When Tom Poberezny assumed the leadership of EAA as its second president in 1989, he brought a new set of skills, a fresh perspective and a determination to expand the EAA culture. As a result of what Tom brought to the table, EAA entered a new era. It matured. Tom’s professionalism slowly transformed the activities and the magazines to a broader mission, one that expanded on the concept of sport aviation, winning respect from pilots, the government, other organizations and the general public. He enlarged the showcase for homebuilts, adding every year to the attractions at Oshkosh. What Paul Poberezny had accomplished in creating the homebuilt movement, Tom took to the next level, imbuing the culture with unimpeachable integrity. He did that by maintaining and fusing Paul’s exacting standards for cleanliness, neatness, family values and safety.
In the mid-70’s, Tom took over the position of Director of the EAA’s annual Fly-In Convention which had relocated from Timmerman Field in Milwaukee to Rockford Airport in Illinois in 1960 and then in 1970, it settled in Oshkosh. Tom not only planned all of the activities and logistics for what was becoming the world’s largest aviation event, but he planned and participated in the afternoon airshows every day. In 1979, Frank Christensen had presented Tom, Gene Soucy, and Charlie Hillard with new hybrid copies of Frank’s Christen Eagle biplane and the Christen Eagles were formed. That changed the texture of airshows. They quickly became the most popular civilian aerobatic team in the world, developing a routine that was a stand out for precision and fast action, peppered with feats that drew gasps and squeals of exhilaration from the huge audiences that came to see them.
During Tom’s tenure the number of EAA members doubled. Sport Aviation magazine slowly expanded its purview from its near total focus on homebuilts to a broader reach that encompassed all forms of recreational flight. The idea of using an aircraft for fun, for adventure and for enriching a weekend experience gained in recognition and respect. Warbirds, antiques, classics and ultralights all took on greater meaning as more and more people came into the EAA fold. Tom spearheaded the movement to create the Sport Pilot license along with an entirely new category of Light Sport Aircraft. That brought over a hundred new designs into sport aviation, broadening the meaning of the term.
Looking back, he is proud of the growth of AirVenture both from the standpoint of numbers and values. “It’s grown from a fairly small event with a lot of heart in it, to the world’s premiere aviation event,” he said. “It’s totally unique and there’s not another event like Oshkosh in the world.” He also harbors a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction over the development and status of the EAA Aviation Center in Oshkosh. Tom was the essential player in designing and then attracting the funds that were needed to make the structure that houses the EAA administration and the museum facilities. “It’s become the year-round home for aviation, not just for EAA but for all aviation enthusiasts. It’s created a permanency that doesn’t exist anywhere else. The headquarters, the air academy facilities, the Lodge, the Weeks Hangar, the museum; these all give aviation a sense of permanency. It’s got great depth.”
Understandably, Tom is also very proud of the Young Eagles Program, which he initiated. In 1992 the program was launched with the goal of taking a million kids for an airplane ride prior to the 100th anniversary of powered flight in 2003. They made it and it’s still running.
Tom feels his greatest contribution to the world of homebuilding has been to protect the regulatory opportunity for homebuilders. The rules really haven’t changed in six decades. On the other hand, when you compare the size of the FARs in 1953, with the amount of regulations that exist today, the contrast goes beyond dramatic. Essentially, the 51% rule still governs homebuilding. “Protecting the 51% rule was my number one priority. That rule and the regulations that accompany it is the essence of the movement. Without that, there is no homebuilt movement.” The EAA has matured and the homebuilt movement grew up with it.
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