August 26, 2002
Woodinville pilot joins patriotic flight across America
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
Thunderstorms delay their stay in New Mexico. But when the weather clears, Woodinville resident Charles Oppermann and fellow aviator Molly Peebles soar back into the air. Good-bye Santa Fe and hello Denver. The two pilots have teamed up to share the duties of flight operations while hopscotching from city to city across the nation as participants of a month long event called 'Flight Across America.' Peebles, a Redmond resident, initiated the national campaign. She wanted to create an event to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to re-energize the spirit of aviation.
With an itinerary of twenty-five or more scheduled stops to keep, the two pilots cruise above the clouds in Oppermann's 4-seat Cessna 182 Skylane. They join 1,400 other pilots of small planes from around the country who have entered the campaign to celebrate flight. Participating pilots fly short or long hops, traveling west toward the East Coast. They may have different flight plans and leave airports at different times, but all have a collective mission to spread a positive image of aviation.
"We're celebrating our freedom of flight," says Oppermann who serves as the event's operations director. He and Peebles hope 'Flight Across America' puts the focus back on the joy of flight and off the horror of 9/11."Aviation is not something to be feared but celebrated," Oppermann explains. "As pilots, we were horrified that aircraft were used as suicide machines and we want to make certain that people see terrorists, not aviation, as the problem."
Oppermann and Peebles departed Paine Field in Everett on August 11, the kick-off date for the 32-day celebration. A little more than two-dozen pilots took to the air with them. After leaving Everett, Oppermann and Peebles flew south-with stops at SeatTac, Eugene, Oakland, Santa Monica, Phoenix and Santa Fe. Landing at Centennial Airport in southwest Denver earlier this morning, Oppermann relaxes in his hotel room and talks about his trip over the phone. "We want to show that aviation has a rich heritage," he says, adding that the spirit of flight inspired pioneers like Amelia Earhart and Neil Armstrong. He recalls opening day at Paine Field, "We had a really good send-off and a number of excellent speakers." The gala send-off included red, white and blue parachutes festooning the sky and keynote speaker Erik Lindbergh, noted pilot and flight instructor as well as grandson of Charles. Oppermann clearly remembers his nationwide television appearance with Peebles on opening day recalling, "We opened up the morning on CNN Live."
Now a week later, he and Peebles prepare to fly out of Denver. Next stop, Earhart's birthplace, Atchison, Kansas. While there, Oppermann will speak to middle grade students, sharing stories of their flight. Pushing on, they'll travel to St. Louis, then Duluth. They'll greet the people of Oshkosh and then stop at Shanksville where they'll lay a wreath at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93. Says Oppermann, "We'll pay our respects to some very brave people. We want to honor the flight crew, the flight attendants and the passengers."
A highlight occurs on September 8, when selected pilots, designated as flag bearers for their state, will fly their aircraft down the Hudson River in a loose procession of planes. Later, the pilots will present their state flags to the people of New York City in a flag presentation aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier that now acts as a floating museum in New York. Oppermann and Peebles will present the U.S. flag to the City.
Although on a patriotic mission, the two pilots also find themselves in the midst of an adventure. With flights in between destinations no longer than four hours, Oppermann and Peebles enjoy the fun of breakfast in one state and dinner in another. While in the air, they take in spectacular views of the landscape. Says Oppermann, "We fly at altitudes of 4,000 to 1,000 feet above ground and we get to see this incredible view all the time."
While flying over Palm Springs, they were treated to a magnificent panorama of opulent neighborhoods surrounded by golf courses. As they passed over the desert, the landscape transformed from pristine green lawns to a surreal lunar look of red rocks shaped by the wind. "We saw tan, terra cotta rock formations with shadows giving beautiful definitions," Oppermann describes, adding, "Flying relatively closer to the ground [in comparison to airliners] makes for a wonderful experience."
In addition to new sights and places, the two experienced an action hero-like adventure when they arrived in Los Angeles and met up with a Tactical Flight Officer of the LAPD Support Division. The officer invited them to ride along with him on one of his patrols in the sky. That evening Peebles and Oppermann searched for robbery and shooting suspects from a helicopter above south central LA. "That's the adventure part," Oppermann says of his police patrol, "but in the process we're talking with the media and spreading the message that aviation is a good thing."
Oppermann, a former Microsoft Program Manager, has thought of flight as a "good thing" since he was a child. "I was the kid at airports always looking at planes through the chain link fence," he says. He took a few flying lessons as a teenager, but didn't become a certified pilot until he was 24. After leaving Microsoft in 1999, he wrote the book, Microsoft Windows 2000 Active Directory Programming, and became actively involved in aviation.
He credits his wife Anthea, a veterinary assistant, for her support of his cross-country flight. "I couldn't have done it without her. I'm a week into this flight and I miss her terribly." Others have also supported him. "The people of Woodinville have been incredible and very supportive ... from the folks at Cottage Lake Veterinary Hospital to our neighbors."
And his personal goal for the month long journey? "I want to touch and inspire people with flight. I want to inspire a child to learn how to fly because once you master flying, you can master anything."
For further information on Flight Across America, visit www.flightacrossamerica.com.