AirVenture Adventure

Excitement soars at fly-in

By Amanda N. Wegner

For one week each summer, Oshkosh’s population really takes off. More than 500,000 people from more than 60 countries converge on the city to celebrate aviation.

The EAA was founded by Paul Poberezny in January 1953 in Milwaukee – the same year and location of the first fly-in. Driven by his passion for aviation – and for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) which was slowly growing out of his very own basement – Poberezny flew all around the U.S. touting his love for the sport and spreading the message of the EAA, as well as the rights of amateur aircraft builders.

In more than 70 years of flying – as a pilot, test pilot and veteran of World War II and Korea – this true Wisconsin original flew nearly 500 different types of aircraft, designed 15 airplanes, became a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and recipient of the National Aeronautic Association’s “Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy,” among other honors.

Oshkosh has been hosting the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture for more than 40 years, but the event that makes this city famous worldwide wasn’t always held here. Early Midwest aviation gatherings outgrew the first host sites in Milwaukee and Rockford, Illinois. Oshkosh native and flying legend Steve Wittman played a large role in convincing the EAA board to move the fly-in to his hometown in 1969.

More than 10,000 planes descend upon Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport, for the world’s largest fly-in. “It’s become a world destination,” says Dick Knapinski, EAA spokesperson.

“It’s a pretty incredible feat to have AirVenture in Oshkosh,” says Jim Falkowski of Denmark, who has attended every year since 1996. “It’s a marvelous experience for anyone who has an inkling of interest in aviation.”

Over the years, the addition of exhibits, attractions and side events has made EAA AirVenture one of the state’s major destinations and there is plenty to do between the highly popular aerial shows. 

“It gives you the feeling of being truly involved, not just watching the Discovery Channel,” Falkowski says. “This is the real deal.”

While the kids ride pedal planes and build model rockets, book a flight on one of this year’s featured craft: a B-17 Aluminum Overcast, a Bell 47 helicopter or the EAA's 1929 Ford Tri-Motor. At the end of the day, unwind at outdoor stages, movie screens and concerts.

Stay, See, Do Even More

EAA provides a comprehensive listing of accommodations available during AirVenture on its website, airventure.org.

The 110-acre Menominee Park and Zoo is a great place for families. Hazel Avenue and Merritt Street. Open daily.

Vitale’s Italian Cuisine serves up authentic fare. 215 W. Murdock Ave. vitalesrestaurant.net.

Trade air for water at Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant, where diners come by car and boat. 1501 Arboretum Drive.

EAA Fun Fact
The 1994 EAA AirVenture witnessed a true rarity: the largest-ever reunion of Apollo astronauts.

Brought together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the moon landing, Madison’s Gary Knowles was called to provide 1960’s convertibles to escort the VIPs on the flight line. Knowles carried the Apollo 11 crew in his ’61 Buick Elantra convertible, which has become known as the Apollo Buick – one of the few vehicles in the world to carry the first and second person to set foot on the moon. “Even NASA couldn’t pull that off,” says Knapinski.

EAA Manifest – Did You Know?
Here are a few of the many memorable aircraft to show up on the flight line:

  • Voyager, first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling, 1984
  • British Airways’ Concorde, 1985
  • Six antique Curtiss JN-4D Jennies and a SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, 1989
  • WhiteKnightOne, 2005
  • F-22 Raptor, 2006

Amanda Wegner writes from Madison. Content produced in cooperation with Wisconsin Trails, www.wisconsintrails.com

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