Kristen M. Hallows
One autumn afternoon in 2000, a Zenair CH 601 HDS strained upward from the Morehead-Rowan County Airport near Morehead, Kentucky. My father, the pilot, expressed genuine concern that we might not clear the rapidly-approaching treetops due to my exceptionally heavy bags; several stories in the air, it was an unsettling prospect ultimately rendered obsolete by a safe landing on a runway pressed into a flat expanse of central Ohio.
As a high school senior, dad’s home-built aircraft offered the only viable method of visiting a friend who had begun college surrounded by Appalachian mountains. At once cautionary and provocative, the word EXPERIMENTAL shouted its presence in black sans-serif letters from the inside of each door, seeming to offer both pilot and passenger one last chance to demur.
Why not categorize the aircraft as “amateur built” or even the more pejorative “non-professional”? I’ve always had difficulty equating experimental with non-commercial or amateur despite the miscellany of state and federal statutes and regulations making it so. Experimental connotes the hesitant nature of an experiment, of course; but in the phrase experimental knowledge, it indicates something “based on or derived from experience,” like the plane itself.
On Friday, July 28, 2000, 69-year-old Donald E. “Buz” Lukens, former U.S. representative and Ohio senator, must’ve embraced the soggy Beaumont, Texas heat as he stepped into freedom from the low-security federal prison that had confined him for the last two and a half years. Buz’s tarnished name surely had faded from public memory, but without his influence in another experiment a decade and a half earlier, a political one, dad might never have taken flying lessons, and this experimental plane, the winsome avocation that would permeate my family’s collective memory, wouldn’t have accomplished its designated purposes—to transport; to amuse—hundreds, possibly thousands, of times.
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