Hightower's EAA Departure: What's Next?

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So what to make of Rod Hightower's sudden departure as EAA's president? I found it both unsurprising and surprising. It's unsurprising because we've been hearing for months that EAA staff and companies and entities dealing with the association have been unhappy with Hightower's management style. Brusque, high-handed and unyielding come to mind. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've seen us urged to report on how many experienced hands have left EAA, either forced out or unhappy with the work environment there.

We're not likely to do much with such entreaties because they inevitably devolve into gossipy "he says, she says" stories that serve no one. Besides, when new managers come on board, there's a certain expectation that staff changes will come with the change. That's just a fact of life in business and it's naďve to assume otherwise.

The surprising part of Hightower's departure is how quickly and decisively the board seems to have acted, if indeed this was a board decision and not Hightower deciding he wants to spend more time with his family. I never believe that explanation. You'd think by now human resources could come up with a better euphemism for a ritual beheading. But I suppose the words don't come easy. Evidently, the board was alarmed enough to take immediate action against a manager who's been on the job for a little over two years.

What now for EAA? We shall see. I doubt if the association is going to alter its course much because what it must do is determined less by its own internal ideals and more by market reality. We're at the point now that we can drop the artifice of general aviation having a cold that's going to clear up when the economy improves. It's more like chronic, systemic pneumonia and if someone sees the market forces out there that are going to change this, would you mind pointing them out to me? So I think EAA's fate is sealed. To survive and thrive, it needs to broaden its appeal and find members whose interests aren't just in experimental airplanes and warbirds, but in aviation as an avocation, an aspiration and an abiding interest. That might include people who have neither the desire nor the wherewithal to actually fly airplanes. EAA has been doing this. I expect to see it continue.

We've heard plenty of complaints from long-time EAA members that the association has forgotten the grassroots, homebuilder segment of its membership which, mostly for the better, has made EAA what it is today. Whether this complaint is justified or just carping by established members opposed to all change, I can't say. But it's a relatively easy fence to mend and one worth mending because builders are a critical part of GA as a whole. They deserve all the support EAA can give them.

The brightest spot in this turn of events is Jack Pelton's involvement. Elevated to chairman of the board, it's unclear what role he's going to play exactly, but my guess is it will be substantial. Running the association's day-to-day operations might be a bit below his pay grade, but he's the ideal guy to exercise the invisible hand of guidance for whomever the board finds to replace Hightower. Pelton is one of those rare high-octane CEOs who's a genuine people person, which I suspect is just what the EAA staff needs right now. Pelton understands GA because he owns and flies airplanes. He knows the market and the people in it and is who I'd vote for as most qualified to chart an informed, rational course for the association that acknowledges market realities. He's utterly unlikely to charge off in some direction those of us in the chattering class would find perplexing. He gives the association a shot of dynamism it can certainly use.

So, overall, I think today's events are definitely a plus for EAA and for general aviation. I've always felt that EAA has a unique opportunity to grow itself and promote the industry. I expect to see good things from Pelton and EAA.

Comments (73)

I think the idea that EAA has indeed forgotten the original mission started by Paul P. is valid. A recent issue of Sport Aviation had an article about ag flying in a turbine Thrush. What that kind of flying has to do with sport avaition escapes me.

Posted by: Dale Martin | October 23, 2012 12:07 AM    Report this comment

Nothing againt Rod, but I feel this is a good move, if the board had let this devolve further the organization might have really suffered. Their swift action was no doubt a recognition of this possibility. Pelton is a great choice, if he ends up in that position. More to come... Brent http://iflyblog.com

Posted by: Brent Owens | October 23, 2012 6:21 AM    Report this comment

I met Rod at an EAA Grassroots pilot stop a couple of months ago. He seemed like a nice enough guy that loves to fly. However, judging by the procedures and "features" put in place at AirVenture this year (I didn't attend) and how it really miffed a lot of people, I'm kind of surprised it didn't happen sooner.

The real highlight to this story is that Jack Pelton will be taking the helm. This may be a little far fetched, but why not make him the President/CEO and Chairman of the Board? Several companies do it and I think with the breath of his experience running Cessna, turning EAA around should be a piece of cake. Give the old-timers what they want and allow the new "experimentals" (e.g. those with turbine engines and glass panels) to carefully make their way into EAA's lexicon.

Heck, let's combine EAA and AOPA and put Jack in charge of the new organization :-)

Posted by: R. Doe | October 23, 2012 8:03 AM    Report this comment

Having been on several boards and seen the process a number of times, my take is that any time a CEO leaves for "personal reasons" and doesn't remain for a period of time to "assure an orderly transition" you can pretty well be certain he either is dying, quit or got his ass handed to him on a platter.

While I thought his hiring was a mistake, I assumed that was the direction the board wanted to go. Perhaps they rethought or realized they had made a mistake and at least had the sense and gumption to correct the problem. It will be very interesting to see which way they jump this time.

Posted by: Richard Montague | October 23, 2012 8:27 AM    Report this comment

Pelton promises to "ensure a seamless transition to a new leader". The last transition was as smooth as driving a school bus off of an unfinished bridge, so he couldn't possibly do worse. The negative comments towards Hightower are astonishing, with little to no support for his brief tenure. The comment above by Richard Montague refers to the possibility that Hightower got his ass handed to him on a platter during this appartenty abrupt transition. Didn't that happen to Pelton in his previous job? For that matter- Tom Poberezney. Roman politics never trod a straight path, and neither does the politics of EAA.

If nothing else, the discordance within the leadership of EAA has clearly brought the EAA membership together. The overwhelming majority of comments regarding EAA leadership are negative, sprinkled with only the most tepid of personal support.

It's gonna be an interesting year-

Posted by: Harry Fenton | October 23, 2012 8:47 AM    Report this comment

I am not surprised about Hightowers departure after over hearing the comments of some old timers working on a project at Airventure this summer. The concern seemed to be that Airventure was turning into a trade show and forgetting that the original purpose was to be a convention for home builders. I hope the new CEO gets EAA back on track.

