30 years since the loss of the Challenger

Builders,

On January 28 1986, I, like several hundred thousand other people in Florida,watched the Challenger lift off in perfect cold blue skies. A little more than a minute later it was over, a stunning loss to our nation.

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It is hard to explain to people outside the state just how many people saw this. If you were never fortunate enough to see a Shuttle launch, it is hard to conceive of an aviation event that can easily be seen with the naked eye at a radius of 120 miles. That morning the Challenger made it to more than 60,000′ and was already above the speed of sound. Florida’s has flat terrain, clear skies, and many businesses and schools had people stand outside to watch. I doubt that any other aviation disaster has ever had as many eyewitnesses. People who were watching were silent, as it was very obvious that something had gone terribly wrong. The only other time I have stood among hundreds of people in such silence was standing at Washington Rock, watching NYC burn on 9/12/o1.

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In our national anthem, it calls us the “Land of the Free and the Home of the brave.” A nice ideal that as a country, we fall well short of. If you want to find out how few people understand risk, courage and achievement, just tell 100 average people you are building a plane in your garage which you intend to fly yourself. It will be a sobering reminder that most people are conditioned to live their entire life in fear, usually of things that have no chance of actually happening.

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  But if I were to make a case that we still had Americans among us who lived up to the anthem, “Home of the Brave.” I would point out to the people of America’s Space program. Below is a photo I took with Grace of the 2006 return to flight after the Columbia loss:

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From 2006: “Grace and I took time out Saturday night to watch the Space Shuttle’s first night launch in four years. This can easily be seen from a hundred miles in every direction. In America today, sadly, most people are convinced to be afraid of many things. My personal definition of courage is volunteering to get in the type of vehicle that has killed all of its occupants before, twice. The courage of our astronauts and the trust they have in their co-workers in the space program personally moves me. The view above is from the Titusville U.S. 1 bridge 15 miles from the pad.”

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As a homebuilder, you have made the decision that your place will not be “With the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”. By choosing the demanding challenge of building and flying your own aircraft, you have made a decision to set your life apart from others who have succumbed to the message to live in fear. Because you have made this choice, your life will have some real understanding of the adventurers who have pushed the boundaries of flight….. and at times paid a terrible price for it.

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I have very strong objections to our National air and Space Museum being called the “Udvar-Hazy Center”. Steven Udvar-Hazy’s only contribution to aviation is manipulating the leasing of commercial aircraft to make himself a billionaire. His $66 million contribution to the museum sounds big until you realize that it was only 1.5% of his estimated net worth.

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No National landmark in this country should be named for people who donated money.  It is as demeaning as naming the Lincoln Memorial the ‘Walmart memorial’. It is un-American to measure the value of a man by the thickness of his wallet. It is for precisely this reason that Americans triumphed in flight. Our system recognized and advanced the best, brightest and courageous. It placed no value on class, connection or wealth.

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If the Air and Space museum is to be named for the highest bidder, I can think of 100 names off the top of my head like, Sijan, Grissom, Loring, Scobee, Luke, Husband….American Aviators who gave 100% of everything they had or would ever have for this country, paying a price that makes any financial contribution meaningless.

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“If we die we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us, it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.” – Gus Grissom.

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“They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind’s final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived.”

-statement left on the remains of Launch Pad 34.

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Francis Richard Dick Scobee Gravesite

Dick Scobee’s head stone at Arlington.

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-ww.

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College and western tour update #2

Builders:

Last week I posted this update: College and Western Tour update, about the sign up rate for our 2016 Corvair Colleges, showing that they are steadily filling, and noting that the first sign up, for College #36 in Texas, will close in slightly over  a month.  I have always given our regular builders first shot at signing up before widening net to new builders, primarily by releasing the College sign up information to the EAA’s membership division. After this weekend, I am going to take that step, so if you planning on attending a College, but have not signed up, I suggest doing so before Monday.

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 The sign up links for Corvair Colleges #36, #37 , #38 and #39 has been up for 18 days, you can read the story here: 2016 Corvair College registration pages.

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Spectator or Builder? Last night, this webpage past 1,200,000 page reads. I balance the idea of this being a small, but steady and significant readership of the stories, concepts and ideas here, with the reality that any idiot celebrity with a ‘reality’ tv show could accomplish the same thing in 36 hours rather than 36 months. I am glad we have a steady readership, but I feel pretty well protected against becoming mainstream, even in the tiny segment of aviation.

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While I am glad to have anyone here who gets something out of reading the ideas, including disagreeing with many of them, the question remains, what should people do with these thoughts? My suggestion is simple: If you have read the stories and found yourself identifying with the self-reliant learn build and fly message that we offer a great number of ways to explore and express, but you are not yet sure of making the move to start physically building a plane and an engine, then sign up for a college. You can read a lot, but this is no substitute for attending a college, wading in among builders, and finding out in person if you feel a strong calling to learn, build and fly. It is your life, and if you have the feeling that you might act on this ‘one day’, I suggest that you should know that the  sooner, and with greater certainty you know, the better off you will be. The simple solution for knowing is to sign up for and attend a College in 2016.

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While I have written a few things critical of the decisions of the very top management off the EAA, I want everyone to understand that I have, and continue to support the mission of the EAA. I am a loyal member since 1989, and my previous comments should be taken as trying to get the membership to consider and express what the basic mission of their membership organization should be. If anyone mistook me for being negative on the EAA, I suggest reading my words on it’s founder: Speaking of Paul Poberezny.

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The EAA, particularly it’s director of homebuilt services Charlie Becker, have been very supportive of Corvairs, and the best example of this is when they flew in a film crew to Corvair College #27 to make this film. Make sure you watch the last minute and consider the words of Barton Reddit on the human value homebuilding.

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New EAA video on Corvair College#27, Barnwell 2013.

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From Oshkosh 2015: Above, Zenith 750 builder Joe Sarcione, The EAA’s Charlie Becker and Grace hanging out at our tent for the night airshow. Charlie is the director of the homebuilt elements of the EAA. He very effectively represents and serves the interests of everyone who self-identifies as a “homebuilder”. He is the key man behind important projects such as the “One week wonder”.  Although he is a skilled pilot and a real homebuilder, my respect for him and his work on behalf of homebuilding is centered on his exemplary personal integrity.

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-ww.