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 Scott Heck, a longtime RAF friend and supporter.

It was the early 2000s when John McKenna asked me to fly into Ryan Field with him and Chuck Jarecki to meet Ben and Butchie and see their airfield. Afterward, we sat and talked about how – if we were to receive such a gift – to form an entity to hold the property. John, Chuck and others were creating the RAF to save airstrips, and rose to the opportunity Ryans were offering. As I write this, I am shaking my head in amazement. Through their hard work and the others who joined in early, an organization was formed that few would believe could have been achieved. 

Me? I went home and went back to work. My one contribution after that was when John called me to ask for a donation. He talked me into a “lifetime membership.” It wasn’t a hard sell. A few years later John called me and again asked for a donation. “I thought I had a lifetime membership,” I said. He responded, “You did, but your lifetime ran out.” So, I wrote a check and have written that check every year, just like many in the RAF family do.

The RAF held its Volunteer Education Conference in Bozeman this year and my wife Barbara and I were invited. We offered to help in any way we could. We were assigned a couple of little odd jobs. All the heavy lifting had already been done by the entire three-person paid RAF staff: Tricia McKenna, Kodi Myhre, and Erin White and volunteers they’d rounded up. You read correctly. The RAF has just three paid staff, backed up by many volunteers, to take care of over 12,000 supporters. I find that amazing!

About the conference – you had to be there to witness the enthusiasm, dedication, hard work and planning that was evident from panel presentations to audience participation with suggestions, anecdotes and questions. I have been to many conferences during my business life and most were, I am trying to think of the right word, maybe “nice”? This was fun!! A room full of people with the same agenda, and love for making it come to life.  

Dan Baker was one of several guest speakers. Dan started FlightAware as an 18-year-old for fun. The “fun” grew into a multi million-dollar business. He said FlightAware’s data capture is used by the airlines to manage arrivals, departures and create efficiency. And here I thought it was so I could track a friend. Then Charlie Gasmire (Airplane Academy) schooled all of us on his production efforts to promote aviation with short videos on YouTube. And you didn’t want to miss Charlie Gregoire of Redbird Flight Simulations talk about bringing simulators to you! And don’t forget a forum with Scott Haas of the US Forest Service. It turns out that the RAF really does have friends at the USFS that many in the RAF cultivated through tireless efforts. 

But the real eye opener was RAF Treasurer Mike Perkins’ presentation, what he warned would be the “driest” presentation of the conference. Boy, was he surprised, and so was I. He didn’t make it one minute into his presentation when the first hand shot in the air. Questions came continuously. Turns out, the RAF conferees were very tuned-in to how carefully our funds are being spent, and the projects that are in progress. You can trust this group to manage and spend the available funds to support RAF goals with the highest degree of integrity.

Each conference attendee was given a special gift for attending. It was, by far, the best gift ever. The gals at HQ had spent the past year ducking into thrift stores and second-hand shops all over Montana to find nicely broken-in classic Western shirts with the pearl snaps. They had each one embroidered with the RAF logo, and everyone wore theirs at the barbecue at Bozeman’s “Big Yellow Barn.”

I remember my first landing on grass 50 plus years ago and truly believe that once you have landed on grass you are never again really satisfied being in the “other” airport environment. I still remember my first flight, decades ago, into the Idaho backcountry. John and Tricia invited Barb and me to tag along as a flight of two for breakfast at Sulphur Creek. The approach started by following a ridge line paralleling the runway. You wonder how you are ever going to get down to land. But soon enough, a pass between two mountains comes into view and you start to descend in a left base to somewhere, because by now, the runway is long gone. My only thought was, “I hope John knows where he’s going.” Soon a left turn put us following a river with a few twists and turns and then, low and behold, there was the strip. Great breakfast, by the way.

I have always liked wearing RAF gear but now, after the conference, I am especially proud to sport the RAF orange.

Scott Heck has been hooked on flying since his first flight lesson in 1967 and has been “blessed to fly low and slow and high and fast.” Heck spent a number of years in banking, taught finance at Montana State University, and with his wife Barbara owned a multi-county Montana title company for over 20 years. He is now retired and flies what Barbara calls “his fourth last-airplane,” an N-XCub. 

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