"An end result, imagined clearly and acted upon with expectation, will always force the circumstances necessary to bring about its own manifestation, no matter how unpredictable, unlikely, or even impossible those circumstances may have previously seemed." --A Note from the Universe
Lee Bottom Flying Field has some of the best supporters in the world. Over time, other airport owners have confirmed it. Most of them simply cannot believe how well our Lee Bottom Family steps up when needed. Every year, our calendars ship out to enthusiasts all over the world who share a single passion, the sport of aviation. Along with that, thousands upon thousands of people read our reports from the field and editorials found in NORDO News and elsewhere. Sometimes members of our family don’t see eye to eye with us but more commonly they do. Whatever the case though, they know they are welcome to say whatever they want as long as their passion, their goal, is the long term survival of the field. To all of you who do everything you can to support Lee Bottom and aviation, we want to express our most sincere thanks. As you read the following paragraphs, we hope you don’t get the wrong idea. Read it, absorb it, and if you have any questions send them our way.
At least once every year, usually around the fly-in, the wear and tear on us begins to show. Anyone who has been reading our NORDO News for the last three years can attest to that. But what causes it? Do you really know? Having discussed it at length between ourselves for many years, we have now decided it’s time for us to plot a new future for Lee Bottom Flying Field.
Before I discuss the future of the field, I would like to discuss some background issues. Let’s call these “Things we all know are true but may not discuss”. To help you fully understand what it is like to own an airport like Lee Bottom Flying Field in the modern world, I will have to break the green wall of silence; a code known only to flying field owners. This unspoken vow of silence is best described by a very well known and well worn quote from the movies, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”
Although I believe that most people can’t handle the truth or, at the very least they don’t want to hear it, I firmly believe it is far better for everyone to know it; all of it. Therefore, let me get straight to the point. Owning and operating a flying field is not always that fun. Really, it isn’t. In fact, it can be, and often is, a huge pain in the ass. As any owner could tell you but they won’t, it sucks money far faster than any aircraft, and it requires the expenditure of most your spare time to maintain it. There, I said it. That’s not the first time though.
Through the years, Ginger and I have explicitly warned people, those who excitedly notified us about their intent to purchase land and construct their own field, that is was a bad idea. To date, every single one of them has, at some point in time, conceded they should have listened to us. Acres of valuable farmland that produce profit, leveled and maintained for the use of aircraft, is the most illogical and financially unsound bit of thinking I have ever known. Yet, whenever we drop our guard and share this with people, they look at us like we’re joking. We aren’t. If you want proof, just think of all the airports and strips that have closed during the past two decades. If they’re so great, where did they go?
So why then do people think flying field ownership would be great? We know why. Every day of every year, some pilot who loves to fly goes to the airport, jumps in their airplane, and does just that. Along the way to the air they see friends, other airplanes, and they think about something they enjoy; flying. Once in the air, they have fun. If they fly to an aviation event they see more people like themselves, they have a good time, and then fly home still having fun. When they land at home, having just had a great flight, the airport is the last thing they see. All this combines in the mind to form the subconscious notion that the airport is the source of all aviation fun. But ask yourself, how many vintage automobile enthusiasts take out twenty acres of farmland to build a lane and a half, pot-holed, gravel road to drive around on? None. Yet, the simulated 50’s diner in a garage is so cliché that there are companies devoted to selling items that help you build such a thing. To old car enthusiasts, the diner is the airport, yet none of them go out and try to build and operate a full scale diner just to attract cars. That would be stupid. And yet people still think owning an airport would be great. Maybe that’s our fault.
Ginger and I have always tried so hard to be positive in telling people how great Lee Bottom is and how much we love meeting all the new people, we’ve actually made airport ownership seem easy. When we were up to our elbows in crap, sometimes literally, we put out posts about the joys of mowing the grass. When more dollars went out than came in, we posted about how nice it is to watch planes take off and land. But for the longest time, we never told people how hard it really is because when someone asks you how you are doing, they want to hear “I’m doing great” and when things are not good they really don’t want to hear it. There comes a point though where people should be told how difficult it really is and that’s what we’re hoping to do. Yes, there have been many great times and we have made some great friends because of the airport, but it certainly hasn’t been a cake-walk. Admittedly, if it weren’t for all the people who contribute every year, we’d have sold the place ages ago when we had the chance. And of course, there’s the fact that we love it and want to see it survive against harsh realities.
