Project Police Launch Lightly Attended Raid on Copperstate

Mike Pelletier
EAA Chap 1000 Det 7, Tucson, AZ

Originally published November 1997 A recent PPTAF raid on the famed Copperstate Regional Fly-In at Williams Gateway Airport near Phoenix, Arizona, recently proved only mildly successful. Despite months of pre-planning, only a tiny band of PPTAF marauders were able to sneak through the radar net surrounding Copperstate and penetrate the ground defenses on 11 October 1997.

The assault was planned as both an air and ground attack. Ron Applegate was to infiltrate the defenses and provide advance recon by posing as a rather nondescript pilot who was just there to camp under the wing of his Cessna 140 and enjoy the four-day show. Ron was to arrive on Friday and take down the radar net so fellow officer Jack Roth could fly his Navion in on Saturday (I heard Jack was planning to bring one of the Project Police K-9 units with him). This officer (a.k.a. P5) was to rendezvous on Saturday with Russ Erb and Russ’ friend Harry Whiting and fly-in from the south. Russ would drive down to Tucson with his wife Penny, daughter Allison, and son Ryan in the Project Police Paddywagon to spend a few days with Harry. Russ, Harry, and I, along with Harry’s son Harrison, were planning a daring daylight strike in Harry’s beautiful maroon and yellow 1955 Cessna 180. We were to launch from Avra Valley, 13 miles northeast of Tucson, and commence with the attack. The trap was set. All that remained was to spring it.

On the morning of the raid I met Harry and Russ and we drove out to the airport. After pushing Harry’s airplane out of the hangar at Avra Valley, we all decided to head into the FBO on the field to prepare for the journey. On the counter of the FBO we discovered and enjoyed high fructose snacks of the chocolate chip variety. The raid was shaping up well, but could this be a sign the enemy had been tipped off? Only time would tell. We launched out into clear skies and a slight breeze. Despite hot weather that week, the forecast for the Phoenix area was cool temperatures and clouds. Meeting no resistance as we flew our final approach, we concluded that Ron had successfully taken down the IADS (integrated air defense system for the uninitiated). In a brazen move, we displayed our Project Police Aerial Assault Vehicle placards in the windows of the 180. The first indication that the locals were on to us was when they denied us parking in the classic aircraft section, instead relegating us to the run-of-the-mill parking area. Perhaps we’d been ratted out!

After getting tie-downs for the aircraft, we split up to go check out the displays and the aircraft. Due a communication hiccup, I did not have a planned rendezvous point in mind to meet up with Ron or Jack, but I figured I would stumble across them eventually. While searching for them, I checked out the Stits Poly Fiber display and got a lesson in rib stitching. From there I meandered over to the forum tent, where I listened to a presentation on converting auto engines for aircraft use. A vendor display area set up in a hangar provided a glimpse at the usual neat stuff like tools, aircraft hardware, and aircraft accessories.

After meeting up with Russ and having lunch, we proceeded to walk the flight line and look at the aircraft. Dan Denney’s Thunder Mustang was there, and boy is it sleek and powerful! For a mere $195,000 you get the whole airplane, including the engine and prop. The RV-8 prototype was also at the show. Up until the airshow started numerous demo flights were being given to prospective buyers. From what I could tell, there didn’t seem to be any delays getting folks in the air. If you are thinking about a particular design and you’d like to get a ride in it, I’d recommend you come to Copperstate next year. There seemed to be at least one example of each of the major kits on the market.

To make a long story short, I never did hook up with Ron or Jack, or anyone else from Chapter 1000 that day. After watching the airshow, we all piled back into Harry’s plane and returned home. The next day I got a call from Ron and he said the weather had been bad out his way and so he and Jack never did make it to the show. Despite a small turnout by the Project Police at the Copperstate fly-in, this officer still considers his day there a success and a lot of fun.

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Revised -- 25 April 1998