RAF supporter Joe Feiler of Casper, Wyoming loads his tools into his Cessna Cardinal and brings his skills where the RAF is making an impact. Joe’s 35-years teaching Career and Technical education included woodworking, carpentry, and welding, and he readily puts his knowledge and experience to work as a volunteer. “I learned Tim Riley was trying to establish a campground at Driggs, Idaho. I reached out to him, offering financial help and skills. He suggested picnic tables so I got the material, welded up some frames. I flew to Driggs to camp and really enjoyed helping put up the gazebo, as well.” Ever since, Joe has shown up wherever he could, with tools and a great attitude, and projects materialized.
The Ben and Butchie Ryan story intrigued Joe, and he flew into Ryan Field and got involved helping build the barn and cabins, all the while feeling a closeness with the late Ben Ryan. Joe’s father was a World War II fighter pilot stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack. “Like most veterans, he never talked about it,” Joe says. Like Ben, Joe’s father was forced to bail out over the Pacific, earning eligibility for membership in the “Caterpillar Club.” Airman Feiler narrowly avoided the fatal outcome of his formation partner. The flying boat intended to rescue Feiler was damaged in the landing due to rough seas, and had to be towed back to the harbor with a Naval vessel. He survived this ordeal, and wrote a detailed account of it. “I have Dad’s foot locker full of combat reports, photos, historical newspaper clippings and the letters he wrote from Pearl,” Joe says, who muses if perhaps his father and Ben Ryan may have ever crossed paths during their military service.
After the war, Lt. Col. Feiler flew P-51 Mustangs for the Iowa National Guard. Joe was always intrigued with aviation, and enrolled in a ground school at an early age, but struggled to move forward in aviation as many younger people do, without good mentorship. He finally had the time to invest in getting his own license, “kind of coming to flying late, compared to some.” He learned to fly “in the wind” in Casper, partnered on a Cessna 182, got involved with the Civil Air Patrol, then bought his Cardinal. He says it was a breakthrough moment in his life. “Flying out of Casper, I suddenly realized how accessible the backcountry is. The airplane gives you the ability to get out early, set up camp, and you have the rest of the day to recreate.”
Joe is an avid outdoorsman, enjoying backpacking, horse packing, and climbing, and says, “None of it has given me more enjoyment than aviation.” He sees a clear parallel to his passion for education. “When I got my pilot license, I was told it was my ticket to learn, and my chance to constantly improve my skills.” He admits the Cardinal is not commonly thought of as a backcountry plane, but with attention to conditions, it has taken Joe and his wife Julie into many Idaho and Montana backcountry fields.
Joe has memberships in other professional and sport organizations, and says, “All organizations have their mission, but what I see that separates the RAF from other organizations is the great people. They share a passion for aviation and work hard toward common goals. I’ve never met a better group of people who enjoy working on a common cause, then enjoy sharing the fruits of their labor.”
Having experienced Ryan Field, as much to work as to relax, he deeply appreciates that Ben and Butchie have shared the place with others. Next time you fly into Ryan Field, you may get the chance to meet Joe and Julie, as they have volunteered for camp host duties again. It’s likely that Joe will have his tools and will show you whatever improvements are underway.
Submitted on January 14, 2021.