If you happen to see the Aerostars formation aerobatic team whipping their precision aircraft around the skies over Wittman Regional Airport this weekend, relax. Airventure has not been moved up three months.
Instead, the three-man team will fly its entire performance at dawn and dusk for “The Aviators,” a magazine-style TV program airing on PBS. The show’s production crew is based in Toronto, but it calls Wittman home, and it’s in Oshkosh filming several segments for its upcoming third season this weekend.
“When you ask people in the aviation community, ‘Where do you see aviation happening?’ Oshkosh is a name that’s well recognized. We were really happy to be able to make this our official home,” said Jennifer Jensen, one of the show’s co-executive producers, who is based in Oshkosh.
The show’s crew spent Friday morning at Basler Turbo Conversions and the afternoon at Sonex Aircraft, an Oshkosh-based kit airplane manufacturer.
Anthony Nalli, the show’s executive producer, said he knew what Basler did, but he didn’t have a full appreciation for it until he spent time at the facilities.
The company remanufactures DC-3 airplanes into BT-67s in a process that requires about 18,000-20,000 man-hours to complete.
The DC-3 was first built in the 1930s as the original passenger airplane for commercial markets in the United States, said Basler Turbo Conversions President Tom Weigt, adding that the remanufactured aircraft is designed for special missions. The aircraft is used on every continent, for missions including breaking up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, science expeditions in Antarctica and counterterrorism efforts in Africa and South America.
“People say, ‘They don’t build ‘em like they used to,’ and that’s true of everything from my Maytag washer that just went out, to cars to everything else,” Jensen said. “And airplanes are the same way. These were a real workhorse aircraft that were built for when runways weren’t as long as they are here at Wittman, with a go-anywhere capability.”
The aircraft produced by Basler are like “tanks in the sky,” Jensen said, but what really stood out to her was the fact that every aspect of construction is completed in the company’s Oshkosh facility.
“They rebuild so much, they reconstruct so much, they reinvent so much, that the fact that these planes rolled off the line in the earlier part of the 1900s is irrelevant, because when they roll out of the hangar, they are state of the art,” Nalli said. “And it’s that transformation, that rebirth that’s absolutely incredible. They do it here, and they do it better than anyone else and like no one else.”
The Aviators refers to itself as “the aviation show made by pilots,” but it’s not made strictly for pilots, Nalli said, adding that to enjoy the show, viewers just need to have an appreciation for learning, science and exploration. Nalli said the crew has no shortage of story ideas, and if something flies, it has a place on the show.
The crew will film segments all across the country for its third season, but Jensen and Nalli are particularly excited for a segment that will take them to Las Vegas, where they will spend two weeks with Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil while he earns his private pilot’s license.
Weigt said he’s looking forward to seeing how the crew’s time at Basler will translate to an 8-10-minute television segment. At the end of the day, he wants people to see that after all these years, the DC-3 is still a great design.
For Nalli, the shoot was different from other time he’s spent in Oshkosh, during the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Airventure. The Wittman Regional Airport is much quieter in May, but no less of a fantastic airport, Nalli said.
“We’ve got a home here in Oshkosh, and we really want to let people know that Oshkosh is a really active aviation community, and it’s here for the long-term. We’re hoping that this program makes that happen,” Jensen said.