Tag: vacation

THE GREATEST AIRPORT PARTY EVER

DOWN HOME AVIATION AT ITS BEST IN THE AMERICAN HEARTLAND

Article appeared in Flying Magazine November 2017 by Martha King

John and Martha were at Heartland Aviation in Alliance Nebraska for the total eclipse last August.

This normally non-towered airport was probably the busiest it had ever been. The airport needed to land an airplane about every minute and a half to accommodate the arrivals in the time available between sunrise and 10:30 am, when everyone wanted to be on the ground. The trick was getting everyone off the runway and into parking to clear the way for those behind.

The big show was supposed to be at 11:50 am, but John and I had a great time watching all the airplanes long before then. Every kind of airplane you could imagine was joining the party, from homebuilts to jets. And a great party it would be.

Nature would be providing us a rare show—a total solar eclipse. Over any given spot on earth a total solar eclipse occurs about once every 375 years. If either John or I is ever to see another one, there will likely be an airplane involved—like there was this time.

We had read estimates that said as many as 7.4 million people would be competing with each other on the roads to get to the path of totality. We understood there would be traffic jams everywhere. No problem, we said. That’s where general aviation shines—we will fly.

Our plan was to wait and see what the weather looked like the day before the eclipse and then fly to wherever looked most likely to guarantee clear skies. And if the weather turned unexpectedly cloudy on eclipse day, we could fly to somewhere else.

This sounded great in theory, but when we started investigating good locations for eclipse viewing we discovered that some airports had been taking aircraft parking reservations for the eclipse for years—and all expected to have to turn away airplanes. It became obvious that we needed to pick a destination airport and settle in.

The hard part was what airport to choose. A generally good weather forecast for this time of the year would be key. Plus, we wouldn’t want to be caught in traffic jams on the ground on the big day. So we would need to pick an airport away from any major metropolitan areas. There were a lot places in the great American West that would fit the bill.

Gaylene and Jeff Jensen of Heartland Aviation took the time to meet with John and Martha during the eclipse and what most likely will be the busiest time in the history of the planet for the airport at Alliance.

We chose Alliance, Nebraska (AIA)—and we hit the jackpot. The sole FBO, Heartland Aviation, is a wonderful mom-and-pop operation. (As you can imagine, John and I are impressed by mom-and-pop operations.) Gaylene and Jeff Jensen have owned and operated Heartland Aviation for over 27 years, but their connection goes even further back; Jeff had been working there since he was in high school. Their enthusiasm for aviation, and people who fly, brims over in every conversation.

When we made our aircraft parking reservation with Heartland some months before the solar eclipse, Gaylene told us that they already had over 200 single-engine piston aircraft and twenty-five twins and jets scheduled to fly in that morning. Like every other airport in the path of the eclipse, they also fully expected to have to turn away airplanes.

Their biggest problem, though, was not going to be room to park airplanes. It would be getting the arriving aircraft parked in the time available on eclipse morning. Denver Center had told Jeff and Gaylene that careful planning would be required to get airplanes clear of the runways and to parking fast enough to keep the traffic flow up. That’s when they realized the need to land an airplane about every minute and a half. And that didn’t allow for any instrument approaches, or wake turbulence separation.

The lineup at the Alliance Airport was truly extraordinary. Most likely the busiest day the airport will ever have.

When we heard that, we realized we wanted to get there ahead of the crowd. We didn’t want to join the conga-line of airplanes into that airport on the same day as the event. Now we had a real problem. If we were going to come early, we needed a place to stay. As we got into it we realized that with our original plan to fly in and out on the same day we had wasted precious time while everyone else was arranging accommodations.

This is where an FBO in a small community is so valuable. Gaylene had a friend who knew a woman who had just put her house up for rent that weekend. I jumped at the deal, and arranged for us to arrive on Saturday at noon instead of Monday morning.

