Another AirVenture has come and gone. This year the reported attendance was up to 575,000 for the week, the “North 40” campground was full on the first day, and there were more RV’s than Cessna’s for the first time ever. Some attribute the record breaking attendance to the poor economy, as there is some historical evidence that suggests when the economy is ailing, airshow attendance increases. Haven’t heard any definitive evidence, but there seems to be enough of a correlation that there might be some truth to that belief. In any event, the week was an overwhelming success, despite the economic doldrums.
It was a great week for me personally, as I had the opportunity to photograph almost all of the female airshow performers. They included Debbie Gary, Melissa Pemberton, Patty Wagstaff, Debby Rihn-Harvey, Lt. Col. Jill Long, Teresa Stokes, The Misty Blues parachute team, Julie Clark, Suzanne Asbury-Oliver, and various members of the WWII WASP’s. A very select group in the aviation world if there ever was one. One thing that immediately struck me was the sincere friendship and camaraderie that they had for one other. Generous with their time, they were also gracious with me personally, in that they welcomed me as a stranger into their group without hesitation, and together we made some very memorable images. A few are showcased below...
Debbie Gary has been performing in airshows since 1971, and flies an Italian made aircraft, the SIAI Marchetti, model F260D. As she mentions on her website, “...its sleek curves and graceful lines are an elegant, irresistible contrast to most of the planes on the airshow circuit. And, like all things Frati, it is exquisitely beautiful.”
Besides being a very fine airshow performer, she is also now a writer, and has been published in the Air & Space Smithsonian magazine, amongst others.
At 25 years of age, Melissa Pemberton was the youngest member of the group, and is already a 5 year veteran of the airshow circuit. She recently competed in the World Aerobatic Championships in Silverstone, England.
She is also quite active otherwise, pursuing such activities as skydiving and B.A.S.E. jumping. Her husband, Rex Pemberton, has climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents.
Debby Rihn-Harvey is an active Southwest Airlines Captain, and the 2008 National Aerobatic Champion. But for all of her accomplishments, her true character was evident when, during a brief conversation about the WASP’s in attendance at AirVenture, I expressed my dismay that they were not included in the effort to document the female airshow performers at this years airshow.
“Let me make a call,” was her response. An hour later, six of the WASP’s in attendance showed up, eager to be photographed.I was stunned, surprised, and extremely pleased (all at once), and felt that I had been given an extremely valuable gift. Although a virtual stranger to me, she felt compelled enough to make the effort to include these pioneering ladies in the photographic project. Special indeed...
Lt. Col. Jill “Raggz” Long is an active duty military officer, currently stationed in Italy. She has flown air refueling tankers, and A-10 attack planes, with over 50 combat missions to her credit in Afghanistan. A wicked sense of humor is barely concealed beneath her infectious smile, along with a caring, “can-do” attitude. A formidable combination in any person, she serves as a true inspiration to many young ladies, who just adore her. If you ever get the chance, go see her show!
Julie Clark is a legend in the aviation world. Flying airshows for over 30 years, she has “seen it all,” and yet she still enjoys the hoopla. It was clearly evident as she spoke individually with the young ladies who attended a special Women Soar - You Soar Q & A session. Polished, warm, and personable were all words that came to mind as I photographed this “lady of the sky.”
The Misty Blues Parachute Team has over 20 years of performing experience. A diverse group, they have amongst them a medical doctor, a welder, a financial analyst, a jewelry designer, and an airport manager. You figure out who does what! They were terrific sports too, agreeing to wear their parachute gear. If they look a little “burdened,” that’s because they are. Those chutes, and the associated gear, are heavy!
Patty Wagstaff. Member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Three-time US Aerobatic Champion. Competitive equestrian. Dog lover. Wearer of flight suits that are a bit too large. Oh, and she had on her Jack Russell Terrier socks too... Noticing that her suit was “generously proportioned,” I mentioned that “we gotta shoot that” and she said “OK.”
No paranoia, no hesitation, no second thoughts. Fearless. Just what you’d expect from a champion...
Suzanne Asbury-Oliver is the only female “skywriter” in the country. Photographed here with her dog “Pax,” she and her husband Steve are the only professional aerobatic and skywriting team in the USA. While photographing her, she noticed that I was limping a little, mainly from standing too long on hangar floors. Asking what size shoe I wore, she left for a moment, and then returned with a pair of Oregon Aero shoe cushion inserts. Manna from heaven. I’m not sure I would’ve made it through the week without ‘em! Thanks Suzanne!
The Women in Aviation International organization has initiated a tradition at Oshkosh known as the “group photo.” On Friday (around 10:30) all of the female members who pre-registered, and subsequently get the t-shirt, gather on Aero Shell Square. It was my task this year to make the group photo, while in the basket of a hydraulic lift. Despite having no megaphone to communicate with, hand and arm signals were enough to get the group into some sort of shape. All were pleased with the result, which numbered about 750 in all.
The Women’s Airforce Service Pilots were a relatively small group, only about 1100 at the height of the program. In World War II they were responsible for moving newly finished aircraft around the country, to delivery points, training centers, and military bases. They also flew training missions, such as towing targets for gunnery practice. 38 lost their lives while doing so, but all were proud to have been instrumental in helping to win the war. This group portrait of six of the eight who attended Oshkosh this year was a real treat, both photographically and personally. Boy do these ladies have some great stories!