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Young Eagle Flight #500 or “Today is your day, you’re off to great places, you’re off and away.”

Story by Jim Opalka

. . .

How could one flight stand out after flying 500 Young Eagles? That was an easy question for Cpt. Larry Schaefer, 767 International U.S. Airways (Ret.).  


Larry is a loyal patron of Mike Neuman’s IMC meetings at BTP, an EAA member, and active Condor Aero Club member. The stand out passenger I asked Larry about required a number of pillows to elevate her above the glare-shield of the Cessna 172 Larry was flying.  

She was 8 years old, a precocious third grader. And without question at some point she had heard her teacher read to her class: “Today is your day, you’re off to great places, you’re off and away” – the first page of the Dr. Seuss classic titled, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”  And this was the day she went for the ride of her life. 

However, her level of cool and confidence was outstanding for any age. Larry explained that after the run-up she said she didn’t want to fly the plane “today.” Larry said that would be fine and he would be glad to fly it for her.  

Airborne, the young lady said she’d like to fly over her elementary school. “Where’s that?” Larry asked. She pointed. After circling her elementary school she decided she’d like to fly over her house.  

Again, the captain asked, “Where’s that?” She pointed once more and said, “By the lake, Lake Arthur.”  

She found the house and they circled as people ran out waving towels and shouting. It was as though they believed if they could just shout a little louder they could be heard in the cockpit beneath the active noise attenuating headsets and engine noise.    

There were of course many other stand-out Young Eagles Larry remembered. Some of whom are flying heavy metal all over the world. Others fly for fun or have become aviation enthusiasts. All remember the big day in the air, the places they went, and the adventure they had.  

But without question, the memory of this one pulled at Larry’s heartstrings and brought a great smile and happy memories as he told the story.

At the same time Larry shared Young Eagle stories he intermixed others from his very early days as a private pilot before the airline years. Truth be told, I asked him some leading questions, like this one. To what do you attribute so many good and safe years of flying?

Here’s a summary of one story. Imagine you just received your private license and take off with three friends from Oklahoma in a Cessna 172 and are the only licensed pilot. Maybe no biggie if you have all the time in the world and set some reasonable personal minimums in terms of where you draw the line with weather and other potentially serious obstacles.  

Onboard is a radio that works sometimes and a VOR that receives signals intermittently, but for the most part is incapable of centering the needle satisfactorily. You say – so what’s the big deal? The deal is that all four of you are in the military and on leave. There is of course a limit to the time you may be gone before you become AWOL (absent without official leave). You have a week in the Steel City. Good luck with that.  

Many things can happen when you’re pressed for time between PIT, Oklahoma, a 172, weather with no instrument rating, and an aircraft woefully unprepared to poke holes into IMC. There’s a solution to this problem toward the end of this brief article.

Another interesting scenario I got out of Larry went like this: You are still in the military. You want to fly jets. In particular you want to fly F-86 Sabers. You tiptoe into a hangar filled with some serious military aircraft, a number of which are F-86s. You’re not allowed to be there. From a distance a guttural and authoritative voice shouts in that oh so military way, “Halt! State your business.”

You answer.  “I have my pilot license and I want to fly fighters someday.  Like this one.”

Leather heels echo on the hangar floor. The stranger approaches. No smile. “Go ahead and climb up there,” the guy tells Larry.

He directs him into the proper position to sit himself into the pilot seat. The stranger tows Larry outside.  He crawls up on the wing, reaches in, flips a couple switches and lights it up. Honestly, this is true.  I’ll tell you what happens next at the summary paragraph at the end of this piece.

F-86 – Who wouldn’t want to fly it?

But getting to the Young Eagles article and the 500th Young Eagle flight made by Cpt. Schaefer. First, let it be said that the Experimental Aircraft Association created the Young Eagles program for children between the ages of 8 and 17. It gives them an opportunity to experience flight in a general aviation aircraft. There are EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) chapters all over the world. EAA Chapter 857 stationed at Pittsburgh Butler Regional Airport is the one Larry belongs to.  

The Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 and is offered free of charge, costs being covered by volunteers. By 2016 more than 2 million children had been flown in 90 countries as a result of the efforts of the EAA and the generosity of the volunteers.

It is interesting to note that the 500 Young Eagles that Larry took up were flying with a man who soloed on August 31, 1960. Of course they had no knowledge of his airline career, international flights, or early general aviation stories and adventures.

