45 Years and Counting

Ken Swain, EAA 102241, flew his VariEze, N4ZZ, into Oshkosh for the 45th year in a row this year. From life in the Air Force to flying for United Airlines, and now in retirement, Ken’s aircraft has been a constant.

Ken has proudly owned his VariEze since Burt Rutan first released it, even flying it into Oshkosh just two years after the prototype was shown.

“In 1976, Burt showed up in the homebuilt prototype,” Ken said. “Once, again, he was mobbed. The plans were out there, and a couple of really fast builders showed up in 1977 along with Burt, and in 1978, there were at least 14 … and I was one of them. That was my first time [at Oshkosh].”

Keeping up his streak hasn’t been easy. There were two consecutive years that Ken was afraid he wouldn’t make it to Oshkosh.

“In ’92, I went off to captain school for United Airlines,” Ken said. “Just as Oshkosh was coming up, United got really short on reserves. When they run out of those, the last-ditch effort is to raid all the instructors and send them out to go fly. And so, they told all the students, me included, go home, check in every day, see when we want you back. So, I went home. While I was gone to school, my wife had taken the camper and the kids and gone to Oshkosh on her own, so I actually wound up getting to go to Oshkosh and fly on up.”

Like most people, Ken said it’s not the airplanes that keep bringing him back; it’s the people.

“You come back for the people that you’ve known for a long, long time, and see them,” Ken said. “I see people at Oshkosh that I’ve known for well over 40 years.”

After attending AirVenture for 45 years, things are bound to change. Among the biggest things Ken mentioned are the shorter restroom lines and higher food quality. However, most important to Ken is the camping.

“The first three years I stayed [at UW-Oshkosh], and every year since, I’ve stayed in the campground,” Ken said. “I’ve seen the way the campground has evolved …. That’s changed a lot, and yet it hasn’t changed. The society of campers is its own extra convention separate from the daytime convention. It has to be experienced, and not just one or twice, but over a number of years to understand. It’s a whole other vibe.”

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