I know many of you following the progress of my Hummingbird helicopter are probably thinking that flying it to the show is what made my Oshkosh so great this year. Yes, that was truly an adventure, and I will share it another time. I will admit it played a small part in a happy ending this year, but it pales in comparison to the true meaning of Oshkosh, which came to me in spades on Monday morning as the show began.
I was opening the Hummingbird for the display at the Lycoming booth, 8:45 a.m. on Monday. It was still a little bit quiet, but the people traffic was picking up rapidly. A young couple approached me—Robert Martin and his wife—and said, “We’ve been following you on your YouTube channel and we want you to know that you’ve inspired us to learn to fly and build an RV-10.” Holy Moses! I turned to someone and said I could go home now, my Oshkosh was complete! Their enthusiasm was amazing, and they stopped by again on Friday to tell me they had already signed up for ground school. I can’t wait to hear more about their journey, and I am sure they will work just as hard to inspire others.
What It’s About
In my mind, that interaction was the epitome of what homebuilt aviation is all about. Over the years I have heard so many doubts from potential builders about their ability to undertake an aircraft project. I try to remind them that we all had to learn and we all made mistakes along the way. The only way to not make a mistake is to not do anything. The best thing to do is just get started—don’t focus on the mistakes—and one day you will be flying and telling others how to get started. I have no doubt there were similar stories happening all over AirVenture!
As luck would have it, the week closed out on another happy note, just as unexpected. When I started building the Hummingbird, I really didn’t think about flying it to Oshkosh. Admittedly, it’s a long flight from Atlanta in a helicopter. As an example, the 24-hour round trip in the helicopter wouldn’t even get us halfway to Alaska in the Hummingbird. But last year at AirVenture, Lycoming mentioned it would be nice to see the Hummingbird on display since it was going to have a Thunderbolt engine in it. I think most everyone thought I was crazy, including my wife, Carol. Most of the homebuilt helicopters are trailered into Oshkosh and then flown almost daily at the ultralight runway.
Everyone knows helicopters require substantially more maintenance than airplanes. Right from the start I set out to build the Hummingbird to the best of my ability, with reliability being top of mind. I did not want to get stranded somewhere between home and Oshkosh. But I did not build it to win trophies. Carol and I did everything ourselves. I taught her to rivet, she did the interior and we both did the paint. I can certainly show you where all the flaws are. I did not even intend to enter it into judging. While we’ve received a bronze Lindy in the past (29 years ago for our Kitfox Speedster), I know I couldn’t begin to match some of the sheer beauty of the current winners. But after some pressure from friends and Brad Clark at Vertical Aviation (maker of the Hummingbird kit), we entered it.
I enjoyed meeting the rotorcraft judges and spending time with them. It was fun to talk about the helicopter and share our building journey. That happened on Wednesday. I was told that we would see a white envelope in the aircraft inviting us to the awards ceremony on Friday evening if we had won anything. Well, we didn’t receive any white envelope. But the rest of the story is almost funny.
Luck and Happenstance
We closed up the helicopter at 5 p.m. Friday and ate dinner at the tent café on Celebration Way across from the Lycoming booth. We finished around 5:45 and started to head back to camp. I mentioned to Carol that we should stop by the Theater in the Woods and watch the awards. We did, settling into seats in the back and off to the side. I think they had already given out four awards for gyrocopters and helicopters by then, leaving only the Grand Champion Helicopter (Gold Lindy) to award. Some nice comments were made about a helicopter that had me wondering if another Hummingbird had made it to Oshkosh. Then the presenter asked if Vic and Carol were there! Wow. What a shock. I’m thinking it’s a good thing we decided to stop by. We would have missed it.
It was a real honor to receive a Grand Champion award at OSH. I hope it will inspire others to believe that they, too, can win an award without having to spend a lot of money on pro help with paint jobs, interiors, instrument panels, etc. The true spirit of homebuilding is about doing it yourself, to the best of your ability, knowing you will make mistakes and that the result won’t be flawless. But it will be your achievement.
I want to be clear that I have no less respect for those who do build to win. But I’ve often believed that there should be two classes of awards: one for the best example of an aircraft and one for those who build the aircraft on their own. For me, there is no greater fun than being surprised and this Oshkosh was bookended by a beginning surprise and some frosting on it at the end with the award!