History Channel episode on 'Private Planes' draws kudos, double the expected audience

April 3, 2008

History Channel episode on 'Private Planes' draws kudos, double the expected audience

The June 12 airing of "Private Planes" on cable TV's History Channel drew double the expected audience for an episode in the network's Modern Marvels series, according to program producer Martin Kent Productions.

AOPA assisted the production for a balanced, comprehensive presentation of general aviation and was listed in the credits as a consultant on the production.

"A very admirable selection of industry players were interviewed for the broadcast. Independently, they each told our story fairly, from business jets to general aviation for the average American," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Communications Drew Steketee.

Among those interviewed were Wichita aviation writer Dave Higdon, aviation historical writer Bob Searles, McGraw-Hill reporter Ed Hazelwood, and AOPA's Steketee. Officials interviewed included National Business Aviation Association President Jack Olcott and NASA aviation researcher Dr. Bruce Holmes, plus aircraft designer Burt Rutan, Los Angeles aviation entrepreneur Clay Lacy, and officials from Cessna, Bombardier, and Learjet, among others.

Although beginning and ending with the current business-jet boom, the program profiled Wichita institutions Cessna and Raytheon (Beech) and acknowledged the pioneering role of Piper, Mooney, and others in the pre- and post-war growth of private flying.

Homebuilt and kitbuilt aircraft were also noted, as were new designs emerging as production aircraft. Burt Rutan's segment featured the innovative new Adam M-309 push-pull twin.

AOPA directed the producers to NASA's pioneering AGATE and SATS (Small Aircraft Transportation System) programs, which were featured in the final production.

AOPA had been concerned that the program would sensationalize general aviation as the province of "fat cats," ignoring more everyday flying by the average American. An original premise of the program connected the "society fliers" of the 1930s with today's booming business jet use by corporations, high-fliers, and celebrities.

Suggesting that Cessna, Piper, Beech, and others were more directly relevant to the history of general aviation than a planned nod to the Wright brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and others, AOPA provided background information and historical video to the producers.

Other contributors also suggested information and perspective to assure balance in the final production. Comparing notes later, a number were pleased that spokespeople were able to independently represent general aviation so fairly and well, despite industry competitive pressures.

AOPA was asked to become involved by Aviation Week and Space Technology publisher Ken Gazzola. AvWeek in Washington hosted some of the earliest interviews for the program.

In a brief poll on AOPA Online in mid-June, 294 AOPA members offered their critique of the show. Some 65 percent said general aviation was fairly represented, but 75 percent still believed the program placed too much emphasis on business jets. More than 85 percent of this non-scientific "sample" watched the entire program.

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June 19, 2000