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59th Annual National Waco Club Reunion

by Tori Williams 1. July 2018 11:48
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Last weekend my husband and I had the opportunity to fly my father-in-law’s 1931 Waco ASO into Mount Vernon, Ohio for the National Waco Club’s 59th annual reunion. Despite some dreadful weather in the area, 13 incredible Wacos were able to fly in to Wynkoop Airfield for at least part the four-day long event. This was my second year attending and it was just as thrilling as my first!

Part 1: The Pilgrimage

Getting ourselves to the fly-in turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. We were planning to head out after work Friday, but the ceilings were too low so we had to wait until Saturday. Ideally the clouds would have moved overnight so we could have an early start but we woke to an 800 foot ceiling. This was one of those incredibly annoying times for VFR pilots when our airport seemed to be the only one reporting IFR in our area. A few miles in any direction, and it was clear, open skies. We are officially blaming the large lake we live beside but sometimes I think things like this happen so we pilots stay humble.

After waiting several hours and listening to the AWOS practically on repeat, it was finally reporting broken ceilings and VFR so we made a break for it. This was around 2pm but that didn’t stop us. Even if we would only be there for the tail end of the festivities we were determined to make it. You don’t miss out on an opportunity like this. It’s practically unethical.

The last hurdle between us and a fun weekend of biplanes was the outside air temperature. Following several excruciatingly warm days we had a cold front blow through just in time for our flight. The temperature on the ground was 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Not terrible but cold for a day in late June. However, we must remember that atmosphere thing where temperature decreases by (approximately) 3.5 degrees F per 1,000 feet of altitude. By the time we got to cruising around 3,000 feet it was 10 degrees colder. Coupled with the inherent windiness of an open cockpit airplane, it was COLD. Thankfully this realization came to us before we left the house, and we both had on our sweaters, scarves, and mittens. In June!

The flight itself was relatively uneventful, and we each spent an hour at the controls. We don’t have modern luxuries of autopilot (or really even a solid elevator trim) so it can be tiring to fly after a while. Dan still says he married me because he needed an autopilot for long trips in the Waco. Har har. Thankfully, we had a tailwind that gave us a ground speed of 120 knots, almost 30 knots faster than our regular cruising speed. We were booking it!

Part 2: The Festivities

The atmosphere provided by the airfield itself is one of the best things about this fly-in. Wynkoop Field is well-maintained grass strip with two runways oriented in a V-shape. There is no fence or control tower, but there are runway lights and a few hangars. Grass strips always make me feel nostalgic for a period of aviation history that I never experienced firsthand: the barnstorming days. How fitting that these 1930s and 1940s aircraft have their reunion at such a place.

I overheard the owner of another Waco put it into words I will now attempt to paraphrase: “If you find another grass airport where you can park your car and walk right up to so many historic aircraft, please give me a call. I have not found anything else like it in my life.” It’s so true!

Despite our late arrival, there were still official (and unofficial) Reunion activities to partake in. My husband loves giving rides, so he was back in the air with a passenger before I even realized it. Evidently the weather had been bad for most of the day, but the sun came out right as we landed. Other Waco pilots began starting their engines to take advantage of the last few hours of daylight. It’s always fun to see them taking off one after another. My father-in-law graciously invited me to fly with him in his Cabin Waco, so soon we were airborne as well.

I can only imagine what the townsfolk in Mount Vernon think of this whole ordeal. Suddenly for a few days every summer biplanes start flying around everywhere. I spoke with a few locals who said they aren’t always sure when the biplanes are coming, but they see them from town and know they’re finally there! A local photographer named Matt Plahtinsky visited during the day and took some breathtaking photos of some of the planes which can be found on his Facebook Page.

After my husband gave who knows how many rides, it was finally time for the banquet and auction. I’m a big foodie, and I have to give props to the catering company for an excellent dinner. Roast beef, chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese.. my mouth is watering just thinking about it! Following that we had a live auction with some great items to raise money for future National Waco Club events. We had great fellowship with our Waco friends from years past, then drove to the hotel after it was too dark for any more flying.

Part 3: It’s Over Already?

Less than 24 hours after we left Indiana, we were loading up the Waco to head back. I couldn’t believe it. We waited all year for this event and it was over before we knew it. That’s the nature of these things, I suppose. We were just thrilled to have reunited with our Waco friends at Wynkoop for any amount of time. Unfortunately our tailwind heading over turned into a nasty headwind coming back, and it took over 3 hours enroute. Plenty of time to reminisce on our short weekend trip and discuss plans for next year.

