OSHKOSH, WIS. – The importance of privately-owned airports was brought to public attention, July 25, 2012 at EAA’s Brown Arch on Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, during EAA AirVenture, when Ben Ryan and his wife, Agnes, donated their airfield – Ryan Field (2MT1) – to the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) to ensure that the airport would stay open for future generations. RAF installed a Legacy Rock at the Brown Arch to memorialize the Ryans’ generous donation.
Ryan received his initial flight training at General Mitchell Field in Milwaukee, now General Mitchell International Airport (KMKE) during World War II. It had been 66 years since Ryan flew a P-38 Lightning when he was given the opportunity again during AirVenture to fly “Glacier Girl.”
During the final days of World War II, on Columbus Day in 1945, Ryan was overrun by his wingman in trail and the tail of his P-38 was severely damaged, forcing him to bail out over the waters of the Panama Canal Zone.
The Ryans’ trip to Oshkosh was organized by the Recreational Aviation Foundation as its way of thanking the Ryans for donating their home, property and airstrip in northwest Montana. Ryan Field is located on the western border of Glacier National Park in Montana. Everything combined – the location of Ryan Field and the fact that Ben Ryan flew P-38s during World War II – it was only appropriate that Ryan be given the flight in “Glacier Girl.”
Bob Cardin, one of the people behind the recovery and restoration of “Glacier Girl,” made Ryan’s return to the cockpit possible. Signature Flight Support and Glacier Jet Center of Kalispell, Montana were sponsors.
While Ben Ryan was flying P38s and P39s during World War II, Agnes Ryan was a nurse with the Army Nurse Corps (www.theraf.org).