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Festival of Flight: Inside the World’s Largest Gathering of Aircraft Lovers

There seem to be more planes parked on the green grounds of Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis., than there are cloverleaves in the grass beneath their wheels. The airport is the home of the annual EAA AirVentures air show – the world’s largest gathering for flying enthusiasts (see below). Here, all the planes, their pilots and owners each tell their own unique story.

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Take the World War II-era Douglass C-47 Skytrain transport plane parked just a few steps from the GE Aviation pavilion here. The flakes of its peeling, gunship-green paint coat flutter in the Wisconsin wind like hangnails. It’s clear that the plane has seen better days. But the weathered look gives its story even more gravitas.

The plane’s name painted on its one – That’s All, Brother – was the crew’s bold message to Adolf Hitler that his time was up.

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On D-Day, June 6, 1944, just three months after That’s All, Brother
rolled off the assembly line in Tulsa, Okla., the plane took off into the night from the Royal Air Force’s Greenham Common base in the south of England, leading 800 allied aircraft over the Channel into Normandy.

It was the largest airborne formation the world has ever seen and carried 13,000 paratroopers whose mission was to jump behind enemy lines.

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The plane survived the mission and other wartime sorties over France, Holland and Germany, before it returned unharmed to the United States in 1945. But, despite its achievements, it it cycled through 16 different owners ended up in a bone yard, until a group of enthusiasts from the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) saved it and launched a Kickstarter campaign to restore it.

Although the C-47 remains earthbound for the moment, the CAF flew here fully functional B-29 and B-52 bombers.

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GE Aviation got its start by developing turbosuperchargers for aircraft engines, including the massive machines powering Boeing B-29 Superfortresses called like the one in the foreground, called Fifi. The gray nose of a still-active B-52H bomber from AFB Barksdale, La., is peeking out behind. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

Between flyovers, the planes are parked just a short walk from the latest planes like the HondaJet business jet, some of the world’s oldest planes like the Wright brothers’ “B” flier, and experimental planes that force visitors to suspend their disbelief that they can actually fly.

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The HondaJet’s HF120 engine was developed by GE and Honda. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

Pilot and photographer Adam Senatori, who flew his Cessna-172 here on Monday morning, took a walk around the show with his camera and captured some of the highlights from the first day. Take a look and stay tuned to our Periscope channel @ge_reports for live streaming of flyovers and other events.

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Legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan piloted on Monday his Starship plane. The plane’s body is made entirely from composite materials. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

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Airbus brought to Oshkosh its latest A350 XWB passenger jet, whose body is also mainly made from composites.The plane’s fixed wing trailing edge, made from carbon fiber composites, comes from GE Aviation. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

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Kevin Coleman performed acrobatics in his Extra 330SC plane. Image credit: AdamSenatori/GE Reports

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A motley squadron of Russian-made Yakovlev aircraft. The Yaks are trainers made in the 1970s. But their predecessors, like Yak-9, formed the backbone of the Red Army’s air force. The planes performed a glorious flyover on Monday. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

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Acrobatic planes (center) park right next to experimental planes (left). Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

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This beautifully restored World War II-era Vought F4U took off from aircraft carriers. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

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A tale of two tails. Image credit: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

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