JIM DeBROSSE

I'm the author of five books, a contributing writer for Cincinnati Magazine, and an award-winning newspaper reporter and columnist who retired in 2018 from teaching journalism at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I'm the former Project Editor of Ohio Civics Essential, a monthly series of stories aimed at educating voters in civics knowledge and engagement. As part of my commitment to social justice, I co-founded a news website devoted to workplace fairness and equal opportunity, "Cincinnatians for the American Dream." I live in Cincinnati's historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, where I volunteer as a tutor at Rothenberg Academy.

 

 

MY LATEST STORIES

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Emerson Stewart III, the third-generation operator of Red Stewart Airfield, shouts “Contact!” out the open cockpit window. Like a scene from a classic aviation film, the mechanic heaves downward on the front propeller—once, twice—and the Piper Cub’s underwhelming 65-horsepower engine (the kind you’d find at the rear of a vintage VW Beetle) coughs into uncertain life. Chug, Chug, Chugga-Chug, Chug, Chug, Chugga-Chug… Stewart is in the front seat of the canary yellow Cub, and I’m in the back, sharing the same set of simple controls. My legs are splayed and feet pressed against two rudder pedals, the aileron stick nearly in my crotch and about navel high.

I’m here to learn more about Stewart and his family of aerobatic aviators and flight instructors, as well as to get a taste of flying the old-fashioned way, called “tail wheel” or “tail dragging,” named for the landing gear on vintage planes with a steerable wheel in back. Think of any biplane or World War II war bird, and you have the idea. The joy of tail wheel flying—stick and rudder, seat of your pants, little instrumentation separating pilot from plane—draws beginners and experienced pilots from all over the country and the world to this tiny grass airstrip in Waynesville, Ohio. I’m about to find out why.

Pilots who have received flight training at Red Stewart Airfield say its long-standing appeal is born of its combination of vintage planes and the Stewart family’s devotion to traditional flying. “This little airport in Waynesville is one of the best-kept secrets in the region,” says Brad Conner, a 47-year-old local funeral home owner who took up flying again two years ago after a 25-year hiatus. “It feels to me like going back in time. They could have easily paved over the runway years ago, but they’ve wanted to maintain that sense of history.”

Connor Riggs, who’s training to be a flight instructor at Red Stewart, says his love affair with Cubs began a decade ago when he was 14, the first time his uncle took him up in one. “They’re just unique antiques. You can fly them with the door open. To me, there’s nothing closer to flying like a bird.”

Greg Johnson, an aeronautical engineer at GE Aviation, was drawn to Red Stewart Airfield to earn his private license because of its hands-on approach to training. “At typical flight schools, they’ll have a lot of ground school work first and then you’re in the aircraft. Here, the approach is, You’re in a plane from day one.”

“You don’t have to be an astronaut to do this,” says Emerson “Cub” Stewart Jr., explaining the school’s simple philosophy. He owns the airfield with his wife, Cathy. “The average guy can do it with proper guidance and encouragement.”

And by preserving the less expensive tradition of grassroots flying, the school has been able to keep its rates lower than many other programs, says Julie Malkin, a Glendale resident who earned her private pilot license there last fall. The New England transplant, whose father was an aeronautical engineer, says she always knew she’d enjoy flying but thought the training would be too expensive.

Then, about eight years ago, a friend in New Richmond took her up in an ultralight. “I was hooked and wanted to get my feet off the ground,” she says. Her friend told her about Red Stewart Airfield, where she got her recreational license at age 60 (she’s 67 now). It took her several more years to earn her private license. “They’re very concerned about making sure you know the basics,” says Malkin, “but they really let you go at your own pace.”

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In late June, when a prototype of Lordstown Motors’ new Endurance electric pickup truck rolled on stage at the old General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, the cab’s passenger doors popped open and out stepped Cincinnati entrepreneur Steve Burns, the company’s CEO, and Vice President Mike Pence, dressed in a perfectly-tailored dark suit.

Pence took the podium in front of a giant American flag to become the truck’s unofficial pitchman. “It really is an honor to be here, to be able to drive up and help unveil what will soon be the first fully electric pickup truck on the market in the United States of America,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Lordstown Endurance.” The announcement was met with wild applause from a small but enthusiastic audience of company executives, government leaders, and investors.

In the run-up to November’s presidential election, Lordstown has become as much a political issue as an economic one. During the Republican National Convention in August, a prerecorded video featured Youngstown trucker Geno DiFabio standing with Pence in front of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home in Indiana, thanking Trump for his handling of GM’s shutdown of the Lordstown plant. DiFabio says GM wouldn’t have sold the plant to Lordstown Motors without Trump in office. “There’s no other president that could have done it,” he said. “There’s no one that has even tried to do it. President Trump’s a doer. He appreciates every one of us, and I know he does. I’ve seen it.”

But Democrats beg to differ. Lordstown Motors’s plan to hire 600 workers is hardly compensation for an assembly plant that once employed thousands. Senator Sherrod Brown says Trump ignored his repeated calls asking the president to intervene when GM closed the plant. In a statement released just prior to Pence’s unveiling of the Endurance, Brown said, “When GM pulled out of Lordstown, President Trump didn’t lift a finger to help, while his tax bill gave GM a 50 percent coupon to ship jobs overseas. The people of Lordstown…don’t need a photo op, they need action.”

Even if Lordstown Motors begins production next year as promised, motorists aren’t likely to see an Endurance zipping past them on the highway with a gun rack in the back window or a tongue-lolling dog in the truck bed. With a price tag of $52,500 and a range of 250 miles per charge, the Endurance is being aimed at the full-sized commercial fleet market whose business owners covet the truck’s fuel economy—the equivalent of a 75-mile-per-gallon gas-powered vehicle.

Known more as a high-tech innovator with strong sales skills than a manager who can bring a successful product to market, Steve Burns has brokered a complex deal to turn his 17-month-old private venture into a publicly traded company with an expected infusion of $675 million in cash. If the deal is finalized, Lordstown Motors will merge later this year with DiamondPeak Holdings, a company formed specifically to purchase Lordstown Motors and raise money for it on the Nasdaq stock market under the trading symbol RIDE. DiamondPeak’s investors have already agreed to pump $500 million into the new company.

Shell companies like DiamondPeak, known as special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, are an increasingly popular shortcut to turn private startups into public companies and, critics say, to avoid more serious scrutiny from investors. DiamondPeak was the brainchild of David Hamamoto, an East Coast real estate whiz who’s been at the helm of a dozen different companies. Hamamoto, 59, will remain chief executive of DiamondPeak while Burns will continue as CEO of Lordstown Motors. Burns and Hamamoto did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.

Hamamoto and another principal investor in DiamondPeak, Mark Walsh, are well known on Wall Street as real estate dealmakers. Both have had dramatic upturns and downturns in their careers. Walsh was flying high as head of Lehman Brothers’s real estate division, specializing in high-risk subprime and commercial mortgages, until the bubble burst on the housing market and the investment bank went belly-up in September 2008. Even so, Walsh was paid $70 million in the three years before the nation’s economic collapse.