Pilot Journal
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Contact: Filling The Generation Gap

Airparks, theme parks and warbirds

In the Siegfried family tree, there’s a Cub that flies from branch to branch, as each generation introduces the next to aviation. Whereas some parents pressure their kids to play piano or throw a football, the Siegfried’s child-rearing checklist revolves around taildraggers. “Old Bob” took his first flight in a J-3 in 1943; his five children each soloed gliders at age 14 and Cubs at 16. And while granddaughter McKinley’s classmates were cavorting on spring break this year, the high schooler devoted 50 hours per week to building a Texas Sport Cub, the kit version of an American Legend Cub, with her father. We joined them in Lakeland, Fla., where 16-year-old McKinley soloed the low-and-slow derivative, extending family tradition another generation.

At the other end of the classic tailwheel spectrum is a former military trainer, the North American AT-6. Bill Greene’s warbird is one of the nicest and most meticulous restorations we’ve seen; it’s as close to its original state as it can get. We’re not the only ones who have taken note; at Oshkosh, the aircraft has received honors that include the Grand Champion and Golden Wrench awards. Although it appears cumbersome on the ground, the prizewinner was a delight in the air as we performed an aerial ballet of loops and rolls.

Another aircraft that handles like a dream is the French-built TBM 850. We flew the pressurized six-seat turboprop through Owens Valley to Lone Pine, Calif., flanked by the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Joining us was pilot Jacques Raissiguier who has ferried TBM 850s on numerous transatlantic flights (this month: four and counting); not surprising, considering EADS Socata has sold an impressive 150 aircraft since introducing the model two years ago. With a Garmin flight deck and gold trim accents, the cockpit is a remarkable blend of high technology and elegance. Such luxury is easy to get used to, and at the end of our air-to-air photo shoot, I confess to having suffered from a bout of separation anxiety.

Whereas some parents pressure their kids to play piano or
throw a football, the Siegfried’s child-rearing checklist
revolves around taildraggers.

If, on occasion, you too have endured a similar affliction—the distress of parting with an aircraft—we’ve got the perfect remedy: a residential airpark. There, you can enjoy the ultimate aviator lifestyle, side-by-side with your airplane. We’ve scouted out some of the best fly-in communities, and they all have something special to offer. North Carolina’s Mountain Air has a private paved runway tucked into the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains; Aero Estates Airpark in Texas features a 3,100-foot Bermuda-grass strip plus water access for seaplanes. No matter what your preference, the camaraderie and convenience of airparks are unmatched. With many new developments in the construction stage, we’re excited about all of the possibilities. There’s even one planned south of the border, in the tropics, where white sand beaches and turquoise waters are within walking distance from the hangars—our passports are ready and we’re waiting with baited breath.

Also looking toward the future is aviation enthusiast Kermit Weeks. We stopped in at his museum, Fantasy of Flight, which houses an unparalleled collection of vintage aircraft. After getting up close with rarities such as a Jungmeister Bü 133 and a Feiseler Fi 156 Storch, we were left in awe—but our host was thinking in grander terms. Kermit’s newest fantasy: an aviation theme park to rival Disney World! Designs for the 2,000-acre wonderland, called “Orlampa” for its location between Tampa and Orlando, are geared to attract the general public beyond the pilot population. Using interactive exhibits that revolve around the metaphor of flight, Kermit intends to take visitors through a process of self-discovery, changing the way they think about themselves. Move over, Mickey Mouse—it seems Kermit’s self-transformation is underway, having playfully nicknamed himself the “Wizard of Orlampa” in a reference to his favorite inspirational film. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

—Jessica Ambats, Editor


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