Posted by: John Leeds | October 23, 2012 10:09 AM    Report this comment

I see strong parallels between this weeks' events at EAA and your blog last week regarding the AOPA Aviation Summitt here in Palm Springs. The fundamental issue is "what is our business?" (A favorite question of management guru Peter Drucker, whom AvWeb quotes regularly.) Neither organization seems to have a clear answer. Aviation has a wide range of participants across a wide spectrum of ages, income levels, and degrees of participation. Some of them congregate in groups that do not get along well with others, leading to a divided population that has less clout politically and economically than it might otherwise.

The complexity of the air space system compared to roads and waterways is part of the issue. Is it really necessary to contact nine different frequencies to fly 50 miles? Does that really make me safer? It certainly does not make sport aviation more attractive to a novice.

The competition for sport aviation dollars is from boats, rv's, and off road 4 wheelers, none of which require a $10,000 investment to use by yourself. Once in, the dollars spent can easily exceed the cost of a used airplane, however, so the issue for EAA and AOPA is really one of entry barriers for new members as much as it is serving the current flying population.

Posted by: Jim Spee | October 23, 2012 11:00 AM    Report this comment

People already in aviation seem to think cost is the barrier because it keeps them from flying as much as they would like. That may be so, but a colleague of mine recently visited several flight schools in Florida and found that the expensive ones with new aircraft and nice facilties were filled to capacity while the low priced FBOs with ratty looking facilities and aircraft were empty. Someone with the means to afford flight training is not someone used to operating 40 year old equipment with oxidized paint and a panel that is barely operating.

I wish Jack Pelton all the best as he helps EAA navigate the next step and would be happy to help them through the process of determining how they should focus their attention the next 50 years. That is a much more important issue that will determine who should be leading the organizatoin.

Posted by: Jim Spee | October 23, 2012 11:01 AM    Report this comment

After reading of Rod Hightower's departure on the EAA site I was surprised at the ill regard in which numerous commentators seem to hold him (and to a lesser extent J. Mac). On one hand, it's nice to see folks so committed to EAA's roots in experimental and sport aviation. I had the same enthusiasm for AOPA when I joined more than 20 years ago. My zeal began to wane when AOPA bought a jet, and today AOPA seems totally committed to wringing every cent it can from its membership. On the other hand, I'm sure Hightower would say EAA needs to grow -- meaning, in this case, widen its base -- to survive. And I feel beholden to AOPA because of its long battles on user fees, 100LL, and the like. For better or for worse, these groups are trying to serve their members while adapting to change. As members, we can decide whether or not it's worth our while to try to influence that change, but there is no question change is the order of the day.

Posted by: Jerry Fraser | October 23, 2012 3:15 PM    Report this comment

I view Hightower and Pelton's moves with very cautious optimism. Be careful what you wish for-Rod came with all this 'he's one of us and flys a Stearman' justification as well. I can understand the pressure likely put on Hightower by his wife, and can only imagine the difficulty she had wrangling five school-aged young'uns while he was in Oshkosh. I commuted between NC and Wichita for nine months under similar circumstances and can relate. But then, someone with his reported management style would have probably taken such a job with wild optimism and little regard for the reality of the family circumstances, thinking that they'll work it out as they (the family) go along. Doesn't usually work that way if you wanna stay married. But it WAS an abrupt departure which leads to other speculation, e.g. his ass was handed to him, etc etc. I suppose you all can ask Rod in person when you see him at Airventure this summer...ya think?

Posted by: Dave Austin | October 24, 2012 7:40 AM    Report this comment

Fascinating!

Posted by: David Silchman | October 24, 2012 11:26 AM    Report this comment

EAA = EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT ASSOCIATION... That's about as clear a "mission statement" as you can find. Stick to it ! I also question the assumption that EAA needs to grow to survive. Why is this true ? Figure out your income from people who are interested in EAA, adjust your expenses so things come out even and quit building empires. Why make this so hard ?

Posted by: Michael Corder | October 24, 2012 7:18 PM    Report this comment

This "sudden" change raises more questions than it answers.

Posted by: Thomas Hempstead | October 25, 2012 4:47 AM    Report this comment

This "sudden" change raises more questions than it answers.

Posted by: Thomas Hempstead | October 25, 2012 4:47 AM    Report this comment

This "sudden" change raises more questions than it answers.

Posted by: Thomas Hempstead | October 25, 2012 4:47 AM    Report this comment

It is said politics is a dirty game. Sometime a person is put in as a head to push through unpopular procedures and then "fired". Will what unpopular issues Hightower put in place be reversed?

Posted by: Bruce Savage | October 25, 2012 5:01 AM    Report this comment

Everyone keeps saying that EAA needs to expand to survive. Paul, you repeated this in your column. Others have repeated this line of reasoning. Fine, EAA can expand all it wants needs to. I don't think any member of EAA will disagree with this. The problem with EAA leadership is they don't have their priorities straight. EXPERIMENTAL FIRST, ALL OTHERS NEXT. Keep your number one priority your original founding membership while expanding your base. NEVER, forget your founding membership when making decisions. Treat your founding membership with respect and dignity while expanding your membership base.

Posted by: Rock Braud | October 25, 2012 5:26 AM    Report this comment

First, I'd like to wish Rod the best in whatever endeavor he decides to pursue and wish Mr. Pelton the best as he takes over the helm at the EAA.

To address the question I have repeatedly read here about why the EAA needs to grow, I can look at one of Rod's justifications: we're getting old. I attended one of Rod's Grassroots Aviation talks about a month ago. It was very telling when he had every one of the 300 people in the room stand up. Rod then had everybody over 50 sit down. There were about 30 of us left standing. He then went down in ten year increments. By the time he hit 30 there were maybe half a dozen people standing, most of which were kids and grandkids of others attending the event. I was shocked how in my early forties I was still a kid in the room full of homebuilders and want to be homebuilders. If the organization is to survive, we need to reach out to the thirty and forty year olds who have the desire and disposable income to become pilots.

