On June 13 I joined a group of my EAA coworkers in a post-work hop over to the Wisconsin Flying Hamburger Social at the Wild Rose Idlewild Airport (W23). General aviation is one of those very few fields where you wind down from work by going to hang around the very thing you talk about all day, and actually enjoy it. The fly-in was going to be my first hamburger social, and I had been looking forward to it for the better part of a week. But when the day came it rained all morning and into the early afternoon, and we were planning to head over to our hangars at 4. Luckily, around 1 p.m. the rain gave way to sun, warmth, and little more than a light breeze. We learned that the grass strip at Wild Rose is sandy and would have drained well enough by the time we arrived, so after conferring via telephone and cubicle tag, the trip was on. Little did I know it would be an evening was full of flying firsts for me.
As we lined up shortly after 4:30 to take off from Runway 9, I looked around and realized I was in the middle of one of those quintessential “only in Oshkosh” moments. The first three airplanes waiting to take off were in my group: Nicole Brown of marketing and David Leiting of the chapters office were ahead of us in the employee flying club’s Wag-Aero CUBy, myself and Director of Publications Jim Busha were second in line with his Aeronca L-3, followed by Kyle Voltz of chapters and museum service rep Emily Noack in her Aeronca Champ. Except these three airplanes didn’t account for the loud thrum that could be heard. Waiting behind the Champ was one of Basler Turbo’s DC-3 conversions, and taxiing up behind that was EAA’s Spirit of St. Louis replica, which is preparing to fly at this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Those are two birds you don’t share the airport with every day!
About 3 miles out departing Oshkosh I heard Jim’s voice telling me I was going to take the airplane. Although he had me put my feet on the rudders before takeoff, I reminded him that I’ve been learning in a 172 and said I didn’t feel confident enough to fly an airplane with a stick. But Jim knows how my brain works, so having been told and not asked I took the stick, picked a spot on the horizon, and told myself in the wise words of a fish named Dory to just keep swimming. With that, I was flying a warbird for the first time. Aside from my once-in-a-lifetime experience flying EAA’s Spirit of St. Louis a few weeks prior, it was my first time flying a stick, and piloting the L-3 was a far cry from the Spirit’s heavy handling. But despite my inexperience I was surprised at how intuitive it felt to be at the controls.
The fly-in itself was full of good food and great camaraderie. We were joined by the rest of the chapters department, including Charlie Becker, John Egan, and John’s wife, Mollee. Although overall turnout was light, no doubt due to the day’s weather, the small group atmosphere allowed me to better get to know some of my coworkers who I don’t get to interact with on a daily basis. Flying back, we set the radio to “fingers” (frequency 123.45) and did a little loose formation flying (another first), performing breaks and taking a few air-to-airs just as the sun began dipping toward the horizon. From Jim, who has been flying for decades, to myself, only introduced to GA two years ago, I got the sense that we were all sharing exactly the same thrill and excitement in those moments.
The events of the evening got me thinking about my aviation family. Not just the people I work with at EAA, but the people I’ve interviewed for stories or met at convention or chatted with at hangar coffee, and all those I’ve yet to meet. Nowhere else have I met people more good-natured, welcoming, and downright fun than in the general aviation community. There’s a saying I’ve heard that you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. In my case, working at EAA, I guess I really don’t have a choice in being a part of the aviation family, but even if I did I wouldn’t have it any other way.