This story is about Roy Miller, aviation daredevil.
Miller is, well, by definition, many things: successful Moberly printer; formally trained engineer; hog farmer from Carroll County; proud husband, father and son; faithful steward at Timber Lake Christian Church; and, oh yes, aerospace master mechanic and pilot of virtually anything with two or four wings.
Last week, he had about as much fun as a man his age should have. He flew his 75-year-old rebuilt, open cockpit Stearman Navy trainer biplane to the 64th annual Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) AirVenture air show and convention at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Miller’s bright yellow biplane was among over 10,000 flying machines at the Airventure in the western Wisconsin city of 66,000. More planes flew to Wittman Regional Airport than Wittman could accommodate. During AirVenture, Wittman is the world’s busiest airport, registering more takeoffs and landings than any airport anywhere, regardless of the size of the city it serves.
That’s understandably so, given the 563,000 people from at least 80 nations who attended the event last week. Over 750 media representatives attended the fly-in from six continents.
The Moberly Rotary Club, at its luncheon at The Lodge in Rothwell Park, stayed well past its normal 1 p.m. adjournment last week to hear Miller describe this phenomenon of aviation most just call “Oshkosh.” His recitation of the facts of the fly-in were mind-boggling, beyond the more than half a million souls who found their way to the airport from all over the globe.
For instance, 2,855 showplanes were there, 1,124 home-built aircraft, 1,032 vintage planes (like Miller’s 1941 Stearman), 37 warbirds, 135 ultra-light or sport planes, 101 seaplanes, 41 aerobatic craft and 20 machines the EAA just called non-categorized aircraft.
Far from just ogling planes, the visitors were treated to 891 commercial exhibits and 1,050 work sessions, which were attended by at least 75,000 of the participants. The Canadian Forces’ Snowbirds acrobatic team performed.
The EAA — which defines itself as “a growing and diverse organization of people with a wide range of interests and backgrounds” — says 35 million people attended the fly-in this year via social media channels.
Miller said the sheer numbers of the Oshkosh gathering serve best to describe it. For instance, the Wittman Airport has three parallel runways, which have takeoffs and landings occurring virtually minute by minute throughout the week. It requires the volunteer efforts of more than 5,000 people to service the aircraft, Miller said, handling jobs ranging from air traffic control (often with non-verbal commands) to pumping aircraft fuel (avgas).
His wife, Lori, drove the family mobile home up to Oshkosh to provide them with a place to sleep. This year, Miller’s friend Steve Botkins was wingman, riding in the front seat of the Stearman.
The plane, a former U.S. Navy trainer, was acquired by Miller in need of restoration, an avocation which now occupies most of his days. The founder and owner of Moberly’s Precision Printing, Miller remains actively involved in the management of his business but spends most of his time restoring and building planes at the family hangar at Omar Bradley Airport.
A licensed pilot of 25 years’ standing, Miller jumped into the plane business when he bought a two-seat Cessna 150 from former Moberly dentist Jim Byland many years ago.
At any given time, a visitor to Miller’s hangar will find all manner of interesting, even unique aviation projects underway. Mrs. Miller has installed a commercial-grade sewing machine for creating and manufacturing the interiors for their multiple aircraft.
The 2017 EAA AirVenture already has the Millers making plans. It will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the legendary Piper Cub and the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.