Seeing The Rim From The Air Up There

REVIEW FEATURE

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Todd and Tina Myers ---- who both grew up in Toledo, Ohio ---- are the epitome of middle America.

Tina was the rebellious daughter of Depression parents. She had a stern businessman for a father, a docile homemaker for a mother. Todd grew up in the '60s and was headed for a promising football career before an opposing player shattered his back.

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Bob Oswald, owner of CAVU Aviation, poses outside his airplane. Oswald has been flying since 1985.

The two met in a restaurant in 1981. After about nine years of marriage, two failed businesses, and financial troubles, Todd, Tina, and their 8-year-old daughter moved to Phoenix during peak temperatures in the summer of 1991.

Since then, the two have longed for the friendliness, four seasons and simplicity of the Midwest.

On a recent visit with their daughter ---- now 20 ---- in Payson, they found something in the relatively small town reminiscent of Toledo.

The people are warm, the trees are plentiful, the traffic is minimal and the air is clean. And, unlike Toledo, the views are breathtaking.

Todd and Tina could not have imagined views more stunning than the ones they saw from an airplane belonging to CAVU Aviation, owned by Payson resident Bob Oswald.

Strangely enough, Oswald is also from Ohio. He left Cleveland ---- home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum ---- three-and-a-half years ago to move to Payson where the weather is more conducive to flying.

Oswald recently took Todd and Tina on a jaunt they won't soon forget. The couple soared above the Rim country for 20 minutes on July 1, Tina's birthday.

Oswald said the pair had the same epiphanies most people have while on one of his tours.

"It's amazing how much land there is," Todd said as he peered out his window at a vista teeming with ponderosa pines. "I'm jealous of everyone that lives up here."

Oswald said that's what a lot of people say during the tour.

"One of the most common comments is that it looks so much different from up here," Oswald added. "They say, ‘I never expected to see all those houses in Pine. Strawberry is so much bigger than I thought. Look how spread out Payson is.' (They get) to see the area a way they never expected it would be."

Oswald offers seven different tours. Prices increase incrementally with tour lengths and are per person.

The least expensive is the $19, 10-minute "Payson on High Tour," which gives passengers a spectacular view of Payson and the Mogollon Rim.

The most expensive is the "Rim Country Experience," an hour-long tour of the Hell's Gate wilderness, Kohl's Ranch, Woods Canyon, Forest Lakes, Heber, Overgaard, the Mogollon Rim, Pine and Strawberry. The tour costs $90.

Oswald said his most popular tour is typically the $45, half-hour long tour of Pine, Strawberry and the Mogollon Rim called "Northern Neighbors."

However, Oswald added that the number of his passengers has been steadily declining for the past year or so.

"Business is slow in this town," he said. "Maybe I have saturated the market. Maybe everybody in this town that wants to (go on a tour), has done it and maybe it's fished out."

But on the contrary, an Arizona Office of Tourism report released Thursday, explained that CAVU Aviation isn't the only business facing a low turnout. According to the report, the state has been in a two-year tourism slump.

The numbers at CAVU Aviation, whose visitors began slowly decreasing since last year, coincide with the tourism office's findings. Oswald said that business dropped last year and has continued to be slow this year.

But it's not all bad news. According to the report, spending is increasing even as the number of tourists is decreasing. This is due to the rise in the number of affluent travelers, the report added.

Oswald's results are much the same. While he said he doesn't have any visitors some days, the visitors he does get are spending more on longer tours.

"I'm flying fewer people," he said. "But they are going on longer duration flights. A lot of people have been wanting to go for an hour and a half. Maybe they'd sign up for a longer one if I offered it."

Oswald said he is considering adding an hour-and-a-half long flight that would take passengers south past Roosevelt Lake, up the Salt River through mountains and desert, and fly back along the Rim starting from Cibecue ---- the origin of last year's Chediski Fire.

Oswald said he never tires of taking flights around the Rim country.

"I love showing off where I live to people ---- showing people what an unexpected little delight we have here in the Rim country," he said.

Oswald made the decision to move to Arizona after ending his career as an engineer in Ohio. He said he doesn't regret it.

"People get a little tired of going the same route to work and seeing the same buildings, the same faces. I just needed a change and I decided to follow my passion," he said.

He added with a chuckle, "My friends (in Ohio) asked me, ‘What do you want to do in Arizona? Nothing grows there.' Now I hear Ohio is flooding."

Todd and Tina's daughter, Roundup/Review intern Amanda Lee Myers (yeah, the one writing this story) shot photographs of the two as they thanked Oswald after their flight.

"It's amazing how smooth it was," Todd said.

Tina added, "It was a great ride Bob. I'm so surprised; I thought I'd be more scared."

To reach CAVU, call (923) 468-8888.

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