get a Stinson Detroiter to an event without at least giving them gas money.  People holding airshows and fly-ins were expected to roll out the red carpet for anyone in anything rare or odd.  If they didn’t, owners would pout, stomp their feet, complain to their buddies who were planning to attend, and generally try to sandbag the show.
When that behavior was challenged the common reaction from pilots was to point to the event as a money making operation and claim the planes as an operational expense.  Of course, for this notion to work, a huge amount of public attendance had to be achieved to put the event into the black.  Yet for the “other people” who attended, this became the nightmare of all nightmares.
People with planes considered desirable were treated like Gods and thus behaved in the same manner.  Their planes were roped off.  But when it came to the “other pilots”, the uneducated general public made a nuisance of themselves.  Pushing and shoving and trashing the grounds they made their way through the unroped areas.   Plane to plane they went, often allowing little Jimmy to do pull ups on pitot tubes.  Then when something bad happened the parents would scream at the owner for daring to address the situation.
If you were an enthusiast during this period it was a nightmare.  Where were you to go otherwise?
This was the impetus for the Lee Bottom Fly-In; a place for “the others” to go.
Unfortunately, there’s a single characteristic that goes hand in hand with any event; expenses.  There was a time this could have easily been addressed.  Today though, the citizens of the United States have managed to get it in their heads that everything should be free, and God forbid anyone make money.  It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.
Even proponents of charging for events add the disclaimer, “It’s not like you’re in it for the money”.  So what if we were?  If we offered everything you ever wanted what’s the problem with making money?  But I digress.  We don’t have that problem.
This brings me back to the participation vs attendance debate.  What I’ve recently come to realize is that this is what we’ve been trying to get people to understand about the event.  It’s not about us, it’s about you.  You are the event.  And when you are the event, you carry your part of the expense.
Unfortunately though, due to all those years of other gatherings soft-programming people to believe events have no costs, most have come to believe that when they arrive at a fly-in or airshow they are participating when in fact they are just attending.  And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with attending.  Often that’s the most fun.  It’s just not what you do when you’re here.
Summarizing what I’ve just discussed, when it comes to events like the Lee Bottom Fly-In, if you choose to attend you are choosing to participate, and when you participate you are agreeing to carry your part of the expense.  It’s that simple.  And yet, there are other implications to be drawn from this.
Holding an event at a remote location like Lee Bottom is not easy.  Everything has to be brought in.  Volunteers have to travel good distances to volunteer, all support vehicles come from 15 miles away or greater, and anything we need has to be ordered and shipped in via DHL.  But most critical to the process is the food situation.
An event is only as strong as its weakest food.  Without food you do not have a fly-in.  Good food makes a bad airshow better and bad food can kill a great fly-in.  Talk to anyone in the event planning industry and they’ll tell you the same.  This brings us to the next fly-in talking point.
Having food at the Lee Bottom Fly-In is a logistical nightmare.  Planning for enough water and electricity, food, and facilities at any gathering is tough.  Host an event beholden to weather and it gets exponentially worse.  Given Mother Nature’s attitude, we’ve had as little as 30 people for the Friday night dinner and as many as 480.  Then of course there’s breakfast lunch and dinner on Saturday; not to mention Sunday breakfast.
Here is a graph about the two things that make pilots go.
Think about being the group in charge of preparing food.  If you want to serve steak for the Friday night dinner, you have to place your order with the meat supply company by Tuesday evening.  How then do you prepare for a meal that could be as few as 30 and as many as 480 without losing your shirt?  Even at cost the steaks alone could be thousands of dollars.
Of course since some suppliers allow you to return unopened items, you could keep the steaks in storage in a freezer.  This would help. But then you have to bring in a freezer trailer.  No matter what you do, the food represents the single biggest gamble of the fly-in.
What all this amounts to is a Tuesday cut-off for cheap tickets.  The cheaper tickets are there as a thank you for the people who understand participating in an event means accepting a small part of the risk.  By purchasing early they help us better plan for food and in return they get a discount.  If a monsoon or swarm of locusts were to blow through and the fly-in be cancelled, they would only be out $15; an acceptable sum to be risked in order to keep their event alive.  That’s all there is to it.  If you don’t get it, then it is your choice to stay away.
That brings me to the next topic of conversation, attendance, err, participation.
Participation at the fly-in was quite a bit more than we expected.  It was great to see.  Furthermore, the number of campers was incredible.  They are the real troopers of aviation and it is good to know they’re still out there in large numbers looking for places to go.  Of course, there were a lot of people who weren’t here for one reason or another.
Conflicts with other events, the aging pilot group, people who don’t know how to use a printer, a sharp line of weather, and some people who desire to be carried count among the reasons a few regulars were not on hand.  Although, when it comes to who was here the story is equally interesting.
Pilots from all corners of the country were on hand yet locals were largely absent.  It’s hard to believe we sit between UPS and DHL hubs.  People camping with their planes made up 25-30% of the total on hand.  The aviators who made it were all obviously very happy to be here and complaints were nearly non-existent.  And finally, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this event was that the crowd was noticeably younger.
In a time when pilots have a hair trigger for user fees, often that
emotion transfers to anything with a price.
There are many possible reasons for this but, from everything we know and experienced, we believe the online ticketing system was largely responsible.  Many attendees even went out of their way to tell us they liked the system and how easy it was.  It seemed that the technology not only made it easier, it also made the event more attractive to younger participants.  That’s an interesting point for all of aviation to consume.
Of course there were a few older attendees who had trouble with the system; not that age had anything to do with it.  One guy called and admitted he was a little befuddled.  Instead of starting off on the wrong foot, he asked if I could help and I personally walked him through it.  When he arrived at the fly-in we were like best friends.  Of course, he was a very likable fellow.  Yet, the main reason I mention this is to point out some of the things we experienced with the "old crowd".
The most common issue they had was with the printing of the tickets.  Rarely though did we hear this first hand.   We almost always heard of the problem from someone else who told us they were talking to “such and such” and that they were having an issue with the tickets.  They had spent time talking to the person, put some thought into it, and emailed or called us to ask what we could do to help.  Well, this became so common it made me sad.  Why didn’t the person who knew them, spent time with them, and had taken the time to email us help the person with their tickets?  In fact, I’m now afraid that if I were having a heart attack and called anyone around me they would call the ambulance instead of driving me to the hospital.  It takes a half-hour for the ambulance to get here and a half-hour to drive to the nearest hospital.
Remember how we did away with auto-camping this year?  The reason for
that was drive-ins, ride-ins, and auto-campers create the majority
of problems.  I have no idea why that is but it is true.  Not all of them
are bad nor have all of them in the past been a pain.  Yet, it doesn't change
the fact they continue to create a disproportionate level of issues.
If anyone has a solution to this that involves letting them
back in we'd love to hear it.
Then there was the guy who was mad at us for requiring pre-printed tickets because his group had a lot of “elderly” people in it.  According to him the requirement would keep them from attending.  His sob story, combined with the attitude of what we should be doing for him and his group, was incredible.  If you believed what he said, many in his group, for all practical purposes, didn’t know what the internet was.  Then he demanded an answer before their meeting.  Wait a minute, what meeting?
You see, this guy emailed us from our website (no problems with the internet there) to tell us his group is a bunch of motorcycle riders and that they have scheduled meetings to plan long rides to different events or gatherings.  So what he really said was he owned a Harley and knew his way around a computer but couldn’t bother himself to buy the tickets for his buddies and let them pay him back when they met.  He also unwittingly admitted they had monthly planning meetings where they all get together to discuss long rides.  So much for the feeble minded elderly.  And then of course there was that point that they all get together to organize their trips but they could not set aside a block of 20 minutes to print all their tickets?
And finally there was the “antiquer” who sent me a message so unbelievable and disappointing I couldn’t even bother to respond.  Fortunately for me, when he attempted to feel out the antique community by posting his toned down message online, another antiquer described my feelings best, “That’s sad”.  After that I knew that some people get it, some people don’t, and others refuse to get it.   The rest of my time was spent on those who did.
Thanks to Ashe Archer for the photo.
So why mention all these negatives when the event was so overwhelmingly positive?  I’ll tell you why.  I just wanted to offer a little bit of encouragement to other event hosts out there.  Don’t be afraid to do what you know needs to be done.  The nay-sayers are just that, and as exhibited at our event, when they don’t attend everything works more smoothly and a better time is had by all.  In fact, those who understand and are pure of heart will be that much more attracted to your location.  In turn, the quality of the event will increase.  Just remember, assuming an event to be successful due to a large number of participants is like assuming a car to be fast because it’s painted red.  Don’t chase numbers; market to the right group and pursue quality.
But what about those older aviation folks I love so much? Remember them? Something very interesting happened with that group this year.  Here it is; are you ready for it? Oddly enough, many of them were here.  Imagine that.  HA!  They never let me down. Nothing was going to stand in their way.  And for that I respect them that much more.  When faced with a hurdle, real or imagined, they found away around it.  Later generations, when faced with a hurdle, pout and stay home.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’d love to have everyone here.  But, I’d prefer to wait until they understand the difference between participation and attendance.


