Now that I could see the airplane, I was pretty sure that It was an Aviat Husky. The down-to-your-shoelaces fog that I’d driven through to the airport was beginning to lose its battle with the sun. When I got out of my car 20 minutes ago, the fog had been the absolute master of the airport. I could hear a slow-moving airplane up above, seemingly standing sentinel over the invisible airport. Muted engine and prop noise in my ears, I went into one of the FBO’s big hangars to help set up for the huckleberry pancake breakfast fly-in.
Now, after 20 minutes of setting up chairs and tables and hearing the big propane griddles fire up, I stepped outside wondering if the weather would cooperate so pilots could fly in. I saw that there were great, uneven rents opening and closing in the fog. The trees on the other side of the runway would appear and then disappear as the fog and sun contested control over the airport. As I watched, patches of painfully bright blue sky appeared and widened. That’s when I was finally able to see the patient early responder to the lure of a fly-in breakfast. It was a Husky; its squared-off wingtips and smoothly rounded tail surfaces made clear. The power was pulled back to lowest cruise, the prop being barely hushed around. I could visualize the pilot—he or she had set manifold pressure and prop RPM at or near the bottom the green arcs, using minimal fuel and keeping the airplane as quiet as possible out of respect for those living near the airport and wishing to sleep to a reasonable hour on this Saturday.
The aviation lawyer in me smiled—I won’t have to defend this pilot from an FAA action—he or she obviously knew the regs. The airplane was in airspace requiring only one-mile visibility and that it stay clear of clouds. Above the diminishing fog, the visibility is undoubtedly unlimited and it would easy to remain out of the clouds and simply wait for the fog to break up. In the meantime, I can imagine the spectacular view the pilot has of mountain peaks in all directions, stark in the clear air, thousands of feet above the clouds huddled around their bases.
It’s still 30 minutes before the official start of the fly-in breakfast, but I need to get back inside to my assigned job because we’re certain to get people who arrive early, ready to eat. Our EAA Chapter, 757, of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, puts on its huckleberry pancake breakfast at the Boundary County Airport not just once a year—as is the case most places—but five times, on the last Saturday of May, June, July, August and September. It’s a big deal—and people from all around the area, not just pilots, look forward to it.
A Good News Aviation Fix
Walking back into the hangar, I looked at the faces of the teenagers and adults busy getting ready. Everyone was in a good mood. I needed an aviation good news fix. Badly.
I’d spent the previous evening in the Pilot’s Lounge at the virtual airport listening to the ADS-B procrastinators bemoan that now that they’d found the equipment they wanted for compliance with the January 1, 2020, mandate the radio shops were backed up and they couldn’t get the boxes installed in time; the usual complainers were in full voice about fuel prices and the cost of maintenance and how regulations were killing aviation and nobody wants to learn to fly and pilots are dying out and on, and on, and on.
I couldn’t take it any longer. I wanted to be with people who thought flying was pretty cool and fun and who were doing something to help some of the scores of kids who want to learn to fly make that dream of flight come true.
I knew the perfect place. That was why I was setting up chairs and tables and watching two of our EAA Chapter’s leaders, Kambiz Kamiab and Gene Andrews, discuss the consistency of the pancake batter they were creating using a power drill mixing arrangement. The huckleberries—the state fruit of Idaho—had been added and they wanted to make sure that the first batch of pancakes would be just right.
I wanted to be with people who came early to set up and stayed late to clean up a pancake breakfast that existed to raise scholarship money for kids to learn to fly. The right place to be was in this hangar so thick with enthusiasm for flying and people who want to fly that it seemed to ooze out the windows. I wanted to see what airplanes would fly in and talk with pilots and those who wanted to be pilots and those who just wanted to come and pay their seven dollars for breakfast because that would help kids in the community learn to fly.
EAA Chapter 757 has been putting on multiple huckleberry pancake breakfasts for longer than most of the members have been members. It’s become a community tradition that is pushed in the local newspapers and on banners in town.
It’s All For Aviation Scholarships
A restaurant hard by the airport, the Three Mile Store and Café, and two local grocery stores, Safeway and Super 1, donate all of the food. The FBO, Northern Air, opens up one of its big hangars, clears out the airplanes and invites everyone inside. Every cent of the money raised goes to the Chapter 757’s scholarship fund. Every cent. That means that the Chapter will give something north of $7,500 in scholarship money at the end of this season—mostly to local high school kids who want to learn to fly.
Before coming to the Bonners Ferry EAA breakfasts, I was used to seeing fly-in breakfasts dominated by the over the hill gang. Not here. Half of the people working the food line and clean up are high school age—they’re the ones who have received scholarships or are seeking them. They want to be around airplanes and airplane people. Their enthusiasm is contagious.
By the 8:00 am start time we’ve already served 20 meals of eggs, sausage and huckleberry pancakes. Around here if you aren’t early for a meeting or appointment, you’re late. There is a line of another 20 waiting. The hangar door has been opened and the fog has surrendered to the sun, so everyone can watch airplanes and make appropriate OOH and AAHH noises as landings are greased or well, um, you know. One of the kids has noticed that the picnic tables outside are still wet from yesterday’s rain, has dashed in, found some paper towels and dried off the tables and benches. They are immediately snapped up, best seats in the house.
Time To Enjoy The Airplanes
At 9:00 there is a lull in arrivals, so I take a short break and walk out to the ramp. I see the Husky with its large, backcountry tires, on one of the tiedowns. His patience with the fog was rewarded. There’s a line at the fuel pump. Northern Air does its best to keep its fuel prices among the lowest in the area, an extra incentive for pilots to come to breakfast. Three glistening Lake Amphibians have arrived in a group, the pilots and passengers are chatting animatedly as they push their airplanes forward for their turn at the pumps. A friend of mine parks his Steen Skybolt close to the hangar and instantly attracts a crowd. Kids are excitedly showing their parents the different airplanes on the ramp. I hear snatches of conversations … “This is a Cessna 172; I’ll be taking my lessons in this one once I’m done with ground school …” “That’s a RV-8, it’s so awesome …” “That tailwheel Cessna 150 has a straight tail and Omnivision; I didn’t know any of those were made …”
I went back inside and gave the first-string pancake chef a breather. Things started slowing down shortly after 10:00, a half hour before the official end of the breakfast, so I was tasked to start cleaning off tables and folding up chairs that were no longer needed. About 10:15 it was decided to shut down the griddles as there was no one in line. Naturally, one family came hurrying in at 10:35, apologetic at being late and asking if they could still get breakfast. Kambiz and Gene, old hands at this, had cooked just a little extra, so the full plates were handed to the latecomers amid smiles all around.
As I folded up and carried tables into the storage room, I listened to the sound of airplanes taxiing out and departing for the flight home and thought about what had just transpired. Around 200 people had eaten their fill of huckleberry pancakes while totally immersed in an aviation experience. About $1,400 was raised—and EAA Chapter 757 will give the money to help some kids who want to learn to fly more than anything in the world. To me, that’s an incredibly good thing.
Later, walking out to my car, under a brilliant, now cloudless, sky, I couldn’t help but think—I don’t have a silver bullet to save aviation at the grassroots level. I don’t think that there is one. I think that creating a future for general aviation means those of us who care for it have to find ways, large and small, to keep building up general aviation. We have to build general aviation a brick at a time, so that it becomes a solid structure created by many hands that will last long after we’re gone. Today, at a fly-in breakfast organized by some passionate pilots and run by those pilots and the kids who have received, or hope to receive, aviation scholarships, I think several bricks were cemented firmly into the foundation.
Rick Durden holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation, is a CFII and the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols. 1 & 2.