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3 Friends Do OSH 40 Years On
Passing the Spirit of Aviation Across Generations
By Barbara A. Schmitz
July 25, 2016 - John Andersen, Bob Carlson, and Jim Smith attended their first EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 1976. Four decades later, the three friends from the Kenosha/Racine, Wisconsin area are proud to say they haven’t yet missed a convention.
Carlson and Smith have been friends since Cub Scouts. They met John later in life. The three started coming to the fly-in convention first for a day trip. Then they started coming two or three days. But they’ve camped the entire week for nearly 25 of those 40 years.
“We need a whole week to recharge our aviation batteries,” Andersen explains. “Aviation is our way of living, not just our hobby.”
Not surprisingly, all three are pilots and homebuilders. Carlson earned his pilot certificate in 1981, took time off flying when his children were young, and today mainly flies a 1964 Piper Cherokee, although he is also helping his sons build a Velocity XL-RG, which they hope to finish in time to bring to AirVenture 2017. Smith earned his ticket in 1974, but also took time off flying when his children were small. Three years ago, he bought an RV-6A, and now he and Andersen fly formation with a friend. Andersen rode his bicycle to the airport as a 15-year-old to take flying lessons, and he soloed on his 16th birthday. He earned his private pilot certificate in 1981 and now is an airline pilot and flight instructor. He’s also built a Rocket F-1, in which he competed in at the 2016 AirVenture Cup.
While life sometimes got in the way of flying, coming to Oshkosh for AirVenture each year was one way to keep their aviation passions strong, Smith says.
All three bring their airplanes, as well as their campers, to the air show. But since 1989, the group has camped together in Paul’s Woods. They come to Oshkosh to reserve their spot the day Camp Scholler opens.
Their campground rigs and number of people in their party have grown exponentially as the convention grounds have expanded. Today, 35 are in their group, including wives, children, grandchildren, and friends. “And we have more coming up on the weekend,” Andersen adds.
In those early years, they camped mainly in tents or pop-up campers. Today, they have motor homes and even bring their own bar. That’s right — a bar made out of an airplane engine—they drilled out the pistons and put in tappers. They serve their own home-brewed beer and ask people to sign a logbook noting which beer they prefer.
“Sometimes I think it would be nice to use small tents again,” Carlson says, “but then it rains, and I’m glad we don’t.”
The bar started being part of their tradition in 2005. “It was a joint effort building it a couple weeks before we came,” Carlson says. One built the base, another the bar top, and it all came together and somehow fit, they say.
For years they thought about keeping track of who stops by their bar to talk or enjoy a sample of their beer. They considered bringing a map with pushpins, but instead put out the logbook two years ago and ask people to sign.
While they all come here for the airplanes, not surprisingly it is the people who keep them coming back.
“The aircraft here are awesome,” Andersen says. “But the people are what makes it special.”
While the three spend a lot of time together on the grounds or at the campground, they also spend time with their families and other friends. They agreed that aviation is the glue that keeps them together. “Besides, John is a flight instructor so we have to be nice to him for our biennial flight reviews,” Carlson says with a small smirk. “Seriously, we all click. We are more than friends; we are brothers.”
Smith says the three have always done a lot of dreaming about aviation. But what is exciting is that their aviation dreams are being passed down to the next generation.
All their children and grandchildren come to AirVenture, and most come before their first birthday. Some are pilots, and some are building their own planes.
“It’s just what we do,” he adds.