The little girl next to me was completely absorbed in the performance by the great Sean Tucker. Her eyes, wide with excitement and wonder, followed every movement of his plane. When he finally landed, she looked over to her mom, suddenly appearing concerned. Her smile faded.
“Why are there no girl pilots?” she asked.
Before her mom could respond, I turned to the girl and said, “I’m a pilot.”
Her smile quickly returned, bigger and brighter than ever. She pumped her fist excitedly into the air and shouted, “YES!“, with a little jump at the end.
“Thank you,” her mom said, smiling and looking like she just dodged a bullet.
I don’t think she realized that her daughter had just decided her future.
Today was the big day – the day of the first Blue Angels performance in the history of Oshkosh. Technically, it was going to be their practice show, but it’s basically the same as the main performance. People who haven’t seen them a million times like I have don’t realize that.
After saying goodbye to my friend who had visited the night before, I started my day at the EAA Museum. Honestly, I’m not much of a museum person. I find them depressing… something just seems so sad about seeing relics of a bygone era forever frozen in time. Fascination with the past draws me in, but I’m not one to linger long.
So, despite many interesting exhibits, I barely spent an hour wandering the graveyard of artifacts.
Dick Rutan, retired USAF pilot famous for flying the Voyager around the world non-stop with co-pilot Jeana Yeager, speaking to a crowd at the EAA Museum.
I debated about taking one of the Bell helicopter tours being offered out front, but a $50 charge and 2 1/2 hour wait pushed me to lunch instead.
One large, greasy brat and pile of fried Wisconsin cheese curds later, I made my way back to the main grounds, deciding to finally take a stroll through the hangars where the vendors were set up peddling the latest and greatest. I wasn’t really interested in buying anything, mostly because I didn’t have room in my bags to bring anything back, but figured it would still be fun perusing the gadgets, gizmos and gear.
I found one particularly delightful booth run by a woman I had seen in many of the Facebook groups I frequent, Jen Toplak, owner of of Dare To Fly. Her products, unlike most of the other aviation stuff out there, are actually designed for women pilots.
Like a tall glass of ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day, she and her booth were a refreshing combination.
Jen Toplak (far left), me and two fellow 99 pilots having some fun for the camera!
Much to my excitement, it was finally – FINALLY!!! – getting to be time for the Blue Angels (eep!!!!!!!), so I made my way down to the flight line to secure a spot. A friend, a very lucky bastard whose boss actually said to him – “Take the jet and bring a few of your coworkers up to Oshkosh for the day!” – had just flown in from Georgia. I invited him to join me and together we watched the Blues play.
They did not disappoint. They never do.
Following their stunning-as-always performance, I made my way to a dinner for women in the airline industry. The friend I came to Oshkosh with had scored us tickets to the event and, while I really do not have any interest in working for the airlines, I am never one to turn down free food. Plus, I was curious to learn about the issues those women face and how they manage to juggle work life with family life (apparently they don’t, though they tried to argue otherwise – blog on that later).
The dinner, however, ended up being a bit… strange. The so-called meal was a potato. Yes, a single potato. Apparently you are supposed to take said potato, slice it and stuff it with other items laid out on the buffet. Where I come from we call this a “side item,” but, hey, it was free and I was hungry.
Even more strange was that a few minutes into the talk, in popped someone quite unexpected…
Buzz freakin’ Aldrin!
He sat at the table next to me, never talking, just watching and playing with stuff on the table. He stayed for about 30 minutes, long enough for his son, seated next to him, to fuss at him for attempting to throw Frisbees in the room. I’ve heard he’s a bit eccentric, and his behavior coupled with that very pink shirt certainly did not conflict with those rumors.
After dinner, my friend and I made our way down to the UltraLight area to watch a short field landing competition to the tune of country music. A fun event with a redneck flare, we sat for a while watching the planes zip around havin’ a hootin’, tootin’, good ol’ time!
When the competition concluded, lighted paramotors took flight, sparkling in the skies with the moon and stars.
See if you can figure out which light is the moon in the picture above!
We hit up the beer tent after, but smoke from the campfire got to be a bit too much and I’m not really one for crowds or dancing. We were both tired, so we only stayed for a couple drinks and headed back.
I had the pleasure of getting together with so many great people at Oshkosh, but there was one… the most special one, and if I’m honest with myself, the real reason I decided to venture all the way to freakin’ Wisconsin of all places… who I had yet to meet. Saving the best for last, most of my final full day of Oshkosh was spent off site with this woman and her mother…
We have a story. One that greatly affected, enhanced and in so many ways saved both of our lives. One that that will perhaps end up as a book down the road, but, for now, is kept sacredly between our families.
After hugs and a warm goodbye, I made my way back to the grounds feeling secure that my trip was complete. I was almost ready to go home.
But there was one final and very important task.
Anyone who has followed this blog knows about The Monkey and his history.
Cliffnotes – He has traveled pilot-to-pilot across the country via GA aircraft. I picked him up at an airport restaurant in Norman, Oklahoma (KOUN) back in February. Together, we had many adventures – Flying around the Grand Canyon, Underwater Egress Training, Volunteering for Above the Clouds, attending 99s Meetings, Night Flights, and even meeting the great Harrison Ford. But it was time for him to move on.
A pilot out in Colorado offered to take The Monkey and start him on some new adventures. So, the next morning, we enjoyed one last bittersweet breakfast together and said our goodbyes.
A few hours later I was on my way home, exhausted and satisfied. I had enjoyed a wonderful week, built so many cherishable memories, and met so many wonderful people. There were still many things I had wanted to do, but was unable. But that’s ok…
Oshkosh 2018… I’ll be seeing you soon!