Airplanista Magazine Feature Story: GA Advocacy - Special Report: Commit 65

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This article was originally published in the September, 2011 issue of Airplanista Magazine and can be viewed here. Airplanista Magazine is an all-digital new media publication that presents aviation feature stories and content in a digital magazine format. Read the current issue here.

GA Advocacy - Special Report: Commit 65

This is the first in a continuing series of articles that present the backstory on some of general aviation’s most important advocates, activists and volunteers.

By Dan Pimentel, Airplanista Magazine Editor

Each time I attend an arts or business function which demands that a suit coat is required attire, I always make a point to wear my AOPA wings in that small hole where the Flag pin is usually inserted. And without fail, at some point in the evening, someone will see the wings and ask if I am a pilot. This opens the door for me promote general aviation, and answer questions they might have about flying via private airplane.

This is my small way to raise awareness about GA to the non-flying public. We pilots must constantly be looking for every available opportunity to talk about the freedoms and joys of flying, and sometimes the chance to talk up GA just happens. And one highly visible project gaining national momentum is using aviation itself as the tool to raise awareness about an important social cause.

Boise, Idaho’s Matt Pipkin, along with a talented volunteer board of marketing and aviation professionals, has developed a 501c3 nonprofit organization called Commit 65. This very aggressive project will not only raise awareness about GA through local and national mainstream media coverage, but also focus a spotlight on something that is very important to Pipkin. When you read the backstory on Commit 65, it is clear that this is a life changing mission for this motivated young pilot.

To get to the heart of why Pipkin has developed Commit 65, you need to go back about 20 years, when he was just five years old. It was then that this personable young man’s life changed forever, and it has taken him until now to talk about it.

“I was molested at age 5 by a family friend,” Pipkin explained recently, “and kept it completely secret until just over three years ago, at age 23 when I finally told my parents that it had happened multiple times. I kept it secret because I thought I was an accomplice, not a victim. Although I’ve always known I’m a good guy, that negative self-perception went with me for nearly twenty years and was ingrained into every facet of my life. I carried a heavy backpack of guilt, shame, fear, and much to my surprise, anger. I was the first to beat myself up, I didn’t REALLY think I deserved success, and I simply did not realize my value as a human being.”

Speaking up and out about the child sexual abuse Pipken suffered as a young boy was never easy for him, but through Commit 65, that has all changed. “I used to hyperventilate when speaking about this,” he said. “Now, talking about the fact that I was sexually abused has no effect on me. It’s now nothing more than a bad memory. In fact, I feel as though it’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given, because it’s allowing me to impact the lives of others. That’s precisely why I am doing what I am doing.”

And what he is doing is at the very least, astounding, and at most, unbelievably courageous. To put it bluntly, he has devised a plan so remarkable, the mainstream media will have no choice but to come out to cover the story. And when that happens, Pipkin will have succeeded in coaxing other victims of child sexual abuse to “speak their silence” thus changing lives like his was changed by telling loved ones everything.

To gain national attention in the non-aviation media to push the mission of Commit 65 forward, Pipkin needed a big stage that simply could not be ignored by any journalist with a soul. To be sure that this project was “over-the-top” and would earn the recognition he needed to call Commit 65 a success, he decided to fly a heavily-modified Cessna 172 for 65 days straight without ever touching the ground for any reason. If the flight is successful, it will have beaten the 1958/59 record when Robert Timm and John Cook flew another Cessna 172 near Las Vegas for 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, and 5 seconds. The paperwork has been filed on behalf of Commit 65 to make this an official attempt to break the Guinness Book record for Flight Endurance, but the attempt is not the reason this flight will take place.

“It is clear to me now that this is major PR campaign, and not your run-of-the-mill world record flight,” Pipkin said. “Commit 65 is not about the flight - it’s about the reason why.”

This huge non-stop GA flight will take place in late 2012, but instead of turning laps over the desert like Timm and Cook did in 1958/59, Pipkin, along with his father Chet, a 737 Captain for a major scheduled airline, will fly a route that will take them over most of the lower 48 United States to gain the most exposure. “We plan to take off in Boise, Idaho, and fly all over the U.S. The more ground we cover, the more local and national media outlets we’ll have covering us. We intend to break the country up into six zones and have a hub in each zone for our refueling aircraft to be situated, and to allow us to triangulate depending on weather.”

At a recent appearance at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Pipkin said one thing on the minds of most pilots who visited the Commit 65 booth donated by EAA in the Innovation Center, was the technical aspects of the flight, including the airplane itself and the refueling process. And while he will gladly talk to anyone now about the important social cause that will benefit from the flight, being a pilot, Pipkin also can’t resist a good old-fashioned hangar flying conversation about airplanes.

“We acquired a 1958 Cessna 172 straight tail through a partial purchase/partial donation. after holding a fundraiser in December, 2010,” explains Pipkin. “We intend to install a Sorenson belly fuel tank to allow us 12-14 hours between refuelings, and will plumb through the firewall to enable in-flight oil/filter changes. All interior and bulkhead will be removed except left seat and controls, and we will be placing the aircraft in the Experimental category, to allow us the latitude to make whatever modifications necessary for the record flight attempt.”

Air-to-air refueling is vital in military operations with airplanes equipped for the task. But the procedure is unheard-of in general aviation, which has proven to be a challenge Pipkin and the Commit 65 team has easily handled.

“We’ve brainstormed multiple options for air-to-air refueling, all based on our desire is to keep things as simple as possible, with the fewest moving and potentially breakable parts,” Pipkin says. “As of now, it appears we will not have any issues with the FAA. They have indicated that, if we do air-to-air refueling, as we plan to do, it simply classifies as formation flight. A video explaining the plan the team will use to fill the 172’s tanks twice a day can be found on page 19 of this issue.