Posted by: D MacD | October 25, 2012 6:46 AM    Report this comment

All this being said, I too felt the EAA had lost its way as far as their core mission. We seemed to becoming AOPA Jr. which does not serve the core constituency of homebuilding. I respect Mac McClellan but he was not the best choice to lead EAA publications. Whenever there is a way to say something about aviation from either a homebuilders point of view or from a certified driver point of view, Mac seems to go out of his way to not only avoid the homebuilder’s viewpoint but to exclude it. When you have Lane Wallace stating she doesn’t like homebuilts in several of her columns in Sport Aviation, I’m sorry, either edit it out or fire her, those are about the only options I can see. I’ve been finding myself growing angrier with every edition of Sport Aviation I’ve read since Mac took over. As I’ve already stated, I respect Mac as an aviation journalist, I just feel he is too far out of his comfort zone at the helm of the once great Sport Aviation magazine.

Posted by: D MacD | October 25, 2012 6:47 AM    Report this comment

Anyone who has run a corporation knows that when a CEO claims he's resigning to spend more time with his family, that he was in reality fired. That Mac would claim otherwise shows his continued allegiance to a failed CEO. Someone paid the headhunters to find Hightower, and someone supported his wrecking-ball agenda. Clearly there also need to be some changes within the Board of Directors. My advice would be to reduce the Board to about four members and revert back to the activities of the EAA when Paul Poberezny was Chairman and CEO, Tony Bingelis lead the building efforts, and Jack and Golda Cox ran publications. BTW - the EAA has never been solely about homebuilding and I do not understand where that myth originated. From the outset it has been an organization for sport aviation that helps normal people realize their dream of aircraft ownership. That much attention has always focused on building and restoring aircraft is a natural outcome of the efforts to make flying affordable.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | October 25, 2012 7:08 AM    Report this comment

I decided not to renew my EA membership last year, after being a member for 30 years. The reason? It is no longer the "Experimental Aviation Association." It is the "Sport Aviation Association," and if your idea of sport is to fly IFR in your Piper Malibu or Super Connie, why that is worth a story in the magazine, and EAA is the organization for you. Sorry, not for me. EAA decided they wanted to broaden their base: in their desire to become all things to all pilots, they have virtually ceased to appeal to their core constituency. Our local chapter used to be focused on building airplanes and ultralights, now it is focused on flying Young Eagles. That's ok, but that's not what interests me. Their loss of focus is best exemplified by the articles in their magazine: (as D MacD so ably said)Years ago it was about building and flying home built airplanes. Now it is full of articles about flying IFR, finding a good mechanic to do your annual - what? If you built it, you do your own annual. And there you go. So I dropped my membership and just buy Kitplanes.

Posted by: richard pike | October 25, 2012 7:10 AM    Report this comment

A few comments.

Hightower needed to go. The question is how to deal with the loss of all the good people who ran the EAA we loved.

EAA is a member association. Its mission should be serving members. A good start would be to again call our annual summer gathering the EAA Convention.

Our core group is people who fly for fun. Some build, some restore, some buy, and they are all welcome. Most of the finger pointing is smoke and nonsense. To paraphrase a movie line, "God loves wondrous variety"....and so do EAA members.

Our mission is not to grow GA, but to make it possible to fly for fun. Do that and the membership will grow on its own.

Our current method of electing Directors is broken. Most members don't realize they currently have only two choices; (1) attend the annual meeting to vote in person, or (2) give their proxy to the EAA President and Secretary. Only a handful of members can attend in person, and as a result the executive officers decide who will serve as Directors. It wasn't a bad system when we operated under Paul P, but today it doesn't pass the smell test. A Board of Directors is formed to represent the interests of the members, not the interests of the executives. We should not tolerate a system in which the executives pick the directors who will oversee their performance. We need to enable direct Board election by the membership, as recently proposed. We barely escaped this time. Let's not let it happen again.

Posted by: Dan Horton | October 25, 2012 8:00 AM    Report this comment

I joined EAA in my 20's. I'm now in my 70's. I used to go to Rockford and I have never missed an Oshkosh. I've held evey office in a Chapter and worked Oshkosh for 12 years. I think I have seen ALL sides of EAA. Even with Paul and Tom at the helm EAA was on a gradual slide away from the core principals. I guess I don't quite understand the therory that EAA must expand its base. I kinda liked the "old" base. Maybe some of you will remember the time when Paul talked about changing the name from Experimental Aircraft Association to Sport Aviation Association. What an uproar from the membership! Well, EAA is more of a Sport Aviaiton Association today than when Paul talked about it.

Change is good, but for me I'd like to see the pendulum make a swing back toward EAA's original core values. Even the idea that EAA should be for every segment of aviation is not true. AOPA started a decade before EAA with that in mind and had been successful. EAA needs to return to the grassroots flying community.

PS: Mac should be the next to go! Sport aviation sucks since he took over!!!

Posted by: Steve Wilson | October 25, 2012 8:17 AM    Report this comment

First, General Aviation is too small a group to be fragmented, such as home builders vs certified plane owners. To survive we must work together, and EAA has generally done a good job in this area.

Rod came into EAA with a Corporate viewpoint, which does not work well in a grass-roots, volunteer based, group like EAA. The selling out of Oshkosh to non-aviation corporations and gutting of EAA staff are examples. The highlight was the "Chalets" at Oshkosh this year... a typical Corporate leadership approach of narcissism.

I hope that EAA can find it's way with leadership that cares about both aviation and people.

Posted by: Dan MacDonald | October 25, 2012 8:35 AM    Report this comment

Not being involved in big-time EAA organizational politics, I was unaware of the Rod Hightower. Is this the reason why why H.G. Frautschy left as Executive Director of the Vintage Aircraft Assn. after some 22 years of leadership? This was a real loss to VAA.

