EAA Chapter 1067 is based in Naples, Florida. There are worse places to be in February, I can tell you. But there are few better.
What attracted me is what attracts so many to the back corner of the T-hangars at Naples, directly across from the shade hangars, right along the fence line where EAA 1067 resides. It was pancakes. Well, not just pancakes. The chapter’s monthly pancake breakfast is actually made up of pancakes and sausage with a biscuit, coffee, juice, and some of the best company you could ever hope to share.
I certainly had a good time. Good enough that I’m inclined to go back.
And not just for the exquisite view of the coastal waters as I flew in and out of this Gulf coast city, or the lines of sleek turbine powered go-fast machines positioned along the ramp, or the surprisingly attractive fuel prices.
What caught my attention was the plethora of smiling faces, the genuine welcome I received, and the very real sense that my hosts were happy to have me there.
Now lest you think the welcome I received has something to do with my standing as one of the shining lights of aviation media, let me disabuse you of that perception right now. First, because I have never even flirted playfully with the level of stature necessary to hang the term “shining light” in close proximity to my name or even my actual presence.
Secondarily, the folks accepting payment for the pancakes, the folks cooking the pancakes, and the folks in line to acquire and devour the pancakes all pretty much treated everyone else there with an equal level of good cheer and familial acceptance.
In the third place — if it’s even reasonable to say “in the third place” — I was pleasantly surprised to find a true talk radio celebrity, author, and all around nice guy Neal Boortz wandering the ramp area as he prepared to tuck an absolutely beautiful Carbon Cub away for safe keeping — until the next flight. And Neal got roughly the same treatment as the rest of us. Thoroughly enjoyable in every way.
Just out of curiosity, have you ever been part of a team that took on the task of building an airplane? In the interest of accuracy and honesty, I have to admit there really aren’t that many of us who have.
Building an airplane requires a considerable amount of skill, some persistence, and at least a few scuffed knuckles. All that being said, and as true as it may be, if you’ve been to a pancake breakfast in Naples, you just might have to answer in the affirmative. Yes, I have been part of the team that built an airplane. It’s getting closer to completion every week.
The project sits in the doorway of the hangar directly adjacent to the meeting room being used as a dining area during my visit. The aluminum skin of the fuselage shines in the sun, supported by a work stand, with wing structures in front of it. It’s far enough along to be recognizable as an airplane, but far enough from being finished that identifying exactly what kind of an airplane it is takes some thought. Rather than look foolish, I asked. It’s a Sonex Waiex, I was assured. Now you know, too.
That excites me. I’ve seen them in magazines, I’ve seen them in videos, but I’ve never seen one up close and personal. Now I have. And I’ve gone one better, too. I popped a couple rivets in a wing that will one day hold this gleaming fuselage in the air. I’m not alone either — not by a long shot.
You see, after eating my fill and chatting at length with some fine folks who hailed from Midland, Michigan, I wandered out of the dining area and onto the ramp where a chapter member named Craig Mock was doing the best carnival barker impression I’ve ever seen — with a twist. Craig was extolling the virtues of the kit and encouraging people to participate in the build. So far more than 200 people have stepped up, taken a pop-rivet tool in hand, and helped to advance the construction project by a rivet or two.
What’s truly genius about the whole thing is that Craig and crew aren’t content to let strangers pop in a rivet, then drive off into the sunset. They hand you a form to fill out first. It’s short and it’s easy. But it allows them to track the number of people who have participated in the project. They know if you’re a pilot or not. They ask for the name of your employer and your home address.
By the time I finished the form and popped a couple rivets into place, I felt pretty good about myself and the project as a whole. I wasn’t alone, either. Mr. Mock had a line of participants filling out forms and preparing to pull the trigger on the rivet gun for much of the morning.
Maybe that’s the secret to growing the ranks of aviation enthusiasts, both pilot and non-pilot. Lure them in with the promise of pancakes, then amaze them with an adventure they never imagined they could be a part of.
I wonder how many people will be looking skyward one day, watching an airplane fly overhead, when they turn to the person they’re with and say, “Did I ever tell you about the time I helped build an airplane?”