AVweb’s AirVenture Survival Guide – Part Two

AVweb presents Part Two of its Oshkosh Survival Guide, an insider's guide to the hows, whys and wheres of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2002. AVweb columnist Rick Durden provides you the benefit of his years of AirVenture experience with tips you won't find anywhere else. This second part of the two-part series covers what you need to know once you arrive, how to get around at the big show, what to do, and what not to do. There's also some additional tips on aircraft parking with some new-this-year changes that should make things easier for many.


OshkoshIn the first part of this series we focused on what you needed to know before you set out for Oshkosh. This second part focuses on what you need to know once you’ve arrived.

Fly-In Parking Information

Fly-in campers at AirVenture this year should call the telephone recording, 920-232-7820, or check the web page with information on parking availability, before departing. While the arrival ATIS is the authority on the issue, these bits of information should be helpful as you depart as well as something to check during a fuel stop. For those of you who won’t be going to AirVenture, I suspect the Web page will be worth visiting just to get a feel for how jammed the airport becomes.

OSH is for kids of all agesA superb arrangement by the parking czars comes to AirVenture from Sun ‘n Fun. You can let them know where you want to park by preparing a sign ahead of time with the desired parking spot on it. In the past, as spaces have opened up, I’ve tried calling friends who were going to arrive to let them know of the row number. They had problems getting to the row. Now, there is hope that folks can hold up a sign to show where they desire to park. The AirVenture Aircraft Parking web page includes the information you need to know about this new procedure.

By the way, please don’t hold the sign up until you have the airplane collected and off the runway. It wouldn’t look too cool on the accident report as you explain you ground looped on roll-out because you were grabbing a sign to show where you wanted to park.

What To See

Map of OSH - Click for larger imageIf you have not obtained a map of the area prior to arrival, make sure you get the big, thick guide to the convention when you register. Once you have cleared registration and rocketed off to view the hot item you wanted to see first, have a seat in the shade and look over the map of the grounds to set up a strategy as to what to see.

General Guidelines:
The flight line has warbirds at the north end, homebuilts in the center, antique/classics at the south and ultralights and helicopters way south at their own grass runway. Antique/classic camping with the airplane is to the southwest of the flight line and continues south beyond the north/south runway seemingly into Illinois. Spam cans, that’s most of us, have parking and camping on either side of the east/west runway which lies along the north side of the airport. The “West Ramp” is about the center of everything, just southwest of the control tower and is reserved for special displays. The vendor buildings are just west of the West Ramp. More vendor areas are scattered north of the West Ramp with the Fly Market northwest of the West Ramp. The Forum area has been expanded with buildings in addition to tents. The space allotted to forums and workshops is becoming more like a campus. The forums and workshops are almost invariably excellent, so plan to arrive early if you wish to sit.

The warbird area of the flight line will be blocked off about an hour or so prior to the airshow, as the warbirds taxi out for their fly-pasts. Plan on seeing the warbirds before 1:00 pm each day or after the airshow, as sometimes the area gets blocked off kind of early.

Antiques/Classics: Dozens of excellent examples make a stroll south of “airshow central” an essential exercise. Airplane-spotting trams run through the area.

The museum is a must-see item. The worst time to go is during a rainstorm, it’s packed. Buses run to it and Pioneer Airport, which is behind the museum, from the flight line area on a regular basis. The transportation center for buses to the dorms at the University, to Appleton and Fond du Lac airports is west of the main entrance. The city bus route to the dorms usually runs thorough an area just west of the flight line, making it very convenient. It can jam up during times of heavy vehicle traffic and right after the airshows. The transportation center has always had very good signage and helpful people for those of us who wander around wondering if we can get there from here.

Pioneer Airport:
With its classically-styled hangars and golden age of flight aircraft, Pioneer Airport is well worth a walk. In fact, the walk west from the flight line area through a park and the memorial hill to Pioneer Airport is a relaxing break from the bustle of the rest of the convention.

The seaplane base requires a bus ride. The bus departs from the Quonset Hut at the south end of the antique/classic area. Go. You will be glad you did. Set aside about three hours for the visit.

