Culture

Explore the Wonders of Flight at the Experimental Aviation Museum in Oshkosh

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Every fan of “Superman” knows the introduction to the old Superman television series, “Up in the sky, look: It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!”. But most visitors to the Experimental Aviation Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, (yes, Virginia, there is actually a place called Oshkosh) might feel the same way.

Here you can see a variety of planes made out of the most outré designs and materials. Probably the most outlandish is the car plane, with the body of an actual car chassis and wings to fly the contraption. A couple of other special home-built planes are the gyroplane and a small plane called the Breezy.

The founder of the Experimental Aviation Association was Paul Poberezny, a noted pilot and enthusiast of home-built aircraft. He founded the association in his basement in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, in 1953, along with his wife Paula. Poberezny died in 2013 at the age of 91, still active in the Association and aviation until his death. Now the Association has world wide recognition as the only association of its kind with worldwide membership.

The home-built air craft collection is now housed in a large and very modern building on expansive grounds in Oshkosh. It includes unusual planes from all over the world. You can find almost any kind of flying machine at the EAA — if you can’t find it here, you can’t find it anywhere.

The museum has seven distinct areas and special displays of different kinds of aviation, from the original to space. There is also the adjacent Pioneer Airfield, which has been modeled after a 1930s airfield including 1930s music piped from speakers. If you’ve ever had a yen to fly in an open air cockpit plane, you can do it here. It’s fantastic fun, with the wind tousling your hair and the breeze on your face. It beats flying in the sardine-like constraints of a 747 or an Airbus, or for that matter any plane in which you are fully encapsulated. You can also opt for a ride in the 1927 Swallow biplane, the oldest such plane available for passenger rides. Pioneer Airfield contains seven hangers with around fifty vintage aircraft displayed within. Wandering through them, it’s easy to fantasize that you are back in the 1920s and 1930s. There’s also a replica of the 1911 original Wright Brothers’ model B aircraft displayed.

The museum has an entire large wing, the Eagle Hanger, 120 feet long, devoted to World War II. Not only are there the aircraft of the U.S. Air Force, but posters with slogans of the times. The wing also has an original shell of one of the first atom bombs.

Giant large screen videos are interspersed throughout the main hall of the museum, showing different aspects of experimental aviation and how each came about. Pioneers of Aviation is an exhibit displaying the early aviators and aviatrices, along with some of their original flight gear and suits.

KidVenture Gallery is a great area for kids to experience what it would be like to fly and while hanging out here, they will likely begin to love the delights and wonders of aviation.

Of course, the museum also honors and displays the wonders of space flight and the new innovations in the field, along with interactive displays. In fact, there are interactive displays throughout the museum in every one of the areas.

The original workshop of the EAA’s founder is also displayed, but what excites aviation enthusiasts world-wide the most is the EAA’s annual summer fly-in, historically held in July. It’s called the AirVenture, and it’s the world’s largest fly-in event!  Experimental and home built planes come from all over the world. The entire city of Oshkosh seems entirely devoted to this event, with aviation vendor tents dotting the vast area. The event area is so huge that it is like a small town and is even divided into named streets. Dozens of young volunteers help to direct the heavy vehicular traffic and to guide visitors to the right area. More than 4,000 volunteers contribute approximately 250,000 hours before, during and after the event. A free tram transports visitors from one section to another. Every year different special planes are featured. Aerobatic maneuvers are accomplished by a variety of planes, from the small single- or dual-engine planes to those of the Air Force.

The EAA estimated the attendance in 2014 at over 500,000, with visitors registered from 69 nations. There were approximately 10,000 aircraft, 2,000 show planes, and over 900 media representatives on-site from five continents, along with 790 commercial exhibitors. The large number of aircraft arrivals and departures during the fly-in makes the Wittman Field FAA Control Tower the busiest in the world for that week. If you are a pilot, you and your friends and family can make arrangements to fly into this event. If you are not, then just take a commercial plane or drive, if you live in any of the close adjacent states. It’s an event that you should definitely attend, if only once in your lifetime.

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Image via http://www.eaa.org/