Epilogue: Come Next Year!

This year was great, but next year is going to be the 60th Anniversary of the National Waco Club Reunion. It was announced at dinner that the goal is to have 60 Wacos fly in for that one. 60! That number seemed unreal to me but I was told that for the 50th Reunion they had 50 Wacos! Totally doable, then!

This event clearly had a big impact on me and I have since made it my mission to invite everyone to the Reunion next year. Check out the website for the National Waco Club for more information on next year’s event, and I certainly hope you can make it!

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Aviation History | Tori Williams

Tales from the Red River Valley

by Lydia Wiff 15. March 2017 08:00
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At UND Aerospace, the sense of community and family is strong among the current students and faculty, but even more so among the alumni.  My first opportunity to connect with my interviewee was through my work with the UND Air Race Classic Team when Mr. Leppke sent me a brief message relating his time in the UND Flying Club which preceded the School of Aerospace Sciences.  I have been wanting to share Mr. Leppke’s story for some time, and I was excited when he and I could exchange emails and read his tales from the Red River Valley. 

Bob Leppke, a UND alumnus, studied in John Odegard’s first aviation class.  Retired, he lives in Seattle where he enjoys his grandkids and the area’s aviation culture. 

Lydia Wiff (LW): Tell me how you ended up at UND.

Bob Leppke (BL): I grew up on a farm southwest of Carrington, North Dakota.  Prior to UND, my education included 8 years in a one room school house close to our family farm and 4 years at the Carrington High School.  In high school, I became interested in business.  Through my older brother, a UND graduate, I became familiar with the university. Because of the strong reputation of the College of Business, I decided to attend UND. 

LW: Tell me about your degree program at UND and how you got involved in the Flying Club (precursor to UND Aerospace).

BL: I selected the Business Administration BS/BA degree program in the College of Business.  I enjoyed the business curriculum especially, the courses on management.   The four years went by quickly.   Not only did I gain an education, I gained a wife two years into my college career.

In the spring of my senior year, I needed an elective to fill out the semester. I wanted something different, so I ended up enrolling in the Introduction to Aviation course.  I did not have any aviation experience but always loved airplanes. As a kid, I loved to build model airplanes and watch a neighbor fly his Piper Cub over our farm. 

It was the first time the course was offered at UND.  The class included 11 other students and was held in one of the basement rooms in the UND Law building.  I can still remember the first day.    John Odegard, our instructor gave us a summary of what he would cover and what materials we would need.  The goal of the class was to prepare students for the FAA private pilot written exam.  I did not know where it would lead, but I was thrilled with the course material and was especially impressed with John Odegard’s instruction.  I studied harder for this class than the business-related classes and it paid dividends because I ended up with an “A” and passed the FAA exam.  

Since I had to stay in Grand Forks for the summer, I talked to John about flight lessons.  I was concerned whether I would have time to complete the requirements for the PPL before I needed to leave Grand Forks for the military.  The Vietnam War was in progress and I ended up being drafted after graduation.  John laid out a schedule that convinced me I could complete the training in time.  I joined the UND Flying Club and scheduled lessons with one of the club instructors.  There is no doubt that John’s enthusiasm had rubbed off.  I could not wait to get started.  At that time the club had a Cessna 150, Piper Cherokee 180 and a Mooney.   

LW: Tell me about your flight instructors.

BL: My first flight instructor was Ann Ross Anderson. I met her at the UND Flying Club hanger and she took me on my first flight using the Flying Club’s 1967 Cessna 150 (6232S).    John Odegard’s course had already planted the desire to fly, but after the first flight, I was really hooked.  I reached around 10 hours of dual instruction when Ann told me she accepted a job with the FAA in Grand Rapids, MI and was leaving Grand Forks. During my time with Ann, I learned that she served our country during WWII as a member of the WASP’s (WWII   1942-1944 Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots).  She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.  I was ready for my first solo but Ann felt it would be best to get started with another instructor before I soloed. 

My second flight instructor was Col. Lincoln L. White.  He was serving in the US Air Force at the Grand Forks Airbase as a B-52 navigator.  He told me many stories about his love for flying and his time in the military. Because of his military background, he expected perfection in my flying, navigation and knowledge of the airplane.  I looked forward to each lesson with him.   Thankfully, he was able to stay in Grand Forks until I was ready for the PPL check ride. 

