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South African Aviation Enthusiasts Come to Oshkosh

By Nicole Kiefert

July 20, 2015 - Rows and rows of tents can be seen in Camp Scholler off of Lindbergh and 41st St. The campsites are filled with about 100 people who flew in from South Africa.

Neil Bowden said he started organizing the trip to Oshkosh back in 1997 and the originally small group has grown significantly.

“I started a trip to America, to Oshkosh and EAA, and from there it just got bigger and bigger and bigger,” Neil said. “It started with about 30 guys and now it’s about 100 guys that come in.”

Neil has been at Camp Scholler for about three weeks now, setting up the campsite and getting everything organized for the rest of the group when they arrive.

The group is open to anyone who wants to join and consists of a variety of people. For some it’s a week away from home, for others it is a family affair.

“Many pilots come, or just enthusiasts, a couple of husbands and wives, we’ve got some fathers and sons coming, so that will be some nice family time for them,” Neil said. “It’s just a week of aviation.”

For some it’s the trip of a lifetime. “We get some guys that come back every year,” Neil said. It’s their one week of aviation. They don’t have their wife here saying they’ve seen too many airplanes and they need to go home.”

Some members had the opportunity to fly into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in the Flabob Express DC-3.

“They met some of our guys in Kenosha and 16 of them got into a DC-3 and flew into Oshkosh on Friday afternoon,” he said.

The flight from South Africa to the U.S. was more than 20 hours with a layover.

“We went from Amsterdam this time, so it’s about 10 hours to there, then 10 hours to here and then a bit of a layover and then a three hour bus ride from Chicago,” Neil said.

The group has different tastes in aircraft, many who own and fly homebuilts, restored aircraft, Cessnas, and airliners. Some people come along to see the kinds of aircraft available and decide which one they want. Bowden has built two airplanes himself just because he “loves building.”

He likes coming to AirVenture for especially for the homebuilts and the camaraderie. “You have nothing as big as this back home, but the campsite is so much fun at night.”

He said coming to AirVenture is an opportunity of a lifetime for South African aviators and aviation enthusiasts.

“This is a big part of South African aviators’ lives,” he said. “We don’t have anything as big as this back home.”

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