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Aviation’s Man in Washington

Congressman Sam Graves represents two groups: the citizens of Missouri’s 6th District and private pilots.

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The Antique Airplane Association Fly-In and Convention in Blakesburg, Iowa, is a great example of people who just want to encourage folks to see their airplanes, look at their airplanes, and take a ride. It’s too bad we can’t package that up and take it to some of our very large air shows, where we have so many kids. It’s really about children. We’ve got to get them excited. If we could package Blakesburg and take it around, we might have a better chance with young people.

I’ve always said that in our airshow community, we have two kinds of pilots. We have aerobatic pilots—the performers—and we’ve got warbird folks. The aerobatic pilots are showmen. They’re all about the presentation. People don’t necessarily want to see their airplanes, because they’re not that glamorous, but the audience likes to watch them perform. And the showmen are bigger than life. They know how to work that. The flip side to that is the warbird community. We have the airplanes that everybody wants to see, but our personalities are lousy when it comes to talking about the airplanes to young people “Climb up into this airplane!” “What can I tell you about it?” “Here’s why it’s important.” If we could combine the two—if the warbird community could be a whole lot more about being showmen and showing off their planes—we could have a greater impact on kids.

Maybe some of those people who are good at talking to folks about their airplanes could lead a forum at the Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in to train others to do it.

Yes, that’s a possibility. What I like to tell folks is that every one of us had that, “Wow, I just got to do that” time. It might have been that time in a Cub. It may have been the first time they rode in a Mustang. The cool thing about us now is, particularly if you’re flying some of the really neat stuff, we get to do it every day.

What was your I-just-got-to-do-that time? I know that you grew up near a small airport.

I grew up right at a small airport. The municipal airport in our town sits right in the middle of our farm. And that is because my great-great-grandfather donated the land to the city, after his son was killed in the war. He was a B-24 pilot. So my brother and I worked on the farm and did what we had to do, and the first chance we got, we went to the airport, and pumped gas, or washed airplanes. We did anything we could to mooch a ride. We mooched a lot of rides.

After the war, my great grandfather bought an airplane from the military to store oil for his contracting business. He stored oil in the fuselage, but the cockpit was sitting there. My dad played in it as a kid, and my uncle. Then it sat around the farm, and we played in it as kids. And my kids played in it; everybody's kids played in it. It helped hook us when we were really, really young.

What type is it?

It’s a Beech AT-10. During World War II, U.S. bomber pilots did all of their instrument training in AT-10s. There aren’t any left. When we finish restoring it, it  will be the only one left flying. I’ve been collecting parts for that thing for ten years now.

Do you have them all?

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