Museum volunteer, veteran still loves cherished aircraft


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Patti Champion stands with some of her favorite planes at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, where she volunteers and occasionally snags a flight.

MARIA SONNENBERG

Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum volunteer Patti Champion never met an airplane she didn’t like.

“I will fly anything with wings,” she said.

When it came to selecting a branch of the military in which to serve, the Air Force was a slam-dunk for this plane-crazy veteran. Mind you, she didn’t particularly want to learn to fly, but she just wanted to sit on flying warbirds.

The Lynnfield, Massachusetts native moved to Viera 15 years ago with her husband Larry, a former navigator with the Air Force.

“It was my husband’s dream to move to Brevard,” she said.

Patti met Larry at a rather unromantic time and place — Saigon during the Vietnam War.

“We met at a Christmas party and he eventually asked me out,” Champion said.

The fact that she was in the service at all was all about serendipity.

“An Air Force recruiter called my best friend’s mother and asked if she knew anyone who might be interested in joining, and it got me to thinking,” Champion said.

“The possibility of being near planes was too tempting and she joined in 1968. She trained in intel and became one of the photo interpreters who would pore over recognizance imagery to provide the flyboys with the most likely targets.

After seven years, Champion’s military career came to an abrupt end, thanks to the appearance of daughter Lisa.

“I had to leave when I became pregnant because at the time the Air Force was not keen about having moms in the military,” she explained.

These days, Patti and Larry devote their free time to the Warbird Museum, he as a tour guide and she as an all-around helper, particularly during the many weddings and other private functions the Titusville facility hosts. She also volunteers with Honor Flight, helping the vets prepare for their adventure taking in the military memorials in the nation’s capital.

“What I like the most is that while I am preparing them for their trips, I get to listen to their stories,” she said.

Volunteering for the museum has definite perks for Patti, who has talked herself into flights in the B-25 Killer Bee, the C-47 Normandy Invasion veteran Tico Belle and a Stearman biplane, among other warbirds.

“I have a reputation at the museum for always being ready to go up in the air,” she said.

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