Posted by: A Richie | October 25, 2012 8:55 AM    Report this comment

I joined the EAA several years ago when I started on my RV and have found it to be of some use from a homebuilder perspective. Over the past couple of years the direction really has changed and EAA seems to have evolved into what the AOPA was (I am also an APOA member and ASN volunteer). In the mean time, the APOA has evolved into a big business that seems intent on selling me a lot of services (medical, legal, insurance, etc.) I don’t necessarily need or want. Given the overlapping big business aspects of both EAA and AOPA perhaps they should consider a merger. A single organization could better serve the aviation community for safety and political issues, while having some specialized operations to address homebuilders, war birds, recreational GA, and business GA segments. I recently joined the Sport Aviation Association in the hope that they will pick up the mission of what the EAA once was.

Posted by: John Salak | October 25, 2012 9:19 AM    Report this comment

It just seemed that the purpose of the organization changed over the years from serving the member interests to serving the corporate member interests. It changed from how can we best serve the members to how can we grow this corporate marketing monster we've become? Case in point, Oshkosh went from being a chance for the membership to meet and celebrate their passion, to Airventure, a chance for corporate aviation interests to market to the membership. I guess what hurts is the point of the whole thing changed from "us" being the focus to the organization being the focus and us being relegated to a minor support role, just there to provide money and volunteer labor.

Posted by: Richard Montague | October 25, 2012 9:40 AM    Report this comment

"...the point of the whole thing changed from "us" being the focus, to the organization being the focus and us being relegated to a minor support role, just there to provide money and volunteer labor."

Did they learn this from the Federal Government? :-)

Posted by: A Richie | October 25, 2012 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Paul nailed it: "To survive and thrive, [EAA] needs to broaden its appeal and find members whose interests aren't just in experimental airplanes and warbirds, but in aviation as an avocation, an aspiration and an abiding interest."

The key word is "survive."

Serving the ideals under which the EAA was founded worked well when avgas cost 38 CENTS a gallon. But to survive in today's environment EAA must adapt by broadening its base to include competing interests. The EAA organization is too large to focus solely on the needs of the relatively small community of experimental airplane and warbird builders and operators.

Aircraft homebuilders are faced with a decision: Whether to associate with an organization that is evolving away from the "original core values" under which it was founded.

So who is going to represent the interests of builders of homebuilt aircraft?

Posted by: Gordon Mano | October 25, 2012 10:40 AM    Report this comment

I've been an EAA member about 40 years and an "Oshkosh" attendee over 30 years, mostly camping with an old factory built airplane. EAA hasn't been just about home building experimental airplanes for a long time. Please understand I honor those who build and fly. I have had fun attending sessions on hands on building, welding, fabric, etc. But my "core" skills and interest do not lie there. I would hate to find myself excluded from an elitist organization of only experimental airplane builders. On the bright side of the "Core", with no statistics supporting my supposition, I would think the core of people who are homebuilders is much larger now than 30 or 40 years ago. Perhaps those return to the core folks are seeing only that with reference to the EAA membership the percentage of members who are builders has probably decreased. It's a trees and forest sort of thing. I suggest that leadership style and corporate privilege are perhaps the "core" issues.

Posted by: Jaime Alexander | October 25, 2012 10:47 AM    Report this comment

EAA is in trouble due to greed (money, power, egos), a desire to be all things to all in aviation, and fractionalization. The organization can hardly be all things to all aviation interests. Focus is spread too thin. A “shadow” AOPA is not needed-and it erodes resources. Fractionalizing the organization is disastrous. In reality we join EAA to get Sport Aviation, the glue holding the organization together. Members look forward to receiving the magazine…for many it is a prime monthly focus. However, the magazine has failed. The very existence of extra magazines is perfect illustration of how Sport Aviation magazine has failed to do its job. EAA only needs one magazine. As EAA has become corrupted due to greed and loss of focus/direction, members all too often feel abandoned. EAA needs to re-focus to look after the members and in so doing become professional. We are all in aviation together and if divided within the organization, the EAA will assuredly fail.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | October 25, 2012 10:56 AM    Report this comment

"BTW - the EAA has never been solely about homebuilding and I do not understand where that myth originated. From the outset it has been an organization for sport aviation that helps normal people realize their dream of aircraft ownership." Really? I thought the organization's name is "Experimental Aircraft Association!" When I joined nearly 40 years ago it was mostly about building affordable airplanes from raw materials. Now it's mostly about kits that long ago became too costly for my income group. I'll rejoin when it once again is an organization for grass roots people like me.

Posted by: Phillip Potter | October 25, 2012 11:07 AM    Report this comment

The EAA had lost its way (look at the growth of kit planes). The name of the EAA may have been imperfect but the organization was right on for 40 years. The world Does not need another Flying or AOPA Pilot cattering to whim of the aflunent.

Posted by: Thomas Eichhorn | October 25, 2012 11:23 AM    Report this comment

I hope that Jack Pelton remembers that it's the Experimental Aircraft ASSOCIATION! An association of like minded people who love flying and want to share it with others. An association of people who additionally build, restore and maintain their own low end GA airplanes ... not turbine powered computers with wings. An association of people who go to Oshkosho to see and learn about such simple machines and not Ford cars, rock concerts, or turbine powered airplanes racing turbine powered trucks down the runway.

How many people have to tell EAA that they need to downsize back to their core mission before someone listens. Hightower was a business man. We don't need no stinking businessmen running EAA ... we need a GA guy running EAA. HEY ... Jack Pelton IS a GA guy ... Jack ... are ya listening?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | October 25, 2012 11:45 AM    Report this comment

Dan Horton should send his five succinct insights (above) to the EAA Board to use as their new Prime Directives.

As a long-time volunteer and one of the pugilists in the unprecedented proxy fight at the EAA Board meeting this year, I can attest to the validity of Dan's last point: the election and constitution of the Board needs to be more transparent and more representative of the membership.

Hightower gutted and reorganized the EAA HQ staff, when the problem lies with the Board and its focus on growth as the only way to pay for the cost of growth. (Airventure is already "the largest aviation event on Earth" and yet only a fraction of EAA members attend.) It didn't help that he was tone-deaf to the way his changes (however well-intentioned and MBA-approved) would be perceived by the membership and volunteers. Volunteer membership organizations must be led from the bottom up. Autocratic decisions are quicker but will fail if the rank and file feel disenfranchised. As for Airventure, one cannot hope to manage a massive volunteer-run event when you determine the value of your workers by what you pay them.

