Ernest A. Love Field is a modern high-desert airport serving Prescott, Arizona, a charming city that retains much of its Old West flavor. It’s also a hotbed of flight training activity, between a growing Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus and several commercial flight schools. Visit this unique educational environment for AOPA’s fourth and final 2016 fly-in.
If one word sums up Ernest A. Love Field in Prescott, it would have to be training. The airport is home to a number of flight-training operations, both fixed- and rotary-wing. And the climate is ideal for flying.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s second residential campus opened in Prescott in 1978, with 268 students studying aeronautical science. Today the campus has more than 2,200 students; it’s also home to the nation’s only College of Security and Intelligence, as well as a rapidly growing unmanned aerial systems program—among others.
The Embry-Riddle campus is off Willow Creek Road, between Prescott and the airport. ERAU’s Love Field facilities are home to a training fleet of 18 Cessna 172s and four Diamond DA42NG Twin Stars, which provide most of the fixed-wing flight training. Adjacent to the university’s fixed-wing ramp are a number of Robinson helicopters operated by Universal Helicopters under contract for ERAU’s rotorcraft program.
Across the field is a fleet of bright-red helicopters operated by Guidance Aviation. John Stonecipher started the company with one helicopter, working as the sole instructor and employee. Today the training academy operates nearly 30 aircraft. Partnerships provide the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree. Guidance makes extensive use of simulators—built by sister company X-Copter—and provides unique flight-training experiences as well, including high-altitude operations and over-water pinnacle landings on a 75-foot houseboat’s helipad. Guidance is making many of its hangars available to host the AOPA Fly-In’s educational programs; it will be offering helicopter rides, and will be operating its simulators as well.
Between the two companies is North-Aire Aviation, a flight school that dates to 1974. North-Aire offers fixed-wing flight training for aspiring private and commercial aviators. Their hangar will host the Main Stage.
Keeping everything fueled and running is FBO Legend Aviation and the maintenance subsidiary it purchased in 2008, Arizona Air Craftsmen. “The FBO was a complete pursuit of passion,” said Tom Juliani, general manager, explaining how the building was converted from a former flight service station. “I think they did a great job with it.”
There’s an active and enthusiastic pilots’ organization, the Prescott Airport Users Association. The group is proud of the airport, and especially of what Airport Manager John Cox, former director of development at Mesa Gateway Airport in Phoenix, has accomplished. “He’s done more in the last two years than has been done in the past two decades,” Juliani agreed.
Last year the airport received more than $8 million for design and construction projects. A $3.5 million grant for electrical upgrades will allow more enhancements.
During fire season the new Forest Service loading ramps on the northeast side of the airport—along Taxiway Delta at D5—can be a veritable beehive of activity. “They have saved this town more than once from forest fires, because they were able to fly on it in minutes,” said Currie Lee, PAUA director.
Just 22 years after the Wright brothers’ historic first powered flight at Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina, T. Higbee Embry and John Paul Riddle launched the Embry-Riddle Company on December 17, 1925. Their aviation institute settled in South Florida, moving to Daytona Beach in 1965 and becoming a university in 1968. Its Prescott campus opened in 1978, with 268 students. Today there are more than 2,200 students, with 350 in the fixed-wing flight program alone.
The university’s Prescott campus will celebrate that anniversary during its 2016 OctoberWest annual alumni homecoming, which coincides with the AOPA Fly-In.
The Prescott campus has been growing at a rate of 10 percent per year, said Chancellor Frank Ayres. “This is the brightest group of students in the state. When you walk into a classroom full of students eager to learn, it’s fun,” he said. “As we’re growing, we’re increasing student quality.”
“Our program is designed to make professional pilots,” said Jerry Kidrick, flight department chair. The campus began offering helicopter training six years ago through a partnership with Universal Helicopters. “We just signed a three-year extension. We consider it making us a full-spectrum training provider,” he said.
At noon on Saturday, Embry-Riddle will present an aerial demonstration featuring three talented pilots. Melissa Andrzejewski (formerly Pemberton), an alumnus of the Prescott campus, will take to the skies with a wingsuit jumper and as part of multiship demonstration. Aerobatic pilot and frequent EAA AirVenture performer Bill Stein will fly his Zivko Edge 540; joining them will be Skip Stewart, recipient of the 2013 Bill Barber Award for Showmanship and the 2015 Art Scholl Award, in his modified Pitts S-2S biplane.
