WAUPACA – The saying goes birds of a feather flock together. Well, the same can be said about pilots and their planes.
Wayne Michelli of Kingsport, Tennessee travels to E-A-A Airventure the same way each year: in formation.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Michelli. “It definitely is that.”
For the past five years, Michelli and about 30 other Piper Cherokee pilots have met up at Waupaca’s airport to travel to EAA together.
“I’ve gotten to know all these people personally,” said Peter Andersen, the manager of the Waupaca Municipal Airport. “They’re fantastic, absolutely professional pilots. They’ve actually become kind of like my family when they come out here.”
The group first traveled in formation to EAA to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Cherokee plane. The friendships formed in the first year have kept most of the pilots coming back each year.
“We’ve got folks from Oregon, folks from Florida and everywhere in between,” said Dan Gillette of Sioux City, Iowa.
The pilots train year-round to be able to fly together. Leading up to EAA they arrive in Waupaca a few days early to practice.
“When you’re originally learning how to fly an aircraft they tell you to try to stay as far away from an airplane as you can, so now all of a sudden you’re doing something completely different than what you’ve been trained to do,” said Michelli.
“It’s actually quite safe because you’re flying with other pilots that you know and trust,” said Gillette.
While Friday morning’s 40-mile flight from Waupaca to Oshkosh lasted no more than half an hour, the pilots and spectators say it’s a highlight of the week.
“It is a beautiful sight,” said Andersen.
The group says they know of three other groups that organize a mass EAA arrival each year.