Oshkosh WI is a small town in the heart of the dairy land. Rolling hills cheese and during the last week of July each year over half a million people. EAA AirVenture, the largest aviation event in the US if not the world, is much more than a gathering of aircraft it is a reunion. A reunion of friends, families and what we discovered an incredible group of volunteers.
Why we went
My background before Gazettour.
I have worked in aviation for 32 years. After school, I was lucky enough to get a job with one of the major airlines. Playing in the major leagues, I lost track of an amazing group of people. Those individuals who work on, fly and own smaller general aviation aircraft.
Two years ago I had an opportunity to volunteer at Warbird Heritage Foundation as an Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT). Working on some iconic aircraft, this rekindled my aviation fire. So in 2016, I returned as part of the crew of WHF to the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI.
Crew More Than a Word
Let’s talk for a moment about the word “crew.” During my time in this craft, I worked alongside some exceptional people. What I have learned in this business is that you’ll never know everything, but you can learn something new every day. You need to listen to and share ideas, and never take offense if someone questions your work. With these simple things, a group of AMT’s can fix the most complex of issues.
Not only have I been fortunate to have formed a bond with my brothers and sisters in the field at my regular 40 hr week employer but the instant bond felt at WHF was apparent from day one, and those boys and girls are considered family too now.
Back to OSH 2016, The week was busy, with long days spent fixing our collection of aircraft. I began to see why so many people come to this small town in WI. After OSH 2017 I decided to tell a story, not about the event but the people.
The grounds are kept clean, very clean hardly any trash; laughter resounds, thank you often heard. People genuinely happy to see you even if you have never met them before. Oh, and the stories everyone has one mostly aviation based, but after all, this is the subject at hand. At the forefront were the people that make it happen the 5000 volunteers called upon to help provide this service to over half a million people.
Let’s meet some of them
Brad and Jane Deckert
They own and operate a TBM Avenger which flew from the decks of the USS Vella Gulf during the Okinawa campaign in 1945. In the nine years, they have owned her, a host of volunteers have transformed this machine to one of the most historically accurate works of arts I have seen. When they first bought the TBM, it was an aircraft that was affordable and an excellent entry into the warbird community but needed a lot of attention. Knowing now what it took to bring her to life Brad told me he might not have made this purchase, but they are very proud of how far they have come. I was fortunate enough to have also worked on this aircraft, and through them, I met their main AMT, Bill Ruder
Flying in from Iowa to turn a wrench on Brad and Jane’s TBM is a labor of love. All his time is voluntary; his ownership in this project is apparent. He along with others manage the 250 + hours of work that flying this beast generates. NL81865, with the help of so many volunteers, is becoming a star in this community. She is a Hero, and she still has the wounds from her days in service to prove it.
The Maintenance on these icons of history is a massive undertaking. Working in some hanger out of the public eye, with no audience to clap or wave to as the last bolt tightened, these men and women are here, like most, for the love of the flying machine. The crew at Warbird Heritage Foundation is made up of those earning a living, and volunteers putting several days a year into the painstaking, and tedious maintenance of these aviation antiques. The sentiment here is different there is a bond or brotherhood. We are here because we want to be not as a have to be is the feeling implied by Paul and John. That is the same feeling I experienced at Oshkosh people are mostly here for one thing that bond.
The Ground Handlers:
The movement of aircraft is constant. The only time the roar of engines stops is after the sun goes down. Graceful and handled by dozens of ground personnel. I met this husband and wife team. He in his 12th year she on her first, she told me she couldn’t wait to retire to join her husband on the flight line.
David has been volunteering for nearly seven years. He drives up from his home in Tennessee, stays in a tent in a field and puts in incredibly long days in the hot Wisconsin summer sun. David’s father flew in the Airforce’s 356th TFS and growing up around aircraft. It was not until eight years ago that he found out about OSH. Working primarily in the Warbirds area, he told me he would never miss an AirVenture. David mentions that bond again of fellow workers, and the kinship that is ever present and ever growing.
Some might argue that the birth of this event was back in 1953 when a group of aviation enthusiasts gathered with their home built flying machines. They also feel this is a forgotten, overlooked part of AirVenture. This small ultralight grass airstrip is an excellent host. A constant buzz of fight grabs your attention followed by the head jerking motion to see what is flying now. I love this end of the field which also would not run without help from a cast of volunteers.
Jim and Deb Hayden along with daughter Allison
Have been coming up since their daughter Alli was three months old. They usually stay for two weeks and work eight or more hour days helping make sure that grass strip runs smoothly and, most importantly safely. Their contribution comes from the experience gained through them owning and operating Jurassic Landings in Essex, IL since 1997(EAA Sport Magazine Pg.100 April 2017). These two are avid pilots and do not let their mature years stand in the way of what they love to do. Just this year Deb and Jim learned to fly a PPG from Scott Baxter of Midwest ParaJet in Minooka IL. Now, as often as possible they “run into the sky” together as Deb likes to say. Spending vacation with the same group of volunteers each year makes this a family reunion I’m told.
The Statdmueller family
The Statdmueller family has been hosting folks like the Haydens for over 30 years. They own Relleumtdats Campground and still to this day the owners greet you as you enter with a smile and a wave.
I also Met the Bakers a family with all four generations volunteering, including a 9-year old daughter. Together building, flying, and sharing volunteerism for twenty-eight years. A significant amount of that time spent with children at KidVenture a building block for the young aviator.
The Tango Thirty One Aero Clube
Gazettour had an extraordinary opportunity to sit down with Kevin Lacey. You may know him as the bad ass from Aircraft Repo a Discovery Channel series. Tango Thirty Aero group a 501C3 designed to help young aviators gain skills in aviation. Kevin launched this adventure earlier this year helping young men and women ages 15-19 gain skills working on and eventually flying, aircraft they restore.
When we met, Kevin and a group of students had come to AirVenture 2017 to get parts needed for their current project in Texas. The students do all the legwork as Mr. Lacey stays in the background watching these young people master the skills of negotiation. In the week of their visit, they achieved their goal of sourcing all the parts needed, all of which were donated by the manufacturers.
All these stories point to the fact that it’s, not about the aircraft, it is about the ones who come here. Young and old they are here as a community, with an airshow in the background. You will be forever changed after a visit to OSH, but when you do come talk to those around you say hi and please say THANK YOU to those volunteers who make it happen.
Dedicated to one of that community, Close friend to many, aviation ambassador, and an all-around good guy, Vlado Lenoch. His Passing just weeks before OSH 2017 sent a week-long shockwave felt by every roar of a P-51 Mustang. To have known and worked beside him was an honor. The WHF hangers will forever echo with his memory and that smile.
Pat, Director of Touring