Five days before I was scheduled to begin my US Army training at FT Lewis, WA, Col. White gave me my last review and scheduled me for the PPL check ride with Elton Lee Barnum.  After an hour and half in the air, Mr. Barnum shook my hand and said I passed.  I was thrilled and could not wait to tell my wife who was waiting in the Club hanger.   I took my wife for a short flight and then called John Odegard to thank him for all the instruction and encouragement.   I could not think of a better way to cap off my time at UND.  That night we left Grand Forks. I did not know at the time that two years later I would be back. 

LW: Tell me about your experience interacting with John Odegard.

BL: During the spring semester Introduction to Aviation class, my contact with John was primarily in the classroom.  But something was different.   His passion for aviation was rubbing off.  He made learning fun and brought a high level of enthusiasm to the class.  

After I found out that I had passed the FAA written exam, I went to his office to talk to him.  He congratulated me and asked me questions about the exam.  During the discussion, he expressed a disappointment that a number of students had failed the exam.  He told me that he felt he had not included some topics in his instruction.  He did not blame the students.  It was after I completed the course that I started to have more contact with John. His help in getting me started on flight lessons was greatly appreciated.  The relationship changed from instructor to mentor.    

During my second year in the Army, I found out that I could get discharged two months early if I went back to college.  The timing was excellent because I could leave the Army with just enough time to start a fall semester.  I had been in contact with John Odegard during my time in the Army and learned that he was able to implement curriculum for a full aviation administration major within the School of Business.  After some back and forth mail and encouragement from John I decided to return to UND. 

I left Ft Lewis, Washington August 15th, my last day in the Army and returned to Grand Forks.   It was great to see the expansion of the aviation program.  John had also managed to obtain two new Cessna 150’s. I enrolled in 24 semester hours of junior and senior-level aviation courses over the 70-71 school year.  The classes included Advanced Aeronautics, Air Transportation, Airline Operations, Airport Management, Advanced Instrument, Intro to Air Traffic Control, and Aerospace Law.  I also enrolled in one Advanced Aero Lab and flew 44 hours toward a commercial license.  Classes were held in the rooms on the first floor of Gamble Hall.   John’s office was located next to the classrooms. 

It was like coming back home.   I ended up have both John Odegard and Mr. Barnum for instructors.  John taught the airport management class.   I remember two projects that I worked on, one was picking an airport and writing a paper about it.  I picked the new Houston International Airport in TX.  I also built a model of one of the terminal buildings.  The second study was on airport snow removal.   One milestone during the class was John taking us on a tour of the Winnipeg Airport in the UND DC 3.  (No Passports, customs.  Can you imagine what it would take today) It was my first and only ride in a DC3.   Mr.  Barnum taught the Advanced Instrument course.  There were new instructors teaching the other courses.   One instructor would fly to Grand Forks from North Central Airlines in Minneapolis.   He would later open the door for me to interview with North Central Airlines.

Things had changed at the airport.  UND had a small trailer used as a pilot lounge on the west side of the large Quonset hanger. The airport was now controlled by a tower.   The Cessna 150s were tied up outside the Quonset. The DC 3 was parked inside the Quonset.  They also had a maintenance shop in the Quonset and had one mechanic on staff.

As I was getting close to the end of the 1971 spring semester I started looking for a job in aviation.  John helped by creating a booklet with information about those of us that were completing the major.   He also helped arrange an interview at Republic Airline in Minneapolis.   

Through the years I have always been grateful for John’s impact on my life during those years at UND.   John’s approach to learning and pursuit of excellence was a major help during my career in software engineering and IT.   The fact that John is the only classroom instructor that I remember from my college days tells a lot. 

LW: Where did you end up after graduation and where are you at today?

BL: After adding the Aviation Administration major to my degree I left Grand Forks to look for a position in Airline management.  It was bad timing because the airline industry was in one of its deepest recessions.   I needed work so I fell back on my business major and ended up with an IT management position in Chicago.   I stayed in Chicago for 10 years and then moved to Boston where I managed a software engineering group. After 14 years in Boston I moved to Seattle to work as an IT Project Management Professional until I retired in 2010.

LW: What are some important lessons you learned at UND?

BL: One of the lessons I learned while at UND was to set goals and be persistent in pursuing the goals.  It is interesting that after all the business courses it was the aviation training that added the most valuable aspects in pursuing a successful career.  Being a pilot there is structure and discipline that you learn that is so important in life.   It also is a great confidence builder.   Every time I was faced with something difficult in my career, I would think back to my aviation days at UND.

