Highlights from AOPA Aviation Summit

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Aviation Summit took place this September 22-24 in Hartford, Connecticut, an incredible gathering of all things aviation. I was fortunate to be invited to the Women’s Wing, a booth hosted by Women in Aviation, International (WAI), for a book signing. In addition, I attended some excellent seminars, visited many booths on the exhibit hall floor, and wished I had a rich uncle after seeing some of the planes at Airportfest! But the highlight of the conference was the people I had the opportunity to meet – people who share a love of aviation and have amazing accomplishments and stories. Following are a few fun highlights among so many that were packed into those three days.

Terrafugia, the company making the “roadable airplane” (or flying car, depending on who you talk to) was founded by Anna Dietrich and other students after graduating from MIT. They had an idea, a plan, and the courage to go for it! Called the Transition, it’s a fascinating concept that makes getting to and from the airport convenient and introduces the option of landing and continuing a trip on the ground if weather presents a problem. Besides, what pilot hasn’t at least once wished he or she had a horn to honk when being cut off in the traffic pattern? Customer deliveries are planned for late 2012.

Terrafugia Transition Roadable Airplane
The Terrafugia Transition, the Roadable Airplane

Among the many inspiring women I was fortunate to meet, one in particular stands out: Bernice “Bee” Haydu, a former member of the WASP (Women Air Service Pilots) during WWII. This group of women was not well-known even when they were actively flying. In fact, they did not gain veteran status until 1977! However, they proved that women were fully capable of flying military aircraft just as well as the men at a time when society expected them to simply be in the home. Bee has written a book called Letters Home that includes all the letters she wrote to her mother during her time as a WASP as well as fantastic photographs. I was honored to meet her. It’s because of pioneers like Bee Haydu that women in aviation today have so much more opportunity.

Reya Kempley with Bernice "Bee" Haydu, WASP, with her Congressional Gold Medal
Bernice “Bee” Haydu, WASP, with her Congressional Gold Medal

The wide variety of seminars at Summit was impressive, for pilots of every level and even non-pilots. As always, Rod Machado‘s way of teaching with humor was a hit with me and all the other audience members that packed the rooms to listen.

The people at Sun ‘n Fun certainly made my visit in Hartford much more fun! This huge International Fly-In and Expo happens every year in Lakeland, Florida and has a great group of people running it. I’ve optimistically marked March 27-April 1 on my calendar, just in case.

Though the weather was cloudy and drizzly, the gleaming airplanes at Airportfest at Brainard Airport lost no appeal. While I wasn’t the lucky winner of AOPA’s sweepstakes Cessna 182 for this year (and I would have put it to good use!), I can hope to be a new Husky pilot next year.

AOPA's "Tougher than a Tornado" 2012 Sweepstakes Husky
AOPA’s “Tougher than a Tornado” 2012 Sweepstakes Husky

The Epic and Pilatus turboprops are two of my favorites, and the Piaggio Avanti is quite out of reach but no less fun to see in person. Also of note was the Tuskegee Airmen P-51 Mustang. It belonged to the unit of African American WWII pilots who will be the subject of the upcoming movie Red Tails developed by George Lucas.

Epic LT Turboprop
Epic LT Turboprop
Italian Twin Piaggio Avanti
Italian Twin Piaggio Avanti
P-51 Mustang of the Tuskegee Airmen

Finally, thank you to all who stopped by to get a signed copy of Flight Emergency or simply to chat. Thank you also to AOPA and WAI for the opportunity!