New Warbird Advocacy Group Aims To Consolidate Best Practices


Citing public stigma from “bad press” incidents involving privately owned vintage military aircraft, a consortium of pilots, owners, organizations and other advocates have formed the Association of Professional Warbird Operators (APWO). At a press conference during EAA AirVenture today (July 25), former head of the annual Sun ‘n Fun event John “Lites” Leenhouts was introduced as CEO of the new group. He talked about the reasons for forming the association, its challenges and the pathway forward.

“This has been two years in process,” he said, explaining the impetus for organizing. “We asked ourselves, how do we come together? How do we find a solution to reducing accidents?” He also acknowledged that forming yet another “alphabet” organization requires a careful balance between advocacy and overcontrol. “We’re not here to regulate,” he promised.

The group’s spirit is identified as “Of the people, by the people, and for the people. Our focus is to coordinate, consolidate, and ultimately support the efforts of all existing organizations to reduce accidents and restrictions.” The “vision” of APWO reads: “Promote professionalism through education, standardization, and safety methodologies that will foster survivability by mitigating risk that will help the Warbird community avoid unnecessary regulation.”

In addition to Leenhouts, the management team includes Greg Gibson (vice president and COO) who once served as director of the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum, and is currently president of aviation marketing and consulting firm Tailwind Enterprises. Co-chairman of APWO is Greg Hiser, vice president of Assured Partners Insurance, owner/principal of Air Capital Insurance and a warbird owner/operator. Co-chairman is Hank Coates, retired naval officer, warbird pilot and CEO of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). The group’s treasurer is USAF veteran Bob Stenevik, VP of operations for the CAF and co-chair of the Living History Flight Experience industry group.

Though the press conference included discussion of many legislative concerns, Coates identified the main issue confronting the group as reversing language in the current FAA reauthorization bill that affects FAR 91.147. He said the proposed restrictions would affect not only warbird operators but is an “industry-wide issue. It also affects ballooning, parachuting and even discovery flights.” He said the economic impact could be as high as $1 billion.

Asked if the founders of APWO had experienced resistance from warbird operators who might be leery of a new alphabet group, Leenhouts said that, at first, there was skepticism. But as people have asked questions and learned what the core mission of the group really is, he said, “the skepticism is drifting away, now down to almost nothing. We hope to inspire people to do the right thing.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. What happened with the B17 was criminal. The foundation that owned it had an excellent but apparently unearned reputation. The pilots were not trained for the emergency and they along with innocent people lost their lives and valuable piece of history was destroyed. I feel it is important to keep these planes flying and expose the public to them, they serve a valuable role in preserving history. I am glad to see the operators getting together to clean up their act before the politicians do and ruin it.

  2. Yes, please keep them flying. Please stop crashing them lest someday the luddites start claiming “WW2 never happened” because, like the moon program they didn’t witness it.