Airport fly over commemorates Pete Andersen
By Angie Landsverk
Peter Andersen loved this time of year.
It meant busy days at Waupaca Municipal Airport-Brunner Field, as pilots from throughout the country stopped here on their way to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh.
The annual aviation celebration began Monday, July 25 and ends Sunday, July 31.
Like previous years, planes dot the sky and ground at Waupaca’s airport.
Some, like the Piper Cherokees, began arriving last week.
Before they flew in formation from Waupaca to Oshkosh last Saturday, July 23, they honored the life of the late Andersen on Friday, July 22 with a mass fly over and missing man formation here.
Andersen, who began serving as the airport’s fixed-based operator and airport manager on June 1, 2008, passed away on Feb. 29.
He was diagnosed with acute leukemia in June 2015 and was at the airport last July when the pilots arrived for their annual Cherokees to Oshkosh flight.
“Not too long after his passing, it was clear we wanted to do something. That something began to come together about six weeks ago,” said Chip Gentry.
Gentry has been a part of Cherokees to Oshkosh from the start.
The idea to put such a group together started in 2010, when the Piper Cherokee was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The group wanted to get Cherokees together and fly into Oshkosh for that anniversary.
They needed a base for their flight operations and briefings.
With Waupaca 40 minutes from Oshkosh by car and 15 to 20 minutes by plane, it was the perfect spot.
While the group contacted other airports, they sealed the deal to come here after talking to Andersen.
Gentry said Andersen welcomed them to Waupaca and made them feel welcomed each consecutive year.
“We’re doing a mass flyover with all the member pilots,” he said.
That totaled 21 planes last Friday.
“After the low pass, as we’re coming around the airport, four will come together and head north and will perform the missing man formation,” Gentry said.
The maneuver evolved into a tradition during World War II, as a way to commemorate a fallen soldier.
“The No. 3 position will pull and head west, symbolizing Pete’s leaving and heading to heaven,” Gentry said.
Family and friends gathered for the tribute, and Andersen’s daughter, Beth, who is now the fixed based operator, was among those watching and holding a camera.
Andersen’s contributions to the airport were recognized and celebrated Friday evening.
On Sunday, July 24, the family celebrated his life.
That celebration also took place at the airport.
After those in attendance shared food and conversation, some family members, as well as neighbors and city officials, shared their memories of Andersen.
They commented about Andersen’s humility, kindness and concern for others and his smile.
“His smile is No. 1,” Gentry said last Friday, July 22 when asked about his memories of Andersen.
He said it was always great to hear Andersen’s voice when flying here, knowing Andersen was here to welcome him and help the group of Cherokee pilots in any way.
“His humility and caring nature were an inspiration to all of us,” Gentry said.
Andersen’s wife, Susan, said she and Beth watched the pilots practice the formation earlier that day.
“I think it’s aweseome,” Susan said. “It’s so great being out here now. Seeing all the people who were crazy about Peter makes it easier in a way, because he’s still here.”
About 50 Warbirds are scheduled to do a mass fly formation over the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King on Thursday, July 28 before landing at Waupaca Municipal Airport-Brunner Field at approximately 11 a.m. to meet with members of the veterans home.
Beth Andersen, the fixed based operator at the airport, said the public is welcome to be at the airport to watch the arrival of the Warbirds.
She said Heavies, Trainers, Yaks, T6s, TBM, Navions, Birddogs and Sky Raiders will be among them.