| (photos by Michael Steineke)
By J. Mac McClellan
August 2, 2013 - EAA's Gathering of Eagles charity auction and dinner on Thursday evening raised a total of $2.49 million to help support the Young Eagles program and other EAA youth outreach efforts.
The Eagle Hangar in the EAA AirVenture Museum was packed with hundreds of people who donated through purchasing tables and bidding on silent and live auction items.
The highlight of the evening was bidding on a one-of-a-kind, serial No. 0001 2014 Ford Mustang GT that features U.S. Air Force Thunderbird markings celebrating the 60th anniversary of the jet demonstration team.
The Mustang was equipped with several of Ford's high-performance options and painted in the Thunderbird livery that matches the Thunderbird paint job on the F-16 jet. Even the "belly pan" of the Mustang was covered by metal, not plastic, and bore the famous T-Bird logo.
Auctioneer Spanky Assiter quickly had bids above $300,000 for the Mustang, and the hammer came down at $398,000.
Other auction items that drew spirited bidding were a trip to Switzerland to fly with Yves "Jetman" Rossy, a private showing in your own home town of the movie Planes offered by Disney, a trip to wine country donated by Quintessa Wine, and many others.
The evening honored all veterans with special attention for Vietnam vets. Gen. Patrick Brady, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for repeatedly flying his medical evacuation helicopter into intense enemy fire to retrieve wounded soldiers, received a standing ovation. During two tours in Vietnam, Gen. Brady flew more than 2,000 combat missions evacuating more than 5,000 wounded soldiers.
Gen. John Borling, who was shot down by ground fire over Vietnam and spent more than six years as a POW, told the crowd about the welcome party President Nixon gave returning POWs in 1973. That may have been the most famous party in White House history.
As Gen. Borling was talking about his and other Vietnam vets return home, Tony Orlando took the stage to sing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," the song that became the anthem for returning POWs and all Vietnam vets. Orlando soon had the crowd singing along and clapping in time.
Jeppesen honored Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan - the "most recent person to walk on the moon" as Gene likes to say - with a special instrument approach chart. And everyone in attendance received a copy of the chart that has fixes named for milestones in Gene's trip to the moon and back.
For the ninth straight year Cessna was the presenting sponsor for the dinner. Over that period, Cessna donations to Young Eagles and other EAA youth programs have totaled more than $14 million.
Daher Socata, sponsor of the balcony tables, again presented a video report featuring the two young interns that worked and learned at its factory in France. Socata builds the TBM 850 very fast turboprop single.
EAA Chairman Jack Pelton thanked outgoing Young Eagles co-chairmen Sully Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles for their four years of service, then introduced incoming chairman Sean D. Tucker. Sean is only the fifth Young Eagles chairman following in the footsteps of the Cliff Robertson, Gen. Chuck Yeager, Harrison Ford, and Sully and Skiles.
Tucker, who seems to have more energy than his air show biplane, then pitched in along with air show star Michael Goulian to cheer on bidders during the live auction.
All items in both the live and silent auctions were donated, and Pelton expressed his enormous thanks for all who purchased items and seats for the dinner.
"EAAers have flown more than 1.7 million youngsters, and our Young Eagles program continues to be the most effective way to introduce the next generation to the freedom and joy of personal flying," Pelton said. "Young Eagles would not be possible without the generous donations of so many, and the Gathering of Eagles dinner is our single largest source of support. It was a spectacular evening all around."