Bob Reece inspects a small plane he helps maintain.
A 7-year-old Bob Reece (right) stands with his older brother after taking his first airplane ride costing $2.
Bob Reece removes one of the spark plugs from a small plane's engine as part of its maintenance.
When one hears the words "Experimental Aircraft Association," images of tiny green men and flying saucers at the secretive Area 51 Air Force facility might come to mind, but fear not, there is no impending Martian invasion coming as far as we know.
The term "experimental aircraft" is used by the Federal Aviation Administration to classify and license aircraft that are assembled by private owners in garages or hangars as opposed to those that are built commercially.
The EAA was founded in 1953 by Paul H. Poberezny and a group of individuals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who were interested in building their own airplanes.
Since then the association's membership has grown to more than 170,000 members from 92 different countries worldwide, and more than half a million people and 12,000-16,000 aircraft attend a week long convention and fly-in in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, every year.
Bob Reece, of San Angelo, builds, repairs and flies his own airplanes and completed his 47th straight year of participating with the EAA this past summer.
"I had read about the EAA, and I was interested in buying my own aircraft," Reece said. "At that time in the mid-1960s, I didn't fly, have a license or own an aircraft."
That did not stop Reece, who first attended the association's first Oshkosh fly-in in 1970 and now serves as chairman of the EAA judging standards committee.
He both writes and revises the judging manual and is also chairman of the home built experimental judging group.
Reece did not just leave his passion in Wisconsin though. In 1972, he helped organize San Angelo's local chapter of the EAA that now has about 40 members.
Even after retiring from his career work, Reece has continued repairing, maintaining and inspecting planes for people.
"You can go out and buy an (aircraft) that's already built, but what have you learned? You've learned how to write a check," Reece said laughing. "But you don't really know anything about that aircraft. If you build it, you know every nut, bolt and rivet about that airplane."
So what does 47 years of hard work, service and dedication get you? Well, the very prestigious Lindy Award and one proud wife, of course.
The Lindy Award, named after famous American aviator Charles Lindbergh, who made the first solo transatlantic flight, is the highest award given by the EAA and takes the form of a "brick" at the historical Brown Arch at the flight line at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. It's a path many aviators consider a gateway to aviation for attendees and visitors.
The brick reads, "Your leadership, integrity, and commitment to the aircraft judging program has made it the standard for all fly-in. The Lindy Award is recognized worldwide as the highest achievement in aircraft craftsmanship."
That commitment comes as no surprise to Beccye Reece, Reece's wife of 37 years.
"He's very devoted to aviation. Anything he does in and about aviation is not only interesting to him, but he's going to do it and do it right," Beccye said. "It's just wonderful to be with someone who's devoted to something that's not just a passing fancy."
When your heart is in something as much as Reece's is in aviation, it can help to overcome many obstacles, like triple-bypass surgery.
"When he had heart surgery several years ago, he was three weeks away from going to Washington for a fly-in there that he was also in charge of judging," Beccye said. "He was there then home for two weeks before he left again for Oshkosh. He got well from his surgery really quick because he was involved and focused though."
Reece said even though it has been a long time, he has no intentions of stopping any time soon, proving once and for all that if you do what you love, you will never have to work a day in your life.
Anyone interested in the EAA can join the local chapter's meeting on the third Tuesday night of each month at 7 p.m. at Joe's Italian Restaurant, 1601 S. Bryant Blvd.