Spring 2002 Forward to a Friend

A World War II-vintage P-51D Mustang starts its powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.
Photo courtesy of Tim Dowling.

ON A COLD DECEMBER MORNING IN 1903,Orville Wright climbed aboard the 600-pound, wood-and-fabric machine he had carefully assembled with his brother, Wilbur, in their workshop in Dayton, Ohio. Dubbed “the Flyer” by the Wrights, the delicate machine had no seat for its pilot; Orville was forced to lie on his stomach on the craft’s lower wing, wooden control levers in his hands. The Flyer sat on the dark sand of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, its 12-horsepower engine noisily chatting away, turning its twin, rear-facing propellers.

A carefully restored Vickers Vimy biplane takes to the sky.

Final checks were made. The engine was operating properly, as were the controls. Everything was ready. At 10:35, the craft moved forward, rolling down a wooden launch rail on a wooden dolly. The craft accelerated, left the rail, and rose into the air, all the while under the control of its pilot.

Twelve seconds later, the Flyer returned to the ground, 120 feet from where it started. Taking only a few seconds and traveling a seemingly insignificant distance, the event marked a colossal turning point – man had made his first flight. Orville Wright became the first man to leave the ground in a powered, heavier-than-air flying machine. The dream of flight had become a reality, and the world would never be the same.

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

– Leonardo da Vinci

Military aircraft, like these World War II-era P-51D Mustangs, are saved from the ravages of time by the EAA’s dedicated members. Photo courtesy of EAA

In the years following that first struggling flight, the fledgling field of aviation began to grow and evolve at a staggering speed. Fueled by the dream of flight, aviation’s pioneers looked toward the sky, and found new ways to improve on the Wrights’ breakthrough.

Charles Lindbergh (whose fascination with flight began when a lone airplane crossed the sky over his boyhood home) single-handedly piloted a tiny silver aircraft, The Spirit of St. Louis, more than 3,600 miles from Long Island, New York to an airfield outside Paris, France. The next pilot to cross the Atlantic alone did so five years later. Her name was Amelia Earhart.

Swords into plowshares: These high-powered Unlimited class aircraft, now raced for sport, originally took to the sky as combat aircraft. Photo courtesy of EAA

In the decades that followed, even more pioneering pilots took to the sky looking for new frontiers and new milestones, and the resultant innovations and achievements came at a staggering pace. Aircraft flew higher, farther, and faster, carrying their pilots to as-yet-unseen parts of the world, and to previously inconceivable heights, thanks to an ever-increasing number of pilots with a seemingly endless supply of inspiration.

At the root of each innovation in flight was a pilot who had been inspired by the fascination of flying. Pilots who had broken their bond with earth, and been transformed. Pilots who followed their dream of flight into a blue sky full of endless possibilities.

Photo courtesy of Tim Dowling.

One group that fully understands and embraces that wonder of flight – and works tirelessly to share it with others – is the members of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Founded in 1953 by a handful of aviation enthusiasts, the international organization, headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is made up of more than 170,000 individuals who share a love of aviation in all its ncarnations.

The daily afternoon airshow is one of the most popular events at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual convention, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, held at the organization’s headquarters in Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Tim Dowling.

The Wright Brothers’ tradition of careful, hands-on craftsmanship and experimentation is alive and well in the group’s members. Like the Wrights, who built the Flyer on a modest budget in their own workshop, many EAA members become pilots after committing countless hours of their spare time to build their own aircraft with their own hands, with their own tools – driven not by a desire for money or fame, but by an overwhelming love of flight and the desire to take to the sky.

Others help preserve aviation’s history by restoring and maintaining classic aircraft from the past. Biplanes, vintage airliners, and veteran military aircraft have all been saved from the ravages of time and obsolescence by the EAA’s dedicated members, and preserved for future generations.

Many pilots not only visit EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in their own aircraft, but also camp next to them during the weeklong event. Photo courtesy of Tim Dowling.

Beyond the aircraft, EAA members also embrace the discipline of aerobatic flying, pushing their aircraft (and themselves) through an unbelievable variety of loops, rolls, and other complex maneuvers, seemingly defying gravity and the laws of physics.

The EAA’s members gather each year at the association’s headquarters for its weeklong convention, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Not surprisingly, when the EAA’s members come home to Oshkosh every summer, they arrive in aircraft. Typically, more than 12,000 aircraft, of every size, era, shape and color, bring the enthusiasts to the airfield convention, where rows and rows of aircraft – stretching literally for miles – illustrate the history of powered flight.

Visiting EAA AirVenture Oshkosh gives visitors the opportunity to take an up-close look at aircraft of all types.

More than 750,000 spectators will come, too, making EAA AirVenture Oshkosh one of the world’s premiere aviation events. In addition to the display aircraft, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is best known for its demonstration flying, showcasing everything from historical aircraft to heart-stopping aerobatic performances by world-renowned performers and demonstration teams. If you’re interested in a particular type of aircraft, or a particular type of flying, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for on the ground or in the sky above.

Most of all, you’ll find a boundless enthusiasm for aviation at the heart of the event and the EAA’s members. They’re working to keep the wonder and fascination of flight alive and well.


No one understands the excitement and challenges of flying better than Patty Wagstaff. After earning her pilot’s license in 1980, Patty began instruction in aerobatics and soon rose to the top ranks of competitive aerobatic competition. In 1986, she joined the U.S. Aerobatic team and competed in six World Aerobatic Competitions. Her flying earned her three U.S. National Championships, as well as numerous medals and trophies in national and world competition. Patty’s drive and love of flying helped her dominate the sport of aerobatics until her retirement from competition flight in 1996.

Photo courtesy of Budd Davisson.

One of sport aviation’s superstars, Patty appears at airshows around the world (including EAA AirVenture Oshkosh), where her high-energy precision aerobatic routines thrill thousands of spectators with the wonder of flight.

“I love the freedom that flight gives you,” she says, speaking from her offices in St. Augustine, Florida. “Once you break the chains of gravity and you’re up there, you are really free to do whatever you want within the limits of the airplane.”

Champion aerobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff. Photo courtesty of Jeff Berlin.

Even having spent decades behind the controls of aircraft, flying has never become routine or commonplace for Patty. “Flying has never been a waste of time for me,” she says. “I love that there’s always been more to learn. And I think you can ask any pilot, no matter how old they are or how experienced they are, and they will tell you the same thing. The challenge never goes away.

“I think that flying is probably the most freeing, challenging, exciting, and empowering thing you can do, but it also requires a tremendous amount of discipline. It’s a real dichotomy. That’s what I find really interesting about flying, and that’s probably what I like about it the most.”

That love of freedom and adventure helped Patty make her mark in the annals of flying history. In 1994, her competition airplane, a Goodrich Extra 260, went on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, next to the Lockheed Vega Amelia Earhart used to cross the Atlantic.

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2002
July 23-29,

2002 EAA Aviation Center
3000 Poberezny Rd.
Oshkosh WI 54902

For more information on AirVenture 2002 (including admission prices, schedule of events, directions, and hotel information) visit www.airventure.org, or call 902-462-4800.