|Pioneers of the Warbirds of America Harold Cannon, left, John Baugh and Bill Harrison discussed the creation and evolution of this important division of EAA at a program Friday on Phillips 66 Plaza. (photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
By Frederick A. Johnsen
August 2, 2013 - Nearly a half-century ago civilian warbirds typically wore bright paint schemes like high-speed motor homes. A lot of them raced. And the individuals who owned them worried about diminishing supplies of spare parts.
In 1964 at the Reno National Air Races, some of the warbird owners formed the Warbirds of America in an effort to unite the warbird community and solve common problems. The idea was worthy, but the organization initially struggled to stay aloft.
Veteran Warbirds member Bill Harrison told an audience in Phillips 66 Plaza on Friday that "Paul Poberezny stepped up when we as an organization were destitute." The driving force behind the creation of EAA six decades ago, Poberezny was a military-rated pilot who fostered the inclusion of the nascent Warbirds of America into the EAA.
"It's the best thing that could have happened to us," Harrison said.
But the club was a bit strict in the early days. Before coming to EAA, Warbirds bylaws limited membership to those who owned ex-military aircraft with engines of 600 hp. When the owner of a T-6 Texan asked to join, he was allowed, but the invitation was about as enthusiastic as taking your kid brother on a date with your new girlfriend.
A Stearman biplane owner fared worse; as he taxied into the Warbirds area at Oshkosh in the 1970s, the people who came out to meet him were not there to welcome him, but rather to direct him and his biplane to the Antiques and Classics parking area elsewhere on the field.
The Friday Warbirds history panel included Harrison, as well as John Baugh and WOA President Harold Cannon, with moderator Matt Jolley.
They all confirmed the Warbirds of America of today, numbering 5,000 members as a division of EAA, is much more inclusive. "Our arms are open," Cannon said.
Harrison added, "We want to tell everybody that there's a place in the organization for them." Members today include descendants of military pilots, historians, photographers, and just plain warbird enthusiasts, many of whom volunteer to help the organization hold up its end of the sprawling AirVenture campus.
Cannon told the audience that membership in Warbirds of America is now worldwide. "It really does have a global reach," he added. "It's living history that's not matched anywhere else."
Cannon discussed three issues facing warbird operators, and the organization. He said availability of proper grades of gasoline is of some concern, but seems to be manageable; parts are increasingly scarce, but members find ways to meet their needs; and the encouragement of youthful members is an ongoing issue.
"I think our real challenge is reaching out to youth," Cannon said.
The warbird crews of tomorrow are yet to be born. Emcee Jolley encouraged young listeners - and anyone - interested in warbirds to volunteer to help with a warbird. "Opportunities magically appear to those who volunteer," Jolley said.
The Warbirds of America historical presenters agreed that the organization is open and welcoming to all kinds of members, aircraft not required.