EAA 'IS MECCA FOR PILOTS'

Thousands of aviation enthusiasts are expected to descend upon Oshkosh for today's start of the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture.

Billed as the world's largest gathering of recreational aviators, the weeklong fly-in and EAA convention at Wittman Regional Airport attracts more than 10,000 airplanes - many of them homemade aircraft - and nearly 250,000 aviation enthusiasts from throughout the world.

Among this year's attractions are the U.S. Marine Corps Harrier jump jet that was expected there early this week and fly-bys over the weekend of the B-2 stealth bomber and F-117 stealth fighter.

Six restored vintage aircraft will also be displayed for the National Aviation Hall of Fame's first "Best of the Best" People's Choice Award competition. The aircraft scheduled to appear include the Lockheed P-38 "Glacier Girl," Piper L-4, Spartan Executive, Fairchild KR-21, Grumman Duck and Waco ATO.

Ron Shannon and Garry Wright were the first to arrive Thursday. Shannon, of Washington, met Wright, of Canada, just over a week ago as part a group of pilots who have Murphy Rebels.

The duo flew in Wright's Murphy Rebel through the mountains of Canada, and instead of ending their trips at their homes, they kept flying to Oshkosh.

Since Thursday, they've been camping together beneath the red and yellow airplane. This is Shannon's third trip to Oshkosh.

It's Wright's first and he's excited to see all that AirVenture has to offer.

"This is mecca for pilots," Wright said.

Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which puts on the annual AirVenture show, took over 30 years ago.

"We have to maintain that culture. We're an aviation event held at an airport in Oshkosh that has made it special through passion, participation and innovation," he said. "Whether it's Harrison Ford or Jim Lovell, they come here because of passion. Everyone comes here equal."

The business part seems to be benefiting as well.

After several years of low revenues and an organization-wide restructuring effort, EAA's unrestricted revenue increased $1.4 million from 2005 to 2006, according to EAA's 2006 annual report.

The increases largely come from increases in admissions and registrations. But with events accounting for more than 30 percent of revenue currently, Poberezny doesn't want to become dependent on AirVenture to propel the organization.

"I think the thing is if we're dependent on AirVenture, you're at the mercy of factors you can't control: weather, fuel prices, etc.," he said. "You don't want to be subject to the fluctuations that occur. The key is how to turn that 30 percent into 20 percent of your revenue. It's by growing other revenues."


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