One of the things that John and I have savored the most about general aviation is the way that small airports introduce you and communities you would never have known otherwise to each other. In Alliance everyone we met welcomed us with great warmth, and with curiosity about where we were from and how we flew our own plane to get there.

Our early arrival gave us the opportunity to settle in and revel in the grand party the city was throwing for its visitors. We enjoyed lots of free musical entertainment, snacked from food trucks, attended a Native American powwow, and thoroughly enjoyed a portable planetarium show designed to explain the eclipse to grade-schoolers.

Lynn Placek, the airport manager of Alliance Airport worked with the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics and the FAA to get the temporary “tower” in Beatrice and Alliance. Placek explains “So we had five people here that manned the tower. They stayed in a camper and were out in the airfield communicating. They were great help!” The Alliance Airport staff helped set up the tower in the back of the Alliance City truck pictured above. That was some incredible ingenuity by everyone cooperating together.

On the day of the event we headed out to the airport early to watch something very special—FAA controllers, operating from a temporary control tower perched atop a city dump truck, skillfully keeping airplanes separated. The controllers had arrived on very short notice when the number of airplanes expected escalated. It is a life-saving service that the U.S. Air Traffic Control System provides to general aviation when they see the need.

Heartland Aviation hosted a fine eclipse party with food, music and a view that was out of this world.

Meanwhile, beginning at 5:00 am Jeff and Gaylene’s crew of 30-plus volunteers guided aircraft to parking, fueled them, and moved pilots and their passengers to the ramp in trams. Plus, Jeff and Gaylene threw a party worthy of the event, including custom-designed eclipse T-shirts and eclipse glasses. For breakfast they served biscuits and gravy or breakfast burritos, and for lunch burgers, hot dogs or chicken breasts—all at unbelievably reasonable prices

The airport was open only to people who had arrived in an airplane, and as the day progressed, the mood reflected the comradery of 400 or so fellow aviators talking with each other about where they came from and how they had fallen in love with flying. We realized we were sharing an event that each of us would remember for the rest of our lives.

The eclipse, of course, did not disappoint. We were powerfully moved by the phenomena that have mesmerized humankind since the beginning of time—a darkening sky and sudden chill accompanied by sunset colors circling the horizon, a corona ring around the sun, and stars appearing during the day.

But what was truly special to those of us who flew in to Alliance was general aviation at its very best. It was a wonderful day brought to us by a couple who had worked for months to make it happen. Gaylene and Jeff created an opportunity for hundreds of aviation enthusiasts to share a very special event in what for all of us was the most fun way imaginable.

 

Let’s Hangar Fly Together in the Tropics this Winter

Sun 'n Fun "Wings at Sea" 5-day CruiseYou don’t often hear Martha and me promoting trips in vehicles that don’t get much above sea level, but an upcoming event has got us excited about cruising for days at MSL. The first annual SUN ‘n FUN “Wings at Sea” Western Caribbean Cruise is a vacation designed specifically for us aviation enthusiasts.

See the cruise quick links at the bottom of this post

Share the Fun with Pilots and Aviation Enthusiasts

By the third week in January, 2011 when this cruise will take place, you will appreciate SUN ‘n FUN’s goal—to bring together people who share a passion for aviation in a tropical, relaxing, stress-free environment. Join us for this mid-winter “de-icer” and we’ll tour beautiful Grand Cayman Island and Cozumel, soaking up the sun along the way. We’ll also enjoy wonderful food, entertainment and the company of aviation friends.

Take in a Presentation, or Two

During our 5-day journey, Martha and I have been given the honor of hosting two sessions with you while out at sea:

Our first session we call “What We Learned from Flying Around the World”—They always said the world was round, but we never knew it personally until we took off from San Diego heading east and wound up back in San Diego—still heading east. It was a life-changing trip and we’d like to share what we learned about flying in really strange places and the fascinating ways we are all the same, yet different.

