After a choppy flight, Keith Kossuth was happy to have landed his biplane in Hood River, Oregon. Having recently just wrapped up the North America Barnstorming Tour that saw five states in as many days, Kossuth had his eyes set for heading back home to Chino, California. But his trip took a detour that instead brought him to Cottage Grove for Oregon Aviation Historical Society’s (OAHS) 40th Annual Jim Wright Memorial Stearman Fly-In.
“Someone had mentioned, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a fly-in at Cottage Grove.’ I wasn’t planning on going there, I wasn’t even sure where it was but it just happened to be on the direct line of the route,” said Kossuth.
“That’s how the trip usually is when I get in that thing. You just go and don’t really plan it. You can loosely plan it because it’s not going to work anyway. And then you just end up where you end up.”
After running into an old friend, Kossuth made his way to the Aviation Center where four Stearmans were on display in addition to over 20 additional planes that had made the trip. More pilots were planning on attending but had to cancel their flights due to area fires. Regardless, over 200 people came to the event to see the planes that were on display.
“Most of the pilots that showed up have been coming for over 20 years. That’s how well-known Cottage Grove is. And it’s not even the museum, it’s just that our town is so welcoming of these World War II biplanes, the pilots themselves,” said OAHS executive director Cassandra Barrong. “We’re centrally located. They can go and get a margarita, stay at the hotel, come for dinner, fly out the next day. So Cottage Grove is a great spot.”
This celebration first started in 1978 when Jerry Marshall, who ran the mechanic shop and the glider operation in Cottage Grove, brought in his friends who had Stearman biplanes for a barbeque. The group ran it back the next year, and the year after and before they knew it had established a tradition.
“40 years later, the Stearman are still coming to Cottage Grove. So the Stearman biplanes are of course the main show but everyone on the field, that had time to, brought up their airplanes, so the fleet was out. The Great Lakes was out, the Aeroncas were out. So it was just this great vintage airplane show.”
This year’s celebration also marked the 15th anniversary since the death of Jim Wright, the namesake of Cottage Grove’s airfield and local flying legend. Wright is best known for rebuilding a replica of Howard Hughes’ H-1 Racer which led to him breaking the airspeed record with a speed of 303.07 miles per hour. He was the last private citizen to break this world record. Many of the pilots in attendance on Saturday were friends with Jim.
“All of those guys watched Jim build it. They were there through the process, so it really is like a family reunion,” said Barrong. “And they get together and they remember Jim’s life and how charismatic and kind and generous he was. Right here in Cottage Grove. He impacted so much in aviation that we don’t even know.”