From: The Woodstock Independent June 20, 2022
The skies were clear, the winds were fairly calm, and the morning was perfect for flying – or for watching planes fly into Wonder Lake’s Galt Airport. The Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 932 at Zero One Charlie held its first Barnstormer’s Day since the pandemic began, and it was thriving once again.
“It was amazing,” said Stephanie McClellan, EAA Chapter president. “It was an incredible day that had all the right ingredients for a perfect day. There were no complaints, no hiccups. We had good people who helped out with the large crowd.”
With a pancake breakfast, antique car show, live music, raffle prizes, and a variety of planes, aviators and non-aviators alike spent the day exploring the grounds.
EAA Chapter member Bill Tobin estimated that the organization served more than 550 plates of pancakes, eggs, sausage, and hash browns that morning.
“This was the best day we could have had,” Tobin said. “We were concerned with being overwhelmed, but as it turned out, we got the number correct. We had breakfast available until the time we said we would.”
Despite the food and all the entertainment, the opportunity for community to mingle with other aviation aficionados at a welcoming airport was the biggest draw.
David Smith flew his homebuilt 2011 RV7 in from over the Wisconsin border. He said the plane took him five years to build, but it was the “Hot rod of the skies.”
“This is just such a great event,” Smith said. “I love the hometown quality of Wonder Lake and Galt. I really appreciate all they’ve done. [Galt Airport owner] Claude Sonday has really done a lot for this place. I think people come for the camaraderie. … Airplane people tend to travel in packs.”
Passion for flying
The family-friendly event drew people from surrounding areas as well, including Crystal Lake resident Zack Vohaska, who brought his two young children, 4-year-old Harper and 2-year-old Ezra, to see the airport. Now a commercial pilot, the Air Force veteran thought Barnstormer’s Day was a great way to share his passion for flying with his young family.
“We love airplanes,” Vohaska said of his family. “We just got here, but we are excited to look around and see what we can.”
Glenn McGowan of Poplar Grove offered to let the Vohaska children climb into his 1946 Piper Cub.
“I’ve owned it for 30 years and landed it on the grass runway here,” he said. “Events like this are great to introduce kids to flying. I have a stuffed animal in the back seat for the kids, too. “
First-hand experiences are what events organized by EAA Chapter 932 are all about.
Tom Bartmer of Kenosha, known in the aviation world as BushCat Tom, brought his black BushCat – a lightweight plane made to land off-runway – he bought from Galt-airport-based AeroSport in early 2020. His YouTube channel is devoted to his adventures with the lightweight homebuilt airplane.
“We videoed the production of the plane,” he explained. “Now we document the places we’ve been. I’ve been recognized in Florida and other aviation events. It is kind of neat.
“I come to Galt every couple of weeks. It is kind of like home.”
And antique cars, too
One of the most photographed planes seemed to be a yellow, open-cockpit Stearman with an American flag perched on the top that Robert Tekampe flew in from Mundelein.
“We’ve been friends with the owners at Galt for years,” he said. “We come here a lot – try to come in for a lot of events. It is a great local airport.”
The Stearman was built in the early 1940s for the U.S. Army Air Force, but went directly to the Navy, giving it two military serial numbers. Having been around the continental U.S. in military service, the aircraft spent time as a crop duster after retirement and has been in the hands of Tekampe and his family for about 10 years.
When the Stearman took off around noon, a decent crowd had amassed, but Tekampe took one more pass – this time with billowing white show-smoke pouring out from behind, attracting an even larger gathering of onlookers, including several photographers and videographers.
Despite the planes being the primary draw, antique cars came in abundance. McClellan said more than 200 cars showed up for the event.
“We thought there might be more Model A’s,” McClellan said, “But we had a great showing of cars. All 200 of our window signs were taken, and then some.”
In contrast, an estimated 50 to 75 planes came in for Barnstormer’s Day.
‘Pilots everyday people’
Tekampe said he thought the high price of fuel hindered some of the planes.
“Aviation gas is $6.99 a gallon,” he said, “and when you think about how much gas some of these planes use in an hour, it can be expensive.”
That didn’t hamper those who wanted to support the event. John Ricciotti, American Waco Club member and chairman of a national WACO fly-in at nearby Poplar Grove Airport this past weekend, flew his 1934 biplane over the event.
EAA Chapter 932 member Ken Bemis said that part of why the chapter enjoys Barnstormer’s Day so much is that “it allows the general public to see what we do.”
“We are a homespun airport,” he said, “and for people to see aviation in a positive light, this is great. [Small aircraft] participate in medical missions, puppy flights, turtle rescue – there is so much more than what most people experience on commercial flights. Pilots are everyday people, and we love flying. It’s great to be back.”
For McClellan, the day was a success.
“We had a record turnout, great weather, and nostalgic planes,” he said. “What more could you ask for?”