In 1983, while working for WESH TV in Orlando, I came up with the idea to do a three-part series about a Space Coast Experimental Aircraft Owners Club. These guys were NASA engineers by day (or Kennedy Space Center retirees) and aviation enthusiasts during their spare time. They flew out of Merritt Island Airport, a small municipal facility with a runway adjacent to the picturesque Indian River.
Wouldn’t you like to glide in my beautiful balloon? That’s me in the photo above, flying with owner-pilot John Thomas in his beautiful Glasair “balloon”.
These are photos of the day we shot video and interviewed with men who would rather punch holes through clouds than walk on terra firma.
As I recall, this was an exhibit of their handiwork — an exhibition of homebuilt aircraft that ranged from a one-seater mosquito sized fixed wing outfitted with a lawnchair for the pilot, to the sleek Glasair that sliced through the air like a dart
Lucky for me, I got to go up in the Glasair and as we flew over the coast, John Thomas put us through loop de loops, barrel rolls, and other fun aerobatics that took my breath away and boosted my adrenaline by an order of magnitude! As he put it “This is the most fun anyone can have with their clothes on!” I agreed wholeheartedly!
Cameraman Dave flew alongside us in a Cessna, getting B-roll for the report. That’s John Thomas and me in the Glasair off Dave’s wingtip. The Glasair cruising speed was about 150 knots, so while the Cessna puttered along at about 85, John slowed it down so Dave could get the shots he needed, but we were nearly at stall speed while doing so! (Can you see me in the right hand seat? I’m the one with the big grin!)
On the ground. Yep, that’s me, in between interviews checking out the situation, planning for my next move, while camera man Dave shoots B-roll. Central Florida and especially Brevard County (“The Space Coast”) is a hotbed of general aviation activity. Our warm year-round climate, aviation infrastructure, local technology and business centers, aerospace-literate population, and relatively low fuel prices compared to other areas of the country are some of the factors that brings pilots to this area. There are about 1800 licensed pilots on the Space Coast.
Whether a design is built exactly to proven plans or is a completely new design, an amateur-built aircraft has to be FAA registered and pass a stringent airworthiness inspection before it can be issued an airworthiness certificate and legally fly. To read more about homebuilts or “experientals”, click here.
The final picture (below) was taken about four years later, after I left WESH-TV for a job at Kennedy Space Center. I’m on the flight line at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). Behind me are the T-38 jets the astronauts use to zoom back and forth between Florida and Houston and all over the country. The jets are parked, indicating some of the astronauts are in town, probably preparing for an upcoming space shuttle launch. The gal sitting on the ground loading film into the camera was my secretary Robbi B. The fellow I’m talking to was one of our flight techs who was explaining something or other to me. I don’t remember. But it was pretty interesting at the time!
I love flying. My first time in the air was with my Dad who was a pilot and for a short time co-owned a plane with a friend who was with the FBI. I think I was four years old the first time he took me up. I loved it then, and that hasn’t changed. I married a man who flew his own plane. And works for a major airline. Tell you something? “Pack up, let’s fly away!”