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From Tractors to Crop Dusters
October 2, 2019 - Jon Humberd, EAA 1041964, is the poster child for EAA and grassroots aviation.
Jon grew up watching the crop dusters go by at his family's farm in Cleveland, Tennessee, which inspired him to become a pilot later in life.
"When I was little, the biplane crop dusters are what they had," Jon said. "Loved it, absolutely loved it. Mom and I would be out there just every time it came. We would be watching it and having a big time. That's what really drew me to it [aviation] was watching the crop dusters."
When Jon wasn't helping out on the farm, he grew up similar to any other aspiring pilot — playing with RC planes and flight simulators.
"I eventually graduated into ultralights and flew a few hundred hours on a Lazair Canadian-built ultralight," Jon said. "I soon fell in love with the Zenith 701 and decided to build my own."
Jon described the Zenith 701 as "Chris Heintz's most simple and robust design."
"It is primarily stock. It's pretty much all built to plans with a few minor modifications just to personalize it, but it's an awesome kit," Jon said. "It just fit my mission. It was low and slow."
Jon's mission to fly low and slow included the necessity to take off from and land on his pasture.
"My home field is cut out of a pasture that I've got fenced off, and it's just a 300- to 400-foot runway grass strip, and there's woods at both ends, so it's a short, pretty much one-way approach and one-way exit," Jon said.
Jon said another selling point for the Zenith 701 was the short wingspan, the all-aluminum construction, and bubble side doors.
"It works really as well or better than one of the Cessna's or one of the bigger wingspans because when you hit gusty winds or stuff it just floats like a leaf," Jon said. "It's not something that jars your teeth out every time you get a little bit of a gust. One of the things I really fell in love with is its all-aluminum construction. There's no fabric or anything, and while out on the farm — raccoons, mice, rats — they will tear through fabric and they will find places to put nuts. That actually happened to my ultralight one time. They got up in the wing, and I tested the controls before I took off and everything's free and clear, but when I made that turn and that nut rolled over and got into the control, I couldn't turn it left. So, it was kind of a pucker moment."
"You've got kind of like the bubble doors or bubble windows on the sides so the visibility is pretty great," Jon said. "You can lean over an extra 4 inches and look straight down, so it's not like you have to bang your head on it to see. You can see out of it really well. I've taken pictures of bear and deer, turkeys, you name it. Most of them just look up, and if they knew how, they would wave at you. They don't care."
Jon's first fly-in experience as a pilot was at the 2019 AOPA Fly-In in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
"I'm looking at the radar and seeing these 20 airplanes ahead of me that are just a cluster, and I'm thinking 'My, my, I don't know if I really want to do this or not,'" Jon said. "And then you finally get a hold of the Tullahoma air boss and talk to him for just a second, and they're putting me in line and it just worked perfectly. An amazing feeling."
Jon has been to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh twice as a spectator and is hoping to make his third visit as a fly-in participant.
"Oshkosh is awesome, Oshkosh is just awesome," Jon said. "It's just the people. Everyone you run into, they love it, they love to talk about it. They're down to earth. I guess that's where maybe the grassroots end of it comes in. They're down to earth enough to say, 'Hey, I'm … let's talk.' There's no hesitation. Everybody likes to talk to one another. It doesn't even have to be about airplanes at Oshkosh. We ate lunch up there on one of our trips and sat down at the picnic table, and the guy that sat across from us was a dairy farmer from New Zealand. It was just, you know, us being farmers, it was just amazing. It brings the world into a small world where you can talk to anybody. Oshkosh just brings the whole community together on lots of different levels. You see everything, and anybody that likes aviation at all has to go to Oshkosh at least once just to experience it, and then they will be back more."