generations of Australian visitors. Fred Armstrong with his
daughter Linda Vosti, Grand daughter Melissa Mann and her
husband Michael and their son Jackson. Photo by Phil Weston
little girl Melissa Mann remembers her grandfather asking, "Instead
of cartoons, you kids want to watch some Oshkosh?"
some people say "cheese" while posing for pictures, her family
no surprise that four generations of the family came all the way from
Sydney, Australia—a 17.5-hour trip plus drive time from Chicago—to
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008.
the ninth trip to AirVenture for Fred Armstrong, and his daughter, Linda
Vosti, is also a repeat visitor. But it’s the first trip for
granddaughter Melissa Mann, her husband, Michael, and their 2
1/2-year-old son, Jackson.
been seeing videos and photos of Oshkosh since I was a baby,"
Melissa says. "I’ve heard so much, but I’m finally glad to
pulls out a notebook and reads off the years he’s been to AirVenture—1981,
’83, ’89, ’92, ’95, ’98, 2000, and 2002. "If I don’t
write it down I forget," he explains.
runs his life like an aircraft log," Vosti explains. "And he
insists on living by himself at 88."
is five months older than Qantas—both were born in 1920—and he
started in aviation in Australia with Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. The
country was in the Depression when, in 1937, his father ordered him to
quit high school and get a job.
to the local airport, and they hired him. For 15 shillings a week he
cleaned airplanes and swept floors. After awhile, he moved to engine
maintenance and repair, eventually getting his engine license. But his
job was more than just that.
chase cows off the runway at the Sydney airport," he said. But the
airport managers didn’t mind the cows. "They would eat the grass
so they didn’t have to mow."
awhile before planes flew at night, and when they finally did, they put
kerosene lanterns on the runway. "If you were not on the ground by
the second lantern, you went around again," Armstrong said.
"Otherwise, you couldn’t see where you were going."
flew regularly—one time even flying a DC-3 with 21 passengers. He
learned by watching and listening, and spent his lunch hour sitting in a
cockpit and memorizing the controls. Yet he never got his license.
second passion is photography, and Vosti says her father has nearly
fallen out more than one airplane as he lay on the floor with the door
open taking pictures. And when she organized 3,000 old photos, she found
only 80 of family. The rest were of airplanes.
went on to work at the Department of Civil Aviation, and family
vacations were spent driving across Australia. "We’d drive all
over the country so he could check out aircraft and make sure they were
airworthy," Vosti says.
mother always came to Oshkosh, too, until she died last year. "Dad
didn’t take a holiday unless it included Oshkosh," Vosti says.
"Mum always said one day she’d find the bloke who started Oshkosh
because he was to blame."
they met EAA Founder Paul Poberezny while they waited in line for the
international visitors’ parade. "I went up to him and said my mum
needs to meet you," Vosti says. Poberezny graciously walked over
and met Armstrong’s wife, who coincidentally was named Audrey.
says it is through osmosis that the family has somehow been involved in
aviation. She used to work in airline reservations, and Michael,
although related only by marriage, is a captain in the Australian army
and has trained on helicopters. When he returns to Australia, he will be
sent on another tour of duty.
says he grew up reading comics about World War II fighter pilots, and by
16, had earned his pilot license. In fact, he brought his flight suit
along, hoping he could get a ride in a warbird. He said he’d like
someday to buy a Spitfire. Melissa laughs when she says she was
"destined or doomed" to marry someone involved in aviation.
doomed or not, they are having fun at Oshkosh. Armstrong says he is
"enjoying everything—the airplanes, the exhibits, the
people." Melissa says she loves the afternoon air shows. Michael’s
favorite is the warbirds. And while Vosti enjoys all that, she’s
hoping to spot one other thing. Or person to be exact—Harrison Ford.
"That way I’ll
really have something to tell my friends.