My rank in the Civil Air Patrol was Lt. Col… My designation was National Liaison Officer to the U.S. Congress. My job was to lobby members of Congress so the members continued to support the CAP, as they had in the past, and possibly to increase that support to provide aircraft for each unit. Our goal was to provide one Cessna 170 for each unit to train future pilots as well as search and rescue personnel. It was a difficult goal then, probably an impossible one in today’s budget deficit economy. I met with many members of the House and Senate, either in person or with their Legislative Assistants.
Since I was a child, I was always interested in aviation and wanted to become a pilot. I tried to enlist with the Army, Navy and Air Force with aspirations to fly but they all said no – I was colorblind. I decided to join the Civil Air Patrol so that I could, in some way, help my country through aviation. My short flying career culminated with flying solo in a Cessna 152. Through the CAP, I learned how airports can benefit the communities they operate in and I drew upon this experience on Capitol Hill.
Why would the Civil Air Patrol select a representative from Vail, Colorado to Lobby Congress, you ask? Maybe it was because we had one of the fastest growing airports in the country. Maybe it was because we had an aggressive Board of County Commissioners, of which I was Chairman, and I was successful in bringing into Eagle County over $20,000,000 of FAA grant money (not general funds) to Eagle County during my 8 years in office. Or, just maybe it was because Vail was the home of President Gerald R. Ford. You can guess which one was the most influential reason.
I was lucky. I was in the right place, at the right time. President Ford was one of the nicest and most generous men I have ever known. He taught me procedures, and timing, for collecting money from the FAA. Yes, I did the work but he opened all the doors. Because of my office, my contacts, and access to important decision makers, and my energy, I was the obvious choice to represent to CAP. We changed some minds of “naySayers”, and we “cinched” up some of the “fence sitters”, while keeping our key supporters in line. Every time I went to Washington D. C., on airport business or water business, I always worked in my lobbying for the CAP. For that, the CAP gave me the “Distinguished Service award.” Up until then, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Wow, what a surprise.
The Eagle County airport was originally built to be an emergency airport for WWII planes to land on in the event of bad weather between Denver and Grand Junction. Other than a few private jets, flying into Eagle to ski at Vail, we didn’t have enough operations to qualify for FAA Grants. We constantly looking for ways to increase the number of operations, when a stroke of luck happened. I was in Washington, watching Military helicopters in maneuvers, and soon I began to count the number of times a helicopter rose and landed, each event counted as an operation. The number got to be quite high. That is what we need.
I had a scheduled meeting with Senator Bill Armstrong from Colorado and I asked him if he could get me an appointment with the General in charge of the National Guard. Bill was successful, and on a Friday at 5 pm he was available. I arrived at the Pentagon and introduced myself and General Temple said “where the hell is Eagle County? Before answering his question I asked him how many of our potential enemies have mountains? He said “All of them”. I asked him how many of his pilots knew how to fly in the mountains? He said “none of them.” I suggested that I had a solution. I would like to offer a location, in the mountains for a National Guard armory where helicopter pilots could learn mountain flying. We’d supply the land and money for construction, if he supplied the unit number, the aircraft and the pilots, so they could all learn to fly in the mountain. The General asked if I could deliver my offer. I called a fellow Commissioner, Don Welch, and he agreed to support my motion. He said yes and that was a majority. I said to the general “Sir, the ball is in your court”. He said, ““Since you are the first local government official to ask for an armory, you’ve got it.” The whole process took 15 minutes.
The bottom line is this: The National Guard now has the only High Altitude Helicopter Training Center (HATTS) in the world training friendly countries’ pilots and our own, and Eagle County has the number of operations needed for FAA Grants, making Eagle County Regional airport the second-busiest airport in Colorado, in the winter. It is the third busiest during the rest of the year. Last year the National Guard opened a $49 million facility to house and train pilots.
There are three morals to this story:
- Think outside of the box
- It is often more successful to ask for forgiveness rather than permission
- If you don’t ask, you’ll get nothing