EAA Airventure (aka, “Oshkosh”), the largest airshow and aviation gathering in the the world, was just held last week in Wisconsin. This year, more than 10,000 aircraft flew in, almost 600,000 people were in attendance and a grand total of 2,991 showplanes performed. The event attracts pilots of all types – general aviation, airline, military… even NASA. This year, it would feature an Apollo Astronaut Reunion and its first ever airshow by the Blue Angels.
Having a strong aversion to crowds and not being exactly a “people person,” attending Oshkosh was never on my Bucket List. But, just as how groupies follow their favorite bands, I follow the Blues. I got hooked on them when I was living in Pensacola, falling completely in lust watching them practice all the time. The second I heard they would be performing, I started planning my trip.
Unfortunately, as a renter, flying directly into the event was financially a big, fat no-go. I would have had to contend with a three hour/day minimum aircraft usage charge, plus the hours required to get from Bedford, MA to Oshkosh, WI. All in all, it would have cost nearly $5000. Yikes.
But lemonade from lemons… or, as I prefer, chocolate from cocoa beans… flying commercial meant getting to enjoy a real drink. No eight hour bottle to throttle rules to worry about! Plus I was able to read some aviation smut to get myself in the mood.
I don’t know about you, but that plane pictured gets my juices going pretty good. I wonder what its favorite color is and whether it likes long walks on the beach…
On our initial arrival, I was in complete shock as to what I was seeing. I mean I had heard stories over the years and seen tons of pictures from friends, but I truly had no idea what I had been missing. The place was massive, and there was so much to see and do.
My friend and I wasted no time agreeing – this would be an annual thing for us.
Arriving at Oshkosh!
Another friend had kindly offered us a camping spot near his plane, which happened to be parked waaaaay back in the nosebleed section of the North 40. Lugging my giant duffel bag, which was busting at the seams with all my gear – a tent, sleeping bag, camping pad, tarp, rope, clothes and so much more, was quite the feat. But slowly, we made our way down, hopping from bus to tram to tram to bus.
I wasted little time facebook-bragging my new home away from home.
On the first night, our friend and his gang – the Cirrus 2 AirVenture crew (C2A) held a big BBQ. It was a fun event filled with good food, good beer, good folks, lots of airplane spotting and many fun prize giveaways – including a seat in one of the renowned AeroShell Formation Acrobatic planes for a show the next day.
Photo Credit: AeroShell Aerobatic Team
I never win anything… ever, so I was not surprised when my raffle number didn’t get called for any of the goodies, but being there that day with such a fantastic crowd was prize enough.
(The friend who invited us to camp with their fleet was the lucky winner of the Aeroshell flight… well, technically it was another C2A pilot named “Spike,” but that person was kind enough to pass his prize on to Mike, who, if you knew him, would know why. He’s the one I flew across the country with in February. He also happens to be one of the founders of COPA. He does so much for so many, and no one there deserved the joys of such an experience more than he did.)
When day 2 arrived, I stepped out of my tent and into one of the most gorgeous sunrises I’ve ever seen. While attending Oshkosh was never a bucket list item, plane camping certainly was. I had dreamt of this view for so long.
There is no “sleeping in” at Oshkosh. Planes begin buzzing the skies at 6:00 AM sharp and, if that doesn’t stir you, at 7:30 AM a loud wake up call is boomed from the ground’s PA System.
For me, my excitement and giddiness had me going before any outside noises could. By 6:00 AM, I was already showered with a hot coffee in hand. Sitting and sipping in the small backpacking chair I had somehow managed to fit in my carry-on, I settled on my first to-do item for the day – I would rip up my meticulously planned itinerary.
This was a “go with the flow” kind of event. There could be no planning, only exploration.
After enjoying a delightfully bacon-heavy breakfast at the North 40 cafe, I began my trek to the main grounds. I felt dizzy watching all the planes… they were up in the sky, they were down on the ground, they were bombing the runways…
There were planes, planes everywhere! I was in heaven.
It didn’t take long for my introvert self to start feeling overwhelmed, though. I decided to take a breather and seek out an online acquaintance, Russell Still. Russ, an ATP, CFII and CEO of Gold Seal, was a man I had gotten to know a bit on an internet forum for pilots. This past winter he offered me and some others free access to his new instrument written test prep program in exchange for us helping him QA/QC it.
I was excited to finally meet him in person. And thankfully his plane, a big DC-3 with a gold stripe down the side, was pretty easy to spot.
Things were definitely hoppin’ when I arrived…
I asked around and eventually found Russ, an older gentleman with a bushy mustache – more reminiscent of a train conductor than a pilot, laying on the grass duct taping something on the belly of his plane. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. It was like meeting an old friend.
Always the business man, he offered a trade – if I’d rock out one of his Gold Seal shirts for the day, he’d let me have an empty seat in his DC-3. Apparently they were just about to take it up for a photo op and performance flight. I had popped over to say “hi” at just the right time!
Knowing that accepting this offer would mean missing the “Women Venture” lunch I had already signed up and paid for, and had been quite excited about attending, I quickly agreed on this chance of a lifetime opportunity!
I’ll catch the ladies next year.
I laughed as I changed clothes. I mean, I couldn’t believe it – there I was, on merely my second day of Oshkosh, shamelessly taking my shirt off in the cockpit of 79 year old DC-3, whose model was the first commercial aircraft in history. These are the things we do for aviation.
And, boy, was it worth it!
But, while Paul might know his way around other aircraft, this would actually be his first time handling a DC-3. He was instructed by a pilot in the right seat and bravely handled some impressive maneuvering, pulling off low approaches, tight patterns and a bit of wing wagging. For dramatic effect, they landed on one wheel first before finally bringing it all the way down.
From my window, I could see crowds along the flightline cheering and clapping.
What a high! Definitely some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a plane.
Video I took during the flight –
It was going to be hard to top such a wonderful experience, but, as I’d learn later that day when I found myself zipping around on the back of a dirt bike, things at Oshkosh were just getting warmed up.
To be continued…