Paul Poberezny was the founding president of the Experimental Aircraft Association from its creation in 1953, until he resigned in 1989. He then became Chairman of the Board, until 2010. Though he wasn’t the first person to build and fly his own airplane, he inspired tens of thousands of others to do what he had done: buy a set of plans, seek out the right kind of aircraft grade materials, build the airplane and then fly it. He made it look easy. Today there are over 30,000 Experimental Amateur-Built aircraft in the FAA Registry and there may be another 30,000 under construction.
Paul is now 90 years old, and though he’s fully retired from EAA, he still spends 5 to 6 hours a day, working as a volunteer for the organization. His most recent project: to build another copy of the aircraft that put the EAA on the map, the Baby Ace. And sure enough, just like it was in the good old days, he’s drawn in a group of friends who have taken an active role in helping him build it. There’s no substitute for charisma. We should all be so lucky.
In 1955, Paul wrote a series of articles for Mechanix Illustrated. In the articles he described how an individual could buy a set of plans and build his own airplane. Parts of the plans were reproduced in the magazine and there were photos of Paul fabricating the Baby Ace. He wrote: “I did not realize the impact it would have on the world of homebuilt aircraft as the magazine had worldwide distribution. Our mailbox was flooded.” Paul ran EAA from his home basement for many years, working without a salary for the first 17 years. In the summer of 1953, he staged the first EAA Fly-In. That evolved into AirVenture, the world’s largest aviation event.
Over the years, Paul developed plans for modifying or for complete “clean sheet” designs for 15 aircraft. These included names famous to homebuilders like Little Audrey, Acro Sport, Pober Sport, Pober Super Ace and a highly modified TaylorCraft. Plans for most of those designs are still available. He also built copies of the Junior Ace, a Pitts Special for his son, Tom, another for his daughter, Bonnie. He participated in the construction of two replicas of the Spirit of St. Louis and he was involved in a long list of restorations of antique civilian and military aircraft. Along the way, he flew hundreds of different types of aircraft, civilian and military, logging around 28,000 hours in the space that always made him happiest: “The vast ocean of air above us”.
Paul is quick to point out that he has learned far more about people than airplanes in his lifetime. And most of what he’s learned about aviation, he’s learned through other people. He credits his success in homebuilding and EAA to his love of people. “If you don’t love people and respect them, they won’t follow you.”
Paul was asked recently what he considers his three greatest achievements in life. He narrowed it down to three solid choices. First was forming the organization. He did that in 1953 with a group of his dedicated buddies and they must have chosen well since their original charter has sustained the organization for nearly 60 years. Paul is also convinced that he did it right when he aimed to make the EAA a “family organization” from the start, involving not just the wives, but the kids as well. That meant setting a high moral tone for the activities, like the annual Fly-In, and the success is evident to all who have made the pilgrimage to Timmerman, Rockford and since 1970, Oshkosh. The third, and arguably one of the most important policy decisions made in the early years, had to do with cementing relations between EAA’s coveted Experimental Amateur-Built category and the guardian of those rules, the FAA. In doing so, Paul made homebuilts a respected part of General Aviation. It became a two-way street, with EAA becoming a center for innovation that has in many ways influenced designs in the General and Commercial aviation industries. The freedom that the homebuilt designers have enjoyed has created an industry that companies like Cirrus and Kestral and even Boeing in their use of composites today owe much of their progress to.
Content provided by Aircraft Spruce.