Budd Davisson, Plane and Pilot, October 1998

A Very Personal Oshkosh

First let me set the stage: Oshkosh, the fly-in, covers a huge (as in REALLY huge) area populated primarily with airplanes, people and porta-potties. The main part of the grounds has poles sticking up about every hundred feet with public address speakers hanging on them. Then there's a two story building with a large porch facing the runway where a non-stop chain of announcers, orators and philosophers keep the milling masses apprised of what's going on, what's about to go on and what people are doing via live interviews. It's sort of an outdoor CNN for aero-folks.

So, there I was standing on the outdoor interview stage talking over the PA system with the ever-present Roscoe Morton, the Voice of Oshkosh. The Arizona Redhead was lounging around on the back of the stage, absent mindedly watching the airplanes while Roscoe and I amiably assaulted the masses with musings about Oshkosh and what it means to different people. I mentioned how every Oshkosh has a different personality and I remember specific Oshkosh's for different memorable airplanes or happenings.

I then said, "Roscoe, this is my thirtieth Oshkosh and I think I'd like to remember this one as the Oshkosh where I ask Marlene Abert, the Arizona Redhead, to marry me."

I glanced over my shoulder where Marlene was still gazing out over the crowd and ignoring us. Then I saw the words strike home and her head snapped around, her eyes big and round.

"How about it, Marlene," my voice thundered out of a thousand loudspeakers, "Will you marry me?"

She silently mouthed something about she couldn't believe I was doing this to her. There was a very long, very public and very pregnant pause.

The loud speakers broke the silence with my voice again asking, "Well, Marlene, a hundred thousand of my best friends out there want to know your answer."

By this time I was conscious of lots of faces looking up expectantly. Suddenly I felt very conspicuous. At that moment I realized I had just set up a situation that had all the makings for a really, really bad idea. What if she said no?

She gave me her usual cocky, slightly crooked (and very sexy) grin and ambled up to the microphone. She confidently took the mike out of my hand, looked around the grounds at all the faces and very clearly said, "That depends. How big is the ring?"

A hundred thousand people started clapping and laughing. I felt even more conspicuous.

I said, "What ring?"

She quipped, "That's okay, I'll take the airplane."

More laughing and clapping and Roscoe asked if that was a yes or what.

She nods. We hug. The crowd claps. We're engaged.

Yessir, folks, it was a helluva Oshkosh. But the fact the Redhead and I finally decided to make it official was just the icing on what I felt was quite possibly the most outstanding Oshkosh of all times. Don't ask me why. It just was.

I meant it, when I said each Oshkosh has it's own personality and is remembered for different things. Even if the aforementioned case of pre-nuptual grandstanding hadn't taken place, I would still remember OSH '97 as being a stand-out among stand-outs.

If you weren't there, you really missed something. It's hard to imagine anything as big as Oshkosh being warm and fuzzy, but it was.

For one thing, it was an amazing year for airplanes you've never seen before and airplanes you've never even heard of. The arrival of the Buhl Air Sedan and Cunningham-Hall, however was not a surprise. Both were incredible antique restorations and they stomped minds into the dirt with their unique lines, but we all knew they were coming, so we were prepared. Same thing with the Rutan-Williams V-Jet. It was super weird, but thanks to Rutan, Oshkosh is prepared for weird.

Most of us, however, were not prepared for the off-the-scale cuteness of the little MG-2 that looks like a GeeBee gone biplane. Specially designed for the legendary Tex Rankin back in the late 1930's, the airplane caught everyone by surprise. Ditto the AVRO Schackleton at the other end of the scale. It was the ultimate expression of British engineering with its four 2,500 hp, Griffon engines, counter rotating props and wooden, alcohol weeping leading edges. No one knew it even existed. It caught us by surprise.

Maybe that's what set this Oshkosh apart: surprises. Maybe that's also what made me do what I did with Marlene. I hadn't thought long about making the proposal a public affair. I didn't lay awake nights planning it (after a day at Oshkosh, no one lays awake, no one). It just seemed like the thing to do and the time to do it. I wanted the two of us to continue to be the memorable surprise that we have been from the very beginning. We have a very lively relationship and even after five years, we don't have a lot of dull moments. Actually, we don't have any.

As this was being written, we're caught up in the usual pre-ceremonial morass of wedding plans and trying to whittle the guest list down. Let me see now: There's the hundred thousand from Oshkosh I invited. About the same number who read this page from time to time. Then there's the EAA and IAC membership. Oops! Almost forgot the family. Gheez! Does anyone have a spare stadium we can borrow, preferably covered? I wonder if Max Yazgar's farm is still available? Does anyone know if Rhode Island can be rented for an afternoon?