Last July, just days before Oshkosh, Alan Henley, leader of the AeroShell Aerobatic Team, was injured at home while demonstrating a chin-up bar to his two young children.
His severe spinal injury was the talk of AirVenture, as the air show community gathered in Oshkosh. At the show, the idea of a benefit air show was borne.
Leading the efforts were Wayne Boggs, Sun ‘n Fun’s air boss, and Bruce Turner, who soon recruited Bobbi Thompson as event coordinator. By the time Oshkosh was over, eight air show performers had committed to the air show, offering not only to fly for free, but to pay all their own expenses.
Turner was tasked with going to Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida, which was chosen for the show because of its demographics and infrastructure, to talk the airport authority into helping. The Jacksonville Airport Authority stepped up, handling all marketing expenses and offering support.
Meanwhile, Thompson was busy recruiting performers. The show eventually got commitments from 35 acts.
“Add in a legacy and a heritage flight and, by golly, we had an air show,” Thompson said.
But organizers worried whether attendance would be strong, since there had never been an air show at Cecil Field before. “We wondered, ‘would anyone attend?’,” she said.
Those worries proved unfounded. The benefit show, which was held the weekend before the opening of Sun ‘n Fun, attracted 28,000 people.
It featured a 372-minute flight schedule. “That’s over six hours,” Thompson crowed. “There was a little something for everybody.”
The show raised $110,000 for the Alan Henley Foundation. The funds will be used to help defray Henley’s medical expenses, as well as help his family – wife Jen, daughter Skylar and son Brandon – face the economic challenges ahead of them.
Even better news? Those aren’t the final numbers, as donations continue to come in, Thompson said.
“That’s phenomenal,” Henley said Saturday at Sun ‘n Fun. “The whole aviation community is a dedicated, caring community that takes care of each other. Having flown shows with all these performers over the years, I’m honored to be considered one of them. This will definitely help us out quite a bit,” he concluded.
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