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Memories of Oshkosh

Tales From AirVenture 2020 (strike that) Oshkosh '93

 

August 1, 2020

Photo courtesy of Chad Armstrong

Chad Armstrong (Left) with Chuck Yeager at Oshkosh 1993.

In 1993 when I was 14 years old and already an airshow fanatic, my father took me on my first pilgrimage to the Oshkosh Fly-In Convention (it would not be named AirVenture until years later). Fast forward 27 years and now a father myself, I was going to continue the cycle. My 14 year old daughter has also been bitten by the aviation bug and we were planning her first trip to AirVenture in 2020. When I broke the news to her that the event was canceled this year due to COVID-19, my heart sank as a few tears expressed their way down her cheek – however, I would be remiss if I did not admit to also feeling a bit of pride in knowing that one of my children feels as passionate about flying as her dad does. And while the tale of her first midsummer journey to Wittman Regional Airport will not be woven until next year, the rest of us that have made the grand trek to our mecca of flying machines will need to rely on our memories of years past.

Digging through a box of keepsakes in the garage, I found the program from the 1993 Fly-In. As I paged through, the floodgates opened and memories poured out – page after page brought back the visions of walking through rows of warbirds, watching Jon Sharpe win the Aeroshell Speed Dash in his DR-90 Nemesis, and eating lemon ice cream cups while enjoying the world's best aerobatic performers show off their skills in the Breitling Masters World Cup. But the real reason I went digging for this program wasn't for the words on the pages, it was for the autograph on the front – that of one General Chuck Yeager, a man whose book I had already read and whom I would get to meet on this trip. It happened right after he landed from flying P-51D S/N 45-11381 owned by Gary Honbarrier and faithfully restored as Chuck's WWII fighter "Glamorous Glen III" during that day's warbird demonstration. (Unfortunately, this aircraft later crashed on Sept. 6, 2001 as the result of cooling system/engine failure and is currently awaiting restoration). As determined as the security guard was to uphold the barricade surrounding the warbirds taxiing back in from the demonstration, I was more dedicated and eventually wore him down and he snuck me through as soon as the propeller blades had all come to a rest. While most kids seek out photos and autographs of musicians, this was the photo and autograph that I had wanted – and made sure I got!

Photo courtesy of Chad Armstrong

The 1993 Oshkosh program with Chuck Yeager's autograph.

Then as if the world wanted to send a reminder that Oshkosh is about more than airplanes, out of one of the pages fell a brochure for Circle R campground with a hand-written reservation. Picking up this gold piece of paper and smiling at their whopping $9.00 a night rates, I was again surrounded by memories – although, not of airplanes. Rather, these memories were of the personal side of the trip – the things that are unique and personal. The small things that are somehow just as, if not more meaningful than the Fly-In itself. Things such as the memory of my dad's pickup clunking to a stop a mere 20 feet from our campsite after completing the 500-mile trip to Oshkosh and needing to be towed away for repairs. Or waking up to the sound of radial engines overhead and my dad cooking me a full dozen eggs for breakfast because he didn't want my mom to think I was going hungry. All of the moments that remind you that while this is a trip centered on aviation, it is really about so much more.

Certainly this trip in the early 90's was an experience that had a profound effect on my love for aviation, and was also a wonderful bonding moment for father and son. The photo of Chuck Yeager and I remains mounted on the wall in my parents' home, and I look forward to keeping the memories of my daughter's first trip alive for years to come as well. Next year can't come soon enough.

 

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