3 min read

A truly remarkable contributor to GA

I had heard a lot about Paul Poberezny when I attended my first EAA fly-in but had never met him. The year was 1968 and I was still working for the old AIR FACTS. The event was held at Rockford, Illinois, at the time and seemed to me like a larger version of a typical small town summer fly-in.

Paul Poberezney

Paul Poberezny flew over 500 airplanes in his long career, including the P-51 Mustang.

Store-bought airplanes were in a minority and there were from few to no warbirds, classics or antiques. I don’t remember there being an air show. It was mainly a gathering of homebuilders and most of the talk and activity was of building your own airplane.

I felt welcome at Rockford but out-of-place. When I got back and told my father about it, he remarked that there probably wasn’t an AIR FACTS subscriber on the grounds.

Fast forward just 17 years to the 1985 Oshkosh fly-in. My friend Captain John Cook brought a British Airways Concorde to the show and it attracted a huge amount of attention. I’ll always remember the crowd and it would be hard to convince me that it wasn’t the biggest ever.

EAA was still President Paul at that time and the remarkable transformation to aviation’s largest gathering was his triumph. He had a lot of help, but Paul was the captain of the ship. I heard people grumbling about the old Boy Scout nature of the show but that was Paul. When you look at the litter that is strewn about after most public gatherings, you do truly appreciate the fact that Paul insisted that everyone at Oshkosh be neat and behave well.

The first time I visited Paul, headquarters was still at Hales Corners, Wisconsin. The airport was marginal, the offices were in the basement and while the museum had some neat stuff, it was crammed into a relatively small space.

I thought about that visit when I later got a tour from Paul of the fine new museum at Oshkosh, a true aviation showplace. You would have to say that it is Paul’s house. He was so proud of it, for good reason.

By that time, I was at FLYING and, as often happened, it was my job to go from New York way out in the hinterlands to see how we could become more involved in Oshkosh. I got the feeling that the true New Yorkers were not comfortable with Paul or anything about EAA because of a lack of understanding.

I talked to Paul about what we might do and got the feeling he was pleased with the interest.

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

There’s nothing like Oshkosh – and Paul built it.

We dove in and started publishing a show daily and bringing a large contingent to the show. We had a big party for our advertisers, who were also exhibitors, and in later years had a house on the airfield where we fed lunch to 700 or so of our close friends every day. I made talks, as did other staffers, and a high point of my involvement was a Concorde-related gig with John Cook at the Theater in the Woods. I mention all that because every time I saw Paul he knew everything we were doing at the show and he always thanked me for each and every thing. Like I said, he was the captain of the ship.

Oshkosh, which somebody decided to call AirVenture, is the single most important event in aviation. Paul did a lot of other spectacular things in military and general aviation but to me Oshkosh is Number One.

Paul was 91 when he died. He will be both missed and fondly remembered.

Richard Collins
6 replies
  1. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    When you read Paul’s biography, it is clear that he was very uniquely qualified to successfully organize and run the EAA. Many of us will be eternally grateful that he and Audry took it on. It has been a good time, no matter whether you’re a dreamer or a doer.

    Thanks Paul and Audry.

  2. Jim Frankenfield
    Jim Frankenfield says:

    Our Chapter 70, Bethlehem Pa. was the first to complete a chapter project, a Corben Baby Ace, in 1960, and I flew it to the Rockford Convention from eastern PA a week before the show began, as my buddy John H. and I were ferring a Cessna 120 to San Diego to a friend who had just moved there. I left the Baby Ace at the show, met Paul Poberezny, and John and I were off to ElCajone Airport. Delta got us back to O’Hare and DC-3 to ROK for the beginning of the ‘convention’. I became a ‘lifetime member’ in 1963 (best 300 bucks I ever spent).

    In 1964 my buddy and fellow CFI Tom Lucky began building two D-260 Senior Aerosport aerobatic bi-planes…we met Paul again and his son Tom in about 1967 at a meetng, along with Nick D’Apuzzo, the designer of our planes, expressing our concern about a proposed FAA rule that would prohibit ‘experimental’ aircraft from doing aerobatics, the reason for our building effort. Paul immediately brought reason to the discusson, calmed us down, and assured us that he and EAA would do ‘what had to be done’ to see that this didn’t happen. And ‘it’ didn’t! We also had the pleasure of meeting his son Tom at that meeting, who went on to guide EAA to the great success it became, especially the move to Oshkosh in 1970 and the building of the great EAA complex and museum there. At that meeting I saw Paul’s great understanding of the problem at the moment, and his reasoned, calm approach to solving same. What a guy!

    Tom and I went on to win the top awards at “Rockford 1968”, at the Theater of the Woods presentation. Toms plane won Grand Champion and mine, first runnerup (cover, Sport Aviation, Nov. 1968.

    I’m 82 now, grounded for a couple of medical reasons, still love aviation, bumpted into Paul at Oshkosh and Sun-N-Fun Lakeland, FL as the years went by, and will NEVER FORGET the wonderful leadership shown by “Mister EAA, PAUL POBEREZNY, and Audrey and Tom. Great life! Jim

  3. Don R
    Don R says:

    I had seen Paul at Oshkosh many times over the years, usually in his red chop top VW. He seemed to know hundreds of people and always stopped to greet them.

    I had also enjoyed the reprints of his articles in the EAA magazine. He had a gift for recognizing what was important. If only more of his ideas were implemented years ago, perhaps GA would be a bit more healthy today. The third class drivers licences medical comes to mind.

    My last encounter with Paul was a couple years ago. I attended a workshop on sheetmetal held at the EAA museum in Oshkosh. All of the attendees of all of the workshops had lunch in the Eagle hangar, and Paul came to talk to us at lunch. As he spoke, in his unassuming manner, it became clear that the three aircraft hanging from the ceiling in that hangar had special meaning; the glider in which he taught himself to fly, and two aircraft he had designed and built. He was also starting a new project, at 89 years old.

    He was an incredible man.

  4. Richard Ward
    Richard Ward says:

    The sorrow in passing is the price of love. Thanks, Paul; you were great. And Audrey, you have so much to cherish. May God continue to bless you. And as one of the hundreds of thousands of EAA members, and the millions of flyers whose lives he made richer, I stand proud to salute this man of history. Thank you, Paul, and Goodbye.

  5. Bill Bedell
    Bill Bedell says:

    Thanks, Richard for telling the story of another great aviation pioneer. Please keep the stories coming. Allow us readers to peek into the personalities of both historical people and aircraft that few of us will ever know.

  6. Dave from overseas
    Dave from overseas says:

    Paul was a humble but great man. He built up the EAA to the strength that it is today. Along the way the EAA and all that it embraced generated interest and drive in general aviation and the privilege of the average man to be able to fly and fly his own aircraft.

    On his passing there was no comment from government that I noted but Paul created the EAA and that in turn had an influence on the American aviation industry and indeed the world aviation industry.
    I feel disappointed that the American government did not formally note his passing.
    If he had been British he would have been knighted and called Sir Paul Poberezney for all his long term involvement and promotion of aviation, in particular general aviation.

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