Tribute to Pilots_2019.jpg

A photo from of one of the monthly AvSport Hangar Flying gatherings in the Pilot's Lounge on Piper Memorial Airport. Pictured are several flight school's students, instructors, and graduates. Dave McCormick is standing in the back row, nearest to the flag. The author is seated in the front left, light blue shirt. Unfortunately, Doug Cromley is not pictured. Photo courtesy of H. Paul Shuch

The close-knit northcentral Pa. aviation community has just lost two of its extended family members. As an aeronautics professor, aerospace engineer, aircraft owner, active pilot, and flight school owner, I feel a personal sense of loss from the recent accident near the Jersey Shore Airport in Antes Fort.

Dave McCormick, the owner of the AcroSport biplane that went down Sunday afternoon near Long Lane, was a friend to me for over twenty years. Known to his aviation friends as ‘KitFox Dave’ for the experimental airplane he built and flew, McCormick was a member of the Williamsport Regional Association of Pilots (WRAP), and a regular attendee at the monthly Hangar Flying sessions hosted by AvSport, my flight school on the Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven. He also showed off his plane every summer at our annual fly-in, the Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven.

Dave was always game to take passengers up for a hop around the pattern in his beloved KitFox, and gave many of my students their first flight in a plane other than the one in which they were training. A decade ago, I was forced to ground myself briefly due to some medical issues. Upon recovering physically, as soon as my doctor told me I was safe to drive again, I did so -- straight to the Jersey Shore airport, where Dave very kindly lent me his plane, to further assist in my emotional recuperation. 

More recently, when Dave had his own medical crisis that grounded him for a while, various local pilots took turns taking Dave up in their planes, doubtless aiding in his recovery.

I met Doug Cromley much more recently, when he opened up Skyboys Aviation, his flight school on the Jersey Shore airport. Since Jersey Shore has no fueling facilities, he would fly his Cessna Skyhawk trainer, almost daily, the ten miles to Piper Memorial Airport, where he would buy fuel.

Often, he would bring a student or two with him, and always took the time to introduce them around. As a fellow flight instructor, I observed Doug patiently guiding dozens of students, coming to respect both his aeronautical skills and his knack for teaching. Although we were both in the same business, he never made me feel that we were competitors, but rather collaborators. When Doug recently hosted a Rusty Pilot seminar for inactive aviators, he generously invited me to the podium to pitch my own flight school. Rising air currents, we both believed, lift all planes.

The plane in which Doug and David perished was an AcroSport II, an experimental aerobatic biplane which had been designed in the 1970s by Paul Poberezny, founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association. The plane had been built from plans sold by Acro Sport in Wisconsin, using materials sold by Aircraft Spruce and Specialty in California. 

Over a hundred examples of the AcroSport II have been built. I had the honor, years ago, of flying the actual accident aircraft, when the plane had been based at Fink Haven Airport in Trout Run (just a 7 mile motorcycle run up the road from my house in Cogan  Station). The previous owner took me up in it to show it off, as most pilots love to do with their airplanes to other pilots. 

I had heard a few weeks ago that Dave McCormick had acquired that aircraft, and was going to base it at Jersey Shore. So, when I heard on Sunday that an aerobatic biplane had gone down at Jersey Shore, my heart sank, knowing who the two victims must have been. Several of my own flight students called me Sunday night, expressing the same fears. 

All I can do now is grieve for the families, and with the rest of the local aviation community, over our collective loss.


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