Banding together to grow GA’s brand


Montana has more cows than people, and in cattle country, unbranded calves are called “mavericks.” In people terms, we think of a maverick as being a loner, without ties or loyalties. And alone, a person — no matter how passionate — can only accomplish so much.

Partnerships that match folks with common goals result in more fulfilling success. Montana pilots are partnering up to advocate for aviation, and their caps, jackets and shirts carry such brands as AOPA, RAF, MPA, EAA, and SPA. There are few mavericks among them, and they work hard to preserve the right to enjoy Montana’s airspace.

That work is in conjunction with the Aeronautics Division of Montana’s Department of Transportation, which maintains Montana’s tradition of being an aviation-friendly state.

Having its origins in Montana, the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) established close ties with both the Montana Pilots Association (MPA) and the Division of Aeronautics early on.

Since 2003, the RAF has explored common goals with other groups, from wilderness groups who promote “Leave No Trace” recreation, to the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA). Along the way, RAF has teamed up with Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and, of course, the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and its foundation.

The RAF has multiplied its efforts with financial help from MPA and the Montana Department of Aeronautics. There have been grants of cash to further specific projects, like the opening of Russian Flat, the first public-use airfield on U.S. Forest Service lands in more than 40 years. When the RAF proposed a scientific study of the effect of small aircraft noise on wildlife, the Montana Department of Aeronautics and AOPA Foundation came through with a large grant to fund the study.

The RAF struck a chord with aviators well beyond Montana, and now has nearly 6,000 supporters representing each state and several foreign countries. How does the RAF accomplish all the projects unique to each state?

The RAF board of directors recruits energetic, dedicated liaisons — typically, but not necessarily, GA pilots — in each state as delegates. The liaison reaches out to their respective state pilots’ organizations, its Department of Aeronautics and other groups to identify projects to create or preserve recreational aviation destinations in their states.

“There’s no way we could be doing all this alone,” said Florida State Liaison Jack Tyler.

In Arizona, for example, RAF Liaison Mark Spencer has forged a very successful partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, which has already resulted in the reopening of airstrips, such as Double Circle. The Forest Service had closed it years ago. After identifying its recreational potential, Spencer and the Forest Service recreation officer coordinated a work party with local folks and the pilot community and the USFS authorized the reopening of the airstrip.

In Florida, Tyler and RAF board member Tim Clifford found the Florida’s Blackwater River State Forest District Manager very cooperative, and they teamed up to make improvements to the field. The RAF then hosted the first public aviation event in decades at Blackwater Airfield to display the value of access to desirable recreational airfields.

The RAF is in the process of an inventory of all recreational airfields in each state, both on private and public lands.

To protect landowners from liability, the RAF has lobbied to insert aviation in each state’s recreational use laws. To date, 24 states include this language, designed to protect landowners, resulting in more willingness to allow public use of some very special places to land and recreate.

In Oklahoma, for example, the very popular OK18 Tail-Dragger Fly-In will resume on Oklahoma soil, thanks to the enactment of an amendment that adds aviation to recreational activity.

The RAF has always approached policy-makers courteously and credibly. As a result, the RAF has supporters and friends in our states’ and nation’s capitols, and agency offices, and several Congressmen and Senators proudly possess the signature RAF orange cap.

“Our partnerships with policy-makers and public land managers are so important because the protection we seek for airfields is long-term,” Tyler said.

Part of the bond includes committing volunteer efforts for maintenance. Both the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service have drafted their own Memorandums of Understanding with the RAF, outlining responsibilities for the preservation and maintenance of recreational airfields on their lands.

“We’re a ‘hands on’ group who knows how to work up a sweat as well as celebrate an accomplishment,” Tyler added.

The branding and partnerships continue to flourish. Attending the RAF’s recent biannual summit in St. George, Utah, were Montana’s Aeronautics chief Debbie Alke, Utah Aeronautics chief Pat Morley, MPA president Scott Newpower, SPA’s Executive Director Steve McCaughey, President and CEO of GAMA Pete Bunce and AOPA’s Mark Baker and Dave Ulane. Long-time advocates and Pilot Getaways publishers John and George Kounis also attended. Also taking time from their busy schedules were U.S. Representative Chris Stewart, BLM chief Anthony Bobo, and several USFS personnel.

The RAF gives out its “Golden Pulaski” award to individuals who’ve made significant contributions — often accompanied with blisters — in the spirit of hands-on volunteerism. If you don’t know what a pulaski is, go to to find out how you can join this exciting partnership whose mission is “keeping the legacy of recreational aviation strong by preserving maintaining and creating public use recreational and backcountry airstrips nationwide.”

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