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Archive for Wednesday, June 23, 1999

CHANGES FLIGHT PLANS

June 23, 1999

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The Douglas County AIDS Project will give people an aerial view of Lawrence this Saturday, but not in a Russian military plane.

Yaks don't fly after all, at least not at Saturday's Red Ribbon Flights for the Douglas County AIDS Project.

A Russian military training plane, the Yakovlev-52 -- widely known as a Yak -- was on the lineup for the group's fund-raiser, but the Federal Aviation Administration won't allow passengers in the experimental plane.

"We were all pretty heartbroken when we heard about it, because it's a real draw," said Sidney Hardgrave, executive director of the Douglas County AIDS Project (DCAP).

The Yak's owner, Rich Ezell, Perry, had planned to take passengers in the two-seat plane for a $30 donation to DCAP, as he did a year ago. The Red Ribbon Flights will be given in 12 other planes from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

"Last year, a lot of people ended up flying in the other planes, but they came out because of the Yak," Hardgrave said.

Ezell wasn't available for comment Tuesday night, but Gary Finch, a Lawrence pilot who is helping organize the flights, said Ezell was "really bummed out" when he heard the news.

Finch said Yak pilots must notify the FAA when they fly their planes at such events, and Ezell made the call Monday morning. The Yak has a Russian registration number, and is listed as an experimental exhibition plane.

"He can go out and fly it himself (on Saturday), but not with a passenger," said Finch, who talked Tuesday to FAA officials in Wichita. "They're just following the rules that are made in Washington."

The highly acrobatic Yak is a newer version of an aircraft model used as far back as World War II. Ezell's plane, built in 1984 and purchased two years ago from a dealer in Wisconsin, has top speed of 223 mph and a cruising speed of almost 150 mph. A Piper Warrior, which will be in use Saturday, has a cruising speed of about 110 mph.

Ezell has owned other planes, but the Yak that he has dubbed "Crazy Ivan" is his favorite, he said.

"When you jump in and fly this, you feel like a fighter pilot. You just have that feeling," Ezell said last week.

Compared to other aircraft, it's kind of like riding a motorcycle after driving a station wagon, he said.

Reservations are not required for rides Saturday on the planes, which can take up to three passengers each, Hardgrave said.

More than 300 people rode planes last year. Finch said he hopes twice that many participate this year.

The flights will take passengers across Lawrence, over Kansas University and around Clinton Lake. But Finch said pilots will take requests to fly over certain houses or even divert to Perry Lake. Passengers are allowed to bring cameras.

In case of rain, the event will be postponed to Sunday.

"The Douglas County AIDS Project does a lot for the community, and they never have enough money," Finch said. "This is something that gets a lot of interest, because they've already had a lot of calls asking if they're doing it again."

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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