Sky's the limit: AirVenture Oshkosh to feature local historic plane
Shortly after pilot Harry Odone took to the skies over New Richmond last August in a restored historic Fairey Gannet British war plane, he began getting a lot of attention.
Press inquiries came in from around the world, TV crews have scrambled to schedule shoots, and plenty of air show invitations have come in.
“We’re very fortunate. The airplane is extremely high profile,” Odone said in his British accent. “It attracts people and corporations from all over the world to focus on us. When we got her flying, within 24 hours people around the world caught on to the fact that she had gone airborne again. We’ve had requests from air show organizers, TV and media outlets virtually straight after, and it’s been nonstop.”
This year, even “the world’s greatest aviation celebration” — the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture Oshkosh — wants a piece of the New Richmond-based plane at its weeklong event from July 28 to Aug. 3.
Odone’s wife Shannan Hendricks owns the plane, and the pair hoped that they along with a volunteer crew could get the plane flying in time for last year’s show in Oshkosh, but they missed the target by a few weeks.
This year, Hendricks’ Fairey Gannet, which is designated as XT-752, will make the trip to Oshkosh, and it promises to be featured prominently at the show.
“This year, the EAA approached us and said ‘we’d like you to come back.’ And they listed us now on their top performers list, which includes a great list of names that we’re very humbled to be on,” Odone said.
Though final preparations are still in the making, Odone said he believes the XT752 will fly into the show on the Monday or Tuesday of the show after all the visiting aircraft have arrived. The Fairey Gannet’s grand entrance could serve as a segue between the arrivals and the start of the air show.
“I think they want us to arrive as an opening performance,” Odone said. “We’ll then be taken into the air show center in the plaza to operate the unique wing fold. Everybody who knows about this airplane wants to see the wings fold and how the engines rotate.
The Fairey Gannet will be in Oshkosh for the entire week and will be featured again that Thursday.
“On that Thursday, the EAA has asked us to be a part of Warbirds in Review, which is a great honor,” Odone said. “We’ll be on stage in front of all of the crowd discussing the airplane and answering questions to the public. It’s been a great honor for us.”
Though the Fairey Gannet is Odone’s passion, he himself can hardly believe all the good fortune that has come to pass.
“If you had said to me that I’d be able to take this kind of airplane to Oshkosh, the world’s biggest show, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. So now I’m just hoping everything goes well. We have put a lot of hours into making sure everything is right.”
Odone also shows a great deal of enthusiasm for how the City of New Richmond will be represented at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year not only by the Fairey Gannet, but also by Engineered Propulsion Systems (EPS), an aircraft engine company that recently held the first test flight for its Graflight V-8 diesel aviation engine.
“To be able to have two unique entities going to the biggest show in the world, that’s quite something from one airport,” Odone said.
While EPS hopes to gain the necessary approvals to eventually manufacture the engines and create jobs at a New Richmond facility it envisions, Odone and Hendricks aim to create a historic aircraft museum with multiple airworthy planes.
“EPS is leading a very good line in the manufacturing side of things and getting aviation industry to the airport and the city,” Odone said. “I’d like to think that what we’re doing is attracting the enthusiasts to come, which puts a lot of international eyes focusing on this town. So, they work well together. EPS and a lot of other companies will be generating jobs, and we will be generating tourism.”
Once the press inquiries and air show appearances slow down, Odone plans to hold seminars and classes for people of all ages at the plane’s hangar on the north side of the New Richmond Regional Airport. Hendricks and Odone have established the Wings of Steel Foundation as a 501(c)(3) to help generate revenue to continue that work.
Eventually, Odone hopes the foundation can grow into a grand museum he envisions on the south side of the airport, visible from the ballfields at Freedom Park.
“We set up the foundation in foresight to basically give something back to aviation so that kids don’t think these things are elitist machines that people can’t get close to or can’t aspire to becoming a pilot or an engineer,” Odone said. “The idea is to offer classes that will be free for kids, and they’ll be aspects of engineering, flying warbirds, preserving these airplanes, which is of huge importance, and to keep the spirit of servicemen past and present going.”
A big part of that mission is ensuring the foundation keeps the aircraft operational, and not just static displays.
“Rather than having them sitting on poles, we want to make sure they remain alive and flying,” Odone said. “All of the aircraft we will house will remain operational. It’s the only way to get people’s imaginations going.”
Those interested in attending classes and seminars at the Fairey Gannet hangar should follow updates at facebook.com/FaireyGannetXT752, faireygannetxt752. com and wingsofsteelfoundation.org.