Thanks to all of you who made this one of the most enjoyable fly-ins in memory. We're sorry the weather front kept some of you away, but there's always next year. We hope to see you here.

NOTE:  Ginger and myself, we are always debating every possible viewpoint of an issue.  Some say “there are two sides to every argument”. The truth is the sides are endless.  It’s just that for most problems it boils down to two that are worth considering.  Therefore, when I wrote this post, I first tossed it out to Ginger to see what she had to say about it.
Often, when it’s 2 am and your hammer a point onto paper, you understand what you were trying to say but may have said it in a manner confusing to others.  Ginger is great for finding those sticking points.  This time she found one so good I wanted to discuss it briefly.
Her point was that some people would read about the P-38 guy and say the same thing about us.  We’ve learned how people think and she was right, someone would surely read that exactly the way she predicted.
Here’s what she believed some would read, “They say they're saving this field for future generations, that they love the place and love sharing it with others but they want us to pay for holding the event”.  What do you think?  The same?  Just in case you do, we have a scenario to put it all into perspective.
Let’s say the P-38 guy had enough money to own the plane, keep up the annual maintenance, and fly it for 20 hours a year.  Then out of the blue one day he said, “This weekend I am going to allow everyone with the desire to fly a P-38 to fly mine”.  When that page of the calendar was revealed his hangar was flooded with people there to put it in their logbook.  One after another they climbed in and flew it.  Then when the weekend was over and the pilots were gone, there was a gas bill of $18,000, a leaking prop seal to fix, and two engines approaching the limits for overhaul.  Everyone had experienced a great time but now the owner was out of options.  Nobody had left so much as a dime to cover the expense of their fun.  Had they each paid their way he might have done it every year.  But people with the attitude of “anyone who owns a P-38 should be able to cover my expenses” put an end to it all.  

By the way, did I ever tell you one of my favorite models as a kid was a P-38?