Pilots of a feather fly together

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2011

By James Carli II
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — Aviators, aviatrices and people simply with a fascination with flying from counties all over central North Carolina recently gathered at the Rowan County Airport to socialize and share stories about their mutual passion for aviation.
Among them was Bill Howard, the oldest member of Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Salisbury Chapter 1083, a World War II veteran named Bill Howard.
Just 18 at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Howard flew B-24 and B-26 bombers during the war as a flight instructor. He shared a story of how he shuttled more than 100 Boeing-Stearman Model 75 biplane trainers from the West Coast to the East Coast, all while never climbing higher than 1,000 feet off the ground.
He also said he had owned two war-surplus aircraft, a 450-horsepower BT-13 Valiant, for which he only paid $550, and a Howard DGA-15P, but that upon marrying his wife he had to begrudgingly let go of each.
The membership of EAA Chapter 1083 is diverse, with members coming from many backgrounds but united by their mutual passion. A small group of members sat clustered, discussing which wood was best suited for constructing aircraft. Other people present at the meeting wanted to emphasize how general aviation pilots often give back to the community, despite seldom being recognized for it.
Bernie Gerstemeier explained that after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, one email sent to an airport in San Antonio ultimately resulted in more than 37 tons of materials being donated by general aviation pilots. Jim Smiley, a former engineer for NASA, Lockheed, and Northrop-Grumman explained that among aviators, “there’s a camaraderie, like how motorcyclists wave to each other, but more extreme.”
Member Becky Orndorff explained that “pilots must trust each other to share the air.” This sense of unity was almost palpable as members nodded in agreement. One explained, “Everyone knows and trusts everybody whether you know them or not.”
Member Donna Forbes and her husband said at small airports there are courtesy cars, with the keys left in them, for anyone who needs to use it to feel free to take it. Several members said that while they love the flying, the unity and support they feel from others in the aviation community makes the experience that much more enjoyable.
The EAA is a non-profit, worldwide organization of more than 160,000 men and women composed of pilots and non-pilot aviation enthusiasts who gather regularly at one of about 1,000 chapters to socialize, share stories and plan events whose purpose is to educate and promote the field of general aviation. Salisbury Chapter 1083 holds its meetings at a hangar called “The EAAgles Nest.”
Chapter president Jack Neubacher, a columnist for several aviation-related periodicals such as “General Aviation News,” has been a private pilot for more than 45 years and flies a vintage 1956 Piper Tri-Pacer. He said members of the Salisbury chapter number well over 100 and hail from counties including Rowan, Davie, Davidson, Stanly, Montgomery and even further afield. He noted with pride that even some members who have moved out of state still maintain their membership and fly in for some of the chapter’s many activities.
And the activities put on by the EAA are numerous. Neubacher explained that in addition to the chapter’s regular meetings every second Tuesday and their First Saturday Lunch each month, “we also do ‘fly-outs’ to neighboring airports, normally in search of food or other chapters’ events. Plus we have other gatherings during the year, for example our annual South Carolina Breakfast Club meeting in early July. The South Carolina Breakfast Club is the oldest continually active flying club in the world, meeting twice each month since 1938. We are honored here at Rowan County Airport to host their only venture outside South Carolina annually.”
A hallmark of the EAA is a program called “Young Eagles,” whose purpose is to provide a no-cost, first-flight experience for youth aged 8 to 17, intended to ignite interest in and educate about aviation. Chapter 1083 has flown more than 2,300 young people since 1998. EAA member-pilots volunteer their time and fuel for this experience.
The latest Young Eagles event flown by Chapter 1083 pilots was on April 30 and provided for 29 students from the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Raleigh and three students from Salisbury High School’s JROTC program to go airborne.
“Members always step up,” said Jana Brown, the Chapter 1083 member in charge of the club’s Young Eagles program. She mentioned the next event will be on May 21, as that is National Learn to Fly Day. The public is invited to Rowan County Airport, and rides will be available depending on turnout.
Member Al Wilson, based out of Twin Lakes Airport in Davie County said “one of the most exciting parts of being in the EAA is when you take up a Young Eagle for the first time.” There was widespread agreement among the members gathered Tuesday.
Neubacher lamented the lack of youth getting involved in aviation these days, and while programs like Young Eagles help to belay those concerns somewhat, he hopes that the EAA’s upcoming summer camp at the Rowan County Airport will further inspire young people. Entitled “A.S.C.E.N.D.,” an acronym for “Aviation Summer Camp: Exploring New Dimensions,” the camp takes place in mid-June. It is geared toward youth ages 14-17 and will feature hands-on aviation activities, flight simulator training, and a flight with an experienced pilot. More information about the camp is available at EAA Chapter 1083’s website, www.eaa1083.com.
Another point of widespread agreement among those gathered at the EAAgles Nest was the desire to clarify the term “experimental” in the organization’s name. Experimental aircraft happen to be aircraft built by individuals rather than at a manufacturer’s factory. One member said that “factory-built planes are built by someone who goes home at five o’clock. But ‘experimental’ aircraft are built by the guy who’ll take that aircraft up 30,000 feet.”
Jim Smiley said factory-built planes contain mostly 1930s technology, because the process of innovating and having the innovations then approved by the Federal Aviation Administration is so bureaucratic that it is not cost-effective enough for aircraft manufacturers to pursue. For this reason, Smiley said, the majority of innovation in aviation comes from pilots who build so-called ‘experimental’ aircraft.
Chapter Treasurer Mike Brown quipped, “The Titanic was professionally built.”
Chapter 1083 of the EAA meets at the Rowan County Airport on Airport Road in Salisbury every first Saturday of the month for a fly-in lunch and every second Tuesday of the month for a dinner and business meeting. You do not need to be a pilot to join, and all events are open to the public, who members encourage to visit, participate and learn about aviation. More information can be found at Salisbury Chapter 1083’s website, www.eaa1083.com and at the website for the international EAA, www.eaa.org.