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Flying To Live: How The Plane Is The Perfect Vehicle For Living To The Fullest

Tomas Kellner
July 24, 2016
The EAA AirVentures fly-in at Oshkosh, Wis., which begins on Monday, is the world’s largest gathering of aircraft enthusiasts. It takes place every year at the end of July and attracts 10,000 planes from around the globe and over 500,000 visitors.
Few of them are as dedicated as GE Aviation’s Brad Mottier. He first came here with his father as a teenager 40 years ago. His parent’s owned a plane before they owned a house, and he inherited their passion for flying. Mottier has rarely missed an Oshkosh show since, and this Sunday he flew in again with his yellow Aviat Husky two-seater from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio. GE Reports was on board for the ride.

Many of the pilots who come here build their own planes, but Mottier the rare kind who also knows how to build a plane engine. That's because he leads GE Aviation’s business and general aviation unit, which is responsible for all GE aircraft engines that are not being used by commercial and military planes. This year his business is launching a brand new turboprop engine at Oshkosh that includes 3D-printed titanium components and jet-like electronics controls. The engine is already causing a stir since it burns up to 20 percent less fuel and achieves 10 percent more power than other engines in the same class.

You can watch can watch Mottier’s latest trip to Oshkosh on Periscope and also on GE’s Snapchat, and learn about the new engine on GE Reports. Right now, though, check out below our conversation with Mottier about flying and the freedom and sense of liberation it brings.

_I8C0009 Top image: Brad Mottier piloting his Aviat A-1C Husky over Lake Michigan on Sunday on the way to Oshkosh. Above: Mottier's plane during a refueling stop in Gary, Indiana. All images credit: Tomas Kellner/GE Reports

GE Reports: How did your family get into flying?

Brad Mottier: Both of my parents were pilots. They started flying after World War II. My dad was an amphibious tank mechanic. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps on Guam in the South Pacific. My mother was a WAVE, serving in the women’s reserve in the U.S. Navy. They met after the war ended. They decided to make up for the lost time and live on a broader scale.

GER: What kind of plane did they fly?

BM: It was a Cessna 120 and they got it before they even got their pilot’s licenses or bought a house. They flew it from Indiana, where they lived, over the Rockies to the West Coast and down to Mexico. They even made it to the Florida Keys.

Before my brother and I were born, my mother, Phyllis, would sometimes take the plane and go quail hunting at my Dad’s family’s farm in Central Illinois. She would land there, take her 410 shotgun, get some quail and fly back home with dinner.

_I8C0013 After Oshkosh, Mottier is going fly fishing in Wyoming. He outfitted his Husky with cushy "thunder tires" for landings on soft, grassy strips. "My parents’ philosophy was to live their lives to the fullest and I believe an airplane is the perfect vehicle to help do that," Mottier says.

GER: When did you first start flying with them?

BM: I’ve always had passion for aviation. I must have been 18 when I first came to Oshkosh with my father in a Cessna 172, which can seat four people. That was in the 1970s. The next year he bought a 1949 Navion and flew that plane down here for the first time. That was a miserable trip. It rained the whole time, there was standing water in the field and we ended up sleeping in the plane. But that was part of the fun.

GER: What was Oshkosh like then?

BM: It was much smaller. In the 1970s, it was predominantly a show for people who were building their own airplanes. The certified aircraft manufacturers, who now have a very large presence, fit inside a fairly small space. In many respects, it was less commercial than it is today. In the evening we would go to the Theatre in the Woods, sit on folding chairs or on the ground, and watch old aviation movies. There were no big concerts like now. The show is now more upscale. It has grown up. Today’s it’s a celebration of all aviation.

_I8C0016 "Flying gives you freedom and perspective," Mottier says. "There’s a sense of accomplishment from being a pilot that’s not readily available in many other earthbound activities."

GER: Last year there were 10,000 planes at Oshkosh and 500,000 visitors. But walking around, it seems to me that everyone knows each other.

BM: This place has a special spirit. There is a sense of liberation and self-direction about Oshkosh. It’s both inspirational and aspirational.

GER: Can you explain it?

BM: Flying gives you freedom and perspective. There’s a sense of accomplishment from being a pilot that’s not readily available in many other earthbound activities. When you’re a pilot you are in many ways not bound by decisions that someone has made for you. When we flew up here from Cincinnati on Sunday, we designed our own route, obviously following air space restriction, and flew up the Lake Michigan coastline past Chicago. The views were amazing! That’s the liberation I am talking about.

And that’s just the big picture.

Here at Oshkosh, there are many people who build their own planes. That’s an entirely new level of freedom. They choose the design, the engine, the propeller, the avionics, and wheels their planes will have. A lot of pilots here have been innovating within technical and financial constraints and that’s forcing them to use their imagination, be very creative.

_I8C0078 Mottier, gassing up his plane after landing in Oshkosh.

GER: When did you start flying?

BM: I got my license when I was studying engineering at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. In fact I flew myself to my first job interview. The job was more than three hours away driving and the company agreed to cover the cost of my plane.

GER: Did you get that job?

BM: Yes, I did, and in many ways I still have it. It was with a tiny company called Slick Electro, which made ignition systems for piston engine aircraft. That company grew into Unison Industries, which was in 2002 acquired by GE. At Unison, we made electrical and mechanical systems and components used on aircraft, but also communication satellites, the International Space Station and even nuclear submarines. Our magneto ignition system flew on the Voyager, the first plane to fly non-stop non-refueled around the world in 1986 and is now in the Smithsonian Museum.

GER: Do you own a plane?

BM: Yes, I fly an Aviat Husky, which is a small bush plane like you see in Alaska I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I’ve taken it as far out west as Jackson Hole, Wy. and north as Lake Placid, N.Y. I have also flown it to Miami several times. I like my Husky because it can take off and land in a very short distance and you don’t need paved runways. I fly about 150 hours a year. My parents’ philosophy was to live their lives to the fullest and I believe an airplane is the perfect vehicle to help do that.