It is impossible to look at Commit 65 and not see Pipkin’s influence on every part of the project. Although still in his mid-twenties, he has demonstrated high levels of leadership and planning that have brought this concept from a simple idea to a full-on national awareness campaign. How he developed the skills and maturity to put together such an ambitious endeavor comes back to who he is, and how he has chosen to possess the life skills to keep Commit 65 growing.

“I find highly successful people incredibly intriguing,” said Pipkin, “and I’m always curious about what distinguishes them from others who haven’t quite made it to where they are. Before discovering this passion of mine and falling upon this path of Commit 65, I began cold-calling people who I considered “highly successful” in their respected field, simply to ask them if I could buy them coffee/lunch and pick their brain. Each of them said yes immediately and would spend a couple of hours with me sharing their wisdom of how they got to where they were. My thinking was that I wanted to learn from wise people who have done well, and I wanted to take what wisdom I could and apply it to whatever I chose to do.”

Long before Pipkin could begin planning to fly the longest-ever GA endurance flight, he first had to get right with the concept of talking about his experience of being sexually abused as a child. You would think that talking daily about this dark period in his young life would be a chore, a menacing effort that would drain him emotionally. In fact, it is just the opposite, and Commit 65 has been the catalyst for allowing him to urge other victims to speak up.

“Since that weight has been off my shoulders and I’ve been able to now talk openly about my own childhood sexual abuse, my life has been transformed,” he says. “I want to pass that liberation on to others walking in similar shoes. Commit 65 is the launch of an ongoing national “challenge” to other victims asking them to speak their silence to a loved one. Most people do not know that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused prior to the age of 18, but that 9 out of 10 never tell anyone.”

Pipkin’s counselor, Swede Siverson, M.Ed., LCPC, confirms that when a childhood sexual abuse victim speaks out, it reverses much of the inner guilt the victims feel that can inhibit personal growth. “I had the honor of working with Matt Pipkin,” said Siverson, “and I’ve been excited to see the growth he has experienced since he was able to tell his secret and begin the healing process. In my experience, I have found that holding on to the secret of abuse may be equally damaging as the abuse itself. Victims who keep the abuse a secret often hold on to blame and shame. They can begin questioning themselves in a toxic way, even owning the responsibility of the abuse. This is one of the reasons I am so excited about the Commit 65 project. Once Matt spoke his silence, he began to view the abuse differently; and now a traumatic event has become merely a bad memory. If the secret is held, emotional growth is arrested. It is my hope and prayer that every victim of sexual abuse speaks their silence and they are able to heal from this heinous crime. Then they too, in their own way, can do what Matt is doing and turn this horrible event into a way to help others find healing and freedom.”

A complicated and ambitious project like Commit 65 is very expensive to complete. As both local and national attention builds, Pipkin and his Board work tirelessly to engage donors, plan fund raising events such as downtown Boise’s In Plane Sight event, and continue to acquire corporate sponsors to help offset the growing expenses of the project.

“I’m thrilled with the progress we’ve made,” says a very proud Pipkin. “I started Commit 65 completely from scratch with zero credibility by pitching the idea to one skeptical person at a time. We still have a long way to go though, with the main expense being the restoration of the airplane, installation of a new engine and serious upgrade to the avionics. However, I anticipate the bulk of the expenses of the entire campaign will be covered by corporate sponsors who want to bring national (even global) exposure to their brand. We will display sponsor logos outside and inside the airplane where they will be seen in streaming video from the many cameras we’ll have on board.”

The team Pipkin has put together to make Commit 65 a success includes creative professional Paul Carew, Event Planner Scot Eastman, Rick Moorten, the host of Boise’s Wild 101 FM’s morning wake-up show, Creative Director Jane Perlaky, Chairman of The Board Kelly Cross who is an experienced Public Relations Specialist, and Board Treasurer Kim Catlett.

As momentum grows, donations come in and work continues towards the Fall, 2012 record flight. Commit 65 has been featured in the Chicago Tribune and USA Today, and a producer of NBC’s The TODAY Show, has contacted the team asking for more information. “The Today Show producer has called me twice telling me she’d pitched our story,” explains Pipkin, “and they are interested in running a feature on us prior to takeoff. This confirms that the flight and Commit 65 is something that the major national media will cover.”

Along the way though, Pipkin is taking a personal journey that was unexpected. “This is my first project of any sort like this,” he explains, “and it’s been way more work than I anticipated. It’s also been more than work - it’s been a big social and financial risk. But what was tougher was going public on such a large level with such a personal thing. When you go public telling people you’re going to fly a plane for 65 days, you have to follow through, and some people, in all seriousness, will think you’re nuts.”

Yes, there are naysayers, people both in and out of aviation who doubt the Commit 65 team can pull off such a complex and exhausting task. But throughout aviation history, there have been numerous cases where aviators tried some crazy stunts and lived to accept the glory at their successful conclusion.

After speaking to Matt Pipkin for only a few minutes at AirVenture, it seems like a sure bet that he and his father Chet will soon become two of those famous aviators who set the bar high and then flew gracefully right over the top of it.

And when that happens, the media spotlight will be focused on the Pipkins, who will use that stage to coax those child sexual abuse victims out from their shadows of despair, and in the process, change hundreds or maybe thousands of lives. And that alone is motivation enough for anyone reading this to open their checkbook and help this team succeed.

* * *

Commit 65 is seeking corporate sponsorships and donations now. Help make this flight a reality so the mission of this team can be achieved. Donations and more info here!

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