Homebuilts at AirVenture: All The Wright Stuff

Every homebuilt displayed at Oshkosh becomes part of the 120-year long homebuilding continuum, inspiring new builders and encouraging existing ones.

Growing up in Oshkosh certainly exposed me to the world of aviation. When the convention landed in KOSH in 1970, I was six-years old. By 1974 I was in aviation’s clutches. Sometime around 1977 I fell under the influence of homebuilding. In 1978 I joined EAA—a proud moment in my life, which I remember in greater detail than I do this morning’s breakfast. The small “Join EAA Here” shack was near the main entrance. I filled out the two-part carbon copy membership form, paid the student membership fee and was handed a manilla envelope containing an outline of my membership benefits and my first issue of Sport Aviation magazine. EAA’s DC-3, which stood a stone’s throw from the “Join EAA Here” shack, was on the cover and within its pages Jim Bede explained the collapse of the BD-5 on the collapse of Hirth engines. My membership card arrived by mail shortly thereafter. I was, and am, EAA member 131990.

While it is hard to pin my interest for experimental aircraft on the fact EAA’s convention attracted them to my hometown (I also worshipped the wheels of warbirds, classics and the spam cans of the day, now classics themselves), I can say with certainty it fostered it. Sport Aviation fed me a monthly diet of inspiration (which I now I strive to pay back on the pages of KITPLANES). The magazine sustained me until each July—there was no internet then, no YouTube, no chat groups—when the airplanes that caught my imagination would appear fully formed and flying in front of me. Sometimes seeing the fully realized airplane would cause my lust to burn brighter. Other times one glance was all I needed to dismiss a design as unworthy of my desire. The funny thing is, when I did find finally find The One, in Oshkosh, in 1996, it wasn’t at AirVenture and it was wholly unknown to the public. But it wouldn’t be for long. That’s one benefit to being an airport bum; you stumble onto things.

That stumble changed my life’s direction. A few years later, with the Sonex public knowledge and one taking shape in my garage, I was in Sonex’s AirVenture booth sharing my love and knowledge of the design with those who had only read about it but now had the chance to see it. I could see the wheels turning in people’s heads. Some would ask questions—many questions. Some would stand off at a safe pondering distance: crunching numbers in their head; taking mental inventory of their tools, their time and their workspace. I’d begin to recognize the people who came by day after day, sometimes year after year. They’d loiter, reconnoiter, and move on only to return again. And again. We called them “boomerangs.” They were in that uncomfortable position of not being able make the leap into building, yet not being able to let go of the desire. I’ve been there. I’d rather have a kidney stone.

I’ve seen faces change when someone discovers The One for them. That AirVenture-driven big-bang moment triggers an often-lengthy decision-making process. For those whose big bang is receding on their homebuilding timeline, AirVenture can be the end of the decision-making process. They need one more hard stare, one more test sit before a finalist is chosen. For the lucky, confident few, AirVenture is the place they place their order, though it’s more rare than you’d think for the financial transaction that seals the deal on a multiyear commitment to occur in a vinyl tent in Oshkosh. Still, I’ve seen people bound into the Sonex booth and ask, “Who can take my money?” One couple even produced a bottle of champagne and two glasses from their backpack to celebrate ordering their kit. You can bet that wasn’t an overnight decision. For those who are already building, AirVenture is the place to recharge their batteries, gather ideas and advice and shop for the elusive bits that turn a pile of parts into an airplane. Agonizing over avionics and airframe illumination options can be just as taxing as choosing which airplane to build. And therein lies the fun.

For us homebuilders, AirVenture would be nothing but an airshow and an aviation trade-show if it weren’t for the 1100-or-so pilots who fly their E/AB, E-LSA or ultralight to Oshkosh each July. All of those one-of-a-kind aircraft represent the beginning and the end of the homebuilding lifecycle. They began as someones dream, grew from persistence and are flown for the pure joy of flying. More than any other aircraft category represented at AirVenture—where ALL categories are represented, homebuilts can trace a straight line of lineage back to Orville and Wilbur and the Wright Flyer; an airplane built by amateurs and experimental in every way. AirVenture’s homebuilt flight line ignites dreams and proves they can be achieved. Whether AirVenture 2023 is the beginning, the end, the continuation or the culmination of your homebuilding adventure, rest assured, it is an adventure.

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Kerry Fores
Kerry Fores was born and raised in Oshkosh, WI and was interested in homebuilding by age 12. Between 1998 and 2003 he scratchbuilt and polished a Sonex, which he named Metal Illness. Kerry logged nearly 500 hours in Metal Illness and was awarded Plans Built Champion at AirVenture 2006. Kerry is retired from a 21-year career at Sonex Aircraft, most of it dedicated to supporting builders. Kerry is on the web at thelifeofdanger.com.


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