Kent State Professor Attempts World Record Flight
On May 13, two Northeast Ohio pilots will fly two antique airplanes on a 1,670 nautical mile journey to Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport. A direct flight from Kent State University to Dayton is approximately 160 miles, but this particular trip will be taking a more scenic route.
Joe Murray, Ph.D., associate professor in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC), and Ron Siwik, M.D., a retired radiologist and former U.S. military flight surgeon who served in Vietnam, will be at the controls of two 1946 Piper J3C-65 Cub airplanes in the skies over Ohio in May.
Murray and Siwik will depart the Kent State University Airport on a record-making flight that will land them in all of Ohio’s 88 counties before the journey’s end. A flight such as this has never been attempted before.
The aircraft will be aloft for about 26 hours over eight consecutive days, but weather delays and time spent on the ground at each airport will increase the time overall to about two weeks. The journey will be documented at www.lostinoscarhotel.com.
The “Lost in Oscar Hotel” moniker is a light-hearted reference to the peculiar trip. The route of the flight zigs and zags around all points of the compass while slowly working its way south toward the final destination and the Wright “B” Flyer Museum in Dayton. “Oscar Hotel” is pilot-speak, referring to Ohio’s abbreviation, OH. This phrase comes from the Federal Aviation Administration’s phonetic alphabet used during in-flight radio transmissions.
Why this flight, this way?
The idea for this flight came from Murray’s desire to write a book about general aviation in Ohio. “Aviation is full of character and also good characters,” Murray said. He hopes to capture the spirit of flying in the state, while improving the public understanding of general aviation and creating opportunities for his students to learn more about digital storytelling and narrative non-fiction.
Throughout the journey, Murray and Gary Harwood, an award-winning photographer and Kent State instructor, will research stories and record video, audio and photographs that will be used in the documentary video and book.
Siwik decided to join the adventure when Murray told him about the idea while the two were hanging out at the Portage County Airport.
“I don’t remember how the idea of me joining came about, actually,” Siwik said. “I think I might have begged him to let me fly along with him.” Siwik is an accomplished pilot, flight instructor and acrobatic champion. He also flies helicopters, and in 2008, flew a Beechcraft Bonanza solo around the world.
Authoring a book isn’t Murray’s only intention for this adventure. His students encouraged him to set a world record for the flight. The flight to each of Ohio’s 88 counties will be the first of its kind, but when Murray investigated certifying it, he quickly realized that the associated costs with making so many landings would be prohibitive with Guinness World Records.
“It’s not worth it to me to spend four- or five-thousand dollars to get my name on a Guinness record, but it would be really amazing if that same amount of money could go toward helping a student complete a university degree,” Murray said. So, now the flight will be certified through a more contemporary, cost-effective alternative world-record publisher, RecordSetter.com. He credits one of his former students, a world-record holding balloon sculptor, for the great idea and timely advice.
The goal is to raise at least $500 from individuals and organizations in each of Ohio’s 88 counties to fund an annual scholarship intended to help disadvantaged families send a child to college for the first time. One scholarship contributor from each county will be invited to join Murray in the J3 for a flight at his or her local airport.
How to get involved
Demonstrating support and spreading the word about the flight will be key to the success of this project.
Murray and his students recently launched a fundraising campaign on the website Kickstarter.com to fund continued research and production of the project through early 2014. Interested parties can make a pledge on this site to show their support.
“A few dollars from enough people will help us return to communities throughout Ohio to complete the book and documentary project,” Murray said. “If we don’t receive enough pledges by the departure date, we lose all of them.”
Contributors can receive T-shirts and be entered to win various prizes, such as a flight in the J3 or Wright “B” Flyer. Raffle tickets for an authentic vintage leather B-15 Flight Jacket can be purchased online and will also be available at the airports where Murray and Siwik land. The complete list of airports and route can be found on the Lost In Oscar Hotel website.
Once the journey starts on May 13, donations will be accepted at the airports.
“I encourage the public to come out to meet us at the airports and get a photo with us and the airplanes to share with their friends and family,” Murray said. “We would love to see you at the airport or on one of our overnight stops.” Their whereabouts in the state will be tracked online live and a daily flight log, including anticipated arrival and departure times, will be on the website.
Individual donations towards the scholarship are also appreciated. Checks can be made payable to the Kent State University Foundation and mailed to School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent State University, 101-G Franklin Hall, Kent, Ohio, 44242-0001.
Those who are interested in the flight, are encouraged to “like” the journey’s Facebook page, follow the Lost In Oscar Hotel blog, and tell friends about the project to help spread the word.
About the pilots and authors
Murray was trained as an educational psychologist and spent much of his professional and academic careers working in television as a director, writer, videographer and editor. Television programs and documentaries Murray produced have been recognized with numerous industry awards, including three Emmy awards from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences-Cleveland. He created “Stories That Fly,” an online magazine recognized as one of the top 10 innovative community news ventures in the United State by the Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University.
Siwik has been flying for more than 43 years and holds an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate and also Flight Instructor (CFII) ratings in single- and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and helicopters. He is an accomplished aerobatics pilot who flies a Pitts Special S1 single-seat biplane. In 2008, he flew a Beechcraft Bonanza on a remarkable 24,604-mile, around-the-world solo flight.
Harwood served as chief photographer at Kent State for more than 20 years and now teaches visual storytelling at the university. Harwood is the co-author and chief photographer for the award-winning book “Growing Season, The Life of a Migrant Community,” which celebrates the work and play of Mexican American and Mexican migrant families in Hartville, Ohio.