The Jetson’s Refugee Camp

Marie Johnson groaned as she woke, the sun pushing on her eyelids. She was careful not to sit up. The metal wing over her head was low. Beside her, she could hear her husband, Tony, stirring. She shivered, sure it was July, but with night temps getting down to 70 degrees and not even having a tent and all the fog, it was cold. She wished they could have a fire. She heard four-year-old Bobby crying and shook 11-year-old Amy awake. “I’ll take Bobby to the bathroom building, now. You fetch water so your father can have coffee before he has go to work.” As Amy left the campsite with the bucket, her Dad called to her, “And get me a paper.”

As Marie led Bobby to the small red building, she wished he were older. The noise didn’t bother him--of course there hadn’t been any explosions yet--but he wasn’t handling sharing the semi-flush toilets in a trailer with hundreds people to well. One of the older girls agreed to watch him outside so she managed to get a shower in, even if she had to walk the half-mile back with her hair wrapped in a towel. She passed a cart load of uniformed security zooming by. They seem barely older than Amy.

Tony glanced at Amy’s sleeping pad, “You know next year, she’ll be working. And she does have a birthday coming up.”

Marie sighed. “It’s so fast.”

Tony nodded. “I know. But I think she’s old enough. I’ve measured; if the kids don’t pick up too much stuff, we have room in the cargo pod. Maybe it’s time we bought her her own airplane. Something small that we can keep tethered until she has more experience.”

Marie nodded and dropped the immersion heater into the kettle to make coffee and oatmeal. Amy came back and poured the bucket of water into the jugs. Marie handed her a mug of hot cocoa. Tony glanced at the paper. “No deaths so far. That’s good.” 

He sighed as his phone buzzed. He looked and saw the cart coming. He gulped his coffee, gave Bobby and Amy a hug. “I’ll be busy all day.” He turned to Amy as the golf cart pulled up next to their plane, “Don’t forget to do your riveting and make sure to get some time playing video games. Drop by at lunch and help me build a plane. We only have a week.” He hopped in and went off to work at EAAirVenture. The most high tech refuge camp in the world.

So now Marie catches the trolley to the bus station to take the kids to KidVenture. It’s full of activities for kids. Bobby will get time in the pedal planes learning directions. He’ll also have time in a mini-flight simulator just for kids under six. He’s starting to learn words like “pitch” and “yaw”.

Amy will walk past a sign saying, “Activities in the area involve the use of tools. They are recommended for children over six.” She may pick the A&P (Airframe and Production) side. Here riveting jewelry, carving propellers, and learning how to take apart engines are on the list. When she’s done, about 5 hours later, she’ll get a badge that is worth 2 college credits toward an A&P degree and a toolset worth $50. 

On the other side is the pilot’s side. Here there is bookwork, weather forecasting, inspecting a real plane and some disorientation practice before a half hour flight in a professional simulator.

Then their name is recorded in a Young Eagles flight book that will eventually be added to flight times in an aircraft until enough hours and enough tests are passed to get a real pilot’s license. Amy only has 4 years before she can solo.

Amy and Bobby might also get to the next hanger and get to do space related activities like launch mini-rockets and get into a model of the Mercury Space Capsule. There is also a small playground here and several planes for kids to sit in for photo-ops.
Then they catch the bus back to the main area, for lunch. To help get a grasp on the size of this event, things are divided into 40’s. Marie and her family are parked near the main grounds on the South 40. The main airplane parking/ camping area is the North 40. Each "40" refers to 40 acre plots. The family might gather at one of the tent restaurants or go to the International food court where German, Thai and Irish are among the offerings. Tony doesn’t have much time to eat. After all, he is part of the team--along with anyone who wanders by--who are building a plane in a week. 

At the official EAAirVenture opening, that is when the main gate opened to regular people, the wooden crates housing the airplane parts were opened. Rather than crowd funding, it’s crowd building. Anyone who wants to can hop in and help. They did ask that only experienced people do the wiring and electronics.

In the afternoon Marie, Amy and Bobby can explore. Marie wants to find an electric plane. With Avgas running over $5 a liter, money is becoming the number one barrier to flying. Bobby and Amy are looking for toys, candy bowls and other freebies. If Bobbie tires of walking or gets too restless, they can drop him off at a number of small daycare areas dotted around the grounds. At one booth Marie can check out the latest electric plane, not here yet, but able to recharge from solar panels on the wings in mid-air (Solar Flyer) and at the same booth55/ Amy can play the latest immersion video games (        

Maybe they cruise for a while, looking for giveaways, games, free ice cream and great paint jobs. They could go to the craft booth and make sock airplanes, watch speed quilting or just make jewelry at cost.

The airshow starts at three. Here pilots that are headliners other places are glanced at. Death spirals, hammerhead stalls, flying upside down, tight formations, they are all here. The airshow lasted for only about two hours because this is just a normal weekday.        
After the airshow things start to shut down. Supper is a tricky meal. They may have to walk off-grounds to get to a fast food place. Or maybe eat at one of the few places that stay open. If they’re lucky, they may get into one of the semi-legal restaurants at Camp Schuller. This is a vast campground full of RV’s, 600 blocks worth. It has traffic lights and a government. Some of them have been here for a month already. Like any small town, there are jobs and businesses. A banner and some tables under a tree, presto restaurant. There are boards advertising for babysitters, plane walkers and dozens of other jobs. There will be a concert and a movie playing tonight but the family has to get to bed early. Many folks will go to bed tonight using blaring rock music as a lullaby.

The next day, Tony can join them and go past their campsite into the ultra-light area. Ultra-lights are planes under 254 pounds. 