Our second session is “How to Avoid Unwanted Adventure and Still Have Fun”—Soon after our own aircraft accident and the discovery of our own sense of vulnerability, we became self-proclaimed “born again pilots.” In this presentation, you will hear about some of our flight adventures and we’ll use these often humorous stories to illustrate how we combine our enthusiasm for flying with principles of safe cross-country travel. You will learn practical and insightful tools for your own risk management.

Of course, Martha and I look forward to enjoying meals and hangar flying with you every chance we get.

Bring the Family … and Enjoy the Ship

There are many activities to do while at sea

In between our presentations (which we hope you’ll attend!), the ship offers an amazing variety of ways to unwind, including:

  • Spectacular three-story dining room
  • Optional high-end restaurants
  • Themed bars and lounges
  • Day Spa and Fitness Center
  • Expansive Casino
  • Five-story theater
  • Golf simulators and nine-hole miniature golf course
  • Ice-skating rink
  • Full-size basketball court
  • Rock-climbing wall
  • In-line skating track
  • Royal Promenade
  • Youth and teen facilities

And the Sun isn’t the Only Warm Feeling You’ll Get

Just by taking this vacation, you’ll be helping to promote general aviation. Maybe the best part of SUN ‘n FUN’s first annual cruise is that the net proceeds from it will be used to benefit year ’round educational programs at SUN ‘n FUN and its Florida Air Museum (FAM).

Plan to Join us January 15 through 20, 2011

The SUN ‘n FUN “Wings at Sea” Western Caribbean Cruise boards in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, leaving on January 15th and returning on January 20th. Cabins start at about $688 per person, which includes all meals, recreation, entertainment, taxes and fees—AND Sun ‘n Fun special events and receptions. Your reservation form and more cruise information can be found below.

“Sea” you there!

Cruise Quick Links

35 years of sharing our passion with pilots and having fun

John and Martha in Alaska You have to wonder what our 35th anniversary means to you. We think the answer can be summed up in the words, “clear, simple and fun”. It all started with our flying our own airplane around the country teaching weekend ground schools for 10 years (more about that here). During those years we stood face-to-face with over 10 thousand pilots and watched their reactions as we made our explanations. In those days we got the test results from the FAA for each class. We desperately wanted to do our very best for these pilots, and seeing their reactions and getting immediate feedback was the perfect formula for refining our teaching.

When it came time to go to video we and our students benefited from these years of refinement and our customer’s results were fantastic. To this day we provide a method for our customers to give us feedback in every course they take. We think that despite all the changes in the technology of how our customers learn (we have gone from chalkboards to overheads, to video tape, to DVD’s for TV, to computer discs, and now the Internet and mobile devices), the key for our customers is that we are constantly striving to make learning clear, simple and fun. We believe you benefit from this whether your next goal is a Sport Pilot Certificate or you are qualifying for high-altitude transatlantic flying. We think this is a large part of the reason we have had a hand in training over half the pilots flying today.

Part of the fun of the last 35 years has been our sweepstakes. (The call to the winner is always great fun!) We have given away over 2 million dollars worth of prizes to lucky winners. The odds of winning are pretty good (about 100,000 to 1) and for our winners, the prizes have fulfilled many dreams. For King Schools’ 35th Anniversary, we put together a very special package of 3 prizes that we believe will continue this tradition in great style.

During our traveling ground school years, Alaska gained a special place in our hearts. We have made over 50 round-trips there from San Diego in our own airplane. We also flew around Alaska a lot in our own airplane and in various other airplanes including a Cessna 185 Skywagon, on both wheels and floats. As part of our 35th Anniversary Sweepstakes, we think it is very fitting that we are giving away an Alaskan seaplane rating and bush flying vacation to a lucky pilot that will put them in touch with that amazing experience. Equally exciting, the winner will also receive a state-of-the-art Redbird TD simulator, plus a KING Get It All Kit of their choice. See pages 36-37 in our Summer/Fall 2010 catalog for all the details!  Don’t have a catalog?  Let us know you want one and we’ll be happy to send one to you, free of charge.

Keep on having fun flying—and learning,