LW: What have been some of your networking experiences with UND alumni? 

BL: In my business travels, I started to run into aviation graduates and loved to share those early days of aviation at UND with them.  I have enjoyed the Alumni get-together in Seattle where I have met a number of UND aviation graduates.  Through my 40 year career in IT and Software Engineering, I told countless people about the program.  My co-workers in Chicago, Boston, and Seattle all heard about UND Aviation.  If I ran into anyone looking for a career in aviation, I always directed them to UND.

I noticed as the years went by that more people, especially those connected to aviation, knew about the aviation program at UND.   In 2010 I got to know the CEO of Alaska Airlines.   He talked about hiring from UND.   I also have found out that some of the graduates from the air traffic control program are now working in Seattle.

LW What is your advice to UND students and recent graduates?

BL: Do not be afraid to take risks.  Try new things.   All your experiences are building blocks in your career path.  With hard work, you will find success in all that you do.

LW: What’s one thing you’ll always take away from UND?

BL: I have always been proud to have my degree from a university in my home state.  It was a solid stepping stone to start a career.  The aviation training was a plus in that it gave me confidence that I could do new things.  I accomplished more than I could have imagined than when I started college at UND.  Most of this I owe to the aviation training and my relationship with John Odegard.

I have always enjoyed the statement from Leonardo da Vinci.  I have displayed it in my offices over the past 45 years.  Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”   Leonardo da Vinci

 

 Image courtesy of Bob Leppke.

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Aviation History | GlobalAir.com | Lydia Wiff | UND

A Few of My Favorite Warbirds

by Lydia Wiff 30. April 2016 08:00
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In the distance you hear a deep hum – as it gets closer, you see a gleaming aircraft appear on the horizon and suddenly you break out in goose bumps as a gleaming vintage World War II (WWII) aircraft passes over you at top speed.  Maybe I’m the only one that gets giddy when I hear those old war birds, or maybe there are more out there that can barely contain themselves when old aircraft come to life once again.  Today, I’ll list my three favorite warbirds from WWII along with a little history about their important role in our history.


#1: The B-29 Superfortress

Quite possibly the hardest-working aircraft ever designed in WWII, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was designed in response to a request from the United States Army Air Corps for a pressurized, long-range, bomber aircraft.  Clocking out at over 350 miles per hour (mph) in cruise, the Superfortress could attain altitudes at over 30,000 feet with a wingspan at over 140 feet long. 

The Superfortress also came equipped with four, remotely controlled turrets – the General Electric Central Fire Control System.  Among the first of its kind, these turrets were controlled via analog electrical instrumentation.  Additionally, the B-29 was the first fully-pressurized bomber aircraft providing safety and comfort for its crew.  Almost 4,000 of these “super bombers” were built by Boeing to aid in the war effort.

Today, only 22 B-29s are in existence with one still flying which you may have seen at places such as AirVenture in Oshokosh, WI – this B-29 is affectionately dubbed “Fifi”.


#2: The P-51 Mustang

Next up we have the P-51 Mustang.  This gleaming gem was used as a long-range, single-pilot fighter, and a fighter-bomber during WWII, the Korean War and various other conflicts.  Designed in 1940 by the American company, North American Aviation, it was in response to the licensing requirements of the British Purchasing Commission. 

First flown operationally by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the Mustang was used as a tactical-reconnaissance aircraft and a fighter-bomber.  Due to the Rolls-Royce engine in the P-51B/C model, the fighter could perform at altitudes above 15,000 feet allowing it to match or better the Luftwaffe’s fighters – I wonder what they did for oxygen up there?


Not limited to just Europe, the P-51 was flown in many conflicts including the North African, Mediterranean, and Italian theaters and was used in the Pacific War against the Japanese.  During the Korean War, it was used as the main fighter aircraft until jet aircraft took over that role with the advent of new technology.  Despite the new technology, the Mustang was used until the early 1980s in conflicts. 

Now, these amazing fighters are owned by private collectors, on display in museums, and still flown in many airshows all over the country.  It just goes to show one that after even 50 years, this amazing aircraft still exists – what a testament to American engineering!