No licenses are required for ultralights and they aren’t allowed near airports. This covers everything from planes almost the size of World War I planes to the very smallest planes; para-planes. These are the ones that can be folded up and put in a car trunk. The joke about para-planes is that if anything goes wrong, you’re already parachuting; because the “wing” is a parachute. These come with or without a seat and wheels. Without both is the ultimate in light. Pilots weight themselves before a flight to determine how much fuel to take. The engine and the propeller are on a backpack and the pilot’s feet are the landing gear. Beginners are warned that the first few landings should be in old shoes as they have been known to catch fire. (

The most popular of para-planes are the tricycle style. ( These can take off on their own unlike para-planes that must be towed into the air. Sellers assure parents that “if she can handle a bike in traffic, she’s old enough to fly.”

Maybe the family will have time to get on the bus, take a ride through the countryside, walk through the woods and get to the seaplane base. Here, in a private park, life slows down and dozens of planes float in neat rows along a hidden bay of a lake.  

Fishing holes, slow boats and a traffic tower at the base of a tree show the speed of life around here. But there are also jet boats and water jet packs for the more adventurous. (

Wednesday is a big day. That’s the one of the days of big airshows. This mid-week show is for those who came in days before and only have a week. Marie has a chance to take the kids through the amusement area, where they can do photo booths, rock climbing, bungee bounce and bumper cars. Marie is still checking around for a cheaper way to fly. There are biofuel, diesel and even regular gas options. By noon they are looking for good seats for the airshow. Today the Thunderbirds are performing, ( followed by every acrobatics pilot that can make it here. 

There is also The Wall of Fire; a 40 foot long special affects explosion so big that it registers on the Richter Scale. It’s part of a mock bombing of the runway as a tribute to World War II vets.  Bobbie loved the airshow. Marie got him child-sized earplugs so the loud noise doesn’t frighten him. 

After the show Marie wanted Bobby to take a nap. There’ll be an evening airshow tonight. The evening airshow proves that fireworks and aircraft can mix beautifully and that it is possible to cover an airplane with lights. (Check You Tube for night ballet.) It ends with another wall of fire, a huge fireworks show and a twenty-one Roman candle salute for one of the founders of EAA, Paul Pobererztny.

The next day Marie has promised Amy that they’ll get to Fighter Town. This is the area for World War II, Korean and Vietnam planes.
There is  a replica of an Anglo-American World War II camp in Italy. Here the reanactors will rise at 05:00 for calisthenics, sleep in tents and let veterans inspect their tents. Around here directions are often, “Turn Left at the big bomb and go past the little bomb.”     

Marie heads down the forum row. Amy finally gets a chance at the Space
AppleMark booth where she can ride the disorientation machine, (AKA Vomit  Comet). (
Mom can attend forums like “Woods, River, Road” where they can guess which place is right in an emergency as shown on a video and what really happened.

And more importantly, they have to get to Innovation Plaza. Here NASA shows their plans for reaching Mars and beyond. (It’s a giant rocket.) Here is the Terafugia, a flying car.

Demand hasn’t been great, since it can only take off from airports. It does run on ordinary gasoline. There are some great shots on their website showing it at an ordinary gas station. As for driving your plane to the airport, the ICON, which fits in a trailer is more popular, because it can also take off from water. But there are other flying cars. Some are small and count as para-planes. One looks like a VW Bug with an inflatable wing. ( The Switchblade is an airplane/ motorcycle cross that sometimes takes off by accident. ( Actually, since it’s regulations and paperwork that makes these so expensive the company has a new idea. Vertical takeoff vehicles that are also street legal cars. 

There is also one of those ultimate toys for that kid in all of us. A motor for your paper airplane that you control with an app. ( They also get to see a robot on display, ASIMO from Honda. The kids say they prefer HANK (with Ford) who was here last year. He tells jokes, plays poker and dances.

By Friday, the plane Tony is building is taking shape and the weekend tourists are coming in. 
The airshows get bigger and the bands, that have been performing every night, get bigger. There have only been a few thunderstorms, but Marie is glad that one of the giveaways at a booth were rain ponchos. By now some of the campers that came last weekend will have to leave. Amy gets a chance to get into the Air Force building for their games.

Saturday’s airshow is the biggest, beginning around 1:00 and going until almost five. No one wants to move so they don’t lose their place for the evening show, which will start at 9:00.

Sunday arrives with rain and heat. Now the push to finish the plane becomes serious. It’s initial flight is scheduled for the end of the afternoon airshow. But nature pulls out all the stops. There is a massive thunderstorm. Many of the “buildings” are only tents with metal frames. Many have to be evacuated. Tents are wrapped around light poles. The loudspeakers are full of announcements for damaged and loose planes.  The storm ends in time for the Thunderbird Airshow.

As Marie joins the crowd at the near-by laundromat, trying to dry everything out before they have to leave, she assures Amy that it was a good week, even if the thunderstorms did delay the plane. (It wouldn’t take off until Monday.) The total attendees are over 500,000 from more than 60 countries. And only five deaths. While they’re out, Tony can get that ultralight loaded. Marie is glad that Amy gave up dance. The used ultralight cost as much as her costume would have been for her recital.

Next year Amy will be old enough to volunteer for up eight-hour shifts. And next year something big will come into EAAirVenture. It might be that Jetman ( has taught someone else to use the pack or there will be more robots or something we haven’t even thought of yet. Or that crazy guy in a helicopter powered by hydrogen peroxide and baking soda will finally take off or explode.

And Marie decided that the family should start saving for an Electra Flyer ( It will drop the price of flight down to pennies per mile and it has good clearance under the wings for next year when they land again in George Jetson’s refugee camp.