EAA AirVenture Oshkosh - The World's Greatest Aviation Celebration

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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 5 July 31, 2008     

Four generations of Aussies make trip to Oshkosh
By Barbara A. Schmitz

Four generations of Australian visitors. Fred Armstrong with his daughter Linda Vosti, Grand daughter Melissa Mann and her husband Michael and their son Jackson.  Photo by Phil Weston

As a little girl Melissa Mann remembers her grandfather asking, "Instead of cartoons, you kids want to watch some Oshkosh?"

And while some people say "cheese" while posing for pictures, her family says "Oshkosh."

So it’s no surprise that four generations of the family came all the way from Sydney, Australia—a 17.5-hour trip plus drive time from Chicago—to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008.

This is the ninth trip to AirVenture for Fred Armstrong, and his daughter, Linda Vosti, is also a repeat visitor. But it’s the first trip for granddaughter Melissa Mann, her husband, Michael, and their 2 1/2-year-old son, Jackson.

"I’ve been seeing videos and photos of Oshkosh since I was a baby," Melissa says. "I’ve heard so much, but I’m finally glad to experience it."

Armstrong pulls out a notebook and reads off the years he’s been to AirVenture—1981, ’83, ’89, ’92, ’95, ’98, 2000, and 2002. "If I don’t write it down I forget," he explains.

"He runs his life like an aircraft log," Vosti explains. "And he insists on living by himself at 88."

Armstrong is five months older than Qantas—both were born in 1920—and he started in aviation in Australia with Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. The country was in the Depression when, in 1937, his father ordered him to quit high school and get a job.

He went to the local airport, and they hired him. For 15 shillings a week he cleaned airplanes and swept floors. After awhile, he moved to engine maintenance and repair, eventually getting his engine license. But his job was more than just that.

"I’d chase cows off the runway at the Sydney airport," he said. But the airport managers didn’t mind the cows. "They would eat the grass so they didn’t have to mow."

It was awhile before planes flew at night, and when they finally did, they put kerosene lanterns on the runway. "If you were not on the ground by the second lantern, you went around again," Armstrong said. "Otherwise, you couldn’t see where you were going."

Armstrong flew regularly—one time even flying a DC-3 with 21 passengers. He learned by watching and listening, and spent his lunch hour sitting in a cockpit and memorizing the controls. Yet he never got his license.

Armstrong’s second passion is photography, and Vosti says her father has nearly fallen out more than one airplane as he lay on the floor with the door open taking pictures. And when she organized 3,000 old photos, she found only 80 of family. The rest were of airplanes.

Armstrong went on to work at the Department of Civil Aviation, and family vacations were spent driving across Australia. "We’d drive all over the country so he could check out aircraft and make sure they were airworthy," Vosti says.

Her mother always came to Oshkosh, too, until she died last year. "Dad didn’t take a holiday unless it included Oshkosh," Vosti says. "Mum always said one day she’d find the bloke who started Oshkosh because he was to blame."

One year they met EAA Founder Paul Poberezny while they waited in line for the international visitors’ parade. "I went up to him and said my mum needs to meet you," Vosti says. Poberezny graciously walked over and met Armstrong’s wife, who coincidentally was named Audrey.

Vosti says it is through osmosis that the family has somehow been involved in aviation. She used to work in airline reservations, and Michael, although related only by marriage, is a captain in the Australian army and has trained on helicopters. When he returns to Australia, he will be sent on another tour of duty.

Michael says he grew up reading comics about World War II fighter pilots, and by 16, had earned his pilot license. In fact, he brought his flight suit along, hoping he could get a ride in a warbird. He said he’d like someday to buy a Spitfire. Melissa laughs when she says she was "destined or doomed" to marry someone involved in aviation.

But doomed or not, they are having fun at Oshkosh. Armstrong says he is "enjoying everything—the airplanes, the exhibits, the people." Melissa says she loves the afternoon air shows. Michael’s favorite is the warbirds. And while Vosti enjoys all that, she’s hoping to spot one other thing. Or person to be exact—Harrison Ford.

"That way I’ll really have something to tell my friends.

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