EAA AirVenture Oshkosh - The World's Greatest Aviation Celebration

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All kinds of airplanes and pilots here at AirVenture
Story and photos by JACK HODGSON
Don Miller's other plane is a restored BT-13 WWII Warbird.
Chris Felton with his borrowed Citabria.

As the week progresses here at Oshkosh, activity spreads throughout the field. The warbirds have been arriving and, as usual, are presenting their spectacular flying each day.

Homebuilts are crowding into the center of the show.

Down to the south are the vintage and ultralight fliers.

It’s a big world here at AirVenture.

Don Miller is sitting under the wing of a Jabiru light sport plane, but it’s not his—it belongs to a neighbor back in Edmond, Oklahoma. Don’s plane here at AirVenture is in another category altogether: Warbird.

Don flew into Oshkosh 2011 in the Consolidated Vultee BT-13A he restored: a World War II trainer pilots nicknamed the “Vultee Vibrator.”

Says Don, “The airplane was originally built in April of 1941, it has a 42-foot wingspan, 29 feet long. Its 451-hp Pratt & Whitney radial engine swings a 9-foot prop, and turns dollar bills into noise and smoke at an alarming rate.”

Don first got involved with the BT-13 when he stumbled across one and liked the look.

“I had been a member of the old Confederate Air Force for over 30 years. And we rebuilt it from scrap. It had laid out in pieces in a field in Tulsa for 30 years. Corroded and rusted it just looked terrible. It took us 24 years to rebuild it.

“That’s why I’m so old, and the airplane’s old, too.”

This is not the 13’s first AirVenture, and prior visits won him recognition from EAA judges.

“We brought it down in ’09; we won Best Trainer with it and the Silver Wrench Award. Then we brought it down last year, and we won the Preservation Award.”

Like so many, he values the friendships and community at AirVenture. “It’s fun to get to visit my friends from Florida, from New Jersey, and various other places around.

“It’s just neat to see pilots. Pilots are a special breed. I met another BT pilot who does aerobatics with it that I didn’t think could be done. Michael Kennedy from Tennessee, just a delightful person.”

Don lives on a small airport community in Edmond: Myrick Airport with only eight homes plus eight hangars.

“We have a 2,600-foot grass strip, 60 feet wide, which is interesting because my BT-13 wings are 42 feet wide, and the pilot sits 10 feet from the end of the nose. It’s a taildragger, so you land full stall, and when you raise that nose up, if you’re going 60 miles an hour, you can see a little bit here and a little bit there, and you just hope that you make it in one piece.”

He laughs, “And you do.”

Long before the BT Don built a 150-hp Spezio homebuilt.

“I saw one here, and I liked it, so I found some plans and built it. It took me eight years.

“Then I remember test flying it one Sunday morning, and let me tell you, you haven’t lived your life fully ’til you test fly an airplane that you built.”

Did it go well?

“Yeah, well, sorta. I sat at the end of the runway with the prop ticking over, asking myself, ‘What in the hell am I doing here. I don’t know whether this thing will fly or not.’”

“But I did. Throttle forward and off we go.

“And I had a good flight…both me and the airplane were reusable.”

Don also owns a 1946 Taylorcraft BC-12D.

“I love aviation. I really enjoy aviation people. And people who like airplanes and like being around others.

“There are lots of bad habits we aviators have, like talking to airplanes when their wives are going, ‘Oh my god, not more of this.’ But it’s a delightful experience, I’m just delighted to be here.”

Chris Felton made the short hop up to AirVenture 2011 from Milwaukee, with his son, Devon, in a borrowed Citabria.

Chris’ regular plane is a 1982 Bonanza A36, which he flies a lot. But this year he thought he’d bring a different flying experience to Oshkosh.

“This one is just a lot of fun. Seat of the pants, fly with the windows open, thousand feet above the ground, looking out the window, fair weather flying. “My Bonanza is just as much fun, but it’s all business. It’s instruments and flying in the soup, going cross-country, long distances, turbocharged 20,000 feet, just a different kind of flying.”

Chris’ Bonanza is upgraded to a 300-horse IO-550—turbonormalized. “I’m one of only a couple dozen Bonanzas that has de-icing boots and a hot prop, so it really is a nearly all-weather machine.

“It’s just a wonderful airplane.”

He’s had the Bonanza for about 13 years putting about 250 hours yearly on the Hobbs.

Home base for Chris is Milwaukee’s Timmerman Airport. He describes it as a mid-sized airport. “Tower, maybe 50 planes based there, a TBM 700, a couple jets. But mostly singles.”

Chris has been flying for 28 years and has accumulated “just over 3,000 hours,” many using the plane to commute.

“I live in Milwaukee, and work in northwestern Wisconsin, so I commute back and forth in the Bonanza.

“People ask me how much is business and how much is fun, and I say, well it’s about 75 percent business and 100 percent fun.”


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