“Plane Crazy” – Into the Unknown

This all started because a friend & mentor of mine, John Moore, and I had been talking of ways to connect my passions for adventure and extreme sports with my other passion/profession filmmaking. One day he contacted me and said, “You gotta check out what these ‘Plane Crazy’ guys have going on”! He sent me a short video teaser for a reality show, “Plane Crazy”. While watching the teaser, I was hypnotized by the energy and passion for life that Cole Gaither, (partner at Hangar Aviation), exuded. That energy, I have come to find out, is infectious. Once I finished the first viewing of the teaser, I told John, “This is a totally viable concept. I have to meet Cole Gaither.”

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, I am on the phone with Cole. He was just as energetic as he was in the teaser. Very quickly in our conversation I realized that many of our passions aligned, and before I knew it, he was rolling off his itinerary for the upcoming week. It was going to be a full one, and he wanted me to come along to get an inside look at how his business works. After some debate and shifting around of my schedule I was off. Just like that! I had no idea what I was getting into but, I knew down deep this was going to be worth it.

Cole was taking his two sons on this business trip, Ben and Zach and a flight instructor Elliot. His sons are both pilots as well, but they were working on getting their IFR certification, (that means they are learning to fly blind, to put it simply). Anyway, they picked up a plane in Alabama and flew to Los Angeles to pick up another. My job was to get to LAX by Monday evening to meet them and hop on a Beech F33A Bonanza and fly up to Redmond, California. This would only be the beginning of our cross-country trip to purchase and deliver 5 different planes.

Upon arriving at LAX, I realized our hotel was an hour Uber ride away. I was not terribly enthusiastic about that after having a two-leg trip across the country. But it did give me time to rest a recuperate. I made it to the hotel and went straight to bed.

I was awoken a few hours later by Axel, Cole’s French Bulldog and Cole. Let me tell you, the man starts his day as he lives his life, at 100 miles an hour. My wife thinks that I am too energetic in the mornings, well she has not met Cole… yet. We were up and ready to go to Redmond by 7 am, but then our planes were halted. We had to wait in Chino, Ca, (KCNO) for hours on another plane, (a 182 Cessna).

Our original plane was to go to Redmond, pick up a third plane, a 172 Skyhawk, then head to Yellowpine, Idaho. Now, Yellowpine is a small trout fishing town in the middle of the mountains with a grass runway and no lights. We needed to land during the daytime to make it safe. But, because of our delay in Chino, there was no way that was going to be possible now. The boys had to drop off the Bonanza in Oregon, while Cole and I were flying slowly in, what I like to call “the lawnmower”. (I call it that because; of the low horsepower and the high altitudes we were taking off from, it sounds like a bogged-down lawnmower as it climbs to 11K feet. I must say at some points I was a little worried. Cole was unphased). Needless to say, we were not going to make it to Yellowpine this trip. So, we started to formulate a new plan: We would meet in Boise, Idaho (Nampas Airport KMAN). Well, that was a great plan but the rest of our team, that went to Oregon to make the drop, was tired and we were losing sunlight rapidly. So, they decided to stay the night in Oregon. We went on.

This was a great day overall: I got to fly for the first time in my life. In one day, I went from never having been in a private plane to flying one! The trip up the West Coast of California and across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, then across the deserts of Nevada and Oregon was spectacular. The views were something to behold. But we were happy once we got on the ground and checked into a hotel. (Side note: We met some great locals in Nampa as we sat in a delicious Mexican restaurant watching the Trump/Biden debacle… I mean debate). 

The next day we had a great breakfast at the Tower grill at KMAN. And what do you know…someone recognized Axel as the “Plane Crazy Dog”! Good times! After that we were off again, heading to Bozeman, Montana (BZN). The plan there was to pick up another plane, a Piper Arrow, and head to Nashville as quick as our wings would carry us. Zach, Cole’s oldest son had a wedding to get to by Friday morning.

Once, again our plans were diverted. The battery on the Arrow was dead and needed to be charged. We were grounded for now and burning daylight. You may be noticing a theme emerging, that is: It’s hard to keep plans in-line while flying across the whole country picking up and dropping off planes. I see why Cole carries this energy and passion at such a high level. It’s a must. Otherwise, you would be frustrated all the time!

Our time in Bozeman was not wasted though. I was introduced to the seller and previous owner of the Arrow. A cool elderly couple, Bob and Linda, that have been in the aviation business for 45 years. They were getting out and liquidating all their assets. I was also introduced to an aged beauty the BT-13A Valiant. It came off the production line December 6, 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Wow! After that and a fancy lunch at Burger King with Bob, Linda and crew, we were finally off the ground! But too late once again to really make any grand progress on our trip back east. What was the next best place, Rapid City, South Dakota.

This day was a blast! From my first take off that morning in the PIC seat (Pilot in Command), to a beautiful cruise through the valleys surrounding Boise, to classic fighter planes, then a trip across the Great Planes and the Little Big Horn River, to landing in Rapid City; it was a dream. We had flown over some of the greatest places in the United States, all in one day!

The night in Rapid City was amazing. Cole checked us into a beautiful old hotel called the Alex Johnson (circa 1923) and we got ready for dinner. The hotel has a rooftop restaurant with a balcony and fire pit. There, we were finally able to unwind together as a group and discuss plans for the show. Cole treated us to a fantastic dinner. We had a lot of laughs as we enjoyed the finest Rapid City had to offer.

The next morning, we were up again with the sun and ready to hit the airways. We had a pretty good tail wind and it looked like we were going to make it to Nashville in time for me to catch a flight back to ATL. So, we took off from Rapid City (RAP). Before getting to far off, Cole wanted to get his boys to form up in the air. We had three planes now and could have some fun. Cole said they had never done before. But, for it being the first time, they all did fantastic. They all found each other and formed up in a “V”! It was amazing!

I know you are waiting for a “BUT” here. There are none! The trip to Nashville went fantastic. The only struggle was flying over the Midwest of the US and seeing mostly, flat ground and corn fields. Nothing against the Midwest its just a little underwhelming compared with the West. It didn’t help that we had already been flying for hours upon hours each day and were all exhausted.

Anyway, the guys were very generous in getting me to my destination so I could catch a flight home. They had to continue on to Charleston.

Back home, recharging my batteries, I have had time to process. This trip first of all was an eye-opening experience. “It’s hard to cross the entire continent and your eyes not to be opened”, I exclaimed as I told my wife about the trip. We really do live in a beautiful country. Second, I got the sickness that I believe is infecting Cole and his Boys: The joy of flight. Third, this trip gave me the push I needed to get this project going. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the inner workings of this “Plane Crazy” business. I am still digesting it but now I know that this must be seen by millions. Cole’s passion, once again, is infectious. The deals, trips, and people he meets along the way are inspiring. Plus, who hasn’t ever dreamed of flying?!