#3: The B-25 Mitchell

Dubbed the “Mitchell Bomber” after Major General William “Billy” Mitchell, the B-25 is another bomber that served in every theater of WWII in addition to remaining in service which spanned four decades.  With nearly 10,000 of these twin-engine bombers built, like many other aircraft, this design came at the request of the Army Air Corps.

Going up against other aircraft manufacturers such as Douglas, North American Aircraft (NAA) went on to design the most military aircraft in United States history.  NAA was also the only company to simultaneously produced bombers, fighters, and trainers.  Among some of the most notable missions the Mitchell flew was the “Doolittle Raid” in 1942 led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle on the mainland of Japan four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Over the years, the B-25 had a few variants in design that included equipment for de-icing, anti-icing, and gunship modifications making it a versatile war-time platform.  The B-25 proved to be a formidable airframe and was used around the world for war-time activities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands. 


And Your Favorites Are?

While many of these aircraft were designed to subdue our enemies overseas, I can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity of American aerospace engineers and the sheer beauty of these aircraft.  My favorite part about being in Oshkosh for AirVenture is watching the reenactment of the Doolittle Raid and the tributes to aerospace egineers, not to mention all the privately restored warbirds on display.

So, what’s your favorite warbird?

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Aviation History | Lydia Wiff | Vintage Aircraft

My 2 Favorite Airlines

by Lydia Wiff 15. April 2016 08:00
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Since the beginning of airlines in the 1900s, aviation has exploded through the use of scheduled air service to transport people and goods from Point A to B.  The industry has certainly had its challenges, but remains a great example of how one invention can influence the world long after its creators are no longer around.  Today I’ll list my top picks for airlines when getting around the country, or around the world.

#1: SkyWest Airlines

While you may not see an aircraft painted in SkyWest colors, you probably have been flown by their crews more than you think.  SkyWest began in 1972 in St. George, Utah when founder Ralph Atkins bought Dixie Airlines – the operation was a little different than the airline it is today with a Fixed Base Operation (FBO), aircraft maintenance, air ambulance service, air charter service, and flight school.  The original fleet consisted of various Piper products including Cherokees and Senecas.  Fares between St. George and Salt Lake City were just $28 and in the first year, a whopping 256 people utilized SkyWest.

By the following year, the number of passengers had multiplied exponentially to over 2,000 and several destinations including Moab, UT, and Las Vegas, NV are added.  The Piper Senecas were replaced with Piper Navajos – despite these expansions, the company was still quite small which is demonstrated by the fact that Atkins’ wife wrote the customer service manual.  By 1974, almost 12,000 passengers are served (an increase of over 650%) and Atkins wondered whether or not to stay in business much of that year.  Over the next several years, SkyWest continued its journey upward in addition to facing many of the struggles many other airlines had back in the early days of the industry.

By 1982, code sharing—major carriers accepting regional partners—was born.  Code sharing became the bread and butter of SkyWest and by 1989, regional jets were being added to fleet replacing most of the turbo prop aircraft issuing in a new era of travel for this small regional.  By 2012, SkyWest had been in the business for 40 years and by 2014, it announced it would transition to an all-jet fleet which included various models of the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) and Embraer Regional Jet (ERJ).

 

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Over 40 years after it was founded, SkyWest partners with several major airlines including: Delta Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines.  According to www.SkyWest.com, With a fleet of 351 aircraft, SkyWest’s more than 11,400 aviation professionals operate nearly 1,800 flights each day to 216 destinations throughout North America. SkyWest is known for its industry-leading workforce, exceptional leadership team, and continued solid operational and economic performance.”  It boasts hubs all over the country in Chicago/O’Hare, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.

So, while you may never see their signature blue and white CRJs or ERJs, you probably had many of their crews making sure you reached your destination safely and on-time.  Just remember, behind every major airline is a great regional airline.

 #2: Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines has its roots back when aviation was still new in 1924.  The Huff Daland Dusters crop-dusting operation was founded in Macon, GA and became the foundation for building one of the largest major airlines in the world.  That crop-dusting operation also became the first commercial agricultural flying company in existence.  By 1955, Delta had grown into a major airline and pioneered a route system of travel referred to as “hub and spoke” – hub and spoke worked on the principle of bringing scheduled flights (spokes) into a hub airport where passengers would then connect to other Delta flights.  This quickly became the most popular model for many airlines as it greatly increased efficiency, among many other things.

