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The journey of a father and his 10-year-old aviator son. Although thousands of youngsters have attended the world’s biggest general aviation extravaganza in Oshkosh- not too many can fully appreciate the “low and slow” adventure shared by Reese Foster and his father- Johnny. John B. Foster IV - Johnny to his friends - is president of business jet trading company O’Gara Aviation. Earlier this year- inspired by the book Flight of Passage and a desire for some ...

Mike Vines   |   1st October 2008
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The Oshkosh Adventure
The journey of a father and his 10-year-old aviator son.

Although thousands of youngsters have attended the world’s biggest general aviation extravaganza in Oshkosh- not too many can fully appreciate the “low and slow” adventure shared by Reese Foster and his father- Johnny.

John B. Foster IV - Johnny to his friends - is president of business jet trading company O’Gara Aviation. Earlier this year- inspired by the book Flight of Passage and a desire for some one-on-one time together- he and Reese decided this was the year they would make their first pilgrimage to this mecca of general aviation. The father and son duo journeyed more than 1-200 miles- bisecting the United States nearly border to border- in the family’s Legend Cub- N404PC. Reese- nearly eleven years of age- completed much of the flying (carefully shadowed by his dad) and participated in all aspects of flight planning. A boy with a huge passion for flying- Reese will have to wait for his sixteenth birthday to be granted a student’s license- and then seventeen in order to qualify for his full private pilot accreditation. Arrival by air at Oshkosh is legendary because of the sheer numbers of aircraft converging on Wittman Regional Airport in Wisconsin- and other nearby fields. Johnny said of Oshkosh: “The procedure has remained the same for years; fly to the town of Ripon- about 20 miles to the west of Oshkosh- and then east following the train tracks in over Fisk. You are then directed by ground spotter crews using binoculars- who tell you which approach you’re going to make before handing off to the tower at Oshkosh.

“Although the radio was relatively quiet it was quite something flying in. As we descended to Ripon there were six to eight - maybe ten aircraft descending at the same time- and all from different directions. It looked like a swarm of hornets over the town. It was VFR- and Reese was a spare pair of eyes helping look out for other aircraft to make sure we weren’t going to fly into someone else or them into us. Everyone was directed into a queue over the train tracks- making the procedure unbelievably smooth.

“From ten miles out all you can see are aircraft all over the ground. It’s indescribable - literally thousands of aircraft. The EAA must be commended for the way it handled the traffic in and out - it truly was the most amazing part of the pilgrimage.” So what was the highlight for Reese at Oshkosh? “It was pretty cool- especially landing on the taxiway at Oshkosh.” Johnny explained that one of the parallel taxiways is used as an extra runway because of the high volume of daily arrivals - and because they were in a small craft- the Cub was directed to utilize the taxiway (36R) for landing.

No stranger
Reese- because of the family involvement with business jets- is no stranger to aviation events. “He first attended NBAA when he was only a month old-” said Johnny. He hung out in his baby carrier under the wing of a Citation- a pattern repeated for the next several years – attending six NBAA conventions by age five. “But then I had to start school-” notes Reese.

The aircraft used for the trip - as mentioned - was Johnny’s Legend Cub- a modernized and slightly larger version of the ubiquitous Piper Cub- but now built by the American Legend Aircraft Company. The yellow and black fabric aircraft with wooden prop is powered by a basic 100hp Continental IO-200 engine- but the cockpit will blow your mind with its bang-up-to-date Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) package including Dynon’s FlightDEK-D180- Garmin’s SL40 com- GTX 330 Mode S transponder- 496 moving map GPS with traffic- terrain and XM weather- and an intercom from PS Engineering of Lenoir City- Tennessee. “It’s nearly as sophisticated as many of the jets we sell-” explained Johnny.

“Neither Reese nor I had ever attended AirVenture before. The concept of this pilgrimage came about this winter and took hold of both of us almost immediately. Over the course of the last two months- Reese and I planned our route together - researching interesting airports- places to eat and sleep- and things to see along the way (thank you AOPA!). A lot of the fun was teaching Reese basic understanding of sectional charts - drawing various routes and stops in multiple colors on our maps until we had a final route planned.

