Sunday, July 24, 2016

Flight instructor brings new passion, ideas to North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Fly-In

Julie Hubner, who helped organize the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Fly-In, shares her love of flying with Liesel Williamson, 5, on Saturday in Concrete. When Hubner noticed Liesel admiring the plane, she picked her up and placed her in the plane. “There aren’t a lot of women flying, so I want to teach you when you get bigger,” she said.

Planes from all over the U.S. participated in the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Fly-In. Many were vintage models with rich histories that their pilots loved to share.

Julie Hubner sits on her Stearman plane. Hubner helped coordinate this year's Fly-In in Concrete and works with the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Museum.

An old Navy plane and pilot fly in the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Fly-In on Saturday in Concrete.

Over 200 planes participated in the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Fly-In in Concrete this weekend.

Civil Air Patrol flight officer Nathaniel Nelson helps guide planes down the runway Saturday at the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Fly-In.

CONCRETE — More than 200 planes of all ages, colors and types took to the sky in front of 1,500 spectators at the 34th annual North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Fly-In on Saturday.

Behind all of the action in the sky was one woman on the ground, who for the past year has made it her mission to revitalize Concrete’s biggest festival and iconic museum.

Julie Hubner, a 58-year-old England native, has been a flight instructor in Skagit County for about 25 years. In her first year helping with the fly-in, she is credited with bringing new ideas and activities, such as helicopter and airplane rides for spectators, as well as a beer garden from Anacortes Brewery.

Her love of aviation stems from watching her father work as a ground engineer for the Royal Air Force in Great Britain.

For Hubner, flying is the equivalent of freedom.

“I love controlling the plane,” she said. “It gives you freedom to fly in the wilderness, decide what to do when to do it. If you like structure, I suppose you’d be slightly horrified.”

Her passion increased when she worked at Rolls-Royce manufacturing aero engines in England. That’s when in the 1980s she met her future husband John, a 22-year fighter pilot veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who worked in the U.S. branch of Rolls-Royce in England.

While Hubner always was fascinated with flight, she said her husband encouraged her to learn to fly.

“And he really didn’t have to twist my arm too much,” she laughed.

It wasn’t without hardship, however. Aeronautics is still very much a male-dominated field, she said. Even more of an obstacle was reading instruments in the aircraft due to her dyslexia with numbers.

“Learning to fly is not a breeze,” she said. “But it’s about having the passion and time.”

After being trained in England, Hubner and her husband moved to the U.S in the early 1990s. They drove across the county for six months looking for a suitable place to live, which is when they fell in love with Skagit County.

“It’s truly idyllic,” she said. “As a pilot you simply can’t beat the scenery.”

After 35 years of marriage, her husband passed away in January. John also collected vintage planes, or those made through the 1940s and 1950s. One of his eight planes is on diplay at the fly-in: a bright yellow Stearman biplane.

Jim Jenkins, the curator for the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Museum, has helped organize the fly-in for 15 years. He said he has worked with Hubner for the past eight months and describes her as the museum’s “sparkplug.”

“This place needed to succeed,” Jenkins said. “Julie is in a really good position to further the growth of this festival. With her, the glass is always half full.”

Her passion is also behind a new business plan to revitalize the flight museum, Jenkins said.

Hubner said she hopes to work with the museum board to incorporate more educational programs and involvement from the town of Concrete.

“This place is too much of a resource to take for granted,” she said. “We can get them here for the festival, but how do we get people to stay?”

While Hubner loves flying aerobatics and in the backcountry, she loves instructing the most because of the ability to pass on that sense of freedom she feels to others.

“When you’re in an airplane and you have to get to know how they think, I’ve developed some pretty close friendships,” she said. “I love seeing their enormous smile on their face when they get to fly solo for the first time.”

Whether it be instruction or participating in fly-in, she said one of her favorite aspects of being a pilot is the camaraderie of the industry.

“It doesn’t matter what type, or what you’re story is, pilots just appreciate the fact that you are flying,” she said.

The fly-in wraps up today.

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