ChapterGram: April 2013
The Spirit of Aviation - My First Year
By Andrew Strong, EAA Chapter 766 in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin
"The Spirit of Aviation." It's a tagline that appears on top of the EAA website, but what does it mean? And does it exist? A year ago I visited Wisconsin's Aviation Heritage Center to attend my first EAA Chapter 766 meeting with hopes of entering the world of aviation. Not knowing what to expect, I timidly opened the glass doors and was greeted by a group gathering around a food table. I was immediately welcomed into the room and listened with childlike wonder at the stories being told around me.
With newfound excitement, I attended the chapter's board of directors meeting just to see what it was about. I watched the secretary's folder pass down the table, declined one by one, until it came to me. Looking around, there was no one to pass it to. Thus, I became the secretary. Talk about a quick promotion!
A few days later, Gary Gritt, vice president of 766, took me flying and actually trusted me enough to take the controls. In just four weeks I went from an outsider, to a member, to a board of director's member, to flying an airplane. Although I projected a sense of calm on the outside, it was tough to control the excitement within as I gripped the controls, which had to be pried out of my hands when Gary begged for them back. As a boy growing up around Wittman Field in Oshkosh, I stared into the sky with dreams of someday being up there - and there I was. If this is a dream, don't you dare wake me up.
As autumn approached, my mom and dad paid a visit. My dad was a naval aviator in the early '60s. He served as a navigator aboard the Lockheed Constellation radar planes that flew from Hawaii to Midway and up to Alaska and back. Hanging around the airport was an opportunity for me to give him an experience in appreciation for all he has done for me. Dave, a member of chapter 776, offered a ride without hesitation and let my dad take the controls as we flew over our homesteads in the Winneconne-Oshkosh area. This flight opened up a new bonding topic between father and son: the joy of flying. Over the next several days I listened to stories of his naval days that I never knew he experienced.
Words alone cannot express my deep appreciation for the opportunities offered by our chapter, so I decided to give a little back by volunteering at the Aviation Heritage Center. Once again, that same spirit of generosity appeared one night while cleaning up after an event. Dave offered to take me on my first "hundred-dollar hamburger flight," so we flew down to Watertown, Wisconsin, for lunch the next day. We practiced dead reckoning on the way down and used the nav system on the way back. I had read about these skills, and I finally got to try them out. If you are curious about how I did, I can answer by virtue of writing this article; it's proof I found our airport before running out of fuel.
As the year wound down, my friend Sue informed me she was moving out of state. Sue and I met the previous year while working on her house after her husband passed away. I quickly learned she loved aviation and had always wanted to experience it, so I took her to 2012 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and overwhelmed her with the sights, sounds, and excitement of the air show. I found out she had never been in a small plane before. As events unfolded around Thanksgiving, both Dave and Gary offered to take her flying. Unfortunately, a change in plans forced her to leave town the day before our flight. I am sad to say we were not able to give her that experience.
With a quick change of plans, and Gary's generosity, we took my girlfriend flying instead. It also would be her first time in a small plane and would give her a chance to experience the world I've entered. If you are wondering about the outcome of that flight, the proof is in the smile on every picture we took, and I am happy to report she is still with me.
As I wind down my first year with EAA Chapter 766, I look back with wonder and the deepest appreciation for our members in welcoming me into (and letting me participate in) this world of aviation. The amount of generosity shown by our chapter confirms the "Spirit of Aviation" is alive and well in Sheboygan County.