Hanging in there? We realize this may be a lot to digest but there is a point to it all.
Airports may be absolutely critical to the sport of aviation but when they are not used or supported they are not fun and they make no sense and they go away. In a world where so much is out of your control, the use and support of your favorite airport and aviation event may seem like a no-brainer. But in the real world, when it comes to talk or action, talk too often talk wins. Let me give you some examples.
1) A few years back, a local power company began erecting towers a few miles south of the airport and making plans to run power lines across the river. We only found out because a local pilot asked us about them. Being so busy with the airport, we had not flown in months and had not seen them ourselves. When we started looking into the issue, it became apparent they had conveniently “missed” our public use airport on the charts. Immediately pointing this out to the FAA brought their project to a halt while a determination on the project was sought. During this process, we put the word out to everyone on our list (around 7000) with emails, phone calls, etc. This was done because the FAA was allowing comments on the project and we wanted to give everyone the chance to speak up for an airport and the sport of aviation. Many people responded with disbelief, others snipped about greedy electrical companies, and others grumbled louder than usual. In the end though, three people commented; three people. YES, you read that right; just three people.
2) Being a mere thirty miles up-river from Louisville, our area has one of the highest concentrations of pilots in the country. This is thanks to the UPS air hub being based at Standiford Airport. Known also as a company that is very philanthropic to local causes, one of three fly-in planning volunteers, who is also a pilot at the company, attempted to gain UPS sponsorship for the fly-in. After several conversations, she was told that if enough UPS people could show they volunteer time at the airport then we would have a good chance of gaining the sponsorship. It was also pointed out that it should be easy because UPS values volunteering so much, they have a way for employees to sign onto the company website and list their volunteer time. Now, I’m not going to tell you how few employees actually did that. Instead, I will just say that we didn’t get the sponsorship.
3) The final example I would like to include is this. Over the past decade, as many as four EAA Vintage board members have lived within 100 miles of Lee Bottom. None of them ever visited the airport or attended a single event. After years of assuming they were interested in supporting aviation and inviting them to events, we gave up (and took a different approach).
Are you seeing a pattern here? Ultimately, I believe a lot of people think we get more support than what we do.
Why are we discussing the subject? Late last year, Ginger and I began planning the next twenty years of our lives. To many of you that may sound odd but that’s how we think; current, five, ten, and twenty years. Our plans included what we’d like to be doing and where we’d like to be at each sign-post. Critical to them all was Lee Bottom.
One thing I’ve never shared about the airport is something Fritz told me shortly before he died. He said he knew I would do everything in my power to keep Lee Bottom an airport but if I couldn’t, then I should do whatever I want with it and move onto a boat in the Caribbean. That’s another reason I loved the old guy so much; we thought just alike. Unfortunately for the boat dealer, I would prefer to keep Lee Bottom an airport. I would also prefer that everyone came along for the ride.
What I’m about to tell you, you’ll never hear anywhere else. Therefore, I hope you read it, take some time to digest it, and then join in the effort. Here goes.
Aviation as we have known it is dead and it is not coming back. Sport Pilot qualified aircraft are not going to bring it back. Young Eagles is not nor will it ever bring it back. Likewise, EAA and AOPA are not going to bring it back. And, unless each and every aviation enthusiast makes it their mission to save the sport of aviation, we might as well go ahead and send flowers in the name of “We sat by and watched” to the funeral home. It really is that simple.
Am I saying we should abandon aviation? No. Am I saying that a lot of people are abandoning aviation? Yes. And because of that, we must be willing to consider new ideas and we must stop the loss.
