‘Cessna 172 Yankee Alpha, turn left heading 060 degrees, descend and maintain 2000 feet; expect to break out near Fisk on the Oshkosh visual arrival, cancel IFR once in visual conditions.‘
Ah, okay, I wondered, having flown in under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) for the Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I’d been in and out of rain showers all the way from Iowa and really expected vectors to the instrument landing system approach to OSH’s Runway 27. I read back the clearance and complied. At about 2500 feet I descended below the overcast into a sky filled with airplanes of all makes and models, streaming toward aviation’s greatest gathering. Good thing I’d brushed up on the OSH visual NOTAM (Notice to Airmen), I thought as I slid in line behind a three-ship gaggle of Pipers.
Traffic flowed amazingly quickly driving off the boulevard and into the Witmann Field grounds, all lanes ‘inbound,‘ all filled with devotees of flying. Watch the road, not all the airplanes flying around. Parking was plentiful, but far from the gates — I hope I remember where I parked, I thought as I began the trek to the flight line.
‘Baron 17850, land behind the Stearman, left turn when able onto the grass.‘ Hold it back, I thought, gear and flaps down and power near idle to stay in position behind the 1940s biplane. Aim for the numbers. Don’t read back the landing clearance (there’s too much going on for pilots to reply to the rapid-fire clearances). I touched down as close to the runway’s edge as I dared, rode the brakes to slow to a walking pace, and gingerly turned between the runway lights and into the grass. Taxiing in, one among dozens, five hundred miles from home, I looked left and saw a good friend from a continent away frantically waving, welcoming me back for another convention, now dubbed ‘AirVenture.‘ Such is the magic of Oshkosh.
NO MATTER HOW YOU ARRIVE, if you’re a pilot you’ll have fond memories of Oshkosh. Getting there may be half the fun, but gosh what you’ll see after you arrive! Whether you like warbirds or ultralights, homebuilts or ‘spam cans,‘ antiques or helicopters or military jets … you’ll find it in Wisconsin the last week of July. Here are some more of my observations of OSH — hopefully you’ll have some Oshkosh memories of your own!
- Bring money — LOTS of it. You need to eat, right? It’ll cost you. It’s hot, so you’ll need a lot to drink. Concessionaires have a captive audience. If you plan on more than one day at OSH, prepare for a repetitive diet of high-priced, greasy food conspiring to ruin your chances of ever passing a medical again. And then there’s the gift tents, the aero-goodies in the vendor areas, the Fly Market, the Ford Trimotor rides….
- Bring tiedowns if you fly in. OSH ‘law‘ says you HAVE to tie down the airplane. Bring your own to avoid the overpriced tiedown rentals on the field. Include a ‘cheater bar‘ (some sort of rod or stick for more leverage turning a tie-down into the ground) because the Wisconsin earth is baked into hard-pack by this time of the summer.
- Camp if you can. I especially enjoy camping next to my airplane. Remember a hammer to drive in your tent pegs, and an air mattress to keep you off the hard ground. Scout-camp quality bathrooms and showers are available to campers on the grounds; the earlier you get there the better the morning experience will be. No campfires are allowed in the air-camping area (duh!) Any hardships are worth it — there’s nothing quite like being awakened at 6 a.m. by the sound of a dozen Pratt & Whitney radials warming up a quarter mile away.
- Expect rain. It’s thunderstorm season in the northern Plains. It WILL rain at some point during the convention; the longer you stay the more likely you’ll get wet. Get all your gear off the ground and back into the plane for the day so it’s not soaked by a sneaky afternoon squall. Tie down anything outside that can blow away in a gust front. It’ll be humid, too, so if you bring a poncho or raincoat you’ll get almost as wet from perspiration as you would from being unprotected in the rain. It’s your choice. One of my fondest Oshkosh memories, though, is learning during a midnight thunderstorm that you can actually sleep quite comfortably in the back of a Baron after the tent nearly floats away.
- Wander aimlessly. There’s always more to see … you never know if the next row, or the next tent, will completely change your life. For many what they’ve found at Oshkosh truly has.
- Check out the forums. It’s hard to tear yourself away from the action to go to a lecture, but it is all about aviation, and chances are you’ll find so many speakers you’d like that you’ll never hear them all.
- Working airshows is VASTLY overrated. Take pity on the poor vendors stuck in their tents all day! It’s hot, it’s humid, you’re surrounded by airplanes but can’t see ANY of them — and those that can offer an endless flow of the same questions over and over and over…
- Everyone’s nice, and everyone’s neat. OSH is known for its lack of litter, and the friendly, helpful attitude of just about everyone. Do you best to further the tradition!
Much has been said of how AirVenture is becoming crassly commercialized, losing a lot of its appeal for pilots in its attempt to lure in the public, and to make a buck. Maybe so … but there are still SO MANY AIRPLANES!!!
BOTTOM LINE: Go to Oshkosh. You know you want to. (You can even use iPilot to help plan the trip.)