During the AOPA Fly-In, Embry-Riddle will showcase some of its aircraft—Cessna 172 and Diamond DA42NG trainers, and possibly one of its championship Golden Eagles Flight Team airplanes—adjacent to the AOPA aircraft static display. A Cobra and a TBM Avenger also will be there.
On Friday night, the campus’ Alumni Awards Dinner will honor four alumni—two of whom are former U.S. Air Force Thunderbird pilots. And the flight team will celebrate its tenth National Intercollegiate Flying Association National Championship.
Prescott served as the capital of the Arizona Territory from 1864 to 1867—and again from 1877 until 1889, when Phoenix became the capital. Today the Yavapai County seat has a population of about 40,000; its Old West history, unique setting, and enjoyable climate attract visitors and residents.
A centerpiece of downtown’s Whiskey Row is The Palace, billed as the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona. Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday were regulars in the late 1870s. When The Palace was destroyed in 1900 by the Whiskey Row fire, patrons carried the ornately carved wood bar to safety. Today, The Palace continues to serve as a popular downtown restaurant and gathering place.
Nearby on the courthouse square is the Bucky O’Neill Monument, also known as the Rough Rider Monument, created in bronze by “America’s first cowboy sculptor,” Solon Borglum. It was dedicated on July 3, 1907, as a tribute to O’Neill and other members of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry killed during the Spanish-American War.
The Sharlot Hall Museum, an educational and cultural center, showcases the 1864 Governor’s Mansion and other historic structures; its gardens frequently host concerts and festivals. The aviation-friendly area—home to many retired airline and military pilots—also offers many hiking and bike trails, art galleries, and other attractions.
In a quiet area of the Embry-Riddle campus, Bill Waldock walks through the Robertson Accident Investigation Laboratory with students in a Crashworthiness and Survivability Investigation course. They’re comparing two aircraft wrecks, with similar impact profiles, from the survivability perspective.
The crush line of one wreck showed the airplane hit the ground at an angle of 75 to 80 degrees. “This was a very violent impact,” Waldock told his class. “You’ve got a lot of energy here, most of which is not being effectively dissipated.” The pilot had a blocked carotid artery and blacked out pulling up from a pass; the Varga Kachina went straight in.
The class also examined a Snow agricultural airplane that crashed after losing its prop on a pull-up. “The pilot had a helmet on. He was helped out of the aircraft with a broken leg and a concussion,” Waldock said. The aircraft’s design helped, because the pilot sat high and behind the aircraft’s mass; its chemical hopper helped to cushion the impact.
The variety of re-created accident sites allows students and industry professionals to learn different lessons. “I’ve got 11 fully laid out now. That allows me to fully rotate between semesters,” Waldock said. He also periodically alters details of the debris, so students aren’t tempted to jump right to NTSB final reports for the conclusions.
Adrian Eichhorn and his Beechcraft Bonanza P35 completed the trip of a lifetime June 7 when he landed in Manassas, Virginia, after a 25,000-mile flight around the world. His aircraft was modified with 100-gallon tip tanks on the wings, helping to propel him to 21 countries.
Eichhorn launched his around-the-world flight on April 10, flying in five continents and over three oceans for a personal achievement that, he says, had nothing to do with record books. “This isn’t a record, it isn’t a best this or that—it’s pushing the limits of anything I’ve ever done,” said the 60-year-old Jet Blue Airways pilot. He remembers that aviator/inventor Burt Rutan once signed his autograph book by drawing a picture of Voyager and writing, “Adventure is the essence of life.”
“It stuck with me. I was at a point in my life, both time and financially, that I could do it,” he said. The trip pushed the aircraft’s performance and Eichhorn’s endurance. He came home physically tired but emotionally energized by the experience. He shares his insights and stories at seminars at all of the upcoming AOPA Fly-Ins.
Aircraft maintenance has become Eichhorn’s avocation, and he recently was named the 2016 Maintenance Technician of the Year by the FAA/industry General Aviation Awards program. For the past four and a half years, he dismantled and modified his 54-year-old Bonanza for the trip. He enlarged the baggage door, replaced the skin—“Sheet metal work is a form of therapy,” he said—rebuilt the panel, rebuilt the wings, and added those tip tanks. He had 270 gallons of usable fuel, which served him well on the long-haul flights this trip demanded. The longest leg was from Hilo, Hawaii, to Long Beach, California. “Flying GA keeps me sharp. I never want to be an airline pilot who doesn’t know how to fly,” he said.