Informal discussion with Jack Pelton and other Board members immediately after the meeting suggested that the recent developments were imminent.

Posted by: Chip Davis | October 25, 2012 12:03 PM    Report this comment

As for the totally misguided calls to merge EAA and AOPA: name another gun-ownership association with any clout in Washington besides the NRA. We don't want to have only one "voice of aviation"; it dilutes the message and makes us easy to discount as "those airplane nuts". Besides, if EAA's problem is truly one of "forgetting the homebuilder" amidst all the warbird, vintage, ultralight, rotorcraft, aerobatic, and other constituencies, how is adding corporate jets and commercial turbine interests going to help?

As a many-decades member of both EAA and AOPA (as well as VAA and the resurrected SAA) I want to keep the maximum number of aviation voices in the choir, even if they don't always sing in perfect harmony.

Posted by: Chip Davis | October 25, 2012 12:09 PM    Report this comment

The whole thing strikes me as sad, more than anything else.

I became inactive with EAA back in the late 1990s when the EAA took an incredibly statist/corporatist attitude towards chapters: “We will tell you what you must do, what you cannot do, and how much you will pay us to insure us against you, and you will like it.” The chapter I had belonged to felt that they didn’t need to obey the rules that they didn’t like. Some say that I got mad and quit. Well, it’s certainly true that I left the chapter, partly out of concern for the EAA Gestapo/SS possibly discovering that I had been in EAA chapter leadership.

Now, I have probably 12 years of Sport Aviation that I have not even opened. It’s time for me to leave EAA. I haven’t even flown in several years, and unless AOPA wins the recreational medical exemption, I probably won’t ever again. Still, it pisses me off when some high-time high-performance pilot curses other pilots over CTAF for daring to be in “his” pattern. Hey: There’s only one sky. Fly friendly, or perish. The same applies to aviation groups.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | October 25, 2012 1:10 PM    Report this comment

Oshkosh is a victim of its own success. It is so big, and attracts so many people, that it is very expensive to put on. Some of the changes at EAA are necessary if a show this size is to be put on.

As for those that say "Experimentals only"--the show could be put on at any decent-sized airport in the country, because it wouldn't be nearly the size it is now.

As PaulPoberezny is rumored to have stated years ago (yes, this "experimentals only" issue HAS been going on that long)--"Who should I tell to stay home?" As to who are the "real" defenders of the "Experimental" term in EAA--when it was formed, EAA members built their own aircraft from scratch--no kits--and often not even plans. Would this crowd advocate going back to that?

EAA'ers should be proud that they have such a vibrant and inclusive organization. Including all aspects of aviation makes us stronger. If those who want "Experimental Only" want limited association, they can do it through their local chapters. As for me--I like to see it all!

Posted by: jim hanson | October 25, 2012 2:20 PM    Report this comment

Phillip Potter said:

[Kent Misegades said] "BTW - the EAA has never been solely about homebuilding and I do not understand where that myth originated. From the outset it has been an organization for sport aviation that helps normal people realize their dream of aircraft ownership." Really? I thought the organization's name is "Experimental Aircraft Association!"

This is easy to answer. There is no FAA aircraft certification of "Sport" or "Homebuilt" or "Kitbuilt", and there certainly wasn't in 1950. The FAA regulates all aircraft manufacture, and to build an airplane for your own personal use, you had to jump through the same regulatory hoops as Boeing and Cessna. Paul Poberezny saw that the "one-off" classification used by manufacturers to build and test their prototypes was considerable less onerous, and successfully petitioned the FAA to allow that to include ordinary craftsmen. That classification was "Experimental" and thus the name of his nascent homebuilders' club.

Kent is correct that is was always a "sport aviation" group. Some members built their aircraft from scratch, some from rebuilt wrecks, some modified commercial aircraft or warbirds, but a great many of them were simply owners of someone else's handiwork. It was a direct analog to the hot-rod car movement. A lot of hot-rodders never turned a wrench.

Posted by: Chip Davis | October 25, 2012 2:32 PM    Report this comment

It just occurred to me that Rod Hightower left EAA in the middle of the month that his airplane was featured on the EAA calendar. Hmmm....

Posted by: Russ Erb | October 25, 2012 2:52 PM    Report this comment

I have been biting my tongue, but at the risk of having friends in the organization never speak to me again, here goes: Will the Board have the cojones to grovel and beg Tom to come back? Would Tom have the statesmanship to accept?

Jim Klick EAA 106287 IAC 6870 AOPA 682160

Posted by: Jim KLick | October 25, 2012 3:04 PM    Report this comment

EAA's path away from grass roots homebuilding started long before the arrival of Hightower. If anyone thinks that his departure is due to the direction of the EAA, I suspect you need to cut back on your meds... It was most likely due to personality conflicts. Whoever they bring in next will likely continue this trend (maybe even accelerate it) and they will also make changes in EAA personnel to suite their goals and management style. The EAA is becoming a single big airshow with a magazine. The chapters are basically on their own and forget about smaller regional fly-ins.

If we really just want to increase our numbers, why don't we open the organization up to people who own or drive cars. Maybe we could start inviting big car companies to display at airventure. Next we could start including articles on driving in the magazine. We could rename the magazine "Sport Lifestyles".

In case you can't tell, I am a homebuilder and really think the EAA mission should revolve around building, restoring, maintaining, and flying EXPERIMENTAL airplanes!!! We already have AOPA for the rest of it.

Posted by: Dave Wilson | October 25, 2012 3:36 PM    Report this comment

As a member in 1970 and dropping in and out, I again have not renewed my membership. The magazine and management seem to favor the new slick market style approach. Mostly the articles could be found in Flying, AOPA or any other aviation magazine. The Convention has turned into a slick show with big dollar fees to display. Gone are many such as Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, because of the cost. The aging pilot population has to walk about 10 miles a day because they do/will not have more transportation. You can rent a scooter for $85 a day. It seems it is all about the Buck now days.

