It was just before Christmas in 1959 when Ralph Poppell took his first airplane flight. He had served his country in the United States Army Reserves as an engineer and was leaving Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to fly to Atlanta on a Lockheed Super Constellation before getting on a smaller airplane to continue his trip into Tallahassee, Florida.
“When I saw the engines on that Super Constellation, and they were spitting fire, I thought the wing was on fire and wondered how long it would be until it burned off,” said Poppell. “It was a night flight, just horrible weather, a real experience. But I wanted to do it again.”
Raised in Perry, Florida, Poppell had moved to Vero Beach, Florida, in 1960 to embark on his business life in the citrus industry. He has more than 45 years of combined experience in agriculture and manufacturing, and currently owns Float-On Corporation, manufacturer of Float-On Boat Trailers in his hometown.
Poppell had the chance to fly again and in 1961 he successfully soloed in an Aeronca Champ. Poppell’s instructor, a test pilot for Piper, provided encouragement for him to continue flying.
“He was a good friend and made sure I had the opportunity to fly as much as possible, because he knew I loved it,” said Poppell, who would move on to fly numerous models of airplanes during the the 1960s and 1970s.
Alone or with partners, Poppell has owned five aircraft—three twins and two high-performance singles. He has logged about 3,000 hours of flight time and has single-engine, multiengine, and instrument ratings.
“Flying is a great business tool and a great way to see the country. I have flown over quite a bit of the United States. I really have flying in my blood,” said Poppell, a husband and father of four children. His favorite flights have been to the islands of The Bahamas; across Canada into Michigan; and west to Colorado when he made the entire trip without seeing the ground, except for a fuel stop in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Over the years Poppell became a strong advocate for aviation. He was elected in 2002 to represent the citizens of Florida’s State House District 29. In the legislature, Poppell devotes his efforts to aviation, the marine industry, and agriculture in an attempt to ensure that people involved in those businesses are treated fairly.
“Aircraft and aviation are important,” said Poppell. “They have been an essential tool in building our country and winning wars.”