We aviators all seem to possess the advocate gene, that tiny morsel of our DNA that makes us want to go out there, face the public, and do something with our airplanes that honors veterans, excites kids about flying, or coerce people to come out to the little airfield at the edge of town to peek into our world.
We do all sorts of things just to keep the conversation going…and keep everyone’s eyes on the sky. Young Eagles? Sign us up. Fly the local TV reporter around on a Discovery Flight? That’s a great way to grab some positive press for GA. And if you’re like Salt Lake City’s Cory Robin, taking a veteran flying to thank them for their service might be the most respectable thing you can do with your airplane.
Many of us show up at the airport in our Cessnas and Pipers and work to advocate for GA, even when our “box stock” airplanes often seem to blend into the ramp. But when Robin shows up in his airplane to talk up the great things about flying, he does so in something that cannot possibly be missed on any ramp. His “WilgaBeast” draws people to walk over and stand under its big white wings where he can bend a few ears, talk about the importance of military aviation past and present, and, yes, keep the conversation going.
If you were wandering the “North 40″ at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2011, you couldn’t have missed the WilgaBeast standing head and shoulders above the rest of the GA fleet, in a purely physical sense. Looking somewhat like a giant Praying Mantus (yes, I went there), the WilgaBeast looks like it means business, ready to stomp the Earth with its gigantic landing gear legs and use its Russian M-14P radial engine to claw its way into the sky with the greatest of ease.
Technically, the WilgaBeast is a PZL 104 Wilga 35, a former Polish Air Force liaison, recovery and light observation aircraft. Robin purchased the Wilga in 2011 because he wanted an airplane that was a bonefide warbird with a military service history, one that was unique, had a radial engine, was a “real” four-seater, and was backcountry capable. “There really isn’t a better airplane that meets those goals,” Robin said.
But what about that name…the WilgaBeast? Robin says he had a little help on that one. “At AirVenture 2011,” he explains, “a little girl, maybe five years old, and her father were walking around looking at the airplane as I arrived. As they were looking, the little girl asked her dad what type of airplane it was. He answered that it was a Wilga. She replied back with enthusiasm that it looked like a WilgaBEAST! It was one of those perfect aviation moments, and henceforth, the airplane has been the WilgaBeast.”
As far as advocacy goes, Robin says the WilgaBeast is used as part of a citizen Air Corps he founded called the Gadsden Air Corps, a group dedicated to “promoting aviation while giving aircraft owners sometime positive to do with their airplanes.” The group shows up at airshows, performs fly-overs for events and memorial services, and gives tactical training in the areas of search, rescue and resupply. But when the WilgaBeast is on scene, it always draws a crowd.
“The WilgaBeast has a superb ramp presence, and people are interested by some of the unique things on the aircraft, such as the fixed leading edge slats, trailing link gear, helicopter-like fuselage and radial engine,” says Robin. “We allow kids of all ages to climb up in the cockpit for photo opportunities. Since purchasing the aircraft just over two years ago, we have logged over 400 free rides in the airplane – most of those being veterans. On Memorial Day 2013, we did a fly-over with the WilgaBeast and three other GA Aircraft for a Special Forces Memorial. The veterans on the ground mentioned how much they appreciate the time that the ‘civilians’ took to honor them. One Green Beret told me afterwards it was wonderful to see civilian aircraft doing this on their own dime, and wanted me to know that we were appreciated.”
One of those air shows was the 2013 Elko, Nevada Skyfair, and the event’s Aircraft Coordinator, James Riordan, said this about Robin and his airplane: “Cory and his WilgaBeast were an amazing combination when he came to our event in 2012 and 2013! He brought with him a passion and excitement for aviation that is felt by, not only pilots, but by the folks that get the opportunity to come up to meet him and run their hands down the side of his aircraft. His Wilga is always a hit with the crowd due to its unique look and incredible radial rumble. This year, the kids were lined up for the opportunity to sit in the “Beast”. We are very fortunate to have Cory representing aviation the way he does!”
You can expect to see Robin and his WilgaBeast showing up and giving back anywhere he can find an opportunity. “Like many other folks in aviation, my love of aviation is more than a hobby, it’s in my blood,” Robin said. “I enjoy doing something positive to serve community, honor veterans, anything that helps to preserve the freedom to fly! I really enjoy meeting and talking with veterans the most, thanking them for their service and making sure they know it’s because of them that I’m able to bring the airplane, give free rides and enjoy the thrill of flight. It’s my goal to educate and inspire people both inside and outside of GA, because we have this tremendous freedom to fly, and we need to advocate to protect it!”
It would be hard to find a better example of a pilot and his airplane doing great work on behalf of the entire aviation family. For Cory Robin and his WilgaBeast, the mission is simple: Draw people in, engage them in spirited conversation about general aviation, and then take them flying in a fantastic craft that could be considered kind of odd if not for the fact that it’s so very, very cool.
But that is the best thing about Robin’s WilgaBeast – it doesn’t look like anything else on the ramp. As if a giant Polish magnet inside the fuselage was luring people to come closer and learn more, pilots and non-aviators cannot resist being drawn to the airplane. And when that happens, Robin takes his cue and begins the conversation.
Letting the mainstream media and politicians control the GA conversation is how we lose. Talking to people one-on-one about the great things the world of aviation offers and keeping a positive conversation going…that’s how we win.