EAA Air Adventure opens the world of aviation to spectators like no other show on earth. This year was no different. Rows upon rows of planes from around the world, encompassing 100 years of naval aviation spread as far as the eye could see.
On one side of the gigantic airfield, called the North 40, private planes of all makes were parked and strapped down for safety as their pilots, families and friends took in the sights. This is where EAA Chapter 444 members took on their volunteer jobs. The club of 38 members, based out of Poppy’s Field in Northport, was there to make sure that each and every private airplane had tie downs, safety equipment developed years ago to guard small aircraft from wind gusts and heavy winds.
Each year the club members meet specially to manufacture the tie downs, which they in turn sell to pilots of small aircraft. The week of EAA, club volunteers report to the small tie down shack on the edge of the North 40 to take instructions from coordinator Ken Johnson of New London. As Johnson doles out orders for the volunteers, they jump in four wheel “gators” courtesy of Reisterer and Schnell, and head out to sell their wares.
Otto Jaeger of Neenah demonstrated the process as he drove out to a newly arrived plane full of EAA enthusiasts. As they jockeyed their plane into a parking spot on the grassy field, Jaeger jumped out of the gator, eager to get tie downs in the ground. He joked with the pilot as he went straight to the task at hand, pounding the steel rods in at a 45 degree angle to the ground, one on each wing, and one at the tail.
“It’s a slick little operation we’ve got going here, and the pilots appreciate the help,” said Jaeger, who has attended the EAA for 41 years. He’s seen it grow into a bigger than life event. “We take care of 40 acres of planes each year now, and cover over 6,000 feet of runway.” He looked far up the stretch of grass to find the next row number to report to.
Volunteers run like this from early morning until around 3 p.m. each day. Between 3 and 6 p.m. an air show takes place and volunteers can relax, watch the show, attend a seminar, pick up some parts, or talk to others about an airplane they might be building. “Our club supports anyone who is interested in aviation, including those who are interested in building their own plane,” explains Johnson, who has a plane of his own in the works. “It’s a great project that takes a lot of time, patience and the willingness to learn new things.”
Once the air show is over there is a flurry of “day tripper” planes taking off to go home. The volunteers are at work again, buying back tie downs for half the price they sold them for.
“We can reuse them this way, and it saves the pilot some money if he wants to return them,” explains Johnson.
Besides the tie down job, the local club also hosts several Young Eagles opportunities each year, at Poppy’s Field, in an effort to pique children’s interests in aviation. “Who knows?” said Johnson. “It could lead to a child pursuing a career in aviation.”
“We sponsor two students each year for Air Academy right here at the EAA grounds. It’s a weeklong summer camp filled with interesting things to see and do.”
Johnson is available to answer questions about the EAA Chapter 444 club if you are interested. Call him at 982-4011.