beneath the Fokker Dr. 1 in the EAA AirVenture Museum. Photo by
Rockford isn’t surprised when he gets calls from all over the United
States, the Czech Republic, Canada, England, or countless other
81-year-old said he was surprised to be named this year’s recipient of
the Tony Bingelis Award. But he shouldn’t have been.
of Overland, Missouri, has been building, repairing, and flying
airplanes for more than 60 years, including antique airplane
restorations for the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum in St. Louis.
But to homebuilders, Rockford is known for going that extra step, or
drive to be exact. He not only answers homebuilders’ questions, but
also sometimes drives a full day to help people as they build planes.
believe technical counselors are in the people business," he said.
"We’re there when they’re getting tired of building … but I
try to work with people even before they pick out an airplane to
that means changing someone’s mind on the type of airplane to build.
"There was one man who wanted to build an all-wooden airplane, but
he had never built anything of wood, never used a hammer and nails, and
didn’t have any woodworking equipment," Rockford said. "Yet
he was a metalsmith from Boeing and had all the metal-working equipment
anyone could dream of; he’s now building an all-metal airplane."
The Tony Bingelis Award, created in 2002, recognizes an
individual’s significant contributions to the encouragement of
homebuilt aircraft projects, the promotion of air safety, and
maintaining the values of EAA.
It honors the memory of the late Tony Bingelis, noted
homebuilding authority and EAA Sport Aviation columnist.
It will be presented during the EAA AirVenture Homebuilders
Dinner on Thursday evening. (Tickets are available at
of the award
Recognize select EAA technical counselors who have endeavored to
educate and encourage fellow EAA members with aircraft projects.
Provide for an appropriate forum in which to celebrate the
recipients and present their award.
Commemorate the honorees with a permanent display at the EAA
persuades someone not to build a plane when he doesn’t think they have
the skills or the wherewithal to finish it. "There was one gentleman
in his late 70s who wanted to build an airplane, and he came over to my
shop and worked with me five or six times. He had taught English, but he
had limited abilities to build anything. He couldn’t even stand the
sound of a drill and would walk out as soon as we’d put something in
the drill press. I finally told him building is not for you, and he
agreed. He bought a Cub instead, and I believe he’s still flying
Rockford says there are
too many airplanes that never are finished. "I feel it’s because
builders didn’t always get the right advice," he said. "I
have no builder that I am working with that didn’t finish the
talks not only to the homebuilders as they’re trying to determine what
plane to build, but also to their spouses. "I want to make sure the
wives understand what building a plane entails," he explained.
an airplane is a major commitment. "You need to commit yourself to
lots of hours, busted knuckles, headaches, kid problems, wife problems,
and everything in between," Rockford said. "That’s why I say
we’re in the people business. We try to help people to build an
airplane and to build it safely and be a good, safe pilot."
shop is in the back of his garage, and two nights a week he opens it up
to other builders who have questions or who just want to learn how to
build parts of a plane. "Anyone who is interested in building can
come by. If they come and I’m covering a wing, I give them a brush and
let them help."
not unusual for a car to pull up, hauling an airplane fuselage. But one
of the strangest cases was a man who was having trouble with his wiring
on the plane. He had used one-strand household wire that someone had
given him. Rockford helped the builder rewire the plane with the
appropriate wire, put the fuselage back on the trailer, and watched him
that can’t just drive up, Rockford helps them via e-mail, making
drawings from computer-aided design programs, if needed.
has built eight planes but has flown only three since the others were
sold about the time he finished them. He’s currently working on a
World War II two-seater.
After first soloing 64
years ago, Rockford jokes that he was destined to be involved in
aviation. "My mother always said that she had a hard delivery with
me because I was born with a propeller in my hand," he said.
"The first sound that came out of me sounded like an airplane, but
she didn’t say which end the noise came from."