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 for Wed, July 30, 2008

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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 4 July 30, 2008     

AeroShell team goes on with three

The AeroShell Aerobatics Team includes, from left, Gene McNeely, flying right wing; Mark Henley, flying lead; and Steve Gustafson, flying left wing. The group is performing at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh as a three-wing formation team after Mark's brother, Alan, was injured in a fall as he played with his children.

AeroShell Aerobatic Team's Steve Gustafson and Mark Henley were on a family vacation in Florida when the phone call came. Their teammate and Mark's brother, Alan Henley, had injured his neck and head when a chin-up bar gave way as he played with his children.

As it became apparent that Alan was seriously injured, the two realized they had only one option-to come to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008 as a three-ship aerobatic team vs. four-ship. McNeely agreed.

"We had to go," Mark said. "Our business and our relationship with our sponsors required it. AeroShell's customer base is here."

"And we still have bills to pay," Steve added.

So they made about 150 phone calls and sent countless e-mails redoing their schedule at AirVenture so they could accommodate every autograph session, appointment, media interview, even an airplane ride being raffled for Challenge Air.

The easiest part was actually flying in three-ship formation vs. four in their vintage North American AT-6 Texans. Mark took over lead, Steve stayed left wing and Gene moved from slot to right wing position.

Foundation established for Henley

A non-profit foundation has been established for AeroShell Team Lead Alan Henley and his family.
Contributions are tax deductible and checks should be made out to Lake Crest Presbyterian Church, with Alan Henley Foundation in the memo. They can be mailed to Pastor Thomas Joseph, c/o Alan Henley Foundation, Lake Crest Presbyterian Church, 560 Lake Crest Drive, Hoover, Alabama, 35226.

"Obviously we don't like it because it means our fellow pilot/friend/brother is down," Steve said. "But we have always had a contingency plan for a three-ship formation for things like maintenance issues."

The group has flown three planes before, like when a cylinder or a counter weight bolt blew at past air shows, they said. And they practice swapping positions regularly to stay proficient.

In fact, it was only seven or eight years ago the group evolved from a three-plane formation to a four, Mark said.
But it is a little more difficult to fly with another in the lead. "It's like dancing with somebody," he said. "When you have a different dance partner, you may not be as smooth."

"If this would have happened to the Thunderbirds or Blues, they would shut down for the rest of the season. They don't multitask," said Gene. "But we have all flown each others' positions for just this type of contingency."

Steve said their show will be similar to their four-ship show, except that they will start with a double formation loop. But after that, the routine will basically be the same, minus one airplane.

The three said they are not doing anything special to honor their teammate. "Being here is special," Mark said. "What happened is a tragedy. But if we didn't come, it would be another tragedy. And if the shoe was on the other foot, Alan would be here, too."

In fact, Alan has said he will be back in 2009 so Steve and he can celebrate their 25th season together. "He desperately wants to do that," Steve said. "And I sent word back to him that I'm counting on him."

The team is asking for everyone's prayers and encourages friends and fans to e-mail Alan at www.caringbridge.org/visit/alanhenley. His condition is also updated there. On Monday, doctors inserted breathing and feeding tubes and he was struggling with a fever.

Although it's been difficult for Alan to speak because he has been on a ventilator in recent days, Mark said his brother said he will be back. "The doctor's prognosis is not very good, and he will have beaten the odds if he makes it. But if anybody can do it, Alan can."

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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