What can you do? Well, let me say that sending emails to your friends about all the evil things government is doing to aviation is not the solution. Ultimately, you are the government and you must become active. Aviation has always been one of America’s greatest symbols of freedom and if you want your freedom preserved, you must preserve it. If you want something saved you must save it. Yet, in a time when pilots worry “what is the government going to do to my airport next” owners of airports like ours, airports that offer a way around the razor wire, fencing, and SIDA badges, sit here looking for ways to secure a future. Unfortunately, reality dictates that some fields will disappear.
With ever expanding development and encroachment on airports, some airports will have to go despite how we feel about them. Try as we may, the contraction and consolidation of aviation will thin them out. Fortunately, every change offers opportunities. Lee Bottom is one of them.
Located within an eight hour drive of over 80% of the population of the United States and yet on the last undeveloped section of the Ohio River, the area offers the perfect chance for aviation to come together to save one old fashioned airport for future generations to enjoy. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Yet I feel I must once again point out that opportunity must be met with action; otherwise Lee Bottom too will be a thing of the past.
Is it worth preserving? Should it be preserved? Will it be here in twenty years? We have a plan that would work, but we can’t do it alone.
During the past year, I have personally spoken with some of aviation’s best known movers and shakers about the future of Lee Bottom Flying Field. As usual our ambitions are big and in speaking with these people the goal was to get a feel for how our idea played to a larger market. Thankfully, everyone I have spoken with is supportive and even open to helping. Yet, without your support, we just don’t see the purpose. Here’s why.
Lee Bottom is as much an idea as it is an airport. It is that place you think of when you haven’t flown in weeks; it’s the place you know you will be welcomed even before you arrive; it’s that place from your childhood where you took your first airplane ride. Lee Bottom is what aviation is supposed to be and it is the people who want that to survive who will determine its future.
With that out in the open, let’s discuss the first action item on the list. If we are to move forward with our long term plans for the airport, we feel it is important to first understand the demand, and amount of support, that actually exists for our annual fall event called The Wood, Fabric, & Tailwheels Fly-In. Although this event brought us to where we are today, it continues to cause us induced heartburn and some things must be sorted out for it to continue. Let me explain.
In the past, whenever we have attempted to discuss this subject, the number one response has been something along the lines of “have a cookout and let them pee in the woods”. Although it may seem simple and harmless, to us it says so much more to us. Let me spell it out. If someone thinks the size of the fly-in is the problem, then they do not understand why we are doing this. And, if someone thinks making the fly-in simpler would solve our problems then they too do not know why we are doing this. Here’s where the problem is coming from. ARE YOU READY??? Take a deep breath; let it out; now read: We are not doing this for ourselves.
Yes, we understand that some people likely believe they are just supporting our hobby when they support the fly-in but that just isn’t the case. When you support these events, you are supporting the aviation community by giving it substance; something more than just you and your airplane. You are giving it a sense of community. And if aviation doesn’t want that, then we certainly aren’t going to waste our time grilling hamburgers for 13 people who want free food and entertainment. It is time for people to understand that they aren’t helping us, they are helping themselves. If people are just coming to support us, then they need to stop because they are causing us to continue our efforts to support aviation when the demand doesn’t really exist. Does that make sense? We hope so. It is critical to the future of Lee Bottom.
So, here’s where we are with this project. This Tuesday, we are having a meeting to determine how much interest there really is in the fly-in. If there turns out to be enough people on hand willing to commit to it, really commit to it, people who understand it takes money, time, and effort to host such an event, then we will continue to have it. If there is not enough support, last year will have been the last and we will move on to the next item on the list. If you are thinking this was really short notice, that’s not the case. We invited a core group of people to this event a month ago. The reason we are now telling the larger group about it is because soon there will be several more opportunities for you to become involved in the future of Lee Bottom. It is our hope that you will take this time to consider what it is that you could contribute to the effort so that when the next items come around, you’ll be ready to act. And if you are interested in, truly interested in helping with the fly-in, email us and we’ll get you the information for the meeting.
As I said earlier, Lee Bottom Flying Field has the best supporters in the world. Thanks to them, Lee Bottom has thrived when other fields suffered. Yet if we are to insure a long life for the airport, if we are to protect it from development and the march of time, we must take this opportunity to do so. The realities of aviation are upon us and we must face them head on, early, and strong.