Maybe you’ve scud-run into Ripon, dodged a couple of planes diving down in front of you between Ripon and Fisk, freaked out over the two idiots flying clockwise around Green Lake while the rest of you followed the NOTAM procedure, and then barely escaped the runway before a DC-3 crawled up your backside. Then the kids directing ground traffic sent you almost to the North 40 despite your sign for Homebuilt Parking.
When you finally arrive at your parking spot, you are hot, frazzled, and thirsty. Then it hits you – you still have to figure out how to get your rental car, find some water to drink, register your aircraft and yourself, and find a way for your passenger to get her luggage to Camp Scholler. Suddenly, angels in a funny gray vehicle arrive and all your stress fades away. It’s the AirVenture Welcome Wagon crew. They hand you some water, help unload the plane, put your luggage into their vehicle, take you to Registration, and then take you back to your plane, Camp Scholler, homebuilt camping, and even to the north side of the field where your rental car awaits. All they ask in return is a small donation and a nod of recognition for their service.
Like most services at AirVenture, the Welcome Wagon was started by volunteers and continues to operate mostly through volunteer efforts. The first Welcome Wagon was funded and built by the late Jack Yoder of EAA Chapter 159 in Michigan. Over the years, the project grew and Chapter 234 joined in supporting the effort. Today, the two chapters are supplemented by EAA volunteers from across the country.
The Welcome Wagon fleet consists of three vehicles, which the EAA houses at Wittman Field but the chapters mostly maintain. All three vehicles operate from 8 am to 8 pm throughout AirVenture. The EAA supplies the water bottles and fuel. The operation is run through a dispatcher at Homebuilt Headquarters and homebuilders who fly in can call a provided phone number to request their assistance. Last Sunday, homebuilt camping filled and some campers had to be parked in non-camping sites. The Welcome Wagons were kept extremely busy shuttling camping equipment and other necessities between planes and campsites (and registration) throughout the day. I rode with them on a much calmer, mid-week morning when the drivers were willing and able to extend their range. While they will not leave the AirVenture site, homebuilders commonly can get rides to and from the bus transportation center and other sites around the grounds.