Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Oshkosh 2016

A goal without a plan is just a wish. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Plans to attend AirVenture 2016 were hatched last fall when our good friend "DC-6 Brad Wigren" volunteered to be the point man for securing accommodations at the annual EAA convention.  Regular visitors to Jellystone Air Park may recall that Brothers Barbeau and Wigren were aviation cadets at Western Michigan University shortly before the end of the last century.  Brad flies the 757 (and 767) for Big D and is based in Detroit. Occasionally one of the big Boeings will overnight in Charlotte. This was one of those times, and as luck would have it, Brad was the Skipper.  The Jellystoners met for breakfast.  On the drive back to Brad's hotel important subjects were discussed. . .  It was decided we would attend AirVenture 2016!  Brad would research lodgings; I would bid for vacation during the fly-in; and Brother Barbeau hoped to be retired from the UPS Store business, and planned on doing whatever, whenever---including attending AirVenture the last week of July.

A few weeks later, a call from Brad:  "We have rooms at the Days Inn in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, it's a thirty minute drive to Oshkosh."  I love when a plan comes together!  In December I bid for (and was awarded) vacation during the fly-in.  My part was done; all I had to do was tell my bride.  I was sure it would not be too hard of a sell; she has always enjoyed the Oshkosh experience.  I also had a sneaking suspicion she would prefer to visit with Brad's wife, Deb, while the guys attended the fly-in.

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. - John Lennon

Shortly after the first of the year Brother Barbeau announced he had a buyer for his UPS Store.  The transaction would close in the spring, he would soon be retired.  The stars had aligned; the Jellystoners were heading to Oshkosh!  What could go wrong?  For Brad and I, nothing.  For Brother Barbeau, however, it was a different story.  Even with a motivated buyer, it took until June to close the deal on the store.  And then there was the after sale stuff that had to be dealt with.  Who knew that retirement would be so busy? Three weeks before our AirVenture adventure was set to begin, Brother Barbeau had to cancel. Undaunted, Brad and I vowed to carry on.

Executing the plan:

Scheduled dates for this year's fly-in were Monday July 25th through Sunday July 31st. Our hotel reservations in Kaukana were for Thursday through Sunday---giving us two days at the fly-in, Friday and Saturday.  With Brother Barbeau out of the picture our crew was set at five:  Brad, his son, Jack, myself, and a couple of Brad's flying buddies, Gregg Hammer, and Ed Harkrader.  Nancy would visit with Deb while the guys were in Wisconsin---my suspicion all along.

Deb and Brad live in Middlebury, Indiana, a picturesque little town the heart of Amish farm country roughly half way between Chicago and Detroit.  Nancy and I made the drive from Charlotte in just under eleven hours Wednesday.  Thursday morning Brad and I set out for Wisconsin---with a stop in Chicago to pick up Ed who flew in from Miami.  The three of us had lunch at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Young Jack had to work half a day Thursday, so Gregg retrieved Jack on the drive from his home in Toledo, Ohio.  Our entourage arrived at the Days Inn in Kaukauna in time for dinner.  Piece of cake!

A few more words before we get to the pictures.

EAA founder Paul Poberezny said on more than one occasion that when people first come to Oshkosh, "they come for the airplanes.  When they come back, they come for the people."  I would add that they also come for the stories.  Not just from guys like Bob Hoover and Bud Anderson---but from the kit manufacturers, and the homebuilders, and the vintage aircraft owners, and the warbird operators, and the airshow performers, and the parts suppliers, and the thousands of other aviation enthusiasts that gather each summer at AirVenture.  They all have stories to tell.  The best story from this years fly-in occurred in the early 1980s.  Like most stories it began much earlier.

Brad's father, also named Jack, learned to fly during the latter stages of World War II. Like most of his generation, primary flight training was accomplished in the Boeing Stearman. Multi-engine training was conducted in the Cessna AT-17 Bobcat, also known as the "Bamboo Bomber" because it's wings were constructed mainly from wood.  Prior to being deployed overseas---as an Aircraft Commander on the B-17---the Army Air Force shipped him off to B-29 school, where he trained as a First Officer.  The war in Europe was winding down, B-17 pilots were no longer needed.  Brad said:  "Dad was thankful to be a co-pilot on the B-29. With training time cut to a minimum, he didn't feel he had the experience to be the guy in charge of a B-17."

Fast forward almost forty years.  It's 1982 and Brad and his father are attending the EAA Convention.  The CAF B-29 Superfortress "FIFI" is on display.  Brad remembers:  "Tours were available for something like ten dollars per person.  I asked Dad if he wanted to take the tour, but he didn't want to spend the money.  I told him, 'No, we're going inside.  I'm buying!'  When the support crew heard that Dad flew B-29s, they started asking questions. Then a crowd began to form . . . the next thing I know, Dad was holding court, and I was pushed to the back of the crowd as more and more people gathered around. It's something I'll never forget."      

Former Boeing B-29 Superfortress pilot Jack Wigren with his son, Brad, in front of the EAA Brown Arch in 1982.

The Adventure Begins:

Jack and Brad on the misty walk from the Orange Parking Lot Friday morning.  This was Jack's first visit to Oshkosh.

Boeing 767 Captain Brad Wigren with his son, Jack, reenacting a moment from 1982.

Jack and Brad with "FIFI," the B-29 Superfortress that is owned and operated by the Commemorative Air Force.

Ed, Brad, Gregg, and Jack . . . waiting to tour "FIFI."

Son and son of a son of a B-29 pilot. . .

NWA/DAL Boeing 767 Captains Gregg Hammer and Brad Wigren with the sole surviving Hamilton H-47 Metalplane in Northwest Airways markings.

Taking a break at the Vintage Café Friday evening.

My good friend, John Mullis.  This was John's first visit to AirVenture.  For more about John check out Blast from the past and Jumpseat Rider.

Friends from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Meghan Blythe and Calvin Winters, with the EAA's North American P-64.

Fellow EAA Chapter 961 (Rock Hill, South Carolina) member, John Roberts, promoting the Skyote Biplane in Exhibit Hangar D.  John's Skyote was parked next to the Brown Arch all week.  His exquisite craftsmanship earned a Bronze Lindy!

Carolinas - Virginia Antique Airplane Foundation (EAA Vintage Chapter 3) newsletter editor, Jim Wilson, has added markings to his 1936 Waco to honor the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Civil Air Patrol.  During World War II his Custom Cabin was based in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Friday afternoon Ed and I were sitting at a picnic table by the ice cream stand near the vintage parking area.  Across the road, not fifty feet away, sat a red RV-8 that looked familiar.  I said to Ed:  "I think I that airplane belongs to a guy in my EAA Chapter."  A closer inspection confirmed my suspicion.  Fellow Chapter 961 member, John Long, is a regular volunteer at AirVenture.  He is also an expert craftsman, and a heck of a nice guy.  

Here's something you don't see every day.  A Pan American World Airways Douglas DC-3 next to a Boeing 747-800.  Clipper Tabitha May earned a Bronze Lindy. I took this picture Saturday morning.  On the drive back to Middlebury, Indiana Sunday afternoon we saw Tabitha May as she was departing South Bend International, passing 500 feet overhead as we were driving by the airfield on Interstate 80. What were the chances of that ever happening?  Another story from AirVenture . . .

As it should be!

2004:  One more time in a B-29!

In 2004 Brad surprised his father with a ride in "FIFI" from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Here are a few photos:

Looking back from the bombardier's seat.