Local residents who happened to glance toward the clouds Monday afternoon, July 29, were treated to a special sight.
Internationally renowned aeronautical expert Yves Rossy made a guest appearance in the skies above Waupaca Municipal Airport-Brunner Field.
A former Swiss military pilot, Rossy pioneered the use of a rigid-winged body suit powered by four jet turbines which allows him to fly like a bird “with nothing but his body,” an altimeter for safety and a tiny throttle in his hand.
A featured guest at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Rossy and his team preceded their public performance at EAA with two days of rehearsal flights from the Waupaca airstrip.
He chose Waupaca’s airport due to its lack of congestion, the availability of hangar space and the ability to practice outside the glare of the media.
It was there Rossy actually undertook his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acceptance flight allowing him to fly in the United States and subsequently in public at EAA.
On July 29, a handful of airport personnel watched as he and his crew boarded his customary black helicopter and took to the skies as the morning’s cloud cover lifted.
That time, he joined and flew in proximity to an EAA arranged B-17 WWII Bomber, enabling him to demonstrate the speed and versatility of his winged suit.
Upon reaching the desired altitude, Rossy exited the helicopter, with only his wings attached and nine minutes of fuel, allowing him to easily keep pace and outmaneuver the much larger B-17.
For unsuspecting onlookers on the ground, it was the sight of the gigantic B-17, the helicopter and the unique exhaust stream left by Jetman’s suit which captured their attention.
“I was walking to work and saw the B-17 and helicopter flying with what I thought was some small stunt plane that you could hardly see. I had no idea it was Jetman or that he was coming here,” said Russ Butkiewicz.
After Rossy exhausted his fuel and achieved an altitude of 2,500 feet, he could be seen opening the suit’s parachute and gradually drifting back to the safety of the airport.
Red Door Hangar Aviation Services donated hangar space to house Rossy’s equipment on the airport’s northwest side.
Brad Janssen, Red Door’s manager, said, “Rossy and his crew really wanted to keep things quiet without a lot of public attention,” so they could focus on preparing for their upcoming EAA performance.
Rossy’s appearance was one of two hosted by the airport in support of last week’s EAA show.
The second included practice flights by world famous female aerobatic champion Melissa Pemberton and her flying partner Skip Stewart.
Janssen said the relative quiet of the local sky and the airport’s proximity to Oshkosh are what drew Rossy and Pemberton to Waupaca.
“We couldn’t get hangar space at the larger airports like Appleton. It’s not available, and it would be too expensive.” Janssen said.
Airport Manager Peter Andersen said supporting the EAA and hosting visiting pilots like these are part of its overall mission to provide aviation support for local business while introducing pilots to the Waupaca area.
“Cherokees to Oshkosh has adopted the Waupaca airstrip as its official home away from home,” Andersen said. The group attracts an average of 30 aircraft and up to 100 people each year who fly here, stay in local hotels and eat here before heading down to EAA in Oshkosh.
Andersen may be onto something.
When Rossy’s team was told by an onlooker to come back when they have more time because we “have a lot of lakes around here,” they replied, “We know. We could see them.”
While Rossy’s appearance was intentionally kept closed to the public, the airport sponsors the Northwoods Cross Country race, which enables local residents to observe interesting flight demonstrations from the airport grounds.
Recently, the strip received a two-year acceptance from the FAA on an aerobatic box which provides 6,000 feet of vertically protected airspace for high speed maneuvers. Andersen hopes to see the airport sponsor other aerobatic events open to the public in the future.