Delta had many firsts for the industry such as serving meals in-flight, offering jet service, non-stop flights from New York to Los Angeles, a cargo express service, and operating three different types of wide-body jets at once.  The airline continued to have many firsts, and relative to SkyWest, it was the first airline to use regional jets in North America through the Delta Connection program.  Fast forward to the early 2000s and Delta is still a leading major airline accomplishing many “firsts”.  Additionally, Delta has been a technological leader in the industry holding patents on many computer programs to manage the day-to-day operations of the airline and improve the overall customer experience.  By 2009, it had become the only airline (since PanAm) to serve 6 continents.

A notable day came in 2012, when Delta became the only airline to purchase its own oil refinery – this proved to be a smart move as fuel prices became volatile over the next few years.  Once again, Delta has proved to be a leader in the industry with the valuable ability to forecast future market conditions and plan accordingly.  Additionally, Delta through SkyTeam® has partnered with many airlines from around the world such as KLM, Virgin America, and many more.

What’s Your Favorite & Why?

Do you have a favorite airline that you don’t even think twice about booking through?  What is it and why is it your favorite?  Leave a comment about your favorites and your most memorable destination with that airline.

 All images courtesy of GoogleImages.

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Airlines | Aviation History | Lydia Wiff

GARA: the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994

by GlobalAir.com 13. October 2015 16:35
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The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994, or simply GARA, is a federal act that was implemented to amend the Federal Aviation Act (FAA) of 1958.

With a few exceptions to the law, it gave general aviation aircraft manufacturers much stronger protection from prosecution for accidents which were previously said to have been caused by manufacturer fault. Manufacturers embraced this amendment as it put an 18 year time-frame on how long they could be held responsible for a design defect. However, prior to the enactment of GARA, it was a different story altogether for many manufacturers of single and twin engine piston aircraft.

The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of General Aviation Aircraft Manufacturing

The late 1960's and early 1970's were said to have been the golden years for the aircraft manufacturing industry involved in building single and twin engine piston airplanes. However, towards the end of the 70s, during the period from 1978 to 1988, industry-wide employment fell by a devastating 65 percent. Aircraft manufacturing overall saw a massive decrease in new aircraft shipments, falling 95 percent, and over 100,000 people lost jobs in fields directly related to aircraft manufacturing in the United States.

Cessna Aircraft Company, Piper Aircraft and Beech Aircraft (now Beechcraft), the three leading general aviation aircraft manufacturers who accounted for over half the production of general aviation aircraft in the US, were among the hardest hit.

Cessna, who had been producing general aviation aircraft since its founding in 1927, posted the company's first annual loss in 1983. Virtually handicapped by previous liability exposure, Cessna was forced to halt production on all its single engine aircraft by 1986.

Piper Aircraft Company went in an out of bankruptcy, and was forced to suspend production on some of its most popular models, such as the Super Cub and PA-32 Cherokee Six / Saratoga.

Beech Aircraft shifted its emphasis away from piston / propeller aircraft, keeping the Beech Bonanza and Beech Baron in production and discontinuing all other piston / propeller aircraft models.

The cause for such a drastic drop in both jobs and the manufacturing of single and twin engine piston aircraft were the frequent lawsuits against the manufacturers. Manufacturers were able to be sued for manufacturing defects regardless of the number of years since the actual aircraft design had been developed, or used by customers. This was especially hard on aircraft manufacturers, as general aviation aircraft remained in use several decades after being manufactured, much longer than cars, or even most commercial airliners. These lawsuits became so prevalent in the 1980s that many attorneys began successfully specializing in targeting general aviation aircraft manufacturers and insurers with often frivolous lawsuits.

In fact, between 1983 - 86, Beech Aircraft defended itself against 203 lawsuits, each case costing them an average $530,000 to defend. Interestingly, while researching these cases, the NTSB found that none of the accidents could be attributed to manufacturing and design defects. Most were simply pilot error or another indirect fault.

The effect was widespread. In 1978, 18,000 general aviation aircraft were built, compared to only 928 aircraft in 1994, the year GARA was finally passed. The general aviation industry was suffering from a lack of new aircraft, particularly in the area of training, rental and charter use. The three most popular trainer aircraft, the Cessna 152, Piper Tomahawk and Beech Skipper had all been removed from the market by the mid 1980s, never to return. Russell Meyer, the CEO of Cessna at the time, cited product liability concerns as the sole reason for the halting production of single and twin engine general aviation aircraft.

