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Finding Community en Route to Oshkosh

By Ruben Alconero

September 24, 2015 - One of the most gratifying days in my aviation career arrived the last week of July 2015. I flew approximately 1,400 miles roundtrip from Penn Yan, New York, to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in a small Pitts S1-C biplane with a simple handheld radio. It was a journey I had wanted to take for a long time, inspired by the likes of Richard Bach and Rinker Buck. Fantasies of barnstorming the country, dropping into small rural airports, watching the sunset or sunrise from own flying machine, dreams I had as a youth, now about to become reality.

This journey was a commemorative tribute to Curtis Pitts. AirVenture 2015 was hosting the 70th anniversary celebrating the design of one of the most iconic airplanes in aviation history, an airframe that reinvented the world of aerobatic flight for thousands around the world.

I purchased my Pitts in March of 2015 and had become comfortable with her, but a 1,400 nautical mile trip into the world’s busiest airport (at least for one week) would allow me to get intimately familiar with N155MS.

Observing the sounds and thirst of the Lycoming 0-320 engine, listening to the gentle hum of the slipstream passing through the wing wires, this was part of our time to get to know each other. I would learn 55MS’ attributes and nuances, as she would learn mine. She earned my trust as we safely cloud danced over the northern portion of the Allegheny National Forest. I earned hers as I learned just how much crosswind she would tolerate on our fuel stops. Amidst all my excitement, I started noticing the people at each airport. Young and old, male and female, these were folks who appeared to love aviation. Many would approach my Pitts to visually check out her lines. Sage aviators would comment on the craftsmanship of 55MS, and the youth would eagerly ask what type of plane it was.

I met people who are the backbone of general aviation; line guys and girls, FBO operators, airport managers, mechanics, helicopter pilots, flight instructors, Part 135 cargo pilots, even the cooks and waitresses at the airport cafes were all uniquely tied together and part of a very special family.

We all share a bond and respect through aviation, and the examples were abundant. An offer of spending the night on a couch at the local FBO when weather abruptly ended a day’s flying. A seasoned CFI who helped hand prop 55MS when a battery issue arose in Sandusky, Ohio.

In Goshen, Indiana the airport manager approached as I pulled into the ramp. He refueled 55MS then offered a warm pretzel and local tea as I stretched my legs in the air-conditioned comfort of his office.

The flight was a journey to celebrate Curtis Pitts, to learn about my airplane, and to see America from a biplane built before I was born. It turned into a human experience, learning about the people who still keep general aviation alive. My return was sentimental as I touched down with the sunset bathing the runway at the airport where I learned to fly almost 31 years ago. General aviation is still very alive. Go flying, meet all those involved, and share the magic.

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