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Cam Martin — Heavens Above

Before Cam Martin could walk or talk, his mother prophetically wrote in the baby book that he seemed to have a fascination for airplanes. First flight at age two was with his father piloting a rented yellow Piper Cub. Cam says, “Apparently there wasn’t a time I wasn’t interested in airplanes.”

It wasn’t a passing phase, and he never grew out of it. Maybe Cam was just born to fly. Cam’s father, a Navy man serving aboard an aircraft carrier during the Korean War, learned to fly with help from the G.I. Bill.

Cam remembers, “It helped to have a dad who was good at building airplane models. I still have a shelf full of many planes he built when I was in grade school. He was an avid reader with a significant aviation library for the time. We went to every airplane movie that came to town, X-15, Jet Pilot, The Blue Max, and The Battle of Britain were especially memorable.”

A generation, and two world wars earlier, Cam’s grandfather, James Campbell Martin, who studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, was sworn into the Army on March 2, 1918, and attached to the 293rd Aero Squadron Radio Detachment of the 28th Service Company, Signal Corps at March Field in Riverside, Calif. He was given flying instructions, promoted to first sergeant and put in charge of a Radio School for cadets.

First in flight in Cam’s family was his grandfather, James Campbell Martin, who served in the 293rd Aero Squadron of the Army Signal Corps. (Courtesy photograph)

On Nov. 6, Sergeant Martin and his detachment went off to war, with orders to report to Toul, France. They never got farther than New York. The war ended five days after they left California.

With two generations of military aviation veterans in the family, Cam Martin’s interests and activities were converging onto the pathway that would lead him to “the overriding passion of my life.”

After earning a Bachelor of science degree in Business Logistics from Penn State University and a later MA in Administrative Sciences from George Washington University, patriotic Cam Martin was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy where he stepped onto another rung of the ladder leading to a life and career of accomplishment in aeronautics.

“I was many things in my Navy career, but always had some component in my job that related to public affairs,” Cam recalls. “In my first Navy assignment in 1976, it was my job to write the daily flight schedule. But the public affairs officer found out I was the only one who could identify old airplane photos.”

The skill came up again after Cam joined NASA’s Langley Research Center, Virginia, in 1988. He was working in the field when the need arose to urgently identify a mystery airplane picture. When other staff asked the boss if he could identify the aircraft. He said, “Just call Cam and hold the photo near the phone reciever.”

While at Langley, he and the communications team he led received a series of awards from the Aviation and Space Writers Association, foreshadowing a long and fruitful career.

The Experimental Aircraft Association showed up on Cam’s avocational radar about 1989 and he made his first pilgrimage to the organization’s annual week-long fly-in at Oshkosh, Wisc., as part of NASA’s outreach to the tech-savvy aviation community.

Over the three decades since then, Cam participated at Air Venture, became a Forum speaker and exhibitor and became an EAA Young Eagles Flight Leader, piloting aviation experience flights to introduce and hopefully inspire eight- to 17-year-olds. Since its inception in 1992 the Young Eagles program has flown more than 2 million students.

On another, higher plane, in the 50 years of its existence, Air Venture Oshkosh has had three chaplains to serve people of many faiths attending the fly-in. Cam Martin is the current and third chaplain to hold that post.

Cam began serving as EAA’s Chaplain in 2012 after serving as a Fergus Chapel Air Venture volunteer for more than a decade. He also hosts the Fellowship of the Wing, a daily opportunity for people to come together early each morning in an informal setting to share a cup of coffee, a song, and a short inspirational message at the intersection of flight and faith.

Fergus Chapel in Oshkosh, Wisc. (Courtesy photograph)

Fergus Chapel, the first structure built by EAA on the site, is a replica of a quaint, old-time rural Wisconsin church, located in a quiet area of the grounds. Non-denominational services are offered there for Air Venture visitors away from their regular routines. Cam points out that a half-dozen clerics representing a variety of faiths also volunteer to lead worship services for Catholics, Protestants and Jews, “supporting the spiritual needs of the family of flight.”

Chaplain Cam says this year’s scheduled Air Venture Oshkosh chapel early morning events focused on fun and fellowship. “When anybody calls it a ‘chapel service’ I cringe,” Cam says. “We’re airplane people having way too much fun.”

Although the chapel team is prepared to be of assistance in dealing with any incidents, Cam said this was a safe year. “We have Band-Aids for emotional first aid, but this year we didn’t have to use any.”

Oshkosh, in Cam Martin’s words, came back to life from a pandemic year that was 24 months long. Attendance was pegged at 608,000, within five percent of the all-time record in 2019, and only the third time attendance surpassed 600,000.

Cam says that in any year, Oshkosh Air Venture is simply the world’s largest and longest celebration of flight, a combination air show, convention and family reunion, with the Experimental Aircraft Assn. At the core of it all, providing most of the 5,000 volunteers contributing 250,000 hours.

The Oshkosh numbers are staggering:

  • 10,000 aircraft at Wittman Regional Airport and other fields in east-central Wisconsin;
  • 16,378 aircraft operations over days at Wittman alone, averaging 116 takeoffs and landings per hour’
  • 3,176 Show Planes, including 1,420 vintage aircraft, 1,089 homebuilts, 354 warbirds, 148 aerobatic aircraft, 112 amphibians, 33 ultralights and 27 rotorcraft;
  • 747 commercial exhibitors, and 1,055 hosted forums, workshops and other presentations.

Cam remarks, “If it flies, there is a corner there for the enthusiasts from that niche. Burt Rutan’s earliest customers travelled back there. In the hallway of Mojave Air and Space Port’s administration building is a photo of local homebuilts flying to Oshkosh in formation.” Most were Burt’s designs.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series. Look for part three in the next issue of Aerotech News and Review.

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