Letter: KidVenture, 7-year-old key to getting AirVenture juices flowing again

Last week I wrote, “A suggestion for keeping the magic of AirVenture alive.” I’ve received a handful of emails thanking me for the post, some of which offered personal experiences. A few I’m still following up on, but following is what I received from Bill Middlebrook, president of Penn Yan Aero and longtime friend. Suffice it to say, his AirVenture juices are flowing once again, thanks to his 7-year-old son, Reece. Enjoy…

Sorry I missed you this year. I was keeping an eye out for you. I actually spent the show as as an observer this year with the family and spent very little time working the Penn Yan Aero booth.

I just read your article about the show and the naysayer. I have to say, boy are you right! Your insight is right on the money. 

My first trip to Oshkosh was in 1980 on a family trip with my Grandfather who started flying in the 1930’s.  We went with my dad, uncle, cousin etc.  It was a big deal.  Our family has been in the aviation world for generations and to see this show as a kid was something I’ll never forget.  My father, who at that time owned Penn Yan Aero, decided that the business needed to be at the show as a vendor.  So the following year, off we went to Oshkosh.

This year marked Penn Yan Aero’s 31st consecutive trip to Oshkosh as a vendor. It also marked by first time, since 1980, that I didn’t come to the show to work. Believe it or not, my wife Melissa and seven-year-old son Reece had never seen the great spectacle of AirVenture.  Melissa didn’t want to come.  For years and years I saw the show almost strictly from a vendors point of view. I always had complaints about something that the EAA had done or had not done.  I hated to go and could not wait to get home.  For years all she heard was my complaining.  “Why would I want to subject myself to that?”  she would ask.  She had a point.  I complained a lot.  But… Reece has more drive and enthusiasm for aviation than all the air show pilots combined. Ok, she relented for the sake of the young pilot.

Well let me tell you!  We played hard and we had a blast!  It was hot.  It was stormy.  It was expensive.  It was a lot of walking.  We covered the entire show, and not just once but, over and over.  By the end of each day we were exhausted. By the next morning, Melissa and Reece were up and running like a V-12 Merlin at full song ready to hit it again…planning that days schedule.

Another thing that I must mention that played a big part…and I really don’t think that most of the visitors understand it’s significance is the KidVenture areas.  This really impressed me, and I don’t think the general attendance sees the benefit nor understands it’s power and significance. The volunteers that put the kids area together deserve a tremendous amount of credit and kudos.  Reece, and hundreds of other kids, learned so much and were so excited to be there.  It was infectious.  These kids spent days, not minutes or hours, working with volunteers who were there to do nothing but promote our industry to the young.  Building wing ribs, learning about engines, airfoils, propellers and even flying simulators.  Our industry needs this badly!

So, back to your point, I fell in love with Oshkosh all over again and I didn’t want to leave.  Had Reece not been there…I would have been complaining just like the others.  And I never would have been rejuvenated.

Yes, there are still things that irritate me about the show. But you won’t hear be complaining now. Can you imagine what it takes to put it all together and make it profitable?  I’m ashamed my vision was so myopic.

My eyes were re-opened because of the enthusiasm and drive that Reece had to see everything and experience all he could. I’m proud to be in the aviation industry.  I’m proud to be a pilot.  I’m proud to own aircraft and promote flying to the world.  Where else can you witness, experience and be completely immersed in such an awesome aviation learning atmosphere? I’ve been to air shows around the world and I know of no place on earth that compares to Oshkosh during AirVenture week.  Flight line chalets or not, I beg everyone to go grab your sons, daughters, grandchildren or neighborhood kids and go spend a week at AirVenture and really see it.  It’s amazing!

I’ll be back in 2013 and I can’t wait!

I couldn’t have said it better myself Bill. Thanks for writing. See you at OSH13.

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