|A fly-in within the fly-in down on the farm.
By Jack Hodgson
We're visiting the neighborhoods of EAA AirVenture this week and today we went to one of its most distinctive, "down on the farm" to the Ultralights area.
Way down at the south end of the convention grounds, the Ultralights area is best known for its Ultralight Barn and the grass runway that hosts flying each morning and afternoon during the fly-in.
First we chatted with Carla Larsh, chairman of barn operations. Hailing from Brownsburg, Indiana, and Sebring, Florida, the 23-year volunteer explained how she keep things working at this "fly-in within a fly-in."
Unlike other convention areas, the Ultralights folks are responsible for all their logistics and infrastructure—from registration to wristbands, EAA memberships to aircraft parking, and flightline ops.
Ultralights has about 250 active volunteers with as many as 75 working at any one time. Last year they logged 6,000 hours volunteering to keep the farm running.
Managing all this takes 22 chairmen, led by Head Chairman Lee Crevier.
They even host hot-air ballooning on the farm, headlined by Saturday morning's scheduled 6 a.m. launch.
But it's not all work.
Similar to most other AirVenture communities, Ultralights volunteers are like a small family—hanging out together to eat, socialize, and just share experiences off-duty.
"There are week-long volunteers that have been coming for year after year," Carla said. "The bulk of our volunteers have been coming forever."
One of those dedicated Ultralights volunteers is Dan Grunloh, from Champaign, Illinois. Dan's been volunteering at AirVenture for 29 years. He owns a single-seat trike, which he usually flies to OSH; but not this year.
He started in 1983 as a judge, performing many other roles over the years.
"I've had all the different jobs you can have here. Flightline for four years. I now run the seminar tent over here. We used to have something called Manufacturers Showcase, which was a flying activity; I did that for almost 10 years.
"So I'm a guy who can't say no."
Dan agrees that Ultralights volunteers are a very real community.
"The leaders foster it," he said. "A lot of spouses are working here. People bring their kids and give them little jobs. So, it's love of Ultralights and it's loyalty to EAA."
Most of the volunteers come back from year to year, but a few new ones appear each year.
"A lot of people come in for the minor jobs," he said. "And once we get them hooked they keep coming back from year to year."
Is it possible to say which was the best job he had over the years?
"Oh absolutely. It would be flightline operations. Because you're with the airplanes, there's a lot of action.
"You're either a spotter or you're the flagman. Making decisions. I really enjoyed being the flagman because I knew the pilots, I knew how they flew, I knew their airplanes.
"They choose people who are very knowledgeable. So, you know what kind of approach that guy makes. And you know whether to flag the next guy off. It was fun! It's the most action...and things are happening so quickly."
It makes one think of carrier-deck operations.
"It's more organized now," he said. "When I was doing it I had one spotter. No radios, you used your eyeballs.
"Now we have two towers, several spotters."
Sometimes you can't see approaching planes; they're behind trees or low. "And you must make that decision on whether to send this next guy off or hold him back.
"It's even more like a carrier operation now. But it's a lot of fun."
After 29 years, how much longer does Dan think he'll be doing all this?
"There's a tendency for volunteers to retire at about 30 years. But I think I'm gonna try to break that record."
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