Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 80

RIGHT: Biplane views
above the New River are
nothing short of stunning.
FACING PAGE: Kappler
performs a dizzying stunt
in his vintage World War II
plane. Right: Kappler takes a
breather before takeoff.

"We were going to do this either
100 percent or we had no interest
in doing it at all." -KAPPLER
struction. "I hope this changes your life."
"And it did," says Kappler, 48, now an
air ambulance pilot and founder of Wild
Blue Adventure Co., a biplane tour company in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Of
the glider pilot's generosity, he adds, "It's
something I try to pay forward now."
A fast talker who describes himself as
enthusiastic, inquisitive and "the guy
who drives the good idea bus," Kappler
traces his lifelong obsession with antique
planes to the models his dad built and
hung over his crib when he was a baby.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Kappler
loved to spend time at the small airfields
dating back to the heyday of the Hollywood motion picture industry in the
1920s and '30s.

80

BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM

"Some kids go to the ballpark and
watch their favorite baseball player playing ball, and some kids go hang on the
fence at the airport and dream of being
Charles Lindbergh someday. And I was
the latter," says Kappler, recalling a postcard depicting a B17 bomber that he
picked out to send to his aunt when he
was just 3. "It's such an uncanny, almost
overwhelming interest in aviation and
vintage airplanes."
Despite his passion, and his adventurous heritage-"We really come from
pioneer stock," Kappler says, rattling off
stories of family members who fought in
the Revolutionary War, sailed around the
world, and climbed the Alps-he earned
a marine science degree because, he says,

there weren't any solid aviation opportunities at the time. For a while, he flew
helicopters on fire fighting missions in
the mountains of Montana, but Kappler
knew the job was ultimately too "transient" for his growing family.
In 2005, when his wife Cindy got accepted into anesthesia school in her
home state of West Virginia, the Kapplers
"temporarily" moved there and he was
hired as a Medevac pilot at HealthNet
Aeromedical.
"To be honest, the only thing I knew
about West Virginia was in a John Denver song," Kappler admits. "It became a
permanent move once we realized this is
truly an absolute gem. West Virginia pulls
at my heart because it captures the part of
California, I think, that's gone. You know
your neighbor. People are friendly. Not
only that, but this is absolutely the most
stunning landscape I've ever flown over
in my 30-year flying career."
Not surprisingly, one of the first things
Kappler wanted to know was the location
of the local airport. He soon discovered
"Five Dollar Frank's" airstrip, the only one
in Fayette County, where in the 1940s
the founder had traded flying lessons to
youngsters in his worn-out Cessnas for
help clearing the property and building
the stone structures. The place had long
since gone out of business, its runway
crumbling, its hangars caving in. Now it
was about to be turned into a low-income
housing development.
Kappler's reaction: "Pump the brakes,
Captain. That's not going to happen. This
is a piece of Americana. Where are the
kids gonna hang on the fence and trade
for an airplane ride? You aren't going to
dream about being a pilot if you don't
ever see airplanes."
So he assembled a group of area pilots who invested in parcels and together
they brought the old airport back to life.
In 2008, he started Wild Blue Adventure
Company, which gives aerial tours of the
New River Gorge in a restored 1943 Boeing Stearman biplane-they were popular back then for their rugged construction and durability-from May through
November. The visitor experience is immersive and authentic, starting with the
vintage gas station and Army Jeep next to
the parking lot. Kappler greets guests in a


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018

Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 5
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Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 8
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Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover4
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