Our many RAF supporters have such vast and varied experience, and we’re capturing some of their words of wisdom to share with you. This month’s guest editorial is by Craig Fuller, a dedicated RAF supporter and the former President of AOPA.
RAF – Just Doesn’t Get Any Better:
Only a few weeks had passed from the start of my tenure as president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) in 2009 when a call came in from a pleasant fellow in Montana. John McKenna proposed we have coffee in Washington, D.C. during his upcoming visit. After telling me just a little about the Recreational Aviation Foundation, run out of his kitchen, I suggested we have lunch.
Within a few days, we were together at a fine dining restaurant sitting at the foot of the United States Capitol. The conversation was engaging and enlightening and would persuade any aviator to jump into a two-seat fabric covered backcountry aircraft and just have fun slipping the surly bonds of earth. I knew then, and time proved it to be more true than I could have imagined, time spent with John, Trish and the backcountry band of pilots making up the RAF would be among the best times I would have at AOPA.
We stood to leave the table when I asked what John was planning for the afternoon. “Simple,” he replied, “I’m going to go see Max. I take care of his dogs and fly him around from time to time.”
My reply, “If you mean the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, let’s sit back down.”
Thus began an extraordinary friendship that spanned two different worlds from the most beautiful backcountry landing strips with the best people in aviation to the halls of Congress and government offices. When I think of the journey I enjoyed with the RAF, there are two things about which I am certain: 1) the aviation community is better and stronger today because the RAF does what it does; 2) I became a better and more passionate aviator.
During my time at AOPA, I logged a few thousand hours of flying in all types of aircraft. The hours in the air I most clearly remember are ones flying my Husky around the country to the places these aircraft go, like Ryan Field. The planes, the places and the people just do not get any better.
One photograph always comes out when people ask about the aircraft I flew. It is a shot taken by a colleague as I flew in my Husky next to Dave Hirschman in the AOPA Sweepstakes Husky south to the Florida Keys. Truth is, we were headed from Frederick, Maryland to Lakeland, Florida; but we were ahead of schedule, and so we linked up with Tim Clifford for a time and kept flying in beautiful Florida weather all the way to Key West.
Just the other day, one of my favorite photographs from the past popped onto my screen. It brought a smile as I recalled two of the finest people I met through the RAF: Ben and Butchie Ryan. I’d spotted a photo in Ben’s home as he gave me a tour of his memorabilia as a WWII fighter pilot. One picture caught my eye. Ben and Butchie embraced under his aircraft. Turned out, they enjoyed each other just as much as we stood together at the home Ben built for he and Butchie before he cleared the land for an airstrip on the edge of Glacier National Park.
When it comes to the people, the places and the planes, it really does not get better than the RAF.
Thanks for great times!
Craig Fuller took his first private aircraft flight in a float plane with his father at age 14 during a vacation in Bend, Oregon. That’s when he committed to becoming a pilot. Training in Northern California while in high school, he flew aircraft for the next 50 years. There was a bit of time off during his White House years (1981-1989) when most of the time aloft was provided by Air Force One or Two. Combining a passion for flying and politics, he was selected to lead AOPA in 2008. It was during his tenure that he joined the RAF and varied his flying from Husky to a Citation jet, along with several aircraft in between. He remains a supporter of RAF and champions the cause at every opportunity.