Posted by: Don B | October 25, 2012 3:51 PM    Report this comment

@"Airshow with a magazine." Those ARE some of the reasons pilots join EAA--but not the only ones.

If EAA wasn't so large, would they have the advocacy voice in Washington that they have? As it is, EAA is one of the most effective of all of the aviation organizations in reining in the excesses of Washington regulators.

We're all dedicated to aviation safety-if EAA wasn't as large an all-inclusive as it is, could it be as effective in putting out the safety information that it does (homebuilder tips, engine tips, vintage tips, LSA tips, etc.)?

If EAA wasn't as large and all-inclusive as it is, would we have the biggest and best aviation gathering (notice I didn't say airshow) in the world? Would there be a world-class museum in a place like Oshkosh? Would people so appreciate what it has become that they plan for it all year long?

By any measure--the EAA Convention has been a resounding success--as has the EAA itself in aviation promotion and information. Let's not destroy that with infighting among the divisions.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 25, 2012 4:15 PM    Report this comment

There's an aspect of this event that everyone is overlooking, which is how non-charity not-for-profits like EAA (or for that matter AOPA) are OWNED -- yes, owned. Paul Poberezny founded EAA and OWNED it. Rod Hightower BOUGHT EAA from the Poberezny family, just as Craig Fuller bought AOPA from Phil Boyer. For all the mismanagement and head-cracking that's being talked about this also represents a business deal gone awry. Maybe Hightower got behind in his payments to the Pobereznys. Jack Pelton to the rescue may more properly mean Jack Pelton's WALLET to the rescue, too, which could mean the succession is a done deal. But I, too, hope it's for the better, having been involved with EAA since I was 12 years old in 1965.

Posted by: Robert Cringely | October 26, 2012 4:10 AM    Report this comment

Ritual beheading is just too strong a description for this kind of parting of the ways. Being fired for cause is also too strong. These are ways to describe nearly (or actually) criminal behavior and the resulting loss of employment that goes with it.

The "Family time" story is indeed a euphemism. It tells the story of an employment situation that just didn't work out. In this case Rod Hightower just wasn't an airplane builder kind of guy. He was a racer and high powered business man. The only thing wrong here was he just wasn't the right guy for the job. Some times it takes a few years to learn about this kind of misfit. In this case it took two.

I am glad to see a refocus of EAA to the home builder. I took advantage of this wonderful activity and organization support several times while building my own plane and am grateful for all of it. I have no problems with expansion of the home builder model to include all the other areas such as antiques, aerobatics, war birds, and any other kind of recreational flying activity. Let's just not forget the root of this great tree.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | October 26, 2012 5:32 AM    Report this comment

Paul, right on! I find all the comments interesting and can hardly wait to see what 'management solution' they come up with next.

Posted by: Richard Norris | October 26, 2012 5:35 AM    Report this comment

I have long understood that Paul Poberezny helped to found EAA....it was founded by a group, some of whom became early officers of the organiztion. A witness told me that one point Poberezny was voted out of the presidency and he was so disheartened and upset that the other fellows felt terribly sorry for him so they gave the leadership back to him -and soon thereafter was introcduced the proxy system...after which it was all but impossible to unseat him from control of the organization. I think that basically he did a great job...

Posted by: Charles Elliot | October 26, 2012 6:45 AM    Report this comment

As a 27 year volunteer at EAA I saw it differently. It was all about Hightower and not about EAA members. It was apparent to us right away it took the board a while to see it!

Posted by: Michael Dolan | October 26, 2012 9:16 AM    Report this comment

Thanks once again Paul for your insight into the continuing EAA Issues that I have not appreciated until this recent Leadership replacement.

I believe your belief of considering to 'include people who have neither the desire nor the wherewithal to actually fly airplanes' is an excellent step to improving the interest of aviation for future generations. My chance encounters at AirVenture with youth visiting the venue, supports the idea of great interest and enthusiasm by the all. I had a request for detail drawings of the Sikorsky S-38 so he could build one of his own. I would personal appreciate the EAA expansion of instruction and demonstrations of whole aircraft construction, Engine maintenance, Control tower operations, aircraft performance, engineering, and safety; for instance. There are many sponsors that support these activities, but perhaps more front and center demonstrations may help; rather than out lying locations.

For AirVenture; I love the War Birds, but please less War and More Birds. Thanks

Posted by: Philip Potts | October 26, 2012 10:44 AM    Report this comment

Chip Davis - "This is easy to answer. There is no FAA aircraft certification of "Sport" or "Homebuilt" or "Kitbuilt", and there certainly wasn't in 1950. The FAA regulates all aircraft manufacture, and to build an airplane for your own personal use, you had to jump through the same regulatory hoops as Boeing and Cessna. Paul Poberezny saw that the "one-off" classification used by manufacturers to build and test their prototypes was considerable less onerous, and successfully petitioned the FAA to allow that to include ordinary craftsmen. That classification was "Experimental" and thus the name of his nascent homebuilders' club.

Kent is correct that is was always a "sport aviation" group. Some members built their aircraft from scratch, some from rebuilt wrecks, some modified commercial aircraft or warbirds, but a great many of them were simply owners of someone else's handiwork. It was a direct analog to the hot-rod car movement. A lot of hot-rodders never turned a wrench."

I do not disagree at all. My contention is that the "build from scratch" affordable market has been abandoned.

Posted by: Phillip Potter | October 26, 2012 11:22 AM    Report this comment

I have been an EAA member since 1981. I have never built an airplane, and I never will. I respect mightily all those have taken tools to hand and used their skills to put together one of the amazing machines that can actually “slip the surly bonds of earth”.

As a pilot since 1967, I belong to EAA because, like so many others, I love airplanes and just about everything related to aviation.

