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Florida Pilot’s unexpected stop at Hancock County Airport


Lisa Heidinger flew her 1946 Vintage Aircoupe single engine airplane to the EAA AirVenture convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin from her home in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

The event was July 22nd-31st. On her way back home, she got caught in some weather and ended up having to make an unscheduled stop at Hancock County Airport.
    “I took photos coming in here as I flew over the Ohio River. It’s beautiful. I was coming from the North, so I crossed the river before I landed here at the airport,” Lisa said.

She flew to Michigan and visited friends after the AirVenture convention and on her way home, she ran into a wall of weather that she said, “little airplanes just don’t fly in. I looked at the map in my airplane and I had to pick a spot. I am so fortunate that I found Hancock County.

It’s a beautiful airport that made me feel welcome. I just felt like I found the most perfect place here. The weather the next morning still looked iffy to continue on South, so I decided to just stick around here and make this one of my stop-overs on my little walk-a-bout. I met wonderful people who took me to lunch at Riverview.”
   “It gave me a chance to meet everybody here.

I’m actually staying in the pilot lounge. They’ve outfitted this place with showers in the restrooms and there is a couch with blankets. When you’re off on a little airplane adventure like this, and you know you’re going to get stuck with weather, you don’t always come across an airport that has a courtesy car that can get you into town. So, you travel prepared to just take care of yourself and camp out as you go. That’s why it was such a nice surprise to come to this location, because they thought of that and they accommodate travelling pilots. They’ve made us comfortable here for a quick stay,” Lisa said.

She has spent the last 18 months at home taking care of her husband while he’s been going through cancer treatments. He is well now, in remission and doing great. “It is an eye opener, when you’re faced with that. It will make you realize, don’t wait for another day. Nobody knows how many more days we have here. Enjoy and make the most of every day you have,” she said. He told her to go and enjoy herself for a few weeks, now that he is better.

“I was at Oshkosh for 2 reasons. One, is that the airplane I’m flying, it’s a fabric covered wing airplane and I covered the wings and put the airplane together myself. I wanted to take an airplane to Oshkosh that I put together myself. And, secondly, another airplane that I had helped restore, a 1941 Stearman Biplane, was going to be at Oshkosh to be judged for an award. Which we did win an award.

We had another friend of ours who helped with the restoration, fly it in. I was one of 3 people that restored it.”
    The Aircoupe that Lisa flies, turned 80-years-old from when it was designed, in 2020. The AirVenture Convention usually features anniversary airplanes and last year would’ve been the anniversary of the Aircoupe. However, it was cancelled last year, and so they rolled it to this year. She said, “The Aircoupe Owner’s Club contacted all the owners of these airplanes and said, ‘please, if you can, bring them to Oshkosh.’ And I said, oh my gosh, 1,100 miles in an Aircoupe, do I even want to attempt it? Especially since I was going to be tent camping at the event. Which means I had to learn to camp on a sparse amount of things, because there isn’t much room in the Aircoupe to haul equipment. I made the commitment to do it.

The weather was good, so I was able to do it in two straight days. I flew 7 hours on the first day and 6 1/2 hours on the second day. Going home will take me a little longer. I’m just working my way back South to Florida. Hopefully, to get there ahead of any tropical storms that may be coming in.”
   “I’m 58-years-old, and as a little girl, no one in my family flew,” she said. “Everywhere I went, anytime an airplane flew overhead, I was tipping my head back and looking at that airplane wanting to know ‘who were those people and where was that airplane taking them?’

I grew up in a small town (Attica, NY) much like this area. I always wondered what else was out there and that airplanes could take me there. So, that is what first started my interest.”
   “I never did get over wanting to fly and I spent every time I had when I had it, to go to the airport and take a flying lesson, which sometimes would only be once a month. I started my flying lessons in 1987 when I was in my 20s.

After college, I did a two year degree in Criminal Justice and became a police officer at Attica Police Department. My father, Ron Norton, was a guard at Attica Prison. I grew up in a law enforcement family. I earned my pilot’s license eventually, but when you don’t have an airplane, it’s very hard to exercise the privilege of being a pilot,” she said.

It wasn’t until she met her husband, Albert, that she purchased her own airplane. “He helped me find an airplane. On my budget, it was an airplane that needed some work and restoration. So, that’s when I started to learn about how to maintain and fix them. I had a professional mechanic doing the work, but I worked alongside him so that I could learn about my airplane.”

Albert, is a professional airline pilot for United Airlines. “When I met him,” she said, “we had the same interest. He previously flew for World Airways, an international carrier, and I had the privilege of flying with him to many locations around the world, such as Australia and Hong Kong, but it is not the same as flying a small airplane around the United States.”

Lisa and Albert live in Port St. Lucie, on the East Coast of Florida. “We live on a place called Arrow Acres. We are a private airport community, of 68 home lots surrounding our own runway. My home actually backs up and my hangar looks right at the runway in my backyard. I have the ability to walk out to my hangar and pull my little airplane out and just go have a sunset flight, if I want to.

I belong to an Aircoupe Owner’s Club that meets every Thursday. Every Monday an email goes out and we plan to meet at a certain airport for lunch. Mostly during the winter months, we have 30 airplanes that will just show up to meet for lunch, based on the email sent out. The flying club has been active for about the last 6 years. We fly regularly all over the state of Florida and also have access to the Bahamas.”

“The Bahamas is a quick flight to fly to. My husband goes on those flights with me. I also own a Cessna 182, that we use for those types of trips and to fly to see my granddaughters in Greenville, South Carolina. My granddaughters are: Bristol, who is 10 and Daytona who is 5. You can see that my son, Evan, is a very big fan of Nascar. I love being able to take my granddaughters flying with me.”

“For me, as a woman pilot, which we still are such a small percentage of the population. We’ve made some strides in the 30 years that I’ve flown, but we are still only about 6% of the pilot population. So, to be able to share my love of flying with my granddaughters and maybe give that to them, is important. And on trips like this and anytime I can, when I’m out and meet people, I always make sure that I look at the little girls in the group and say, ‘hey, do you know that girls fly too?’ Because, too many girls are never even told that that is a possibility for them.

We live in a society where girls are pushed in one direction and boys in the other. More and more it’s changing, but I take every opportunity to let girls know that they can do this too.”
   “If I can inspire anybody to just look around and go, ‘you know, I need an adventure.’ Well, I encourage people to go on an adventure. You just meet people and get to do things that you wouldn’t otherwise, if you’d stayed home.”

By Jennifer Wimmer

 

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