|Former Young Eagle David Oliver, 29, last saw “FIFI” at Oshkosh as a kid in the crowd. This year, he flew the plane in to kick off Tuesday’s air show. Photo by Brady Lane
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When “FIFI” last came to Oshkosh in 1995 David Oliver was 13 years old and watched from the flightline.
This year when the world’s only flying B-29 touched down at Wittman Field, that 13-year-old, now-grown, was on the flight deck—at the controls.
“I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be the next pilot that would actually bring it in for that first landing at Oshkosh,” Oliver said.
Now 29 years old, Oliver is the operations manager for “FIFI” as well as a professional pilot.
And his path to that seat began with a 1994 Young Eagles flight.
Oliver would ride his bike down to the local airport, constantly poking his head in hangars. “I always had a love of aviation, but I really lacked the people to get me into it or teach me anything,” Oliver said.
A life-changing offer
Then he met Arnie Zimmerman.
“One day he said, ‘Hop in, put the ski goggles on, and get in the back seat’ to go for a ride in the Breezy,” Oliver said.
“It’s one of those airplanes that you get in and you just want to hold your hands out, straight out, like a bird, like you’re flying.
“You’re just sitting out on this metal frame, no sides or anything.”
From that Young Eagles flight, he became friends with the former military and airline pilots at the field and helped on a T-6 restoration.
When he was 16, he begged for a job at the airport, where he met more pilots he could learn from—and who offered to take him for more rides.
From there it was upward and onward into an aviation career.
A pro on the go
He flew on the Southern Illinois University aerobatic team and then got a contract job flying King Airs.
His career has taken him to every continent except Antarctica, flying in more than 20 countries.
He flew King Airs in Afghanistan and Iraq for a military contract, spent a year flying in Panama, and has done aerial mapping.
One of his recent flights took him to Fiji where he ferried a Twin Otter across the Pacific Ocean. He is also a CFII and an A&P mechanic.
And throughout his career, he has flown Young Eagles.
“Aviation is something that has to be developed and cultivated in people, and you need a mentor to do that,” Oliver said.
“I see it as a necessity in aviation.”
What went around comes around
On Friday, Oliver will continue to do his part to give back by taking a group of Young Eagles accompanied by Young Eagle Co-Chairmen Sully Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles on a VIP tour of the B-29.
“The Young Eagles program gave me the introduction to aviation, to sit around and hear stories from these guys and learn from their experiences,” Oliver said.
His advice to aspiring pilots: “Get involved. Go to the local airport and get any job you can get,” Oliver said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a line guy fueling airplanes, an apprentice mechanic, or mowing the grass.
“And ask a lot of questions.”