Repeatedly die-hard EAA attendees will point out that the week long celebration of all things aviation related isn’t about the airplanes. The people, they’ll say, are the reason they keep coming. While I share that same sentiment in my various experiences at EAA’s AirVenture event, from an EAA employee, to an exhibitor, and now an attendee, there’s a fundamental problem with that school of though. The casual reunions of our extended aviation family are the moments I truly treasure. But without the airplanes, what would AirVenture be?
The airplanes may not be the focus of the aforementioned school of thought, but it’s not just people that are the cornerstone of this experience, it’s airplane people that are. And we are an interesting bunch of people, possessing the uncanny ability to discern the make, model, and common name for most everything parked on the South 40. Constantly looking towards the sounds of propellers and turbines high in the skies. We were born with arms and legs just like everyone else, but when we stretch them out they become the wings that allow us to soar like the airplanes we wish we were.
The tight-knit nature of our people is clearly evident at EAA. Deplaning the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, my wife recognized a name on a nametag of a member of the Orbis team standing at the base of the stairs, learning quickly they had met before years ago while my wife worked for a local aviation university. While the odds of these encounters are higher this hallowed week in Wisconsin, opportunities like this happen outside of airports, air shows, and AirVenture.
I’ve ran into airplane people around the world. Once in an art gallery that looked more like a parts department inside an aviation museum, the curator and I talked for hours about flight, art, and the intersection of the two, filling the voids in my comprehension in Russian-accented French with aeronautical terms. Many times I’ve met strangers out and about and while they couldn’t tell me what an aileron was, they embodied the soul of an airplane person more than some Captains I’ve flown with. The label airplane people does not require a license nor a medical; it’s development many times unbeknownst to the individual.
The serendipitous experiences I’ve had at EAA run the emotional spectrum. The memories will last a lifetime, and hopefully a little bit longer. The airplane may have brought us here, but the people are what brought the airplanes here. And not just any people, my people, airplane people. Whether I’m fortunate enough to have the luck to continually run into them across my travels in the front-country and back-country, or I’m some sort of airplane people magnet, I’m grateful that our flight paths cross, and while our meetings may be sporadic, as Saint-Exupéry said, the time which may have been lost between those visits vanishes the moment we’re reunited.
I spent two days at Oshkosh and while my heart is full of these moments, my camera roll is not. Fortunate for me, taking a break to apply some more sunscreen gave my youngest daughter a chance to borrow my binoculars and give the two Yak 55s bolted together a closer inspection as they flat-spun during the airshow. Having previously met many friends and family across the EAA grounds, watching our daughter validate the apple falling from the tree hypothesis reminded me that the trek to Oshkosh was surely for the planes, but the airplane people, and specifically, my family of airplane people, are what make the experience more memorable.