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Poberezny, Tom

On October 3, 1946, Audrey and Paul Poberezny welcomed their first child, Thomas Paul Poberezny into the world.

Tom would soon discover that his parents’ lives revolved around aviation and the people who built their own airplanes.  He earned his own pilots license at age 18.

After graduating from high school in 1964, Tom pursued his interest in engineering, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University in 1970.

While his father was building the EAA, Tom developed a desire for aerobatic flying. Paul encouraged his son’s interest, helping him build a Pitts Special so he could hone his aerobatic skills.

1971 was a milestone year.   Tom, along with Charlie Hillard and Gene Soucy, formed the Red Devils Aerobatic Team and also earned a spot on the U. S. National Unlimited Aerobatic Team.  In 1972, the trio won the World Aerobatic Team Championship at Salon, France.

The world champion Red Devils quickly became the premier formation air show act. Their success led to the transition to the Christen Eagle bi-plane in 1979, changing their name to the Eagles.  They became the most successful civilian team in aviation history. Their final performance in 1995, at the Daytona Skyfest, concluded 25 years of flying excellence.

Tom’s outstanding individual skills earned him the 1973 U. S. National Unlimited Aerobatic Championship.  Flying roles in several movies and television productions followed.  Tom’s success was earning him a reputation as a future aviation leader.

In the early 1970’s, he became Chairman of EAA’s annual Fly-In and Convention at Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Under his leadership, this weeklong event, known simply as “Oshkosh,” has become aviation’s mecca.

For 34 years, Tom not only developed the vision and implemented the plans for Oshkosh, but also participated in the spectacular daily air shows as part of the Eagles.

With Tom at the helm, the number of EAA members, participants, volunteers and visitors expanded.  Oshkosh gained international recognition as the largest, and most unique aviation event in the world, consistently attracting over half a million people and 10,000 aircraft each year.

In the late 1970s, Tom led the campaign to fund and build the EAA Aviation Center. His goal was to design a world class facility to serve as EAA Headquarters, combined with a world class aviation museum and engaging aviation education facilities.  Mission accomplished, the EAA Aviation Center has become the year-round, global home for general aviation.

When Tom was elected president of EAA in 1989, he became a leading advocate for the growth of general aviation, with an ongoing focus on safety.    He successfully spearheaded a 10-year effort to create the Sport Pilot license and new category of aircraft… Light Sport Aircraft.

This effort has helped lower the cost of flying, spawned numerous new aircraft designs, and has encouraged new pilot starts.

In 1992, Tom led the creation of another innovative EAA program, the Young Eagles.  The mission is simple… pilots volunteering their time and resources to provide youngsters a structured introductory flight in a general aviation airplane.

The goal was to fly one million kids by December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight.  That objective was reached and surpassed, with the two-millionth Young Eagle flown in July of 2016.

Tom was one of six members on the National Centennial Flight Committee created by Congress to coordinate the nation’s celebration of the Wright Brothers historic first flight.

In 2009, when Paul Poberezny stepped down as Chairman of EAA, Tom took on the duties of Chairman and President of EAA, while still maintaining leadership of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Though he retired from EAA in August 2011, he still maintains a leadership role in the aviation community serving as an advisor or board member of companies and organizations such as Garmin Limited, Cirrus Aircraft, Citation Jet Pilots Association, and Angel Flight West.

Tom believes that his success was built upon a culture of engagement and teamwork, respect and high standards, recognition of volunteers and their accomplishments, and a passion for making a difference.

Tom Poberezny is a 2016 enshrinee of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.