This piece originally ran in the March 2021 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
Mark Spang’s interest in aviation began at a young age. When he was just a kid, Mark, EAA 129553, would help his father, who was an Air Force mechanic in South Dakota, perform preflight inspections on DC-3s and DC-4s.
“On more than one occasion, he would take me into the cockpit and talk me through things,” Mark said. “I remember a lot of that. My first airplane ride was when I was 7 [years old], and it was in a Taylorcraft. When I was 13, I got a ride in a Republic Seabee seaplane. I was hooked. I didn’t know what I was going to do for a career, but I knew I wanted it to be something in aviation.”
Coming from a mechanically inclined family, Mark spent 20 years in the military, 12 as an aircraft maintenance instructor for the legendary Lockheed U-2 “Dragon Lady,” before moving on to civilian work as an A&P/IA mechanic. While aviation became his line of work for many years, Mark was also involved with EAA, attending his first Oshkosh convention when he was 16. Heading into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021, Mark will be making his 38th trip to Oshkosh and has spent 22 of them as a volunteer.
Starting out as a flightline volunteer in the Ultralights area, Mark eventually became the Ultralights flightline safety chairman after a few years.
“I started out on the flightline, and with my experience in the military, I knew all the international hand signals and I was able to help standardize the signals we use down there,” Mark said. “With people visiting the world’s biggest air show and coming from all parts of the United States and some from overseas, they had a basic understanding, but they didn’t have a common standard. … We also do the spotting and observing for the pilots to launch them safely from the runway because the pilots can’t see over the trees for other airplanes.
“I helped get some of the training and some of the organization into a smoother operation. I’ve worked everything from inspecting the airplanes to launching the airplanes to helping the pilots get lined up and spaced properly so they’d be ready to go. There are times when it gets to become like an aircraft carrier. … After three or four years, they asked me to be the safety officer. Part of that involves doing the morning and afternoon pilot briefings. The challenge we have is getting all of these pilots with different backgrounds and perceptions to the same level so we can operate safely. After that, I get to be the eyes and ears for the safety of the entire operation at the Ultralights field.”
Like many volunteers, Mark loves AirVenture and aviation in general, but it’s the people he meets in the Ultralights area and his fellow volunteers that keep him coming back to Oshkosh each and every summer.
“I love being involved with the people. That’s part of what it is. I go because of the airplanes, but the people keep me coming back. That’s the fun part. I just love it,” he said. “We’ve got a nice little clique up there [in Ultralights], and the same people have been there for a lot of years. We get to know each other.”
Volunteers make EAA AirVenture Oshkosh — and just about everything else EAA does — possible. This space in EAA Sport Aviation magazine each month is dedicated to thanking and shining the spotlight on volunteers from the community. Sadly, it cannot capture all of the thousands of volunteers who give so much to the community every year. So, next time you see a volunteer at AirVenture or elsewhere, however they are pitching in to make EAA better, be sure to thank them for it. It’s the least we can do. Do you know a volunteer you’d like to nominate for Volunteer Spotlight? Visit EAA.org/Submissions.