Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Oshkosh ‘13

The biggest or shiniest isn’t always the most amazing and impressive

One of the most impressive homebuilts on the field was overlooked by many, but it was chosen Grand Champion in 1964 for a reason: the builder, Jim Lloyd Butler, had created an aluminum piece of art, not an airplane. Butler's MM-1 set the mark and was only bested by his own work: His retractable gear version took Grand Champion two years in a row in the mid-'70s, which I got to fly for a Pilot Report. Now, that's amazing!

The most enjoyable moments at Aero-Mecca North for me had nothing to do with the hardware. It had to do with sitting around a lunch table under a tent with those I consider friends of the heart. Some of them go back 50 years, and we came together over music, not airplanes, but Oshkosh is our yearly rendezvous. I can't explain how important those times are to me. More than the airplanes, the awards or the action, it's the friends that make the moment.

It's hard to pick out what was most impressive about Osh '13. Was it the B-29 that reminded us of days long past, when heroes were commonplace? How about the fully armed and restored Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon (the first I had seen fully restored)? Or the sole remaining WACO S3HD semi-military biplane that tugged hard at everyone who walked past it? It was pure bi-winged testosterone!

Nope, the most impressive thing about Osh '13 was none of the above. It was the huge number of people in attendance, young and old, that had every reason to stay home and watch the happenings on TV, but weren't about to let anything keep them away.

I'll never forget the sight of an ancient flight line warrior, his legs badly misshapen by time and his arms arguing with two canes as he struggled to make his way to the show line. He had come a long way and had much further to go. But, he wasn't going to give up.

I saw many variations of the fragile couple clinging to one another, their eyes bright with excitement, as they helped each other through the crowd. The patches on their jackets said that they had probably already been going gray the first year that I attended Rockford. But, they weren't going to give up their life just because the years and miles had taken their toll.

And then there were the many in motorized wheelchairs. Their bodies having been mistreated by nature, they would have been forgiven, if they decided to give up. Instead, they were doing battle with life to keep from losing something that obviously meant the world to them.

I don't think I've ever been to an event of any kind that had such a large number of people who just wouldn't accept the fact that, in the eyes of the rest of the world, they were beaten. They refused to recognize that nature had played a cruel joke on them and had stolen their youth or their health. Or both. So, they weren't beaten. They refused to let what they saw as inconveniences keep them from the things that they loved. And their very presence taught each of us a lesson and made a very obvious statement: regardless of the obstacles or the years, the passion that's aviation never yields. It never fades. It's always alive within us. And it only takes the sight of a cane or a wheel- chair to remind the rest of us that we're damn lucky. And it forces us to ask ourselves whether we have the spirit to keep on keepin' on as those folks do. I'd like to think so, but…

What's truly amazing about Oshkosh is how year, after year, it continues to amaze us. And that's amazing in itself, isn't it?


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