Archive » February 7, 2008
By Robert Perry, Contributing Writer
Every morning at the Santa Ynez Airport office a group of men congregate for conversation, coffee, and general camaraderie.
For lack of a better term, this group could be called the airport gaggle, as all are current or former pilots and the conversation often is noisy and centered on the subject matter of the airport, pilots, or airplanes.
This group, comprised of as many as a dozen individuals and sometimes as few as two, meets informally every morning for conversation and walks around the airport apron. They sometimes assist visiting pilots with information about the community, how to get airport services if the office attendant is unavailable, and the availability of rental cars or taxis. Inevitably, if an opinion is required, more than one will be immediately available, which in turn creates additional conversation.
There is no head goose for this gaggle, but the senior members are recognized easily by their graying feathers. James Kunkle, 85, is the most senior of the group and cuts a trim figure by keeping fit with walks up the taxiways of Santa Ynez Airport. A decorated P-38 pilot who flew during the invasion of Normandy in World War II, Kunkle still flies regularly in one of the many aircraft he keeps hangared at the airport.
Burt Mack, 78, of Buellton, still flies a twin engine Cessna 310. Retired after 24 years with Granite Construction, Mack has owned 14 airplanes since he started flying in 1952. Mack is a native of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Gerry Foxwell, 76, is another senior member of the gaggle, having been a user of the airport for the past 31 years. The Santa Ynez resident retired as a mechanical engineer from Delco Systems and is still active as an airframe and power plant mechanic with inspection authorization from the FAA. Flying since the mid-1960s, Foxwell still pilots his Beechcraft Bonanza single engine airplane.
Ron Murphy, a Solvang resident, also keeps his Bellanca Cruise Master hangared at Santa Ynez Airport. The 73-year-old retired electrician has restored the yellow single engine aircraft twice.
George McClellan retired from the Santa Fe Springs fire department. At 69, McClellan still actively flies a Cozy III experimental aircraft. The Cozy is a canard-design plane with a small wing at the front and the main wing at the rear.
Chuck Potter of Solvang, is a 73-year-old retiree from McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft and Boeing Aircraft companies in Long Beach. Potter was the owner of a single-engine Navion and at one time owned and flew a rare Republic SeaBee, an amphibious aircraft with a pusher engine mounted atop the fuselage.
The gaggle is comprised of other members: Alan Jones, a charter pilot and owner of Sunwest Aviation; Ellis Clark, a Solvang resident and pilot of an award winning Piper J-3 Cub; Mike McCann, a corporate business jet pilot; and the youngest member, 28-year-old Travis Foss, who flies several different aircraft and has the distinction of saving the life of another local pilot who crashed in the San Rafael wilderness area by searching the area and finding the crash site before the passengers of the crashed aircraft could perish from exposure. Jim Kunkle, the son of James Kunkle, is the airport manager and president of the Airport Authority. He occasionally joins the gaggle when time permits.
During a recent stormy Friday at Santa Ynez Airport, the gaggle proved to be more than just a social and conversation group. As the wind gained strength and began moving airplanes that were not securely tied down on the ramp, some of the members of the gaggle patrolled the airport area and secured those airplanes, saving them from certain damage.