The Birth of GARA

During the 80s and 90s, guided by Cessna CEO Russell Meyer and Ed Stimpson, the President of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the general aviation industry began applying pressure to congress. Their main request was for Congress to enact limits on product liability for aircraft manufacturers, and Meyer promised that if such legislation was enacted, he would bring single engine general aviation aircraft back into production at Cessna. Adding their voices to this cause were the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the largest US organization of private pilots and general aviation aircraft owners; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union (IAM/IAMAW), representing workers at several general aviation aircraft factories; and a group of Kansas politicians, led by Senator Nancy Kassebaum. This proposed legislation became known as the “General Aviation Revitalization Act,” or GARA.

GAMA, as one of the biggest advocates for the enactment of GARA, pointed out the fact that the money being put towards defending aircraft manufacturers against lawsuits could be better spent on improvements in overall aircraft safety and helping to develop new technologies for the good of the industry overall.

GARA is Signed into Law, and Aviation History

Finally, in 1994, GARA was passed by the Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton on August 17th, 1994. In its final form, GARA was a mere three pages long. Those three pages, however, provided manufacturers of general aviation aircraft (defined as aircraft containing less than 20 passenger seats, and not being operated in scheduled commercial service) with an exemption from liability for any of their products that were 18 years old or older from the date of an accident. There were some exceptions detailed, and this was a “rolling” statute, meaning that the 18 year time period was reset whenever modified or replacement parts were installed on an aircraft. In effect, a 25 year old aircraft could still be the object of a successful suit against a manufacturer if it contained manufacturer modifications or parts installed within the last 18 years.

GARA was immediately hailed by Cessna CEO Russell Meyers as a landmark step towards saving the general aviation industry.

“By placing a practical limit on product liability exposure, Congress has literally brought the light aircraft industry back to life.”

Resuscitating a Dying Industry

Within five years of GARA coming into effect, the industry produced over 25,000 new aerospace manufacturing jobs. In addition, he U.S. Department of Labor estimated that there were also three extra support jobs created for every new manufacturing job. And the aircraft manufacturers begin to show signs of life, including the big three.

True to his word, Cessna CEO Russell Meyer brought back single engine aircraft manufacturing to Cessna, though in a much more limited manner. They resumed manufacturing their three most popular, and statistically safest single engine models. They began with the Cessna 172 and 182 in 1996, and added the 206 (developed from the popular retractable gear Cessna 210 model) back into the mix in 1998.

Piper Aircraft continued to experience financial troubles, but did continue producing the models that survived the 1980s, and even managed to restore some models to production that had been previously cut. This included the PA-32 Cherokee Six / Saratoga, and the twin engine Seminole and Seneca models. Eventually, Piper did emerge from bankruptcy, and some credit GARA for helping them survive that process.

Beech Aircraft continued producing the two piston-egine aircraft models that had survived the pre- GARA depression, the single engine Bonanza, and the twin-engine Baron, but never resumed production on any of the models it had cut during the 80s.

In addition to the increase in jobs, in the first five years following the passage of GARA, overall production of general aviation aircraft doubled. However, this was still far below the high point of the 1970s. And though production has continued to increase over time, it still hasn't returned to those levels.

In Conclusion

There is still ongoing debate about the overall effect, and effectiveness, of GARA. Opponents say that it had little effect, and mostly served to encourage attorneys to shift liability and lawsuits for accidents to new and different targets. Proponents, however, say that though the production rate has continued to climb, the general aviation accident rate has declined, pointing to safer manufacturing and advanced technology in the area of engines, avionics and navigation equipment. Glass cockpits now come standard in most new general aviation aircraft. National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen had this to say:

“GARA is a tiny, three-page bill that has generated research, investment and jobs. It is an unqualified success.”

Others share this optimistic view of GARA, such as former Piper Aircraft President and CEO Chuck Suma, former AOPA president Phil Boyer, and Cirrus Designs co-founder Alan Klapmeier. And though this debate on the overall effect of GARA is likely to continue well into the future, this simple, three page document played a key role in helping shape the future of the general aviation industry.

Sources:

GARA: The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994..." 2003. 30 Sep. 2015: http://www.avweb.com/news/news/184254-1.html

Kovarik, KV. "A Good Idea Stretched Too Far - Seattle University School of Law..." 2008: http://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1843&context=sulr

"General Aviation Revitalization Act | GAMA - General ..." 2009. 30 Sep. 2015

http://www.gama.aero/advocacy/issues/product-liability/general-aviation-revitalization-act

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Aviation_Revitalization_Act

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