“Although based from Atlanta- Georgia- the week of departure- Reese was in Florida. I flew the Cub to Destin- FL (KDTS) to begin our trip and we departed on the afternoon of Sunday- July 27th. To memorialize our legs- we placed two-inch decals across the bottom of the fuselage- noting the airport identification for every stop made. All totaled- we landed at 14 airports - traveled nearly 1-200 miles and logged 15 hours flight time.”

Although certified to 11-000-feet altitude- the father-son duo elected to fly most of their route at lower than 2-000-feet AGL- and with both doors and windows open- literally allowing for an open environment from their seats straight down to the ground below.

Johnny further expanded- “although the open doors and windows slow the aircraft down- with the consistent tail winds- we were still able to average 85 MPH and enjoyed a birds-eye view of the farm land- rolling hills- and small towns all along our route. Most of our route was over agricultural and forest land – a great exposure for Reese- having grown up in the city”.

Starting the pilgrimage
“Our first stop was at a private airport- an island in the middle of a river with a grass strip running end to end - roughly 2-500' x 100' which was more than ample for the Cub-” recalled Johnny. “After stretching our legs exploring the island- we continued north to KTHA – Tullahoma- Tennessee- the home of the Beechcraft Heritage Museum which boasts a collection of Travel Airs- maybe half a dozen Staggerwings- and several Twin Beech and Bonanzas. The star aircraft though- is Staggerwing serial number 001- which is wonderful to see and has an amazing history. All told- four flight hours were logged on day one.

“On day two- we dropped into Lebanon- Tennessee- to avoid some afternoon storms - then on to Rough River State Park in Falls of Rough- Kentucky- where we battled it out for 36 holes of putt-putt golf- located adjacent to the field. At the end of 36 holes we were all square- and with no time for a play-off we departed along the Ohio River for our final destination of the day- Greencastle- Indiana. We arrived after another 3.6 flight hours.

“Day three took us from Greencastle (4I7)- north to Lansing- Illinois- for a short fuel stop. From Lansing- a low circuitous route took us over Lake Michigan- just east of Chicago- with great views of the skyline. Reese was a bit quiet during this section – several miles off-shore and flying low to stay under O’Hare’s airspace. Then came a short stop into Chicago Executive Airport for lunch with friends. Departing KPWK- we continued all the way up the western shore of Lake Michigan to Manitowoc- Wisconsin.

“During this leg- winds increased to 25+ knots- nearly right on the tail - allowing for an unbelievable ground speed in excess of 135 MPH! From KMTW- we turned slightly north west over Green Bay- picking our way through isolated cells and finally arriving at Eagle River- Wisconsin. Another 5.2 flight hours logged. In Eagle River- we enjoyed two days relaxing at a friend’s cabin on Scattering Rice Lake - fishing- swimming- boating- grilling out - a great way to decompress and prepare for our arrival into Oshkosh.

'Reluctantly- we departed Eagle River late afternoon on Thursday- August 31- trying to time our arrival into Oshkosh after the day’s air show conclusion. Unbelievably- the winds from the south that had pushed us for nearly 1-000 miles shifted almost 180 degrees and afforded us another day of wind on our tail! We arrived too early for Oshkosh- so opted for Appleton- Wisconsin- to meet up with friends for dinner- and plan our arrival to KOSH for the following day.

“Friday morning- we departed KATW for KOSH. I had heard rumors of the arrival sequence- and not knowing what to expect (‘hundreds’ of aircraft converging together for simultaneous arrivals)- I was a bit intimidated. My concerns could not have been further from the truth... although several aircraft were converging and landing simultaneously- the procedures were handled so efficiently and professionally - you take your directions from the ground crews (5-10 miles out) and acknowledge the instructions by simply rocking your wings. All went according to plan- and although quite simple- this was one of the most exciting parts of the trip.”

“We spent the better part of Friday and Saturday walking rows and rows of aircraft - truly never-ending - and enjoying world-class performances each afternoon-“ Johnny continued- “everything from vintage war birds flying mock dog fights and ground strikes to an amazing flight display by the F22 Raptor- as well as multiple aerobatic displays- parachute teams- etc. Walking the lines for two days- I feel like we hardly scratched the surface of all that was available to see.”

