Five on the Fly: Dick Knapinski

Five on the Fly: Dick Knapinski

Five on the Fly: Dick Knapinski

WHO: Dick Knapinski

POSITION:
EAA Director of Communications

HOMEBASE:
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

RATINGS:
Private Pilot Certificate

1. Can you describe your current role and responsibilities with EAA?   

As director of communications, my role is developing and distributing EAA’s messaging to external parties, which is a very long list. Along with our 220,000 members, there is the aviation media and community, but EAA’s wide reach also includes connecting with the non-flying public about EAA programs and activities such as AirVenture, Young Eagles and the EAA Aviation Museum. I assist every department at EAA headquarters with communications needs, and my role encompasses communications with the local community and state. 

EAA, unlike many D.C.-based aviation associations, is a highly visible organization to the public in Oshkosh and Wisconsin. For example, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is one of Wisconsin’s biggest tourism events in visitor numbers and economic impact. I also coordinate the media at AirVenture, which means more than 900 media representatives from six continents as well as more than 75 news conferences and media events.

2. Can you provide a general overview of the timeline, team and moving parts behind the show each year? 

Grab a chair because this might take a while. There is never a start or finish to the AirVenture timeline. As soon as one year’s event concludes, we’re already planning the next year. Sometimes we’re working two or three years ahead. As a general rule, around June 1 each year, there is no more planning – we move to full execution mode. 

The more than 5,000 volunteers at AirVenture each year are what Jack Pelton calls the “secret sauce” – they make it happen. We need every one of them for this event to work. You get some idea of all the moving parts involved when you consider all that occurs within one week at Oshkosh when we host the world’s largest fly-in, one of the biggest annual aviation trade shows with more than 800 exhibitors, nine air shows, a $2 million-plus fundraising event, an educational conference with more than 1,000 seminars and workshops and a campground with 40,000 people.

3. This month, EAA celebrates 50 years of AirVenture in Oshkosh. How has the show evolved since 1970? How has it remained the same?  

Like anything else that has been around for 50-plus years, it must constantly evolve. AirVenture has become a magnet for all things aviation. The growth seen in the 1980s and 1990s when aircraft such as Concorde, 747s, and SpaceShipOne came here, propelled Oshkosh into an expanded role. Much of that evolution developed from EAA-member and other feedback. 

That being said, there are still many things that are the same as when I first came in 1978. You can make Oshkosh as big or as small as you want. I know of people who spend their entire week in the homebuilt area, or the forums, or the ultralight area, or the seaplane base. Others come and try to see as much as they can in a week. There is also the spirit of EAA and community that continues as to when Paul Poberezny put it in place more than 65 years ago. He often said that we welcomed everyone and asked those who wanted limits, “Who do we tell that they are not welcome? Who do we tell that they should just stay home?”

4. Many people solely associate EAA with AirVenture – what other projects and initiatives are at the forefront of the organization?  

AirVenture is very much the personification of what EAA is on a year-round basis, so it runs across the aviation spectrum. One of aviation’s biggest challenges to drawing more people to flying. The Young Eagles program has already flown more than 2.1 million kids since 1992, and that has expanded to many next-step programs for those kids who receive flights. Related to that is the Eagle Flights program to mentor adults interested in learning to fly by connecting them with our local chapters. And there’s much more to come as EAA is positioned to reach people in many ways.

Our advocacy team is involved in breaking down barriers to flight, whether that’s in aircraft and pilot certification, or areas such as fuels and safety. There are the year-round tours by our airplanes such as the B-17 and Ford Tri-Motor. And as the EAA Aviation Museum is the year-round home for the organization, how can we make that an even more inviting and inspiring place to engage people in aviation? These are all areas where EAA is involved.

5. What are some of the highlights in store for EAA AirVenture 2019?

There is plenty planned such as the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the Boeing 747 celebrated this year, the 75th anniversary of D-Day or the emergence of the Urban Air Mobility showcase. Those are all outlined on the EAA website prior to the event. Those major events are great, but we know that each area has its own highlights and moments that will move people. Each person who comes to Oshkosh comes with unique expectations and leaves with memories connected to their personal experiences. Paul also said many times that you come to Oshkosh for the airplanes, but you come back for the people. 

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