Steamboat Springs When more than 35 youngsters boarded a private plane for a 20-minute flight during the Wild West Air Fest at Steamboat Springs Airport on Monday it was a fitting tribute to aviation pioneer and former part-time Steamboat Springs resident Col. Paul Poberezny.
Poberezny, a former military pilot and founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association influenced many thousands of pilots during a long and varied career in aviation. He died Aug. 22 at age 91 in Oshkosh, Wis. Poberezny and his wife, Audrey, owned a home near the fourth tee on what's now called Rollingstone Ranch Golf Club beginning in the late 1970s and continuing into the 1990s, according to Steamboat pilot Moose Barrows, who sometimes flew with Poberezny.
Barrows recalls a flight in 1981 with Poberezny at the yoke of a vintage tail-dragger DC-3 prop plane when one of the two engines quit over Mount Werner.
“We made it on to Hayden,” Barrows recalled. “He had a replacement engine sent out from Wisconsin, and they changed it out right there” on the tarmac in Hayden.
It’s likely that landing a large vintage aircraft like the DC-3 on one engine was not a big deal for Poberezny. Throughout the course of his 70 years as a pilot, he flew more than 500 types of aircraft, according to a memorial message posted on the Experimental Aircraft Association website. And he was known to favor airplanes that he built himself.
The free flights in Steamboat this week were made available through the Experimental Aircraft Association's Young Eagles program and the courtesy of local pilots and others from Granby who belong to the closest Experimental Aircraft Association chapter to Steamboat. The 20-minute flights are intended to inspire the dream of becoming a pilot in youngsters ages 8 to 17, and since its establishment in 1992, 1.6 million young people have taken part, according to the association.
Wild West Air Fest organizer Gerry Denofsky said Tuesday that the children who took part here during Labor Day weekend were from across the country.
“If the program has inspired one-half of one percent of those 1.6 million kids to become pilots, it’s a win for us,” Denofsky said. “Being a pilot is sort of an endangered species.”
Experimental Aircraft Association spokesman Dick Knapinski said Tuesday that the Young Eagles program was created after Poberezny stepped back from day-to-day oversight of the association as its president, handing off to this son, Tom Poberezny. However, he endorsed it, and the current program builds on another he started four decades earlier.
“Certainly, his influence was great over our organization at that time, and he would have shaped and influenced any EAA program,” Knapinski said. “Paul’s fascination with young people in aviation goes back to the 1950s when he started a project called Schoolflight to encourage high school shop classes to build an airplane.”
In the modern era, the Experimental Aircraft Association is perhaps best known for AirVenture Oshkosh. The giant fly-in attracted more than 500,000 people and 10,000 airplanes last month, including 2,341 show planes.
Barrows recalls that Poberezny was meticulous in his preparations for flying, but he also might have had a bit of the rascal in him. From his Steamboat home near the fourth tee of the golf course, he was known to greet golfers waiting to tee off with a cocktail of his own creation. He called the libation “smoke oil” after the solution that allows acrobatic aircraft to trail streamers of smoke.
“He loved aviation, and he loved adrenaline,” Barrows said.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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