Building relationships through flight
By Angie Landsverk
Piper Cherokee pilots say they build their family one aviator at a time.
Waupaca Municipal Airport-Brunner Field helps them do so.
This year marked the sixth year Cherokee pilots from throughout the country met at the local airport.
They arrived throughout the week of July 13, and many spent several days in the area before leaving on Saturday, July 18, to fly in formation to Oshkosh, where the annual EAA AirVenture is under way.
They call themselves “Cherokees 2 Oshkosh.”
Peter Andersen, the airport’s fixed based operator, explained how this relationship began.
The idea to put such a group together started in 2010, when the Piper Cherokee was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“The vision of the group was to be able to get Cherokees together and fly into Oshkosh for the 50th anniversary,” he said.
They needed a base for their flight operations and briefings.
“They needed a satellite airport. Being that we’re 40 minutes by car and 15 to 20 minutes by plane, we’re the perfect spot,” Andersen said.
Waupaca’s airport was not the only one the group contacted, but after talking to Andersen, they decided to come here.
“And then with what happened the first year, this became their home,” he said.
What happened that year was EAA flooded out, and the Cherokee pilots were held on the ground here, he said.
Unable to do the mass arrival in Oshkosh they had planned on, they were then faced with the question of how they would even get to Oshkosh.
Within hours, local hotels said they would extend their stays, and the Waupaca School District said it would provide bus transporation.
“Waupaca saved the day and set the tone for them to be here,” Andersen said.
This year, about 20 Cherokee planes were in Waupaca.
Among the pilots was Chip Gentry, of Jefferson City, Missouri.
He has been part of Cherokees 2 Oshkosh from the start.
“We’re from all different parts of the country,” Gentry said. “We’re one big extended family.”
Justin Inman was also part of this year’s group.
He will be a freshman at Oregon State this fall, where he plans to study mechanical engineering.
“This is my second time doing this. Last year I came as well,” Inman said.
Greg Hughes, one of the pilots in the group, invited Inman to go to Oshkosh with him in mass formation and arrival.
“What I didn’t expect was the group atmosphere,” said Inman, who has his private pilot’s license and is working on his instrument rating.
“They have become a group that is almost like a family,” Andersen said. “This group is really forming itself into a bigger thing than what we expected. It’s good for aviation.”
He said it is a solid group and one which continues to grow, with every year some people returning for the trip and others arriving for the first time.
“People are introduced to our area ever year. It’s growth not only for the Cherokees but also for Waupaca,” Andersen said.
Waupaca’s airport is also used by some of the pilots who perform in the airshow at EAA AirVenture.
Last weekend, Luca Bertossio, a 25-year-old pilot from Italy, and aerobatic pilots Michael Goulian and Sammy Mason practiced their maneuvers at the airport.
Andersen said aerobatic pilots started practicing here about three years ago.
“EAA was in need of an airport that could assist them in having a place for their performers to come and practice,” he said. “They reached out to me, because we had an EAA photo group out here several years prior.”
A temporary aerobatic box is established at Waupaca Municipal Airport-Brunner Field, which allows the pilots to practice safely away from EAA.
Goulian, 46, is flying his one-seat Extra 330 in his 20th Oshkosh airshow.
“For me, flying an airplane is like driving a car,” he said.
That is because he has been flying for 30 years.
“I grew up in a flying family. My dad was a pilot. We have a flight school where we teach people how to fly,” he said.
Goulian was in competitive aerobatic flying before he switched to being part of airshows.
“I come here to practice and to stay in rhythm. This is my second year coming here to practice,” he said. “Pete and the airport here are fantastic.”
With Goulian at the airport last Saturday, July 18, was Sammy Mason, a 21-year-old aerobatic pilot from California.
“This is his first Oshkosh,” Goulian said.
Mason is the youngest member of the U.S. Advanced Aerobatic Team and was excited to be part of this year’s airshow.
“I grew up on an airport. Both of my parents are pilots,” he said. “My mom and dad taught me to fly when I was 13. I soloed a glider at 14.”
On his 16th birthday, Mason soloed 10 different powered planes.
He got his private pilot’s license at 17 and his commercial pilot’s license at 18.
“It’s amazing,” Mason said of going to EAA. “It is the biggest airshow in the world. Only the best of the best are invited.”