Family, Friends & Fantastic Flying Machines… EAA Celebrates 60th Fly-In Convention

by Dave Weiman

EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower set the tone for the week to come, July 23 thru July 29, 2012 at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Wittman Regional Airport, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with enthusiasm and confidence for EAA’s 60th annual fly-in convention.

At a press conference on Monday, Hightower introduced his wife, Maura, and their five children, then told reporters what to look forward to during the week ahead.

“We’re improving the family experience across the spectrum,” said Hightower, making special note of the teen offerings with three after-hours special events scheduled, as well as the Ford Fly-In Theater’s Disney night on Thursday with the viewing of the movie “The Rocketeer.” Returning for the second year in a row was filmmaker George Lucas, who introduced the showing of his film “Red Tails” on Wednesday.

There was a concert on Monday by the legendary Steve Miller Band following the air show. Little Texas performed on Wednesday, and Phil Vassar performed on Friday.

During the day, young children could build model rockets and balsa planes or fly in a high-tech flight simulator at “KidVenture,” and enjoy “KidVenture Gallery” inside the AirVenture Museum.

Big aviation attractions this year included the 75th anniversary of the Piper J-3 Cub, and the 40th anniversary of Van’s Aircraft. More than 100 Piper Cubs flew in, and an equal number of RVs.

The air show was highlighted by the debut of “Team RV” – the world’s largest air show team – and the donation of RV-1 to the EAA Museum by Dick “Van” VanGrunsven. Piper, Cessna, Cirrus and dozens of other manufacturers had special announcements about new and improved aircraft and products, and special fly-in deals. Everyone was out to make sales!

AirVenture saluted the greatest generation in the air featuring aerial displays and themed programs, including notable Doolittle Raiders and Tuskegee Airmen appearances. There was a “Tora! Tora! Tora!” re-enactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor during the “Warbirds Extravaganza” at Friday and Saturday air shows. Also, the world’s only airworthy B-29 Superfortress – “FIFI” – returned for a second consecutive year.

“Super Saturday,” July 28, was highlighted by the widely popular “Rockwell Collins Night Air Show,” featuring the Canadian Skyhawks Skydiving Team; Aeroshell Team flying four T-6 Texans; Iron Eagles Aerobatic Team; solo performances by Bill Leff in his T-6 Texan, Bob Carlton in his jet-powered sailplane, Gene Soucy in “Showcat,” Elgin Wells’ “Star Jammer,” and Dragon’s Fyre Jet Truck and Jet Funny Car; and the “Wall of Fire” pyrotechnics display, followed by spectacular fireworks. The crowd was huge and appreciative of the great entertainment.

Also on Saturday were two concerts featuring Da BLOOZE Bros “Blues Brothers” tribute band, presented by Ford Motor Company, and the Boogie Knights 1970s tribute band, presented by Southwest Airlines.

One of the more peaceful settings during AirVenture is the seaplane base on Lake Winnebago. You can spend several hours or a day just watching the floatplanes come and go. It is entertaining, the evening meals are good, the special events and social gatherings are fun, and the atmosphere is relaxing. Once you have been at the seaplane base, you will be back.

AirVenture again attracted more than 10,000 aircraft and 508,000 visitors. Showplanes numbered 2,489 including 978 homebuilt aircraft, 907 vintage airplanes, 336 warbirds, 105 ultralights, 97 seaplanes, 35 aerobatic aircraft, and 31 rotorcraft.

There were 2,078 international visitors registered from 71 nations, with Canada (479 visitors), Australia (286), and Brazil (216) the top three nations. This total includes only non-U.S. visitors who registered at the International Visitors Tent, so the actual international contingent is undoubtedly larger. There were 897 media representatives on-site, from five continents.

“We are pleased that attendance has topped one-half million again,” said Hightower. “That is a tremendous total considering the intensely hot weather, storms, and struggles in the overall economy. The aviation community knows that Oshkosh is the place to be to find out what’s new, and actually buy new equipment, components, and aircraft.”

Commercial exhibitors and sponsors are a big part of AirVenture, and without their support, the admission price would have to be a lot more than it is to pay for all of the expenses.

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is a boost to the local community, but also to neighboring cities Fond du Lac, Appleton and Green Bay, and many outlying smaller communities, and the state of Wisconsin as a whole. That’s why Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has made it a point to attend each and every AirVenture since being elected, and that’s why each and every Wisconsin legislator should also attend.

The amount of staff time that goes into planning and producing AirVenture must be in the tens of thousands, not counting the thousands of hours volunteers put in long before the gate opens.

“Our 4,800 volunteers and the EAA staff did a marvelous job of putting together a wonderful week,” said Hightower. If you have never volunteered even a day of your time at AirVenture, EAA would welcome your help in 2013. Park planes, park cars, work in a gift shop, help with trash removal, or arrive early and help with all of the pre-show maintenance of the grounds. There’s plenty to do.

AirVenture 2013 will be held July 29-August 4.

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