The reason they didn’t know was because it’s all about the Young Eagles. But for the rest of us aviation enthusiasts we want stories and we want to learn from a man who started flying in a Cessna 120 in 1960. We’re talking what, 56 years of experience and still going and having a blast.

A lot of the things one can learn from an individual who has all that experience usually boils down to basics. Take the 3 military buddies Larry flew from Oklahoma to Pittsburgh. I asked if he had a plan for safety and decision making especially since he was a recently licensed private pilot. He explained his choice of personal minimums on that trip. It was basic. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is to stick to your personal minimums even though someone is on your back harping at you that they need to get home fast and now. It’s easy to let your ego get in the way.

Here’s what Larry stuck to on the Oklahoma trip. If I get any of these wrong, it is my fault not Larry’s. He’s the one with tens of thousands of hours. I’m the one wanting to learn from him:

  • For the 172 – Direct crosswind max of 10 kts
  • For wind right down the pike – 20 kts
  • For ceiling and visibility – 2000 and 6 miles

Here’s the part that had to be difficult when you think of the Oklahoma to Pittsburgh trip. Two of the passengers opted to take a bus back to Oklahoma instead of waiting around for weather. The WX was below what Larry had set for his minimums at that time in his life. He waited for his minimums to be met, took off and flew back to base.

Larry had discussed his flight with his boss before taking the trip to Pittsburgh. He, that is to say the Colonel, was a B-52 pilot. The concern here of course was the potential AWOL shadow hanging over Larry’s head and the heads of his trusting passengers.

Now there’s some real pressure to compromise your minimums. Fortunately the boss understood. He essentially gave Larry the word. Take the trip. Do not compromise your minimums. Keep me informed. See you when you get home. But still, there’s a lot of pressure there.

To wrap up the F-86 story – it ended with Larry sitting in the cockpit while the guy on the wing told him what to push to release some very loud ammo on the firing range. Imagine that happening today.

In summary, Larry’s 500th young Eagle was Zach, a high school student. And according to Larry it seems there is a very good chance that this young man may be one of Larry’s charges that actually pursues a career in aviation.

A picture of the 500th Eagle

Have a blast Zach. But don’t sneak into hangars to look at fighter aircraft unless you’re invited. Things have changed. Maybe just have Larry fly you over to Beaver County and check out the equipment they’re working on at the Air Heritage Museum. Ask them to let you crawl through Thunder Pig. It’s a real eye-opener. No ammo there. You’re safe. But you’re going to get some dirty oil dripped onto your shirt if you’re lucky.


Story by Jim Opalka

Dick Fox is from Hollidaysburg, Pa. He volunteered at Butler County (BTP) on August 15, 16 and 17 for the warbird program. His father, T/Sgt E. “Ken” Fox served on the Second Schweinfurt Mission (referred to as Black Thursday) on October 14, 1943. He was part of the 306th Bombardment Group/369th Bomb Squadron.

He served on a B-17, not unlike Aluminum Overcast, that gave rides and crawl-through tours at Butler. Not a lot of room in those Fortresses.

Two-hundred-ninety-one bombers were part of that raid on Schweinfurt. One-thousand-one-hundred Luftwaffe aircraft engaged and attacked the bombers. Dick’s father had his leg nearly severed on the mission. He was one of the lucky ones. He survived the crash, hid out the night behind a tombstone, and was ultimately helped by the French Resistance.

Of the 291 B-17 Flying Fortresses, 60 were lost along with 650 men of the 2,900 assigned to the mission. Thank you for attending the bomber days and honoring the memories of all the men and women who served.

In addition, one of our beloved local veterans, Frank Ekas, flew combat missions as co-pilot in WWII on a B-24 in the European Theatre.   We were proud to have him attend our event. His name appears on the side of Witchcraft. He was in the 453rd Bomb Group. Of course Frank also hangared his planes at BTP back in the day.

No wonder the bombers are planning to come back next year

Approximately 3000 people attended the warbird extravaganza at Pittsburgh Butler Regional Airport (KBTP). Even if one gets picky about the less than perfect weather, all of the days were a success. Besides, we had some shelter in the terminal building where we could wait the weather out. Also there was the GP (General Purpose) tent supplied through the courtesy of the Army Reserve 377th Engineer Co out of Butler. See pics and credit.