The aircraft that made the greatest impression on Reese was a salvaged and lovingly restored P-51D Mustang- named ‘Quick Silver.’ “I’d like to restore a plane when I’m older-” he enthused.

On Saturday afternoon- Johnny and Reese departed KOSH – and the departure was just as impressively orchestrated as the arrival- according to Johnny. “I’m not sure of the exact count- but I bet the crews launched 200 aircraft in 30 minutes- two at a time- on the same runway - REALLY impressive and fun to participate in. We returned the aircraft to Appleton and airlined home early Sunday morning. I plan to return in the coming weeks to retrieve N404PC.

“The greatest part of the trip- apart from flying with my son- was the people we met along the way. Everyone was so interested in our journey and gracious with their time and resources – from being allowed to land on a private island- our personal tour of the Beechcraft Heritage Museum- a gratis round of putt-putt golf- fueling our aircraft after airport hours – which required a man to leave his dinner table to unlock the pumps- a neighbor at our friend’s cabin that guided us fishing on ‘his’ lake for two days – sharing stories of his time there over the last 50 years- to the seemingly endless aviation stories shared in Oshkosh. This was not just a trip to see an air show- but a life experience for both Reese and me – one neither of us will ever forget!” Reese’s highlight of the adventure was “Flying over Lake Michigan with a 35 mph tailwind – we were really moving-” he said -to which Johnny joked- “I would have thought the best bit was hanging out with your dad for a week!”

Passion for aviation
Sometimes those born into the business can just as easily reject it- but Johnny says that Reese has always loved hanging around airplanes. “His passion for aviation- being around airplanes- understanding how they work and why they fly has been with him since he was a very little boy. I think it is very likely something that will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

The lad has also flown in more executive jet types than most people in the business. “We occasionally have the opportunity to fly aircraft we own for inventory- and Reese has had the chance to fly on some clients’ aircraft as well-” said Johnny. “I’ve flown in a Citation Ultra- Falcon 20- Challengers- a lot of Learjets- King Airs- and helicopters including a Sikorsky S-76- but not a Gulfstream or a Global Express-” recalled Reese… “Just not yet-” added Johnny.

Almost as much as time in the Cub- Reese enjoys sitting up front of the company’s jets with his grandfather- John B. Foster III- CEO of O’Gara Aviation. John- and great friend Ed O’Gara- founded O’Gara Aviation in 1980- but their history together goes back much further. During Vietnam- John and Ed flew F-8s off carriers for the U.S. Navy. Still today- there remains debate of who saved the other’s life more often and who lays claim to the title of “The Greatest Fighter Pilot of All Time.” To Reese- the answer seems pretty straightforward. Like their single-pilot F-8s- both John and Ed maintain single pilot waivers for the Citation Encore and fly regularly.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked Reese. “Mmmmm- a pilot or a professional snow boarder-” he replied.

Johnny joined O’Gara Aviation in 1991 and spends a good part of the year on the road. “O’Gara Aviation’s core business is buying and selling aircraft- but we focus as much or more energy on the service side – building long-standing relationships with clients grounded in absolute trust and confidence- supporting the company’s motto of ‘The Value We Add Is Confidence’. We continue to flourish- even in this recent slowing market- by remaining focused on our clients’ needs first and a commitment to top-quality aircraft- most less than ten years of age- and with a strong emphasis on the heavy jet sector.”

The O’Gara Family extends well beyond Johnny and John. With tenures of five through 25 years- the loyalty and commitment of O’Gara Aviation’s staff is unique. “Our success is truly grounded in a cooperative team effort. When a client engages our company- they are supported by our entire team- not just one salesperson. By offering such diversity in experience- bundled with turnkey management of the entire transaction process- we offer our clients significant value-” noted Johnny. So does the future of O’Gara Aviation hold an opportunity for another father-son partnership? Johnny concludes- “I cannot imagine a greater honor or thrill than offering my children the opportunities that have been afforded me. I take great pride working alongside my father - and for Reese- and his brother and sister- the door will always be open.”

More information from www.ogarajets.com

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