When Paul Poberezny launched the Experimental Aircraft Association in 1953, he could run the gathering of flying enthusiasts and do-it-yourself airplane builders from the basement of his suburban home in Milwaukee, Wis.
The group’s first fly-in, which took place later that year, attracted 22 planes and 150 visitors. “We were amateurs,” said Poberezny, who died in 2013.
Not anymore. Since then, the EAA’s annual fly-in, which now takes place in Oshkosh, Wis., has grown into the world’s largest aircraft gathering. Every July for a week, Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport becomes the busiest airfield in the world.
Last year, EAA AirVentures Oshkosh, as the fly-in is officially known, attracted 500,000 visitors and 10,000 planes ranging from small, home-built aircraft to a giant Airbus A380. (Large companies, including GE, do business here and also use the show to look for talent. So does NASA and the Air Force.)
The 2015 fly-in starts on Monday, July 20. GE Reports and photographer Adam Senatori will be there, filing daily dispatches, photo essays and Periscope live streams on @ge_reports.
“This is an air show for people with a passion for aviation,” says Brad Mottier, a GE Aviation executive who started coming to Oshkosh more than 40 years ago with his parents in their 1949 Navion plane. “We pitched a tent under the wing and thousand of people will be doing the same this year. Sure, business gets done, but here you can get your hands dirty and learn how to build a plane.” (See below a video of Mottier flying into Oshkosh in a Husky in 2013.)
Oshkosh alumni include aviation legends like Dick and Burt Rutan. In 1986, Dick and his co-pilot, Jenna Yeager, became the first people to circumnavigate the world non-stop in a plane.
The plane, called the Voyager, was designed by Burt and made a stop at Oshskosh before it permanently landed in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Burt, who also designed the SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo aircraft, will be on hand this year for the Burt Rutan Legacy Day. It will take place on Tuesday, July 21, and celebrate the 40th anniversary of his iconic VariEze plane. “That plane ignited the home-built aircraft movement,” Mottier says. “It gave high performance on little horsepower. Following that, Burt arrived with kits for people to build, and the next year they flew in with those planes.”
Mottier, who skipped only one Oskosh fly-in over the last four decades, will be flying in a Cessna 182 piloted by GE Aviation’s chief marketing officer Laurent Rouaud. “I’ve seen the fly-in grow up,” Mottier says. “This is a celebration. I would not miss it.”
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