I read AOPA Pilot, Flying, and Sport Aviation. I never used to read Sport Aviation, as it was too clunky and all about home-building. Since its remake I read it almost cover-to-cover. I find I enjoy most of the articles and authors, including the articles that feature what members have built. I even enjoy perusing some of the how-to articles, as it gives me more appreciation for what the home-builders do.

AirVenture has never been just for home-builders--at least not since it moved to Oshkosh. It gradually became a magnet for everyone who loves aviation, and that seems to me to be something very good. It has given our organization a kind of power that it never would have had if it remained just a nice organization for the experimenter and home-builder.

Whatever the future leadership of EAA may be, I doubt that they will want to exclude those multitudes of us who flock to AirVenture and join the organization out of love for flying. At least I sure hope not!

Posted by: Bill Menzel | October 26, 2012 11:48 AM    Report this comment

Bill Menzel has it straight; his note deserves careful re-reading by all. At age 70, I think I can say this: many of the notes above seem paranoid, short-sighted, petulant, selfish, or-- at best-- resistant to change. An EAA devoted solely to the homebuilder would occupy a tiny niche in an already minute part of society, and would be unable to do much for its aging members. There have been things I didn't like about Mac's articles (he does seem tone-deaf to the long-term EAAer) and AirVenture (the chalets!!!), but this organization provides the best damned tent on this benighted planet for homebuilders. Why do you begrudge participation by all the others who love aviation in all its many forms? Face it, GA will die out unless all interested parties can exert positive force at all levels of government and society.

Posted by: Hunter Heath | October 26, 2012 9:45 PM    Report this comment

200 years ago the founders of our county listed their "Atrocities of the King." as reasons for turning their Great Britain memberships cards. When you have unchecked power, lavish spending, un-elected sole dictator authority, bad things are going to happen. Neither EAA or AOPA have checks and balances as provided for by our founding father in anticipation of this very problem. Their power and lavish spending have gone unchecked until now, when Sportys, Garmin, Jep, and about five other GA hero corporations have snuck aboard and dumped tea overboard. It all worked by method of intimidation by BOTH organizations until now. HERES ALL WE NEED: 1) A MEMBER ELECTED PRESIDENT (Jack would do fine for EAA, I'd vote for him) 2) OPEN RECORDS OF EXPENSES, SALARIES, AND REVENUES. Maybe its time we all start turning in membership cards until they say uncle. They will say uncle, I promise. Both are right on the frickin' edge! They will only fly right if we make them fly right!

Posted by: Dan Gryder | October 26, 2012 9:45 PM    Report this comment

I am surprised nobody has taken a look at the financial side of this: Bill Menzel wrote: "it gradually became a magnet for everyone...": airventure in the good years grew year over year. So, in order to accommodate the growth, EAA invested into the fairgrounds, infrastructure, museum. Must have cost a fortune. Then a terrible thing happened: the growth stopped due to the economy sputtering. Avgas got expensive, a devastating rain in 2010 curtails income further: but the debts pile up. Tom Poberezny is forced out. In comes Hightower. He does what every accountant would do: he cuts personnel. Sure, these people had served meritoriously to aviation. They were also expensive. Hightower leases out the fairgrounds to other users, increases the leases for the exhibitors at airventure, introduces the chalets: all these measures may have right sized the finances, but the membership is torn. Mostly, they hate him for what he had to do to keep EAA from going bankrupt. Now here we have Jack Pelton. Do you remember he was let go at Cessna because Textron did not like the financial numbers? He promises to take an approach back to the roots of what EAA stands for: a world class air show, and an attractive organization for grassroots aviation enthusiasts. I wish him success. This is needed. Can he however keep the organization financially on an even keel?

Posted by: Michael Schupp | October 27, 2012 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Michael, as I understand the issue from many small comments the biggest problem with Hightower was the chalets. I didn't make it to AirVenture last year but the comments I heard suggested the view was blocked for all but the rich folks who rented a chalet. This kind of "Class Warfare" is new to EAA and most people really hated it.

You are right about the economy being in the tank, but I don't think you give enough notice to the fact that people who have built and own airplanes can't just decided to sell off and move on to fishing or NASCAR watching. The same shortage of economic strength applies to potential airplane buyers too. The price of fuel gets a lot of groans, but the truth is that fuel is the least expensive part of aviation. The fixed costs (money, hangar, insurance, etc.) overwhelm the operating costs for most private light plane owners.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | October 27, 2012 12:58 PM    Report this comment

The view was blocked by the chalets? Seriously?

I heard a couple of snide remarks about the chalets, but hardly serious enough to unseat anyone. There were still plenty of places to watch the airshow from.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 27, 2012 3:46 PM    Report this comment

I agree, Paul. I also believe I give enough notice to people hanging on. Personally, I also hung on to my plane in difficult years and I rewarded myself with the few days at OSH every summer. But it insulted me to see those chalets because now I felt treated inferior. This was not "my Oshkosh" any more, the place I came to refill my enthusiasm for all things new in aviation. My point is to question whether EAA can go back to the days before the chalets and still keep balanced books (37% of its income comes from airventure), without growth, without younger pilots, with less corporate sponsorship, and now with disgruntled members?

Posted by: Michael Schupp | October 27, 2012 3:56 PM    Report this comment

Paul, one of the things that led to Rod's eventual undoing with the board was that he was asked (by board members) to give a "mea culpa" at the EAA Annual Meeting on Saturday during Airventure. He was supposed to apologize for the chalet's, and for the treatment of a number of volunteers, and he did neither. Numerous directors and staff took note. EAA HQ did get a ton of grief about the chalet's.

Posted by: Brian Cooper | October 29, 2012 11:45 PM    Report this comment

What you all don't understand is the power of the Pope. He is still there, he is still in power. He was brought in to be a figure head puppet that Tom P. could control remotely, to appease the public. Rod was let go because he could not play well with Tom P. Now you have Pelton brought in as chairman of the board. They don't call him 'Smilin Jack for nothing, EAA is in essence using his good name and reputation to attempt to give some credibility back to an organization gone bad. eed him to run anything. They need him to endorse them. Im not sure if Pelton actually knows this, or if he's just still in awe of that street sign they gave him. Tom Poberezny is your problem, and that will never change. There is a reason that Paul and Tom are not on speaking terms. Paul doesnt like it either.

