Speaking of Paul Poberezny

Builders,

This week marks one year since the passing of the founder of the EAA, Paul Poberezny.

I stand next to EAA and SAA founder Paul Poberezny at the 2003 SAA Fly In. Paul passed away last August 22nd at age 91. The 25 years I have spent working in the field of Experimental Aviation could not have happened without this man’s tireless efforts to promote and protect our right to build and fly planes.

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At Oshkosh this year, 1,000 guests gathered in the Eagle hangar for the Lifetime member dinner. The subject of the evening was a remembrance of the life of Paul Poberezny. There were a number of very moving tributes from people who knew him well. The common thread through all the stories was that Paul was a regular guy, He was the ‘average’ EAA member.

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The Lifetime dinner is by and large, a gathering of long time members, but mixed in are a few new arrivals. Two of these were seated at our table were new to the EAA, but had opted to contribute the large sum to become a lifetime member. One of them was a Cirrus owner the other a corporate pilot. Each of them were making their first trip to Oshkosh. I listened to them because I was interested to understand their attachment to the EAA, strong enough to motivate becoming a lifetime member.

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Both of them cited the EAA style and Oshkosh as motivators. Neither of them had any exposure to Homebuilding. Although it was the Cirrus owners first trip to Oshkosh and his membership number was literally a 1,000,000 numbers higher than mine, He didn’t hesitate to say that he was OK with some homebuilders, referring to them as “Those people”  and “People who couldn’t afford a real plane.” I bit my tongue pretty hard. The icing on the cake was Mr. Cirrus offering that the current EAA president was a lot better at speaking with “those people” than the last one (Rod Hightower).

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Being polite, I told him that I actually agreed with him, but pointed out that neither man could vaguely hold a candle to Paul Poberezny when it came to speaking to “those people, “ and they never would because, Paul was one of ‘those people’, and he was very proud of it. 

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Had Paul not founded the EAA, his adventures would have been pretty good anyway, it is our lives that changed more than his because of the existence of the EAA. Yes, there were plenty of benefits to being the founder, but if I contrast what I have done in aviation to what my options would look like without the EAA, and it is a stark difference.

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I met him only a few times, Spending only a few hours in his company. However, I felt I knew something about him  because read almost all of the things he wrote over the years. He was opinionated, and I was from a different generation, but I spent more time listening to our common values than trying to find small points that illustrated that we were born 41 years apart.

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Grace and I were present at the SAA gatherings, Paul’s core group of people who he thought were the keepers of the original spirit that founded the EAA.At one of these meetings he took to the podium after dinner and gave an hour long speech. He spoke about the changes in aviation, and how newer aviators were not the same. I easily could have found it offensive, as his remarks were sharp, and about my era, but instead, I was awakened to the fact of how rare it is to see the founder of any organization, a major member of any party, any CEO, or head of any large organization stand up in public and say anything real at all. Paul was over 80, and I figured he had earned the right to speak his mind. Some people present were taken aback, but that was just because they wanted Paul to be a squeaky clean Santa Clause character. Not me, I was thankful for the real man, warts and all, a human with opinions and passions, one of “those people.”

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Grace was invited to be the first guest speaker at the first SAA Gathering. She spoke on carb ice. I also gave a Corvair presentation. The first year, the gathering was well attended. The second year terrible wet weather poured on the Midwest, and I was hesitant to drive the 1,000 miles each way in the old truck, a few weeks before Oshkosh to speak for what was sure to be a tiny group.  I was about to pick up the phone and bow out, when I went to the mailbox and found a small hand written card from Paul that contained the masterful phrase that precluded canceling. It simply said “I told my friends you are coming.”

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Our friend Jake Jaks built a Corvair powered Jr. Ace, one of Paul’s designs. I always told Jake that when he got it done, I would have Paul greet him personally at his first fly in. This was a joke between Jake and I, it was mentioned it nearly every time we spoke. When Jake finished it and flew it to sun n fun, by chance Paul was on the grounds. He was older, had many old friends to see and things to do, but it took exactly 1/2 a sentence to explain it to Paul before he got in the golf cart, drove over and warmly greeted Jake and his son. They spent 30 minutes speaking. I stood back out of earshot, but smiles, laughs hand gestures were all there, just two regular homebuilders on a sunny morning at a fly in.

