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24 Hours at Oshkosh: A Photo Essay from The World’s Largest Gathering of Aviators

Paul Poberezny, the founder of the world’s largest gathering of aviation enthusiasts in Oshkosh, Wis., was born to a poor Midwest family. But he grew up to be wealthy. “I ended up being a millionaire because I have a million friends,” he told the news site for pilots AVweb.

Poberezny died two years ago, but his riches live on. This year, the Experimental Aircraft Association – the organization that Poberezny founded in his basement in 1953 – attracted 10,000 planes and a half a million visitors to the Wittman Regional Airfield in Oshkosh for its weeklong annual fly-in.

The people  who come here include pilots, home aircraft builders and fans, but also employees of big companies like Boeing, Airbus and GE Aviation, which makes everything from turboprops and jet engines to aircraft components.

“We’re a family,” Poberezny told AVweb. “The early members would bring their kids and later on we’d see the kids come and they’d be married, then years later those kids would come with their grandkids.”

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Poberezny could be talking about GE Aviation executive Brad Mottier, who started flying in as a teenager with his father, or flying instructor and former Northwest pilot Adam Senatori, who first came to Oshkosh as a little boy and will be bringing here his four-year old son, Samuel, this weekend.

This year, Senatori, who is also an award-winning aviation photographer, has been shooting the airshow for GE Reports. He decided to document the spirit of this unique event hour-by-hour.

“Oshkosh is a life-changing experience,” Senatori says. “There is the amazing technology, engineering and ingenuity of the aircraft builders all around you, but there’s also spirit of the place that harkens back to the beginning of flight, with barnstormers, wing walkers and all that. You can feel it in the air and I wanted to do my best to capture it. This is my ode to Oshkosh.” Take a look:

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“Most of the pilots who come to Oshkosh pitch their tents under the wings of their planes,” Senatori says. “We did the same. This is the first thing  I saw at daybreak when I opened my tent.” Top image: Barnstormer Gene Soucy and wing walker Teresa Stokes dazzled Oshkosh on Wednesday.

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It’s time for morning hygiene in one of many community bathrooms built on the edge of the airfield, not far from the runway. More than 10,000 pilots and their families camp next to their planes at Oshkosh.

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The hours just after sunrise is the best time for exploring the place. There is a sense of serenity and calm that hovers over the airfield.

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The Experimental Aircraft Association was launched by pilots like Paul Poberezny, who built their own planes. You can feel their hands-on, maker legacy especially during mid-morning workshops where visitors can learn how to build aircraft wings, stitch canvas to them or build the body of a plane.

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Living aviation legends like designer Burt Rutan come to Oshkosh to talk about their latest projects.

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Some of the most creative flying contraptions are in the ultralight section at the south end of the airport. Top: Mark Amenson demonstrates the motor pack for a paraglider. Above: A homebuilt ultralight plane designed by 82-year-old Oshkosh veteran Gene Smith from Valley Engineering in Rolla, Mo. Smith, an engineer and former crop duster pilot, still tests every single plane he makes by flying it over his 780-acre cattle farm.

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Lunch at Oshkosh is an All-American affair. Greens are usually in short supply.

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The warbirds section featuring American, Russian, Japanese and other planes from World War II and the 1950s and the 1960s is a big draw. The planes make frequent flyovers throughout the day.

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The airshow occupies the main part of the day, usually lasting for several hours. It typically starts with the national anthem and covers everything from barnstormers and World War II battle reenactments to experimental planes and the latest jet flyovers. The result is a sense of awe for the young and the old.

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The day ends with night flyovers, an Oshkosh specialty, and fireworks. After that, it’s time to crawl back into the tent. Good night! All images and GIF credits: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

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