One of the great opportunities I've had in my life involve a very cranky old airplane at KTIX in Titusville, FL. A few weeks after we started dating David brought me down for the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum open house. Tucked into a corner of tarmac was a group of guys called the Air America Foundation.
These guys, for years, have been putting their heart and souls (and blood and sweat) into restoring a Fairchild C-123K Provider to flying condition. I instantly fell in love with the airplane and became good friends with the crew. Almost every Saturday for the next year and a half I spent with my boyfriend and friends working on "Big Lou." Through AAF I've learned how to rivet and re-skin this beast of an airplane.
The heart and soul of this amazing organization was Paul Vasconi. With his motivating force and near-obsession (maybe it WAS a full-blown obsession, actually!) with the project, Paul managed to create an cohesive group of people who spent every weekend, and often weekdays, on the dream of restoring our baby to flight. Paul gathered donations, conscripted people to the cause and made sitting on top of a metal airplane in the middle of a Florida summer something we looked forward too all week long.
Unfortunately Paul passed away unexpectedly July 3rd. David and I miss him terribly. It's hard to believe that someone who had so much drive and energy towards anything he wanted to accomplish could be gone. He was a great friend and mentor.
David and I have promised to not let AAF and Big Lou fail in Paul's absence, and I know the rest of AAF feels the same way. We will get Big Lou to fly someday. We'll continue to educate the people about Air America and the amazing airplane that is the C-123K Provider. That's our promise to Paul, wherever he is. David says he's up there flying B-17s and C-123s. Knowing Paul, he is.