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60 Years of EAA: Home in Oshkosh (1969-1983)

Fly-In, then association headquarters make the move north

This is the second in a five-part series of articles highlighting EAA's history, in commemoration of the organization's 60th anniversary on January 26, 2013.

January 22, 2013 - By 1969, EAA had a pretty good thing going. There were tens of thousands of members, a well-established organization, a popular fly-in, and growing influence in the aviation community.

In late 1969, however, the EAA board was faced with a choice: Find a new location for the annual fly-in or perhaps skip a year. The partnership between EAA and the Rockford, Illinois, airport was no longer workable, given the growth of the fly-in event.

The EAA board decided that a new location would be sought. Paul Poberezny scouted a number of communities, but legendary aircraft designer and air racer Steve Wittman suggested Oshkosh, where he had been airport manager for many years. Paul and Steve gained the support of Oshkosh business leaders and eventually the county board for a lease at the airport.

Only one problem: There was no fly-in site at Oshkosh. Working frantically for several months moving earth and rocks, EAA members and volunteers created the first section of what would eventually become today's 1,500-acre site.

While the fly-in was getting established at Oshkosh, other changes were coming to EAA as well. In 1971, EAA divisions focusing on vintage, warbird, and aerobatic aircraft were founded, expanding the scope of EAA's influence within the sport aviation community beyond the approximately 3,000 homebuilt aircraft on the FAA registry at the start of the decade. Poberezny retired from his military job to become EAA's first full-time president.

That same year, EAA began its research program on using unleaded auto fuel in aircraft. That effort took more than a decade to find success with the FAA's approval of auto fuel supplemental type certificates (STCs) for certain models of aircraft and engines.

Still based in the Milwaukee suburbs, EAA's headquarters and membership continued to grow. The membership, fewer than 30,000 in 1971, reached more than 66,000 by the end of the decade. The aviation generation, sparked by the World War II generation and its baby-boomer children, discovered EAA as the perfect organization to have fun in the world of flight.

The Poberezny family followed the same path, as Paul's son, Tom, joined the organization and in 1976 became chairman of the annual EAA fly-in and later president of the EAA Aviation Foundation. Aviation grew that year, too, as John Moody brought his powered hang glider - forerunner of the modern ultralight aircraft - to Oshkosh for the first time.

EAA celebrated the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight in 1977 by constructing a Spirit of St. Louis replica and flying it on a national tour that traced Lindbergh's triumphant tour a half-century earlier.

During this time, EAA lived in two worlds: the year-round home near Milwaukee where the organization's headquarters and museum were housed, and the annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh for the fly-in. The annual migration for the fly-in showed the difficulty and expense of maintaining two working locations. After considering a number of communities, the EAA board voted in 1980 to build the new EAA Aviation Center in Oshkosh, adjacent to the fly-in site.

The year 1983 proved to be a fitting climax to EAA's "second era." The new world-class EAA museum and headquarters building opened in Oshkosh, the FAA accepted EAA's petition of the Part 103 ultralight rules, and the first auto fuel STCs were awarded to a handful of aircraft.

Much had been accomplished in little more than a decade and EAA's role in the aviation world had never been more substantial. Little did anyone realize that the next era would reach beyond anyone could have ever imagined ...

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