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World of Flight Engage in the at the EAA AirVenture Museum

When most aviators think of Oshkosh, Wisc., one thing comes to mind – the massive annual fly-in known as EAA AirVenture.  Many pilots make at least one journey there during their lifetime, and thousands make it an annual part of their calendar.

There is a lesser-known part of EAA’s Oshkosh complex that is a year-round treat for any flying enthusiast.

The EAA AirVenture Museum is one of the nation’s finest aviation museums that offers a unique view of flight.

It’s a place where SpaceShipOne, a prototype P-51 Mustang and TV legend Johnny Carson’s flight bag all have a place. That’s an odd grouping, but it all fits together inside the EAA museum. So, too, do the visitors you’ll find in the museum on any given day, ranging from school groups of wideeyed youngsters discovering aerodynamics to World War II veterans reconnecting with airplanes that bring memories flooding back.

There are stories to be discovered everywhere. While some visitors see the 100-plus aircraft on display, a closer look shows that each aircraft and the people behind them have a tale to tell. EAA’s facility differs from many aviation museums in that it is dedicated to personal flight, with the joy, accomplishment and sometimes tragedy involved in it.

You’re greeted by volunteer museum docents – many of whom are retired educators and/or longtime pilots – as you start your tour at the beginning of flight, with the Wright brothers.

The full-size reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer was constructed by Wisconsin technical college students and rests on a display that includes sand from the actual dunes at Kitty Hawk, N.C. where the historic first flights were made.

In the vintage aircraft area, you’ll discover the stories of early flight pioneers through an unmatched collection of aircraft, including a reproduction of the Sikorsky S-38 used by Johnson Wax to fly to uncharted areas of the Amazon basin in search of carnauba palms; the gangly looking Pitcairn autogiro “Miss Champion” that helped develop helicopter technology; and the sleek Bugatti 100, which was developed prior to World War II to break the world’s speed record.

It was hidden in barn during the war, and passed through an unlikely chain of owners to arrive in Oshkosh.

A stop at the tribute to Charles Lindbergh comes complete with a full-size Spirit of St. Louis replica hanging above a diorama of Paris as Lindy saw it in May 1927. Look closely: There’s a secret of that miniature city that may surprise you.

The history of flight includes an era of speed, personalities, and national acclaim every bit as big as NASCAR is today. The air racing gallery shows the airplanes and people who moved technology forward, as well as the aerobatic performers who continue to dazzle audiences today. It’s also where you’ll find Johnny Carson’s flight bag from his days as a pilot along with a hilarious video of his flight with air show legend Art Scholl.

Central to EAA’s legacy are the abilities of those using, as EAA Founder Paul Poberezny puts it, “hand and mind” to create their own designs and projects to pursue flight. The homebuilt aircraft area at the EAA Air Venture Museum features everything from one of the world’s smallest airplanes with a wingspan of just over six feet to amazing creations by designer Burt Rutan.

Those Rutan designs include his first VariViggen from the early 1970s, an exact reproduction of the history making Voyager that made the first nonstop, nonrefueled around the world flight in 1986 and another reproduction – this one of SpaceShipOne,
which in 2004 became the first successful civilian-built spacecraft. An hourly video presentation brings you into that spaceflight, where hard science mixes with M&Ms to achieve another flight milestone.

Everywhere you turn in the EAA AirVenture Museum, there are little surprises: An unknown fact on a placard, a short video that takes you into the cockpit, or a long-ago dream of flight that makes us chuckle today.

As you step into the Eagle Hangar, however, the focus changes. It’s not just the music that transports you into the 1940s. This is a place of honor to what has been called “The Greatest Generation.”

There are airplanes, of course, ranging from two P-51 Mustangs to a B-25 Mitchell to a P-38 Lightning and a Mosquito bomber.

There’s even a secret area where you’ll find an actual 1940s-era atomic bomb casing - yes, it’s deactivated – more important are the stories of those who made personal commitments to a cause bigger than an individual – an effort that might be tough to imagine today.

Take time here to read, view and reflect, both on the main museum floor and the mezzanine, with stories of people and aircraft that changed history.

You’ll leave with a profound understanding of what they experienced on a personal level.

On the mezzanine, there are still discoveries to be made. One of them is the museum’s newest area, the Founders’ Wing. Here you’ll see the story of EAA, its fly-in, and the EAA chapters that Paul Poberezny calls the organization’s “local churches.” Twice a day, a special room is unlocked and you’ll be transported into the recreation of EAA’s first office located in the basement of the Pobereznys’ home, then on to a room filled with unique memorabilia and personal artifacts from EAA’s founding family.

Turning left from the Founders’ Wing, you’ll go from history to the future.

We’ll warn you now: If you have young children along, you may have trouble getting them out of this area.

It’s the KidVenture Gallery, with plenty of things to fly, push, spin, giggle over, and dream about. Pedal as fast as you can and see how much energy you create. Could you power a rocket?

See yourself through an infrared camera, fly a hot-air balloon, an ultralight, or airplane via simulators. Are your reactions fast enough to be a fighter jet pilot? You’ll find out. If you’re a grown up, it’s OK; you can play there, too.

If you stop in during the summer, or selected weekends in the spring and fall, there’s one more discovery waiting for you. It’s a place that stands the EAA museum apart from nearly every other aviation museum – because YOU get to fly. It’s Pioneer Airport, just a short, free tram ride from the museum. This re-creation of a 1930s aerodrome has dozens of aircraft on display and – the best part – the ability to purchase your flight in an open cockpit biplane and take to the sky with one of EAA’s experienced vintage aircraft pilots. Or, if you have a child between ages 8 and 17, they can experience flight with a free Young Eagles flight.

The EAA AirVenture Museum is a treasure for aviation buffs, with big displays worth coming back to and enough new wrinkles that offer something original every time you visit. It’s also truly “our museum” for EAA members – they get free admission at all times. There are also special events for aviators and family fun all year long.

Plan your trip to Oshkosh with more information and schedules at EAA has created a place where personal aviation is highlighted and where we can still dream of things to come.

March/April 2013 Warbirds

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