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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     

Homebuilder honored tonight
Bob Rockford to receive Tony Bingelis Award
By Barbara A. Schmitz

Bob Rockford beneath the Fokker Dr. 1 in the EAA AirVenture Museum. Photo by Phil Weston

Bob Rockford isn’t surprised when he gets calls from all over the United States, the Czech Republic, Canada, England, or countless other countries.

Yet the 81-year-old said he was surprised to be named this year’s recipient of the Tony Bingelis Award. But he shouldn’t have been.

Rockford, of Overland, Missouri, has been building, repairing, and flying airplanes for more than 60 years, including antique airplane restorations for the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum in St. Louis. But to homebuilders, Rockford is known for going that extra step, or drive to be exact. He not only answers homebuilders’ questions, but also sometimes drives a full day to help people as they build planes.

"I believe technical counselors are in the people business," he said. "We’re there when they’re getting tired of building … but I try to work with people even before they pick out an airplane to build."

Sometimes that means changing someone’s mind on the type of airplane to build. "There was one man who wanted to build an all-wooden airplane, but he had never built anything of wood, never used a hammer and nails, and didn’t have any woodworking equipment," Rockford said. "Yet he was a metalsmith from Boeing and had all the metal-working equipment anyone could dream of; he’s now building an all-metal airplane."

About the award

• The Tony Bingelis Award, created in 2002, recognizes an individual’s significant contributions to the encouragement of homebuilt aircraft projects, the promotion of air safety, and maintaining the values of EAA.

• It honors the memory of the late Tony Bingelis, noted homebuilding authority and EAA Sport Aviation columnist.

• It will be presented during the EAA AirVenture Homebuilders Dinner on Thursday evening. (Tickets are available at Homebuilders Headquarters.)

Goals of the award

• Recognize select EAA technical counselors who have endeavored to educate and encourage fellow EAA members with aircraft projects.

• Provide for an appropriate forum in which to celebrate the recipients and present their award.

• Commemorate the honorees with a permanent display at the EAA AirVenture Museum.

Sometimes Rockford persuades someone not to build a plane when he doesn’t think they have the skills or the wherewithal to finish it. "There was one gentleman in his late 70s who wanted to build an airplane, and he came over to my shop and worked with me five or six times. He had taught English, but he had limited abilities to build anything. He couldn’t even stand the sound of a drill and would walk out as soon as we’d put something in the drill press. I finally told him building is not for you, and he agreed. He bought a Cub instead, and I believe he’s still flying it."

Rockford says there are too many airplanes that never are finished. "I feel it’s because builders didn’t always get the right advice," he said. "I have no builder that I am working with that didn’t finish the airplane."

Rockford talks not only to the homebuilders as they’re trying to determine what plane to build, but also to their spouses. "I want to make sure the wives understand what building a plane entails," he explained.

Building an airplane is a major commitment. "You need to commit yourself to lots of hours, busted knuckles, headaches, kid problems, wife problems, and everything in between," Rockford said. "That’s why I say we’re in the people business. We try to help people to build an airplane and to build it safely and be a good, safe pilot."

Rockford’s shop is in the back of his garage, and two nights a week he opens it up to other builders who have questions or who just want to learn how to build parts of a plane. "Anyone who is interested in building can come by. If they come and I’m covering a wing, I give them a brush and let them help."

It’s not unusual for a car to pull up, hauling an airplane fuselage. But one of the strangest cases was a man who was having trouble with his wiring on the plane. He had used one-strand household wire that someone had given him. Rockford helped the builder rewire the plane with the appropriate wire, put the fuselage back on the trailer, and watched him drive off.

For those that can’t just drive up, Rockford helps them via e-mail, making drawings from computer-aided design programs, if needed.

Rockford has built eight planes but has flown only three since the others were sold about the time he finished them. He’s currently working on a World War II two-seater.

After first soloing 64 years ago, Rockford jokes that he was destined to be involved in aviation. "My mother always said that she had a hard delivery with me because I was born with a propeller in my hand," he said. "The first sound that came out of me sounded like an airplane, but she didn’t say which end the noise came from."

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