Fulfilling a dream by way of Monroe
By Times staff
MONROE - Kevin Purtee, 48, Austin, Texas, fulfilled his lifelong dream an hour and a half at a time. Purtee, who is a pilot in the Texas Army National Guard, flew his two-person, hand-built plane from Austin, Texas to the EAA AirVenture convention in Oshkosh, which began July 26 and ends Sunday. He carefully planned out his trip because he had to stop for fuel every hour and a half. That gave him a chance to see a lot of airports. On his way home Friday, he spent a couple of hours in Monroe, refueling his plane, talking to other pilots at the airport and eating lunch in Monroe. He enjoys flying into the small-town airports, he said. He flew into Brodhead on his way to Oshkosh during the Brodhead airport fly-in. He spent five days in Brodhead before flying on to Oshkosh. The plane is a Pietenpol, which is a type of plane that was popular in the 1930s. The plane can travel up to 75 mph, his wife Shelley Tumino said. He built the plane himself. It took him "forever," he said, to build the plane - 16 years and seven months. His plane is called "The Fat Bottomed Girl" because it's a little bottom heavy, he joked. "It flies good," he added. The plane's cockpit is open. Tumino compared the plane to a motorcycle. Rain and wind can force Purtee to spend some extra time on the ground. His wife, who only flies with him on short trips, drove the route to meet him at airports along the way. The plane really isn't meant for long trips. It took him three and a half days to fly from Texas to Wisconsin, but that included weather delays. He estimated it would have taken him two days to reach Wisconsin if the weather had cooperated. She said she doesn't worry about him when he flies because he is an experienced pilot. Purtee said he's flown planes since he was 14. He planned to fly from Monroe to Iowa Friday.
But over the past week, 800 to 1,000 pilots will land in Monroe during the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture convention in Oshkosh. The experimental airplane builders convention began July 26 and runs through Sunday.
Most of Monroe's air traffic came Thursday, July 22, through Sunday, July 25, as pilots made their way to Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, before the event started Monday, according to Driver.
"And then there are some that go to the Pietenpol fly-in at Brodhead that same weekend and never get to Oshkosh," he said.
Frequently, Drives sees as many as four planes waiting in line for the fuel pump.
Pilots land at the Monroe airport for fuel because it has the cheapest fuel in a 50-mile radius, Driver said.
The Airport Board of Management chose to keep the sale price low and get the higher volume of sales to meet the costs of selling fuel, he said.
Fuel sales for this one week in July are double the amount the airport normally dispenses in a month. Driver said the airport sells about 3,000 gallons of fuel every month, but in July it sells about 6,000 or 7,000 gallons.
Planes take on varying amounts of fuel, depending upon their size. Pilots purchased amounts ranging from 57 gallons to as little as 2.7 gallons this year.
"A lot of experimental planes don't hold much," Driver said.
The number of sales is down slightly this year compared to last year, which Driver attributes to the rain in northeast Wisconsin.
"(Oshkosh) had so much rain before hand, they're having trouble finding parking places for the 12,000 planes. And motor homes - they're just not allowed in there because the ground is a marsh," he said.
Some pilots stop just for refueling, but some will also camp at the airport or find a ride to a hotel for the night.
"It depends on the rain storms," Driver said. "If there's rain between here and Oshkosh, they'll stay over until it passes."
Driver said it's not unusual for the pilots to spend a little extra time and money while in the city.
"They do go uptown," he said. "One group went to Baumgartner's, and they said the place was jumping."
Monroe Airport won't see an influx of EAA go-ers as they head for home, because they stay in Oshkosh for various lengths of time, Driver said.