In 1953 Ken Miller of Van Nuys, Calif., was a college student. He went to the airport with two friends and met a man who was giving rides in his Cessna 150.
“The guy said he would take each of us up for $10 a piece,” Miller recalled. “I had $20 in my pocket. The first guy goes but doesn’t have any money, so I paid for him. Then the second guy goes and he doesn’t have any money so I pay for him too and then I told the pilot I was out of money, but he took me up anyway. I was hooked, and took lessons whenever I could!”
Fast-forward several decades and about 1,500 flight hours later. Miller is at AirVenture standing next to a 1950s-era Cessna 195 with the name Estelle painted on the cowl and Wingster emblazoned on the top wings. According to Miller, the airplane is a flying billboard, designed to attract more people to aviation.
“Most of us started in aviation because someone — like the Cessna pilot — gave us a ride and sparked our interest,” he explained. “We’re talking about the passion, the joy, the adventure of flying. We want to share the joy and the adventure because we think the whole industry benefits from it if we keep people interested aviation.”
One admirer remarked that the airplane looks like something a barnstormer would fly during the Golden Age of aviation, back in the day when pilots would land in a farmer’s field and give rides for a price.
That’s where the similarity to the old days ends, said Miller, because the airplane is also a video production studio.
“We can’t take everyone for a flight in the airplane, but we can take them for a flight by video,” he said.
The flights are recorded with Go-Pro cameras. “We have five of them,” said Miller. “There are two high definition, high quality cameras on the outside of the airplane, one facing forward. We have two cameras inside in the cockpit facing us so that you can see our faces and looks of pure joy or pure terror as it may be, and we have one camera that shoots over the shoulder. We also have a hand-held camera we can use and a camera shooting toward to the rear so keep things interesting.”
The videos are narrated by Miller.
“We also record the discussions between ATC and the intercom discussion between two of us and the sounds of the airplane,” he said. “We even combined them with a little music to give it production value.”
The videos, in addition to blogs about the flying adventures are posted on Wingster.aero, an online community designed to bring people together to share their passion for general aviation.
According to Miller, the idea to get an airplane and record the flights around the country came from Michael Langston, a friend of Miller’s and a 3,000-hour pilot with a self-described passion for tailwheel and low and slow flying.
“I figured it would take a few months to find an airplane,” said Miller. “Then in April, Mike calls me and tells me that he’s found an airplane for us to use and the next thing I knew it was May 1 and the two of us were on an airliner to Kansas to pick up the airplane.”
Once it was flown back to Van Nuys, the plane went right into the paint shop, where it emerged two months later cloaked in Pearl Orange with Candy Blue with Dark Silver trim.
“It’s really a billboard,” said Langston. “It attracts people. I want people — especially younger people — to take notice and get involved in aviation. Having an airplane this bright, hopefully they will want to come over and talk to us and learn more about flying and airplanes.”
The trip to Oshkosh was the first major trip for the Wingster, and the pair had big plans for the airplane post-Oshkosh, include a tour of the midwest.
“We plan on flying around the country, covering the Great Lakes states and touring the midwest then ultimately working our way back to California. We’d like to visit all 50 states within the next year,” Langston said.
One of the first post-Oshkosh events was a trip to Sporty’s Pilot Shop in Batavia, Ohio, for a Boy Scout event.
“Over 150 kids had a chance to meet Estelle and ask questions about airplanes while they were earning their aviation merit badge,” Langston said, adding that since Estelle first broke ground on the way to Oshkosh, the airplane has logged some 54.7 hours and 4,845.6 miles point to point flying.
You can follow the adventures of Estelle at Wingster.aero. Many of the posts are made by Langston, who has an editorial style reminiscent of World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle. You feel as though you are sitting next to him in an airport diner as you read his prose.