Love of airplanes pays off

Local pilot Jim Sopp wins AirVenture award after years of work on Mooney
by: John Klicker, East County resident Jim Sopp sits in the cockpit of his 1961 Mooney Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Troutdale Airport. Sopp has put countless hours into restoring the plane, rebuilding the instrument panel and repainting the aircraft’s exterior. Right: Sopp climbs aboard his plane, which recently took the award for Outstanding Mooney at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture event in Oshkosh, Wis.

Jim Sopp has always liked airplanes.

The East County resident has spent countless hours restoring his 1961 Mooney and has put more money into the plane than he cares to admit.

'This has been a hobby plane,' he said.

Sopp, 74, has been flying for decades and last summer received the Federal Aviation Administration's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, in recognition of 50 years of safe flying.

One of the highlights of his many years as a pilot is a recent week-long trip to Oshkosh, Wis., home of Wittman Regional Airport and playground to hundreds of thousands of people who attend Experimental Aircraft Association's yearly conference - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh - each year.

The event, which is held each July, draws thousands of pilots and spectators from all over the world. Officials estimate this year's attendance to be 625,000, down 10 percent from 2005, mostly due to high fuel prices.

'It's a big deal. (Wittman) becomes the world's busiest airport that week,' Sopp said, adding that one pilot flew in from Brazil for this year's AirVenture.

Sopp, who is semi-retired, had always wanted to attend AirVenture and was itching to make the trip to Wisconsin, as he had just replaced the engine in his plane.

He flew out Friday, July 21, along with Corbett resident and co-pilot Ted Weisgram.

They traveled 4,300 miles, and spent numerous hours in the air as their landing was delayed by both thunderstorms and a traffic jam of sorts over the Oshkosh airport.

With its grand scale and wealth of attractions, the event is quite a spectacle, Sopp said.

'There's so much to see there you can't see it all in one day,' Sopp said, adding that the plane he was most impressed by was the Air Force's new F-22 jet.

In addition to a daily air show, the week's entertainment included a performance by the Beach Boys and an appearance by actor Harrison Ford.

Perhaps the event's most important element, though, is the aircraft judging.

Sopp's plane, a 1961 M20B, took the Outstanding Mooney award in the contemporary classic category, which is a tribute to the work he has put into it.

Since he bought the plane 27 years ago - 'it was a dog' - Sopp has repainted it, rebuilt the instrument panel, replaced the engine and made numerous other repairs.

Sopp flies purely for fun and is involved in a number of aviation associations.

In addition to being a member of the EAA, Sopp is also a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Oregon Pilots Association, which is open to non-pilots.

To learn more about the Oregon Pilots Association, or how to join, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

AirVenture 2006 by the numbers

• 10,000 - approximate number of aircrafts that

landed at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis.

• 2,310 - approximate number of show planes at the event.

• 798 - number of vintage planes at the event.

• 1,704 - number of international visitors in


• 65 - Number of nations represented.