Community Comment:

Pilots join in camaraderie like the old days at Skylane


Special to the Courier & Press

Friday, July 16, 1999


There is a little known landmark on the Northwest side of Evansville.  It is called the Tree of Knowledge. 

Beneath it on any given afternoon. one can find a small group sipping soft drinks and imparting esoteric wisdom on any number of subjects.  Bur brave souls beware:  The place is not for the faint-hearted.  Should you journey near, be ready for some serious teasing and ribbing, because beneath the much-va8unted tree are also some of the most boisterous, opinionated, albeit intelligent individuals who live in the Evansville area.

They are the venerable pilots of Skylane Airport (designated 3EV) .  For the past several years,  the destiny of the Tree of Knowledge remained in some question.  The founding owners, Tom and Louise Crane, who had a dream back in the early 1950s to have a small, grass runway surrounded by hangers for local aviators, were uncertain as to what to do with the property.  But recently, the newly formed Skylane Pilots Association purchased the grass airstrip on Allens Lane between Kratzville Road and St. Joseph Avenue surrounding the Tree of Knowledge.  Suddenly, things are beginning to happen!

Smiling faces are everywhere, and big plans are in the works. 

So who are these people who sit beneath the Tree of Knowledge? 

An infrequent visitor to the airport will see that sadly a few faces among the old crowd have recently passed away.  But in their place, one sees a crop of fresh faces -- some very young, with quite literally stars in their eyes.

For the first time in years, teen-agers, such as Brandon Burgdorf and Daniel McAtee, two local high school students, are taking flying lessons from association president Phil Dawes, who hangers a 1947 North American Navion at the airport.

Dawes, who is largely responsible for the new organization and many of the new ideas at Skylane, emphasizes the group seeks to maintain the facility as a public-access airstrip (official designation will soon be applied for) for hobbyist aviators, and the organization is interested in recruiting investors, selling shares of stock in the new for-profit operation for $1,000 a share.

Share ownership is open to all pilots and aviation enthusiasts in the region.  There is also discussion of forming a flying club, with ownership of a Skylane-based aircraft for use by the members. 

Other pilots, such as W. C. Sisk, who hangers a magnificent 1958 Cessna Skylane, and Jack Wingert, the oldest constant resident pilot at the field, who flies a 1974 Piper Arrow, are spearheading working days on weekends, refurbishing dilapidated hangers.,  There are discussions of new hanger construction in the near future and of a new operations building with indoor amenities for those who sit beneath the Tree of Knowledge. 

Les Bryan, an employee of the Evansville Courier and Press who pilots a 1947 Cessna 140, says the new group also seeks to encourage the participation and growth of all aspects of general aviation, including the activities of local chapter 21 of the Experimental Aviation Association.  This group, which hosts an annual fly-in in Oshkosh, WI, encourages homebuilt and ultra light aircraft construction.  The group also generates enthusiasm among young people to become pilots through its Young Eagles program. 

While all of the details are yet to be worked out, the Skylane Pilots Association wishes to emphasize that the airport continues to vend $#100 low-lead aircraft fuel and recently reduced the price to $1.79 per gallon.  Other fuel grades may also be added in the future, to respond to market conditions and consumer demand (the airport has since added 87 octane auto fuel). 

Space does not allow the mention of every pilot who sits beneath the tree.  But visitors should come to the Tree of Knowledge with wading boots and thick skin -- sometimes the rhetorical manure can get pretty deep!

Oh, by the way, quarters are always available in the office for the soda machine!

David Coker is an Evansville free-lance writer.