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Paul’s tribute at the lifetime dinner was filled with such stories, of the head of a 150,000 member organization stopping to speak with the rank and file in the middle of a giant convention. It is very hard to imagine any of the recent heads of the EAA doing this simply because it is textbook poor use of managerial time. That is what any CEO or manager would tell you. But Paul was not from that mindset. Homebuilders and members who saw him in his element understood that this might have been bad management but it was certainly brilliant leadership, especially in an organization driven by volunteer efforts. This is the very core of what made him the right man to found the EAA.

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There are more than 300 million Americans, but I don’t need to feel brotherly love with all of them to be a proud American. I try to think about the things we have in common, but don’t always find a lot of bonds. In an era where it is popular to judge the ‘value’ of people by the thickness of their wallet, I still believe that people are to be judged by the content of their character. If a number of people in this country don’t see it that way, it doesn’t bother me, nor diminish my pride in being an American.

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In the same way, I am proud to be in the EAA, and this doesn’t change if there are members who don’t understand the values of the EAA the way I do. That’s ok, I was fortunate enough to have known the founder, and I can say with some confidence that he was at heart, a regular member, and he valued aviators by the content of their character. My continued attachment to the EAA through all its changes is based solely on my belief that homebuilding was the very heart of everything to Paul, and it attracted the very best of people, and I a proud to consider myself, first and foremost, a homebuilder, just like Paul.

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About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

6 Responses to Speaking of Paul Poberezny

  1. Howard Horner says:

    Unfortunately I cannot go back and correct the fact I am a newby to Homebuilding and the EAA, but I am very grateful to you for documenting the legacy… and living it.

  2. Jon Ross says:

    William:

    You paraphrase my thoughts and experience exactly. I appreciate you taking the time to pen your thoughts on this very special man.

    Best Regards,
    Jon Ross
    Northport, NY

  3. Michael Dean says:

    Wow William, you have so eloquently summed up who Paul was. At least from my perspective. Like you, I also was fortunate enough to meet Paul “a few times”.

    As a former summer volunteer at EAA’s Pioneer Airport I had the opportunity to spend a few Saturday evenings at Paul’s Aeroplane Factory sharing a grilled steak, cool drink (w/Kessler’s, of course), and stories with Paul & the Pioneer crew. I even had the good fortune of working (ever so little bit) on one of the Baby Ace’s Paul was building at the time. I loved the high tech measuring system he used for checking dihedral. “Yea, that looks about right.”

    But what I remember most about Paul was his love for his fellow man. As much as he loved aviation, for him it truly was about the people. I recall one time him getting a little choked up while relating a story about Neil Loving. You could tell that, not only did he love Neil, he still missed him.

    I also remember the second time I met him. It was a couple of years after our first (very quick & short) meeting. And yet he called me by name. And remembered the exact cause of our first meeting. And trust me, I’m nobody special. Certainly nothing memorable. But yet he remembered. After two years. Who does that? Paul, that’s who. And, to me, it spoke volumes about the man. He really was about the people. And he was also “one of us”. (Though I don’t think any of us can measure up to him.)

    Was he perfect? No. He was human. But in human terms, he was awfully, AWFULLY darn good. That kind of individual comes along so very rarely. And they just can never truly be replaced.

  4. John Schmitz says:

    Such a great essay on a very special man. Thank you.

    Regards,
    John schmitz
    Lubbock TX

  5. David Bally says:

    I too was at that table and talked with those gentlemen. I did not get the feeling that they understood what Paul did for homebuilders, and all of aviation. I cannot say that I did until now after the children have grown and retirement was in sight. You can build your own aircraft and share the skies. EAA with Paul’s guidance working with the FAA is the reason we can do this or in my case have this dream. This may not have happened if the right leader had not worked for the benefit of the rest of us. We must be very grateful for Paul’s leadership for without it even those gentlemen’s flying would have been affected. Last year I arrived at Oshkosh on Saturday and after camp was set I stopped by the carpenter shop and help Saturday Pm and all day Sunday. Paul came by and was thanking volunteers and shaking their hands. This action impressed me as he did know what made Airventure work. When I was introduced as someone who just stopped by to help,
    Paul got out of the cart and shook my hand. Never felt so honored before. Then to find out he was in the last days of his life and still able to give so much, Paul you will always be a great leader. David Bally

  6. Adam Smith says:

    Great article William, thank you for writing it.
    Adam Smith

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