Posted by: Frank Peters | October 30, 2012 5:35 AM    Report this comment

He who controls the proxies and/or the purse strings controls the organization.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | October 30, 2012 7:37 AM    Report this comment

It's a damn shame that an organization cannot be open and honest with the members. Why can't the board and former CEO just say that they came to an irreconcilable difference of opinion on the direction of the organization and when that happens the CEO has no choice but go along with the board or resign? No fault no foul, but a respectful parting of the ways. Then let the members know what the issues were and what the board's vision of the future should be. At that point the board should open up to input from the membership through surveys or open forums, publish the results and get on with the program. This BS about "family" is a disservice and an insult to all involved.

Posted by: Richard Montague | October 30, 2012 9:41 AM    Report this comment

Richard I can't agree with you more! However, that is not how a 'big business' is run. I see it all the time: I'm the boss so even though I don't know what is going on, don't understand, don't ask for details, etc, etc, my decisions are right until something gets totally screwed-up then it is soemone elses fault (responsibility) for not 'keeping me in the loop'.

Posted by: Richard Norris | October 30, 2012 9:48 AM    Report this comment

I have been attending Airventure on and off since 1981 and have been a pilot since 1977. The real problem is that membership in EAA along with Airventure attendance have been dropping. The core group of EAA homebuilders continue to decline each year and if you relied on Airventure catering to just the homebuilders, the show would look like a ghost town. For quite a few years, Airventure has transformed from purely a homebuilder fly-in, to more of a true aviation event. The reality is that probably 99% of the Airventure attendess are not experimental aircraft owners. To keep EAA and Airventure relavent...they need to expand the audience or else it will continue to decline. Keep in mind, the attendance is alrealy faltering year after year even with Ford Motors, and all the other production aircraft manufacuturers there. Toss them out and the show will be so small, very few would attend....except the homebuilders. Back in the day of massive homebuilding...circa 1970's, EAA could focus on it's core members, but that segment is too small and declining. The best thing EAA could do right now is to continue it course of being all inclusive and to have a segment of membership for the homebuilders. This is not a popular option for homebuilders...but is does address the reality of keeping EAA viable in 2012.

Posted by: Unknown | October 31, 2012 9:42 AM    Report this comment

During a media interview at Airventure, Hightower publicly committed to making Mogas available at Airventure 13. In recent weeks prior to his departure he had already backed away from EAA supporting that promise. So much for listening to the members and having any institutional integrity.

Posted by: Michael Gallagher | October 31, 2012 10:20 AM    Report this comment

The EAA left me decades ago. I like to compare EAA and NASCAR. Both organizations decided to expand beyond their niche, to become entertainment entities, and they left their grassroots. Grassroots aviation became the red headed step child as the EAA chased magazine features about quarter million dollar custom built "homebuilts". When Tony Bingelis died, the EAA's spirit slipped away.

Posted by: Matt Nowell | October 31, 2012 11:44 AM    Report this comment

I will continue my support for organizations that support and promote General Aviation even when they struggle and morph to adapt to change.

Posted by: Jim O'Day | October 31, 2012 11:44 AM    Report this comment

For all of those who want EAA to return to "homebuilders only"--define who is a "homebuilder" any more. Is it someone that builds an airplane from scratch--no kit? That was EAA at its inception.

Is it someone that builds strictly from plans? Is it someone that builds from a kit? Does it include "builder assist" programs? Could someone that PURCHASED a completed homebuilt attend? As Paul Poberezny is reputed to have said "Who should we tell not to come?"

The marketplace always prevails--if there is a "market" for "homebuilders only"--then someone will provide a venue for them--and despite years of grumbling, it hasn't happened yet. In the meantime--we should be proud of what EAA continues to accomplish--not only the convention, but all of their technical help--and the fact that they are perhaps the greatest aviation advocacy group out there.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 31, 2012 12:08 PM    Report this comment

R. Doe said it best: "Heck, let's combine EAA and AOPA and put Jack in charge of the new organization :-)" Let's do it!

Posted by: David Montgomery | October 31, 2012 12:54 PM    Report this comment

No way combine those two!

You do need alternative views.

Hightower was right in "some" ways. Organizations can get bloated. Returning to grassroots does not necessarily mean "homebuilts only"

One cannot expect to please all of the people all the time. But it is good to be able to please most of the people most of the time.

EAA became bloated...plain and simple. The payment is now due.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | October 31, 2012 4:50 PM    Report this comment

Charles Elliot--completely agree!

EAA has become like our government--bloated. Hightower trimmed fat--but perhaps should have promised the membership LESS.

In the case of the government--the first legislator that promises to do LESS, not MORE, gets my vote!

Posted by: jim hanson | October 31, 2012 5:01 PM    Report this comment

Jim Hanson...you are right BUT these days when politicians make promises, those promises all too often tend to be as fleeting as the colours flashing on the crop of a pigeon. There is precious little honour any more...a very sad thing. Power is the name of the game...it is the raison d'etre (reason for existence) of too many. This can impact all manner of organizations. As people move up in the ranks they seem to become co-opted into new circles of friendship and thereby soon lose their way. Keeping the position (and perhaps advancing) can become all embracing. Organizations such as the EAA "supposedly" exist to serve the membership but this can change. EAA has to do some real soul-searching as to what is really important. Is it actually the leadership that is to be served -or is it the membership on the backs of which all is supported? Aye, there's the rub! Look after the members and everything else will follow in a good way. The overall pattern of behaviour is crucial...absolutely crucial.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | October 31, 2012 7:29 PM    Report this comment

Without EAA and AOPA having the forsight to expand their niche and therefore their clout, the homebuiders only group, might not have the right to build and fly their own airplane. General aviation as a whole would suffer without the broad appeal these organizations offer to a broad spectrum of avaition enthusiasts.

Posted by: William Sutherland | November 3, 2012 4:29 AM    Report this comment

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