by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine June/July 2021
EAA AVIATION CENTER, OSHKOSH, WIS. – At a time least expected due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) launched its “Project 21” initiative, including the first expansion of the EAA Aviation Center in more than two decades.
Project 21 will bring year-round aviation education and training to current and future aviators. Groundbreaking for the two-story, 30,000 square foot facility, connected to the EAA Aviation Museum, took place April 26 with EAA staff, community leaders and the media present.
“While the EAA Aviation Museum highlights more than a century of accomplishments in personal flight, a major part of EAA’s mission to grow participation in aviation is to offer high-level programming for current and future pilots,” said Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO and Chairman of the Board. “Project 21 brings that vision to reality, and further strengthens Oshkosh as the home for those who pursue their dreams of flight.”
The $6.2 million project, completely funded via a capital campaign separate from EAA member dues, will feature an innovative Pilot Proficiency Center and a hands-on Youth Education Center. These facilities are adjacent to the museum’s current Eagle Hangar and will allow individuals and groups to experience all of EAA’s resources on a year-round basis.
The Pilot Proficiency Center features a state-of-the-art skill building and training center for general aviation pilots. It combines relevant safety forums with challenging simulator training sessions that address key flight safety issues. The new facility will focus on improving pilots’ overall aeronautical decision-making skills.
The Youth Education Center will bring aviation-centric experiences to the EAA Aviation Museum year-round. The 15,000 square-foot facility will provide youth, their parents, and their teachers access to interactive and project-based activities that inspire and nurture the next generation of aviators.
Project 21 is Phase One of EAA’s long-range plan for its museum, which transforms the facility into one that encompasses history, training, and education. Construction is expected to be completed by May 2022, with a grand opening scheduled for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2022 in July 2022.
Had it not been for the love of sport aviation and people, demonstrated by Paul and Audrey Poberezny who started EAA in the basement of their Milwaukee, Wisconsin home in 1953, and their children Tom and Bonnie and their families, the Experimental Aircraft Association would not exist today. Credit must also go to the current CEO and Board Chairman, former Cessna Aircraft CEO, Jack J. Pelton; EAA’s dedicated and capable staff; and continued support of EAA members worldwide, for being able to weather the storm during the pandemic, which included having to cancel EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2020.
Paul H. Poberezny served as the organization’s president from 1953 to 1989 and then as chairman of the board until 2009. Poberezny came from humble beginnings, yet he created one of the world largest aviation organizations and the world’s largest annual fly-in event, EAA AirVenture. Paul died on August 22, 2013, after a career that spanned more than 70 years of flight at the controls of more than 500 different types of aircraft. Audrey died on November 1, 2020 at age 95.
Paul and Audrey’s son, Tom Poberezny of Brookfield, Wisconsin, succeeded his father as EAA President in 1989. He assumed additional duties as EAA Chairman of the Board in February 2009, then retired as chairman of EAA and EAA AirVenture in August 2011 and took on the role of chairman emeritus.
During his career with EAA, Tom oversaw a number of the organization’s milestone events. In the late 1970s he spearheaded EAA’s first major capital campaign, which supported construction of the EAA Aviation Center. In 1992, he led the creation of the EAA Young Eagles program, which has become the most successful aviation youth program in history. Realizing the importance of mentoring to the future of aviation, EAA aimed to give one million youth between the ages of 8 and 17 a flight in an airplane by the centennial of powered flight on December 17, 2003. The one millionth Young Eagle was flown in October 2003, celebrating the efforts of 85,000 EAA volunteers to reach the goal. The Young Eagles program has now flown more than 2 million young people.
One of Tom Poberezny’s most demanding roles was as chairman of EAA AirVenture for more than 30 years. During that time, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, as it is now known, has grown to become the largest annual general aviation event in the world, attracting more than 500,000 members and visitors from 70 nations, and 10,000 aircraft.
Upcoming EAA AirVenture Oshkosh dates are July 26 – August 1, 2021; July 25 – 31, 2022; July 24 – 30, 2023.
Paul and Audrey Poberezny’s daughter, Bonnie Parnall of Beverly Hills, Florida, supported EAA and AirVenture in many ways administratively, and coauthored the book “Poberezny – The Story Begins…” with her husband Chuck Parnall. They also assisted in recreating Paul and Audrey Poberezny’s original office, which is on display in the EAA Museum.
Ghidorzi and Associates of Wausau, Wisconsin, is the designer and general contractor for Project 21. Previously, the firm designed and donated their services to build the AirVenture Main Gate, Brown Arch area, and Warbirds Alley.
Among the many donors of Project 21 are the James Ray Foundation; the estate of the late Dave Lau of Watertown Wis.; and the family of the late Jim Brown of Hartzell Propeller.
Those interested in supporting Project 21 are urged to contact the EAA Aviation Foundation at https://www.eaa.org/eaa/support-eaa/ or speak directly with a member of the EAA Aviation Foundation Team at 888-500-5600.
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) embodies The Spirit of Aviation through the world’s most engaged community of aviation enthusiasts. EAA’s 240,000 members and 900 local chapters enjoy the fun and camaraderie of sharing their passion for flying, building and restoring recreational aircraft (www.eaa.org).