Paul Poberezny, the founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the creator of the world’s largest general aviation air show – AirVenture – passed away at the age of 91 from cancer at a retirement village in Oshkosh, Wis., on Aug. 22.
A self-taught aviator, Poberezny started EAA in 1953 with his wife Audrey in the couple’s basement near Milwaukee. An annual fly-in that would later become AirVenture, it started in Milwaukee before moving to Rockford, Ill. and ultimately to Wittman Field in Oshkosh in 1970. AirVenture draws an estimated 500,000 visitors and more than 10,000 aircraft to Oshkosh every year, pumping more than $100 million into the local economy. EAA, based at Wittman Field, has 180,000 members in 1,000 local chapters in more than 100 countries.
Poberezny began flying at age 16 in a Waco glider he refurbished and then flew more than 2,000 times over the next year. By 17, he soloed in a 1935 five-cylinder (70 HP) Porterfield. Over the next 70 years, Poberezny logged more than 30,000 hr. in 500 different types of aircraft. More than 170 of those aircraft were amateur built. He designed and built more than 15 different airplanes. He also served more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot and test pilot, taking part in both World War II and the Korean War.
Poberezny steered EAA as president and then chairman until 2009. His son Tom, took the reins of the association as president in 1981 and then as chairman in 2009.
EAA notes that Paul Poberezny often said “I’ve learned more about people through my association with aviation than I ever did about airplanes.”
Poberezny was the recipient of hundreds of trophies, awards and honors recognizing his contributions over the years, culminating in the National Aeronautic Association Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy in 2002. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio in 1999.
“We deeply appreciate all the support shown to Paul and Audrey over the past five months,” the Poberezny family said in a statement. “As Paul often said, he considers himself a millionaire because through aviation he made a million friends. He leaves an unmatched legacy in aviation.”
A private family service is scheduled at this time, but memorials in honor of Poberezny can be made to: EAA Aviation Foundation, P.O. Box 3086, Oshkosh, Wis. 54903; Evergreen Foundation Inc. at 1130 North Westfield St., Oshkosh, Wis. 54902; or the American Cancer Society, Northeast Wisconsin: 790 Marvelle Lane, Green Bay, Wis. 54304.