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Thu, Jul 19, 2007

Timeless Voices Of Aviation Invites AirVenture Attendees To Tell Flying Tales

"Let No Story Go Untold"

by ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas

The Timeless Voices of Aviation oral history program motto -- one could say, mantra -- is "Let No Story Go Untold." And the EAA Timeless Voices staff means it. Over 756 people in the aviation world have given their story.

Folks like Dr. Peggy Chabrian – Founder and President of Women in Aviation International; Burt Rutan - aircraft designer; Robert “Hoot” Gibson - astronaut; General Paul Tibbets - pilot of the Enola Gay. These are names we know but Timeless Voices seeks to go beyond the names we are familiar with. Anyone that has had a hand or wrench or pencil in aviation, Timeless Voices wants you.

"An individual aviation story, be it one of serving a local airport, starting a flying club, designing and building an airplane or serving the nation in war or peace, is one of the countless threads which, woven together, creates the priceless tapestry of human flight," states the Timeless Voices web site. No thread is unimportant.

Timeless Voices of Aviation started a mere five years ago in 2002. What originally started as an idea in the EAA Development Department to use interviews for fundraising was given a new direction when Adam Smith was hired as the new museum director. Smith had worked in England in a World War I oral history archive. Smith saw the benefit of making the interviews into a museum program.

Zack Baughman was an EAA intern at this time helping the Curator of Collections. During AirVenture the collections area slowed and Baughman helped with the helicopter rides, selling tickets and helping the passengers. Timeless Voices had just started up and they needed interviewers. Baughman, a history major, thought "that would be great."

The internship ended but soon after a full time position as Timeless Voices Program Coordinator opened up in March 2003. Baughman applied and has been the Program Coordinator ever since. Almost immediately after being hired, Baughman was sent to Lakeland, FL. There he met Mel Smith, an EAA member who volunteered to help.

The interviews were to be held in the EAA Centennial of Flight tent -- right next to the large fans and generators. This was not conducive to the audio part of the program so Smith volunteered his RV for the interviews.

"We needed a quiet place to do interviews," said Baughman. Smith’s RV worked so well, he has been using it as a traveling studio for Timeless Voices ever since. At the World Aerobatic Championship held in Lakeland in 2003, Smith interviewed 40 of the pilots from around the globe. He did have the help of Sigrid Baumann who’d bring pilots to the RV to get them interviewed.

Some of the interviews were done shortly before the pilot was to perform. Smith and the RV were then off to the Dayton Airshow where another dozen people were interviewed. Then up to Oshkosh. During that Centennial of Flight year, Timeless Voices recorded 100 interviews during AirVenture, over half by Smith and his traveling RV.

The EAA B-17 Aluminum Overcast tours also generated interviews. The B-17 draws the Veterans to see her. The Tour Coordinators would perform interviews when there was time. About two dozen interviews were done in 2004 but as the Tour Coordinators became busier interviews dropped off. The Coordinators do keep a log book of the Veterans who visit and they are contacted later to see if they are interested in being interviewed. Baughman has performed many of the interviews himself. He marvels at being able to speak to men and women he has admired.

"Members of the 56th Fighter Group are my personal heroes. They flew P-47’s during WWII and I’m a P-47 nut." Baughman has been able to capture over a dozen interviews at the 56th Fighter Group reunions.

Another interview Baughman will never forget was General Paul Tibbets. Tibbets' schedule at Lakeland in 2004 was completely booked but Baughman received a surprise when he and volunteers Timm Edgington and Tracy Miller were invited back to the hotel to do the interview. While most interviews run 45 minutes to an hour, Tibbets kept Baughman and company entertained for 90 minutes.

Tibbets spoke of his start in aviation at age 12, when he was chosen by air racer Doug Davis to help Davis tie napkin parachutes to the new Baby Ruth candy bars and then drop them over a Hialea, FL racetrack. The Curtiss Candy Company had hired Davis for the publicity stunt and Tibbets was small enough to fit in the front of the biplane with the candy bars and assume the position of bombardier.

There are so many contributors to aviation worldwide that, naturally, Baughman is unable to handle all the interviews... and this is where selfless volunteers, like Mel Smith, come in. Interviews were originally done using the EAA TV crew and a Beta SP camera. The interview process needed to be simplified so volunteers could perform interviews.

The important part was getting the interviews to be archived; the media they were recorded on was secondary. Though mini digital video (Mini-DV) is the preferred media, any volunteer with any video camera and willingness to "hangar-fly" is welcome.

Timeless Voices has made it easy for volunteers with a free project kit that can be requested. The kit contains release forms, checklists, the biographical data needed from the subject, tips and sample questions on conducting the interview. Potential volunteers can contact Baughman through the website or in person at AirVenture. A volunteer can perform one interview, perhaps someone in the local area they know with a story to tell or the volunteer can be a "have camera, will travel" type.

Occasionally interviewees would like to donate artifacts. While Timeless Voices can’t make the decision, a form describing the donation gets passed on to the proper EAA Department for follow-up.

The Timeless Voices program is completely donation-driven... and a recent generous donation by Bob and Susan Wilson has resulted in the Wilson Timeless Voices Theater being built in the museum. The donation will also allow Timeless Voices to move forward on upgrades and website improvement. Money is always a factor and anyone is welcome to join the Wilson’s and other donors in helping to keep aviation history alive.

During AirVenture, the Wilson Timeless Voices Theater will be showcasing 23 of the first 48 stories that Timeless Voices recorded. The interviews have been edited with archival footage and music. A Timeless Voices tent will be set up as well to accept volunteers, donations, cookies, a friendly hello and most definitely to set up appointments for interviews. There is no cost involved except for the time to tell your story.

While the sign-up will be at the booth, a golf cart will take the interviewees to one of three quieter locations for the actual interview. The main site will be in the Chaplain’s office next to Fergus Chapel at Pioneer Airport, a second site is inside the museum and the third is Mel Smith’s Traveling RV. The tent will also feature a DVD player showing the various interviews collected during AirVenture.

The location, owing to the primary objective of securing WWII veteran stories, will be located just east of the yellow food stand near the Warbirds in Review area, along Wittman Road. People that have been interviewed previously are more than welcome to come back and give a Part II if there have been significant additions to the story.

Says Baughman, "Mike Melville was interviewed after the June 21st flight (of SpaceShipOne) but before the X-Prize flight. I’d love to go back and talk to him about that and talk to him about SpaceShipTwo and the design of SpaceShipTwo," but Baughman knows "they’re not talking about that right now."

After AirVenture, the Timeless Voices website will be changed. The switch to the Brightcove System should make the site easier to use. As the editing work on the interviews continues more videos will be added to the 120 already available for access on the site.

"The primary goal" say Baughman "is to get everything we’ve recorded edited down and then digitized and put on the website for free access." That’s free access for anyone, not just EAA members. Anyone with a high-speed internet connection and a craving for first hand history is welcome.

Teachers, Scout leaders, historians can use the streaming videos for lectures or presentations. No permission is needed. It is even possible, if an interview is not yet edited and available on the website, for a copy to be requested through Timeless Voices.

FMI: www.timelessvoices.org, www.airventure.org

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