Giving back, Observations from AirVenture

by Richard Morey
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine October/November 2022 Digital Issue

Aviation is amazing! As pilots, we know this. We have a level of freedom that few are privileged to share. As a flight instructor, I get to share my love of flying on an almost daily basis with my students. As a Young Eagles flight leader, I expand my opportunities to share aviation. Think back and remember your first experience with aviation. Did someone give you a ride and mentoring? Was it a Young Eagles event, a ride at an airshow, or was it a friend? As a pilot, you have the ability to share your love of flying with others, as well.

If you are not already doing so, I would encourage you to consider volunteering and sharing your love of aviation with a new generation of pilots! It is great fun, and you will become a better pilot for it.

One of the largest aviation events in the world, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh at Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, provides ample opportunities to give back.

Touted as the “World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration,” I recently returned from AirVenture with a new appreciation and respect for the people who make the event work. I have been attending what we simply called “Oshkosh” for many years, my first experience was when the then “EAA Fly-In” was in Rockford, Illinois. I knew people who volunteered at the show, but for some reason, I never really thought about the magnitude of what the volunteers accomplish. Quite literally, the event could not happen without volunteers.

Think about that for a moment. The grandest General Aviation gathering in the world would not happen without the tireless efforts of everyday folks taking time out of their busy lives to work at an event they passionately believe in.

My epiphany in this regard came in part when I helped set up a friend’s camper prior to the event. The campgrounds seemed full to me, a not-so-small tent city appearing where there are just seemingly insignificant, empty grassy fields the remainder of the year. When I asked who these people were that were camping before the event even started, “volunteers” was the answer. A whole “city” of camping volunteers and aviation enthusiasts converged to make it all happen, working in various capacities to ensure a safe and enjoyable event for all. Many of the volunteers have been coming for as long as they can remember, starting as kids who camped with their families. They eventually grew into volunteer positions and continued the legacy of providing a remarkable experience for aviation enthusiasts, as well as making new friends and connections.

Before AirVenture even takes place, volunteers pitch in their time and talent during work weekends to help get the grounds ready for the transformation. They fix and replace buildings, equipment, and other needed amenities to make the event a success. They get the campground ready, make sure vehicles are running, and plan for mass arrivals. Chairpersons get on monthly conference calls to coordinate with EAA leadership and have things ready for their volunteers, as well as the visiting public. Needs are brainstormed, lessons from prior years are discussed, and progress is celebrated. There are a lot of logistics that go on before July!

Once the event draws near, schedules are coordinated, needs are identified and addressed, and training occurs. Some volunteers sign up for more than one area, enjoying the variety of tasks that allow them to interact with the attendees in different ways. Others stick to one area/job for the entire week.

With approximately 130 different areas at AirVenture, there is certainly something for everyone as far as volunteering goes. Some enjoy being near active aircraft, such as flightline operations or as airplane greeters. Others use their talents to share their knowledge with others, such as on the popular tram rides. Regardless of where a volunteer puts in their time, they have the satisfaction of knowing what they did made a difference in helping to bring to life what we know as AirVenture.

The other part of the epiphany came to me, as a result of directly observing the operations of one of the areas (Ford Tri-Motor rides) and speaking to the volunteers and chairpersons.

EAA’s 1929 Ford 4-AT-E Tri-Motor.
Chris Bildilli Photo

As I mentioned before, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, before the event kicks off. The chairpersons for the Tri-Motor rides, for instance, order supplies, tents, and fencing, as well as reserve training rooms for pilots and ground ops. They also secure space to keep and maintain the airplane during the event. Ticket sales are set up, as well as a merchandise trailer. Pilots go through recurrent training.

All the volunteers work to make the ride experience a success. Of the four chairpersons, I had the opportunity to interact the most with the ground ops coordinator. She was responsible for scheduling all the volunteers, providing them training on the various roles necessary to the ride program, and making sure everything ran smoothly. At times, there were setbacks/delays, such as a mechanical issue with the plane, weather, an incident with two other aircraft on the taxiway, and an FAA ramp check. But there were also a lot of highlights, such as providing flights for the girls participating in EAA GirlVenture Camp, Young Eagles flights, Make A Wish flights, and even an onboard wedding! Volunteers ensured that passengers had a safe and enjoyable experience, while learning a little about the history of the Tri-Motor. Pilots took the time to talk about flying this piece of history. In their interactions with others, volunteers also helped people make connections within the aviation community. Some passengers loved the experience so much that they asked to join the ranks of the volunteers for next year.

When asking the chairperson about her role, she stated that her volunteers are absolutely wonderful. When the schedule is sparse, they are happy to step up and help out. Some even stop by when they aren’t scheduled to work and ask if they can be of use. They are flexible, see-a-need people who make the effort a joy. She welcomes suggestions to make the program even better, and everyone is part of a team, the “Tri-Motor Family,” helping to problem-solve and take care of others.

Watching from a distance, you can see how things run smoothly because of everyone’s efforts. With over 50 volunteers for ground ops alone, each with their own strengths and interests, it is that spirit of coming together for a successful experience that makes it all possible.

If you get the opportunity to experience AirVenture, take a look around. How many red volunteer shirts do you see? What are they doing? How are they making what you and others are enjoying possible? If you want to consider joining the ranks of those volunteers, EAA posts AirVenture opportunities on its website, beginning in March. During AirVenture, you can find a “volunteers needed” whiteboard in front of the red barn in the campground. Giving back provides yet another way to connect with the aviation community, so why not become a part of what makes AirVenture possible?

I wish to thank Laurie Probst for her insights on EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and the volunteers of the EAA Ford Trimotor.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richard Morey was born into an aviation family. He is the third generation to operate the family FBO and flight school, Morey Airplane Company at Middleton Municipal Airport – Morey Field (C29). Among Richard’s diverse roles include charter pilot, flight instructor, and airport manager. He holds an ATP, CFII, MEII, and is an Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic (A&P) with Inspection Authorization (IA). Richard has been an active flight instructor since 1991 with over 15,000 hours instructing, and almost 19,000 hours total time. Of his many roles, flight instruction is by far his favorite! Comments are welcomed via email at or by telephone at 608-836-1711. (

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