The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) began more than 50 years ago when a group got together in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to help each other build their own planes. By then, people had been building aircraft from plans for about 30 years, so the hobby wasn't new. They shared information and, as interest grew in flying, added more and more members. The EAA now boasts more than 170,000 members around the world.

The EAA initially focused on "homebuilt" or "experimental" aircraft, planes that were built from plans. FAA regulations allowed these aircraft to be constructed and certified under a separate set of rules that are different from those required for the aircraft industry, such as Piper and Cessna. And those rules hold today. If the planes are built from kits, the builder must do at least 51 percent of the work to qualify as an experimental aircraft. If you're interested in building your own plane, the EAA is an excellent place to start getting advice.

The EAA publishes Sport Pilot and other magazines.

The EAA has expanded from purely owner-built general-aviation aircraft to include vintage aircraft, warbirds (older military aircraft), ultralights (small, light-weight aircraft, usually pilot only), aerobatic planes, and rotorcraft (helicopters). Over the past few years, the EAA has been instrumental in developing the new sport-pilot and light-sport aircraft proposal, and getting it moved through the FAA and other governmental bodies.

The EAA is extensively involved on all phases of recreational aviation. Besides lobbying in Washington, the EAA sponsors or cosponsors numerous air shows throughout the United States, including the granddaddy of them all: the EAA AirVenture. Held at their headquarters in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, AirVenture attracts about 2,800 aircraft in late July each year—everything from lawnmowers with wings to stealth fighters. In recent years the planes have included a Concorde jet, a fully restored B-29 bomber, and replicas of the Wright Flyer (the first airplane) and the Spirit of St. Louis (arguably the most famous aircraft). If you can't make it to Oshkosh, there are numerous regional shows as well, announced in EAA publications.

Wing Tips

Basic membership in the EAA currently is $40.00 a year — a real bargain. You also can join one of the nearly 1,000 chapters to meet and talk planes with other sport pilots near you. Some of the services available to members include focused magazines, flight-planning services, insurance services, travel discounts, and other opportunities. For further information, contact the EAA online at www.eaa.org or call 1-800-JOIN-EAA (1-800-564-6322). The mailing address is EAA Aviation Center, PO Box 3086, Oshkosh, WI 54903.