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The Andersons and EAA's Bell 47

An Almost Four Decade Family Affair

By Nyreesha Williams-Torrence

July 25, 2016 - For Chris Anderson, volunteering at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is a family affair that started in the late ’70s when his father, Tim Anderson, built and sold the Bell 47 that would become EAA’s 90B.

In 1983, the Bell 47’s original pilot retired and Tim took over. At the time, helicopter flights were geared more toward the media and focused on safety and surveillance of the AirVenture grounds. During the 10 years that followed, Tim was instrumental in growing the operation into the flight experience it is today.

Chris and his three siblings, Nick, Matt, and Katie, started out as unofficial volunteers during their childhood days, helping their dad with some of the helicopter’s maintenance.

“We’d get up early in the morning, get the helicopter out of the hangar and move it over to flightline ops, do the cleaning on the ship and all sorts of stuff,” Anderson said. “I worked antique and classics parking occasionally, as well as parking with flightline ops. Katie worked in flightline ops and a couple other areas. Nick worked in EAA photo.”

Eventually, their father got a job working for the FAA and had to step away from flying the Bell 47 during AirVenture.

“That’s when we got more involved,” Anderson said. “Matt picked up doing the maintenance on the helicopter for EAA, then Nick and I came on as pilots and started to fly. Basically we’ve been doing it ever since.”

Now, more than 30 years after the first helicopter operations flight, the family’s legacy of volunteerism has reached another generation.

“My oldest son, Nathan, helps with the ground part of it,” Anderson said. “He assists quite a bit with the ground handling and money management. My middle daughter, Emily, helps out in the Friendship tent. Basically we’re at three generations and it all started with my dad.”

Anderson’s youngest daughter, Megan, who is only 13, is eager to start volunteering once she is old enough.

 “I know she would in a heartbeat,” Anderson said. “She loves hanging out at KidVenture and tagging along with us.”

Anderson said the best thing about volunteering is working with people with varying levels of flight experience, from Young Eagles to AirVenture attendees who were simply driving by on the highway and stopped for a helicopter ride.

“Frankly, it’s all about the people,” he said. “We have a good group of people all the way around and I would say that’s pretty standard of all the volunteer groups here. It kind of turns into a family of sorts.”

Seeing his passengers experience an aerial view of the AirVenture grounds for the first time is plenty reward for the many hours he spends volunteering, Anderson said, and the opportunity to share his aviation knowledge is more than enough incentive to keep him coming back.

“Just like any family you’ve got your great times and you’ve got your grumblings, but it all resolves to get the job done,” he said. “I think the most important part is we get to see everybody each year and re-forge the friendships we’ve formed over the years. That’s a lot of why we do it. Plus, it’s just plain old fun. If it were work, we wouldn’t do it.”
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