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Warbird Squadron 24 Re-energized

By James “Zack” Olzacki, C.O. EAA Warbird Squadron 24
Squadron 24 Christmas Party
Florida Warbird Squadron 24 Christmas Party 12-19-09

Declining interest in aviation and the economy have been shrinking general aviation, the EAA, and Warbirds of America (WOA). Florida-based Warbird Squadron 24 had shrunk to 12 members by the time of the official 2009 squadron renewal. But even though the future looked bleak, the remaining loyal members wanted to do something about it. That year, the group decided to install new leadership. They hoped that new blood and a fresh vision would breathe life back into the squadron.

A new Warbird Squadron 24 president/commander was instated at the 2009 Sun ’n Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Florida, and a new board was elected by the end of the month. Leadership was asked to grow the squadron and once again help make it active and have a sense of purpose and pride. The revitalization of Squadron 24 had begun.

The squadron revisited its mission and purpose. It reflected on its need to have a presence and relationship with the community. The squadron needed to return to gathering its members for regular meetings, social gatherings, flying, fund-raising, education, and just plain fun and camaraderie. It was also determined that the squadron would have a key fund-raising event as a cornerstone to its annual activity. This fund-raiser would give the membership something to build and create, something to gain a sense of pride and fulfillment from, and if successful, would raise funds for the worthy organizations that the squadron chooses to support.

Warbird Weekend
Warbird Weekend saw over 1500 paying visitors.

A membership drive was the first agenda item as former squadron members and WOA members in Florida and other warbird enthusiasts were contacted. Regular meetings were scheduled and speakers were brought in. A couple of social gatherings were coordinated, and a Spaghetti Dinner fund-raiser was held as squadron life found a sense of being and old relationships were rekindled. A website was designed and constructed to give Squadron 24 members, who cover the entire state of Florida, a link for squadron information. The squadron adopted e-mail as its official method of communication.

The year-end membership goal was 50 members. That goal was exceeded. As of this writing, membership is at 62 and growing. However, more can be done; there are about 500 WOA members in the state of Florida. The squadron believes that these people currently support the EAA and WOA through their national membership and should consider joining and supporting their home state squadron and its efforts as an organization.

The cornerstone and foundation of our new purpose is our “Warbird Weekend.” We had our inaugural event this year. It met and exceeded all goals and will hopefully be an annual event. As a fund-raiser, this year’s event focused on raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Warbird Weekend is a static display of warbirds only. We bring warbirds to the airport for both Saturday and Sunday, and the public is invited to come and see the aircraft. The attending pilots donate their planes and themselves to the cause and choose to do some flying during the event. We avoid a carnival atmosphere and ask the public to make an admission donation. In addition to the static display and flying, there’s an Era Dinner Dance in one of the hangars Saturday night. The weekend event turned out to be an excellent example of community groups coming together to make our undertaking a success. The squadron had little money and no budget for this type of endeavor. Support and sponsorship from many willing contributors, many of them local, made this all possible. Without them, the event would not have been successful.

The pilots brought their planes, and the airport supported our undertaking, both administratively and with physical help. The Civil Air Patrol helped handle crowd control. EAA Chapter 565 and Chapter 66 helped with aircraft on the ramp. Chapter 565 handled the concession. Squadron 24 volunteers helped at the admission gate, dinner dance setup and takedown, and wherever extra hands were needed.

A Wounded Warrior Project Golf Tournament Flyover preceded Warbird Weekend. In prior years, before there was a Warbird Weekend, there was a Wounded Warrior Project Golf Tournament Flyover. Jamie Trudeau and Trudeau Warbird Enterprises are passionate in its support for the Wounded Warrior Project and the efforts of Greg Rineer on the project. Every year, Jamie and Trudeau Warbirds Enterprises reach out to the Warbird community and asks for their support to bring their aircraft for participation in a Warbird flyover of the golf tournament.

By all measures, Warbird Weekend was a success. We had over 1,500 paying visitors to the static display. We had almost 200 paying participants in the Era Dinner Dance. As a result, the squadron as well as Chapter 565 were able to make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project through concession sales. We intend to build on our strengths and make the event bigger and better next year.

Squadron 24 now has a sense of accomplishment, pride, and fulfillment. The community sees us as a valuable member and contributor to the civic environment. We were able to help a worthy cause and organization. We have a newfound relationship with the airport and the Civil Air Patrol. We share the field and the aviation community with the airport, the tenants, on-field businesses, and Chapter 565. Our relationships are growing. Our relationship with our fellow Chapter 565 had been strained in the past, but working together on this event has rebuilt our relationship. Together we found that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. We look forward to growing our relationship in the future.

James “Zack” Olzacki
President/Commander, EAA Warbird Squadron 24
Punta Gorda, Florida

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