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Volunteerism and the Corsair Connection
By Travis Hellmer, EAA Lifetime #1116867, EAA Volunteer
May 2016 - As a child, I was entranced by the TV show Baa Baa Black Sheep and quickly established the F4U Corsair as my favorite plane. It didn’t hurt either that my grandfather had given me a scale-model plastic Corsair to play with. I admit that I had mixed emotions at my first Fly-In and Convention in 1987. At just 5 years old, I was thrilled to see a Corsair in real life, but I was also confused as to why it wasn’t painted blue like in the TV show. Regardless, I was so excited to reach up and touch the tip of the prop in a moment that was captured forever on film.
I would continue to come back to Fly-Ins (later AirVenture) year after year, enjoying all the sights and sounds of airplanes, helicopters, and jets. I liked warbirds the most and always made it a point to stop and take photos of Corsairs that were in attendance. I didn’t visit the museum often as I grew up, but when I did, I’d stop to stand in awe of the Bent-Wing Bird standing stoically with its wings folded inside the corner of the Eagle Hangar.
I started volunteering at EAA’s Kermit Weeks Hangar in December 2013 after I had learned that Aluminum Overcast was kept there for maintenance. Having just given my grandfather a flight on the B-17G that summer, I was showing John Hopkins, manager of aircraft maintenance, a photo album I had made of the flight experience. He peered at a picture I included of a little boy standing in front of a bare aluminum Corsair, hand outstretched up to the prop. “That’s our Corsair!” he said. My previously indirect and now very direct involvement with EAA had made this major, totally unexpected connection to my past. And that was just the start!
Volunteering my time between Kermit Weeks Hangar, Membership Services during AirVenture, and even some time at South Maintenance/Fabrication Shop allowed me to meet a lot of employees, members, and other volunteers of EAA. Through a number of people I met during my first volunteering stint at AirVenture 2014, I was turned on to a possible lead that there was an airworthy Corsair in existence that had a jump seat for rides. I had to wait a whole year, but at AirVenture 2015, I took a flight in Cavanaugh Flight Museum’s FG-1D Corsair. Words couldn’t fully describe that experience, and even to this day, I’m still not sure a video I made about the flight did either.
I didn’t forget about my Corsair in the Eagle Hangar. Occasionally, after a visit to EAA’s HQ or having spent a few hours at Kermit Weeks Hangar, I’d stop by the museum just to beeline to it, walk around it, and unashamedly talk to it as if it was an old friend. The significance of both my attachment to that particular plane and the value I found through my volunteer effort wasn’t lost on me. Apparently, it wasn’t lost on some of the EAA staff either who knew of my story and link to Corsair—on April 22, 2016, I was invited to an employee “Cockpit Climb” to sit in the plane. It was the perfect contrast to the loud, sky-high experience I had flying in the FG-1D. Instead it was a calm and peaceful moment to reflect on how I’d gone from a 5-year-old boy having seen his first Corsair to now sitting in the same one 29 years later.
EAA dedicated a webpage to Paul Poberezny’s legacy, where a quote of his referred to sleeping among all the planes in the museum referencing how, “They are such a part of me.” Paul was absolutely right! I feel indebted by sharing that same sentiment when it comes to the Corsair that sits in his museum today. When I started volunteering, I just thought I’d be helping work on airplanes and that was good enough for me. What volunteering with EAA really gave me was a deeper meaning to my personal experiences as the catalyst to give back my time and effort in hopes that anyone who enjoys aviation can have the opportunity to create and share their own stories like I could.