And a great thanks goes out to those avid collectors of WWII memorabilia who volunteered their time and classic heavy metal, de-militarized, hardware:

A 1942 Ford GPW (General Purpose Willys design, and that would be Ford’s version, owned by Bill Ringeisen of Evans City. 6000,000 of this classic version were produced for the war effort.

  • A 1943 Deuce-and-a-half owned by Tom Frank of Mars. Tom’s is a 2.5 ton International utility truck.
  • A half-track owned by Rich Harkins of Slippery Rock has some nice de-milled weapons. It certainly makes one pay attention.
  • Each of the gentlemen above are members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association. The motto of the group is HISTORY IN MOTION. We thank them for their contribution to the warbird event.
Photo by Jeremy Haag
Photo Jeremy Haag

Also, all of the above are members of the Jeep Club and that would be “The Flat Fender Club of Butler.”

In addition to all of the volunteers above we are especially thankful to be blessed to have the men and women of Civil Air Patrol Composite Squadron 712 onboard at Butler County. Their energetic devotion and professional attitude are greatly appreciated. They have volunteered and performed admirably in situations ranging from parking assistance to crowd control and national disasters on their outreach missions.

There are stories and history shrouding every warbird existing today. The ships that visit Butler on a regular basis have their tales to tell. Witchcraft, the B-24J model is no exception. This is the world’s only fully restored B-24J Liberator. Collings makes it clear that it flies to honor our veterans who served.


Curiously, this ship was delivered in 1944 to the Royal Air Force. Under the British flag it saw combat in the Pacific Theatre. At the end of the war it was shipped by the RAF to a bomber graveyard in Khanpur, India. Nothing personal there. This was of course the fate of many aircraft at the end of the war. We all know we wish our parents and grandparents had purchased a ton of them at the time and shoved them into a warehouse. Oh well.

To shorten the story, in 1984 Dr. Robert F. Collings purchased the Liberator with the intent to restore it to be used as a static display. However the foundation, that is to say Dr. Collings, was persuaded by some B-24 crewmen to restore it to flying condition. Thus, rather than exposing this historical bomber to thousands of spectators, it would shoot that number to millions. This made the restoration project at least ten times more difficult and expensive. Thank you Collings Foundation.

B-25 Todelayo (1)

Of course there are more stories about the B-25 Tondelayo of the 345th Bomb Group / 500th Bomb Squadron. And the new addition to the stable of aircraft that makes this spectacular tour includes the inimitable TF-51D Mustang. This means two seats and either a joy ride for some or instruction in how to jockey around a thoroughbred fighter from WWII for others. Have a blast. Chaching, chaching! But really – it’s worth every penny. Ask anyone who has taken the ride.


The title of this little article about warbird days at Butler mentions some reenactors. You can see by the photo that they were rather young. We asked them what group they were with and the spokesman did not hesitate. “We formed our own group,” he said with confidence at least that of a light colonel.

Devoted historical reenacters Sorry we missed their names They were off and running before we could get them (2)

It was hard to contain them for names and more info. They turned and headed for the door of the terminal building ready for action. Beautiful.

And speaking of the terminal building – if you look up you can see there is a new restaurant there. It is named Serventi’s. To Butlerites and those who love good food in the tri-state area this is not a new name. Talk about tradition in aircraft or restaurants and when you center in on restaurants, Serventi’s fills the bill. This is an old name in Butler when it comes to great eating-places.

We ran into Joe, the owner, and asked him about his new endeavor. He said, “Nobody is going to leaver here hungry.” And we confirmed that. Delicious, I mean really good food, plenty of it, and reasonably priced. That sounds like the old Serventi’s to me. And that’s great.


See this website for times, days, and hours of operation. And keep tuned in to the website for specials and future airport activities.


Bomber Week at Butler Returns!


It’s been three years since the last WW2 bombers were seen at this airport. The magnificent fortresses flew in for three days as people could purchase rides and tour these metal beasts. There isn’t any other feeling than to touch and experience a peace of living history. Sure you could drive to a museum and see it hanging up on a wall with a do not touch sign. But why do that when you could sit in the gunners seat, hear the load roar of the engines start up, and see what these brave airmen had to endure.

You can get that chance at Pittsburgh – Butler Regional Airport on August 15th-17th. They will be flying back and you can purchase walk around tours and rides. There are only so many of these bombers still airborne today as the B-24 is the last known flying one.

So come see them before they are gone!


See the Collings Foundation legendary B-17, B-24, and B-25 bombers from the World War II era. Rides are available. A P-51 Mustang fighter will also join the event!

