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Aussie Vet Marks 27 Years at OSH

Bill Babb, 91, comes for community, camaraderie

By Aly High

July 27, 2016 - Bill Babb may never have owned a plane, but if there’s one thing he does have here at AirVenture, it’s friends.

Oshkosh AirVenture 2016 marks the 91-year-old Australian’s 27th trip to the air show, a nearly 60-hour round-trip journey he makes yearly from Melbourne to Oshkosh to visit with other aviation fans.

“Every time I come up here, I have a fantastic time,” he said. “Obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be coming back.”

Margaret Koskinen, vice-chairman of the EAA International Visitors Tent, which tracks the number of international visitors the air show receives per year, said Babb is one of 202 Australians to attend, as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. A total of 1,115 international guests were recorded as of press time. Koskinen said Australia is consistently well-represented, this year second only behind Canada, with Germany following with 86 recorded visitors.

Babb said he learned of AirVenture from a group of friends he made through his interest in aviation and electronics. While there is aviation enthusiast culture in Australia, Babb said there is nothing like the scale and spectacle of AirVenture. 

Some of his favorite sights over his years here have included “the really big ones,” including the Constellation, this year’s Galaxy, the Concorde, and the SR-71. But what keeps Babb coming back year after year remains the community.

“I just go out there and talk to the pilots,” Babb said, smiling. “I’m from Australia, I’m friendly.” 

Babb has lived around planes since 1941, when at the age of 16 he joined the Australian air force during World War II. His unit was stationed in Papua New Guinea, where they lived in tents and worked to keep radio communication open between the front line and the Australian capital of Canberra. Babb remembers seeing on the island American B-25s and Australia’s P-40s.

After the war ended, he spent 32 years working in radio navigation and calibration for the Department of Civil Aviation (the Australian equivalent of the FAA), flying 38,600 hours over the course of his career to islands around the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

“I tried flying,” he said. “But I’m afraid the responsibility was greater than I could afford so I kept out of the cockpit and was quite prepared to sit down in the back with my electronic equipment.”

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