By H.G. Frautschy, Editor, Vintage Aircraft Online
Editor, Vintage Airplane magazine
Executive Director, VAA
My late friend Dean Richardson was an insightful manager of projects and people. Dean, who served as our chairman of Vintage Aircraft Classic Judging, was also one of our directors for the Vintage Aircraft Association. Over the years, he’d share with me a “Deanism” as I called them, little nuggets of wisdom related to managing a business or department. I keep a few of them posted above my desk here at EAA. During the week prior to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year and throughout the week of the event, two of his observations kept ringing in my ears.
Dean started his business career right out of high school, working and going to school at the same time. By the time he retired shortly before passing away, he was a vice president of the company where he’d worked for over 40 years. A student of human interaction, he gained a lot of practical knowledge, and to that end he often said, “Experience is much more important than education.” He also pointed out that “You should cherish experience and loyalty above all else.”
As one of two staff people who work directly for VAA as part of the EAA headquarters staff (the extraordinarily capable Theresa Books serves the membership as our administrative support), I rely on the always appreciated efforts of VAA volunteers to meet the needs of their fellow members. In 20-plus years of working or volunteering at EAA, I’ve always been impressed with what volunteers can accomplish, but this year I was simply blown away.
For most of the VAA flightline area on the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh grounds, the parking plans each year are fairly standard, with minor adjustments being made for a local condition or two, and for the special aircraft display area to the east of the VAA Red Barn.
Not this year!
Starting just after the 4th of July weekend, we started to get rain. Lots of it. By the third week of the month, we had over 10 inches of rain, and the waterlogged turf couldn’t absorb anymore. So when it started raining again the Thursday before AirVenture was to begin, it became clear we were going to have to do a wholesale change to our parking plan.
In the 40 years the EAA fly-in had been taking place in Oshkosh, nothing like this had ever happened on Wittman Field. EAA staff, including Steve Taylor and the south maintenance crews, were doing their best to get the water moving in the right direction, and doing an amazing job contending with their challenges in the campground and display areas. They also relied on their volunteer corps to augment their efforts.
For aircraft parking, we had to rely on the experience of our long-serving volunteer leadership. And step up they did. They called on their years of experience to create a parking plan within minutes of being tasked with revising the previous procedure, and by the time the weekend ended (after a second round of pounding rain) there were over 300 vintage airplanes parked along the Papa taxiway, with each pilot’s name and cell phone catalogued so they could be easily contacted when it was time to relocate them to a “normal” parking or camping spot.
Then, as the grounds dried and the airplanes were moved off the edges of the taxiway by Tuesday night, the accident involving Jack Roush’s Beech Premier jet occurred, with the airplane coming to rest just east of the Papa taxiway. Again, the volunteers didn’t skip a beat, underscoring why we call it the VAA Flightline Safety and Parking Committee. Before the dust settled, they were moving people safely out of the immediate area and establishing a buffer between the crowd and the flightline so emergency responders could do their job unhindered. As the evening wore on, other volunteers stepped in to support them with bottles of water, snacks, etc., and later, to arrange for sleeping facilities for some of the campers and attendees who couldn’t return to their airplanes due to the salvage operations that would continue throughout the night.
I don’t mind telling you we were all pretty tired, staff and volunteers alike, by the end of the week. But it was a great tired – the members who brought their showplanes were able to park them and enjoy each other’s company, and for many who arrived later in the week, the convention seemed to come off with few glitches, other than a soggy spot or two. Thanks to their loyalty to their fellow members and their experience, the VAA volunteers made AirVenture 2010 one we’ll all remember, and for all the right reasons. Dean was right…I’ll always “cherish experience and loyalty above all else.” EAA and VAA volunteers and staff showed that caring matters, and we all benefit from it all year long, not just during the week of AirVenture. If you haven’t had a chance to volunteer with VAA during the week, we encourage you to make it part of your planning for next year’s event. You won’t regret it!