Walk Through Tour Times (no reservations needed):
8/15/2016 – 12:00 PM till 5:00 PM
8/16/2016 – 9:00 AM till 5:00 PM
8/17/2016 – 9:00 AM till 12:00 PM
$12 Adults / $6 Children 12 and under.

Flights take place before and after tours.
30-minute flight on the B-17 or B-24 is $450 per person
30-minute flight on the B-25 is $400 per person
30-minute flight training on the P-51C is $2200
60-minute flight training on the P-51C is $3200

Call 978-562-9182 for flight reservations.

For more information about the Collings Foundation please visit –


Crooked Island, Bahamas

Story by Jim Opalka, May 18, 2016

Mike's Piper Comanche
Mike’s Piper Comanche

Packing for a trip to the Bahamas in a single engine general aviation aircraft? Where does one begin? Possibly some Bit O Honey candies, Tootsie Rolls, and that candy that is supposed to melt in your mouth and not on your hand?  One would think the sweets would help on the water legs of your Bahamas adventure.

And what to drink on the flight? Coffee for early morning? A Styrofoam six pack of iced down Pepsi for the hot afternoon and possibly a couple ham sandwiches? Don’t forget a plastic garbage bag. And what about the sticky hands after you munch? A pasty Vernier is no fun.

Maybe take some of those hand cleansers in little bags. You could just tuck them in one of your cargo pockets for easy access. No. Maybe all the munching and cleansing is distracting. Then again, maybe it’ll distract you from the potential instant rough and mysterious waters beneath your wings.

Admittedly, flying over jungles, oceans, and mountains does get one’s full attention. Those sorts of flights that tend to make one pucker remind me of an old TV commercial.

A distinguished, heavily accented and aristocratic English (UK type) voice delivered the TV message.  It was one of those car commercials where an American automobile approaches a cement barrier in slow motion, a test dummy in the driver’s seat.  The car hits the barrier and is partially squished by the impact.

That commercial ends and a British sports car appears.  The British Racing Green sports car approaches the same barrier in slow motion. Just before impact the driver turns right and goes around the cement barrier. No squishing whatsoever. The self-assured Brit announces in a confident voice, “We in England strive to miss the barrier.”

I.E. – maintain your aircraft, keep it safe, and you will avoid the unpleasantries of jungle, ocean, or granite mountains.

Now, getting to the aviation part of this brief article. Mike, a CFII and organizer of the Butler County Airport (BTP) chapter of the IMC Club has been kind to share some points about flying to the Bahamas.

Mike is a savvy, serious, sophisticated yet down to earth aviator whose expertise we are fortunate to have at Butler County. Did I say down to earth aviator? In addition he makes a great burger on those slow summer days in front of Tom’s hangar.

Let it be said that if I misquote or misinterpret any of Mike’s statements it is my fault, not his. More importantly, if you really want to learn about flying the Bahamas or for that matter charting your way through the Upper Yucatan Peninsula or a local sod landing strip – come to the meetings. They are spectacular. I kid you not.

For more info either text, call, or email Mike at: 724 766 6891 or

For the last 35 years or so Mike has made it a happy habit to fly to his favorite place on earth: Crooked Island, Bahamas. His first trip was in a Cherokee 140. His most recent ride is a PA 24-250 Comanche.

Crooked Island from Mike's Comanche
Crooked Island from Mike’s Comanche

I calculated and recalculated distances and times to get a feeling for the trip Mike agreed to discuss with me. I tried to imagine the trip over water from Fort Pierce, Florida (FPR) direct Freeport VOR (ZFP) then off to Marsh Harbour (MHH)then on to Crooked Island (CRI).

I figured you land at Marsh Harbour, an international airport in the Abaco Islands, and start your party there. Stay a few days then maybe a 20-minute flight to Crooked Island. I’m thinking a kind of Indiana Jones island with few people, tropical plants and weird fish that are big and delicious. Maybe do some snorkeling. And you get to luxuriate in a big 5 star hotel. I was correct on some of those assumptions. Not all.

On the particular day that I’m working on the Crooked Island article I look at ForeFlight. I poke in Mike’s 145kt speed he files at and come up with 192nm, 1hr 21min with a 3kt headwind. He has it made. He’s at Marsh Harbour.

