Inside a General Aviation Institution: Sporty's
When you think of organizations that are working hard to preserve General Aviation, AOPA and EAA immediately come to mind. But Sporty’s, best known for its catalog mailed monthly to virtually every pilot in the U.S., is also working to nurture a vibrant GA pilot population. As founder Hal Shevers said, “I never got the memo saying we have to convert over to just jet fuel.” So it’s not surprising that he’s taking the lead in offering free pilot study courses for teenagers.
I was delighted to spend 24 hours at Sporty’s last week. The staff pulled back the curtain and showed me...
the inner workings of the company on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, I attended Sporty’s annual Fly in and made sure to get my share of the 1,100 hotdogs and metts served. Hotdogs are a Sporty’s tradition, served free every Saturday, rain or shine. According to the sign on the grill, reminiscent of McDonald’s, “over 165,000” of the meat tubes have been served. That alone would get me to drive or fly to their base at the Clermont County airport if I lived anywhere near Cincinnati, Ohio. In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that Sporty's is a distributor for my Garmin G1000 Handbook and CD-ROM courses. Hopefully they won't realize that I'd accept payment in hotdogs.
Free Pilot Study Courses
A few weeks ago, Sporty’s and EAA announced a partnership in which kids who take a flight in the Young Eagles program will receive free online access to a pilot training course for the Recreational pilot certificate. If they complete that license, they’ll then be offered free access to the Private training course.
Young Eagles is a fabulous program that’s exposed around 1.4 million kids to aviation through free flights held by local EAA chapters around the country. Last year, I wrote of my conversation with EAA founder Paul Poberezny, telling him that we’re doing a great job of flying teenagers, but there’s little follow-up to find out if these kids want to take flying lessons, have an interest in an aviation career or have joined a local EAA chapter. Paul agreed this was an issue, but now there’s a solution in place, thanks to the help of Sporty’s founder Hal Shevers.
Hal and I’ve talked a number of times and we spent a lot of time together on Saturday. I knew he was proud of the free training courses for Young Eagles as he brought it up last month when we talked at Sun ‘n Fun. Originally trained as a mechanical engineer at Purdue, Hal applies the discipline that comes from that training to most everything he does.
He started teaching as a CFI while working for Cincinnati Milacron in the early 1960s. Soon after, he was touring the country giving 3-day weekend pilot seminars to prepare pilots for their written tests. The pilot store business started from a simple innovation: a modified radio that he sold so that student could improve their pilot skills by listening to ATC. Now he employs 200 people in a variety of aviation business.
The Sporty's Businesses
The core of Sporty’s is a 100,000 square foot warehouse that stocks all of the products sold through their aviation and four non-aviation mail order catalogs. Supervisors speed around the warehouse floor on Segway Scooters, which more than double their productivity. And the building is laid out so that it can be tripled in size if the need ever arises.
Every product is tested before it’s included in the catalog. I visited a room, vaguely reminiscent of the one in which Q tests products before they’re abused by James Bond, where potential new products are stored. Many are tested in flight at Sporty’s Academy.
Sporty's Academy is a Part 141 flight school that provides flight training for students enrolled in the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Program. Approval was recently granted for Sporty’s to teach international students. Sporty’s also includes an avionics shop and is the regional dealership for sales of Cessna 172, 182, 206 and Corvalis aircraft.
Across the runway from the headquarters is Sandy’s Farm, a residential airpark, where owners live next to their hangers. Former AOPA President Phil Boyer and his wife Lois now live there. Adjacent to headquarters is room for yet another building, in case some forward thinking LSA manufacturer becomes interested in building planes at a very GA friendly airport.
Although the Sporty’s Fly-in is held on a Saturday, the unofficial kick off is a hanger dinner for exhibitors and the media on Friday night. Just before we sat down to the BBQ dinner, we were treated to a formation flight by three T-6 Texan aircraft, supplied by the Tri-State Warbird Museum located across the field. AOPA’s new President Craig Fuller flew in before the dinner and we talked at length about the association’s progress in working with the TSA to revise the agency’s LASP proposal.
The highlight of the Fly-in was the awarding of a new 2009, Garmin G1000 equipped Skyhawk to a lucky winner. President Michael Wolf took the stage and placed a called to Stephen Brenneke of Portland, Oregon. The previous day, Michael called Stephen’s wife, making up a story that Stephen was a “finalist,” so that arrangements could be made to have him near the phone. Michael is an orthopedic surgeon who flies N582AS, a Piper Malibu Mirage that he uses on business.
The funniest moment came when Michael told him that he was a “potential winner.” To the laughter of the crowd, Stephen asked just “What is a potential winner?” That was cleared up when Michael explained the need to validate that Stephen was a pilot and sign paperwork.
The Cessna 400 Corvalis TT
There was a certain symmetry to last week. I started the week by flying a Cessna 400 Corvalis TT from Salt Lake City to Toronto with its new owner. And I ended the week at the Sporty’s Fly In talking with Doug Walker and Kel Jones of Cessna, who were attending to a new 2009 Corvalis 400 TT on display. I’m a factory trained C400 instructor and I love getting a chance to talk with experts about the nuances of this fabulous airplane.
One recent announcement that’s sure to boost sales is that the aircraft can now be purchased from the factory with a TKS anti-icing option. Previously this was only available as an aftermarket option. The system holds three gallons of TKS fluid, which is enough to escape most any inadvertent encounter with ice. If you need training in one of these fun aircraft from a G1000 expert, call me at 650-224-7124.
Finally, if you know any young people who have any interest in aviation, contact a local EAA chapter and get them a free ride through the Young Eagles program. Then make sure he or she takes the free pilot course from Sporty’s. And the next time you see Hal Shevers, thank him for helping to grow the next generation of aviators.