July 31, 2013 - Rich and Dee Gibson, better known as Rich's Incredible Pyro, are retiring after this year's convention - but you can be sure they won't slip out unnoticed.
If you attended Wednesday's night air show, you got a sample of their work, and the Rockford, Illinois, natives will be back at it this weekend. Rich has been blowing things up for EAA's annual warbird shows here at Oshkosh since 1983, and attendees have been "feeling the heat" of his work for all those years.
He credits much of the success of his career to Dee, who not only helps out with the shows, but also supported his passion over the years with her teaching career. "You can make beer money at this," he said, "but it's tough to make a living in the air show business."
Rich started doing air show work in 1981, when the Confederate Air Force (now the Commemorative Air Force) came to Rockford. Rich was operating an air charter business at the time, and hosted the warbird group in his hangar. "I got to talking with the pilots about adding pyro to their show, and with my background in the military, we came up with some ideas."
Rich served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne, and had extensive training in explosives. Combined with his knowledge and experience as a pilot, he knew how to put together a simulated air attack that would be explosive, but more important, safe for the pilots and the spectators. The show in Rockford was a huge success and, "The phone's been ringing ever since," Rich said.
In more than three decades of setting up pyro displays, the Gibsons have traveled the world, working shows in Australia, China, the Middle East, Central America, and elsewhere. After hanging up their blasting caps this weekend, the couple will head to the Far East, where they will crew on a tall ship journey, participating in an 18-ship regatta in Sydney Harbour, Australia, celebrating 100 years of the Australian Navy. Next year, they'll be trekking across Nepal.
Rich said that when he and Dee got married, he promised her their life would never be boring. And in his line of work, that promise has not been hard to keep.