I thought at that point you were almost home to your beloved Crooked Island and Colonel Hill Airport. I figured you had it in the bag at that point, you know, stop for a light lunch at MHH then saddle up for a 20 minute flight to CRI on Crooked Island.

Bird Rock Lighthouse near Crooked Island
Bird Rock Lighthouse near Crooked Island

But no way. There is another leg remaining. It’s the little matter of the hop skip and jump from (MHH) to your destination airport (CRI) on Crooked Island. That’s where you check into the Crooked Island Lodge, a quaint and comfortable accommodation with thatched roofs, outdoor bars and cooking areas with all manner of pleasantries awaiting you.  According to Mike, this trip and lodge is the ‘downtime’ of a lifetime.

But we still have some ocean to cross. We have (MHH) direct (CRI). ForeFlight does the work. We are looking at 277nm, 1hr 58min and a 2kt headwind.

But not to worry. You are rested up from your traditional brief lunch stop at Cat Island. This has become tradition for Mike and his wife. The lunch stop before the final leg.

Interestingly, Cat Island may well have been one of the first stops for Columbus. In addition, like many other lesser islands of the Bahamas, these little places were the stomping grounds for pirates for almost 2 centuries. Has got to be some treasure there somewhere.

Cat Island boasts a population of around 1,500. You are on an island named after the pirate, Arthur Catt. Can’t help wondering what self-respecting pirate would admit to the first name of Arthur. Sounds more like an accountant.

However, this pirate thing is debatable since other lore points to the name being given as a result of the one-time enormous population of feral cats on the island. Now it appears any remaining cats are friendly, civilized, and well fed with fish scraps.

To continue, check out your map and the enroute line from (MHH) direct (CRI). Not much land there. Get out the Bit O Honey can and it’s probably time for a cold drink.

There are some interesting and perennial problems that do make the flight challenging, according to Mike. And it’s really good to know these things before you head for the Bahamas.

They are difficult to fly. You can plan on having com problems, so picking up a clearance can be and usually is problematic.

You want to get to 5,000 feet or better and try to get the clearance off of Miami as opposed to Nassau. The higher you get, naturally you have a much better chance of getting Miami.

On a stormy day (see pic of Mike’s course) it is extremely difficult to get through to anyone. Obviously it is an unnerving thing to be entering cloud and struggling to get the clearance when you know you’re competing with loads of other pilots out there wanting to hear the controller’s voice: “Cleared direct.” Don’t you wish?

How to steer clear
How to steer clear

On this trip the storm scope painted serious black wx 30 mi ahead. So you steer away from the serious black and keep trying to get your clearance. Until you get cleared it is helpful to listen to aircraft ahead and behind you to get a steering sense of where to keep safe. Helpful also is the 122.8 CTAF for this flight.

It is also next to impossible to get approach plates for some of the airports along this route of flight. Can’t find them in Jeppesen, ForeFlight, or anywhere else. If anyone knows where they can be found Mike would appreciate a call or email.

What I’m thinking is an airport I used to fly out of in another state. There was no approach into the little airport. So, just for kicks, a custom made plate was put together by a civilian in case of a last ditch emergency. Would be nice to have one of those puppies. Know what I’m saying? Only in a last ditch emergency.

Another point is that one can easily fall in love with ADSB when you take this flight. Mike was able to pick up a signal about half way to his destination, making the weather avoidance much more palatable.

Unwinding is easy once you find Crooked Island. It sounded to me as though it is a civilized, yet pleasantly primitive and private paradise. And there is no passport needed when entering the islands north of the Grand Bahamas. The islands offer world-class snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing and fishing.

Looks like part of paradise.
Looks like part of paradise.

You’ll need a PADI certification to rent scuba equipment, or just as in aviation, you can saddle up with an instructor. Interestingly, Mike pointed out that if he dives with an amateur he makes it a point not to swim behind them. If panicked they tend to kick around a lot, which certainly cuts aquatic visibility to IMC, so to speak.

Mike Neuman on Caribbean
Mike Neuman on Caribbean

If you’re looking for somewhere to go to get warm next winter, pull up this issue of Plane and Pilot News and look up Mike’s contact info.

No worries. The feral cats are gone from Cat Island. The fish, scuba shops, and the civilized, primitive pleasures of a Bahamian Island can be yours for a brief water flight in your single engine GA aircraft.

Really though, if anyone knows how to get the plates, please call Mike. And you might want to take a metal detector. There are still undiscovered treasures on those islands.