One thing leads to another, and another…

With Oshkosh in full swing, the eyes of the aviation minded are on Wisconsin. But here in central Florida there is one city commissioner who has just become a major fan of aviation, thanks to a husband and wife who restored a Stearman and shared the excitement with him. I love it when the fever spreads.

It was only a few weeks ago that I wrote about Elizabeth Amundsen, a CFI and IA who was busily restoring a Stearman to its former glory along with her husband, Jonathan. That story may have been the impetus for the local newspaper here in Winter Haven to run a story about the same couple as they prepared to get the last few details completed in preparation for their departure for AirVenture 2010.

That newspaper story gave our new interim airport manager an idea. It stood to reason, she thought, that if one couple was headed off to Oshkosh for the big wing-ding, maybe others from our field were making the trek, too. What if the city’s staff and commissioners showed up at the airport to provide an official send-off? That would be great!

Initiative is so important. When your airport manager is excited, the city’s staff is supportive, and your airport’s users are willing, great things can happen.

Debbie Murphy, our interim airport manager, sent the invitations, arranged for the press to be on site, wrangled the city officials, and made sure that anyone headed for AirVenture 2010 was aware that they were being feted at the airport on the given day. And so when the appointed hour arrived, all the pieces were in place. That’s the exact point where random chance can be most powerful. As it was in this case.

After the Amundsens taxied to the terminal in their rejuvenated yellow bird, and the mayor handed out keys to the city, and backs were slapped and stories were swapped – Jonathan Amundsen turned to a city commissioner on the ramp and said, “Hey, do you wanna go for a ride?”

In typical city commissioner fashion, Nat Birdsong said, “Sure.” At least that’s what he said on the ramp. In the coffee shop after the flight he admitted, “I thought he was kidding. I didn’t think he was really going to take me for a flight.”

Oh, ye of little faith. You know not the ways of the enthusiastic aviator.

Within a matter of minutes Commissioner Birdsong was suited up in a leather helmet and goggles. Amundsen advised him to tuck his tie into his shirt for the flight, while a flight instructor from Tailwheels Etc., Amundsen’s flight school, briefed the commissioner on the controls, the instruments, and wished him well.

A small group of us stayed to watch the Stearman leave the ramp, taxi to the runway, and takeoff. To our surprise Jonathan Amundsen did not fly an enlarged traffic pattern and return quickly to the ramp. No. He turned right, headed south, and flew away with the commissioner, over the city, over the commissioner’s house, out on an adventure that Mr. Birdsong had not even imagined was possible when he woke up that morning.

The commissioner came back wearing a smile the size of Texas. He told the story of his flight, then told it again to the next group of people he encountered. He was interviewed by a reporter, and then finally sat down at the airport coffee shop to relay the events of the flight to city staffers and me. To say that he was elated only scratches the surface.

What I didn’t know, and what Jonathan and Elizabeth Amundsen didn’t know, was that Commissioner Nat Birdsong had never flown in anything but a commercial airliner. Until that morning in the Stearman, he had never lifted off from the runway in Winter Haven, his home town. While he was aware of Gilbert Field, he had never personally been a part of the aviation experience.

All that changed on the morning Mr. Birdsong took wing in a bright yellow biplane, with the wind whipping around in that open cockpit, the city he loves laid out below, and a crowd of friends and associates on the ramp to welcome him home.

This is how converts are made.

Flash forward a few days. Last night as I sat at the dais waiting for the regular city commission meeting to begin, Birdsong sauntered over to my seat and asked hopefully, “Commissioner Beckett, do you own an airplane?”

Ahh, I like the way this new pro-aviation city commission is shaping up.

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. You can reach him at


  1. Ernie Kelly says

    Hallelujah, Commissioner Beckett. Not all of Central Florida politics happens in back rooms! More should happen in cockpits!

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