The forum tents are behind the north end of the flight line. The main problem with the forums is that they generally are so many very good ones, you can’t get to all that you desire to attend.

Theater In The Woods:
The Theater In The Woods is near the antique/classic parking area. Some of the evening shows are outstanding, others are awful. Speakers are usually very good, so if aviation humorists Rod Machado or Ralph Hood are going to perform or any of the golden age test or racing pilots, combat pilots or astronauts are going to speak, attend.

When it comes to musical events, there is a distressing tendency toward the lowest common denominator such as country-western or pre-digested, bubble gum lite. If you are not into tunes for the musically impaired, you may want to pass those up. Blues, jazz, reggae, classical, rock and roll and contemporary music generally doesn’t make it to that venue. The times swing bands have performed have been truly wonderful, although you can’t get over the feeling the organizers of the evening are a little shocked by such avant-garde music. Turnout for the good events is usually large, so it behooves one to arrive about a half hour early. Because this is the Midwest, things generally start on time.

The Fly Market:
Treasures, garbage, pretty good deals, frauds, religious fanatics and oddballs abound. It is a place you simply have to visit, if only to see what and who have shown up this year. There is no rule of thumb other than the extraordinarily low prices which used to be a part of the Fly Market haven’t been seen for years. The cost of renting vendor space is so high now that the most a dedicated shopper can hope for is slightly below catalogue prices. However, there is just so incredibly much wonderful junk in one place that the search for a treasure is too intriguing to pass up. Yes, you can find hundreds of used aviation books, great, as well as hideous aviation tee shirts and spark plugs for an OX-5.

The flight line runs north and south, parallel to runway 18-36. The most visible object on the field is the control tower, which is located near the north end of runway 18-36, a few hundred yards west. It is generally the baseline for giving directions.

The ArchMeeting Friends:
If you are meeting people, the historic site call has been “Noon, Saturday, under the arch.” Well, the main entrance to the flight line is no longer under the arch east of the control tower. The EAA arch is, however, a good spot to take a break or arrange to hook up with folks. Just to the southeast of the arch are a bunch of the little pedal planes moored so the pedals can be turned, turning the prop, without going anywhere. It is the best AirVenture photo op if you have a small child. I treasure the shot of my daughter as an infant in a miniature SNJ just like her grandpa flew.

Emergency Messages, Announcements/Paging:
The PA system covers the entire flight line, there is always someone talking about something. After fifteen minutes, most people tune out the PA system, which is a problem because it is also used for paging and emergency messages. If you need to reach someone in an emergency, go to the speakers’ stand east of the control tower and have the person paged. There is a bulletin board nearby where messages can be left as well. If you have any reason to believe you might be paged, check the bulletin board from time to time.

Airline Employee Messages:
Every year there is a set of roofed-over bulletin boards in an airline employees center near the antique/classic registration building on the flight line. Leaving messages there is a good way to communicate with folks who work for airlines.

Aviation Organization Tents:
If you are a member of any of the various aviation organizations from AOPA, through the Cessna Pilots Association, 99s and QBs, your organization probably has a tent where you can get out of the sun or rain, sit down and get a cool drink. It’s worth a visit. It may be worth joining an organization just for access. The convention guide you get when you check in will tell you where the tent is located.

AirVenture – Basic Etiquette And Courtesy

Hey, we are all in this together, among friends of aviation. Besides, AirVenture is Mecca for us, let’s treat it and each other appropriately.

Parade restLittering:
It simply is not done at OSH. Wisconsin is known for being aggressively neat. Littering is, I think, a capital crime. Bastinado is too good for those jerks who throw things on the ground at AirVenture, keelhauling the violator at the seaplane base is probably the way to go. If you see a piece of trash on the ground, pick it up and put it in one of the nearby trash containers. Walking past litter is considered a breach of etiquette nearly as serious as dropping the stuff in the first place. After all, the trash you do not pick up may be the trash which fouls something important on your airplane.

Leaving A Tiedown:
Never, ever, ever start your airplane at its tiedown. There are airplanes parked and folks camped behind you. For crying out loud, don’t blow dirt, rocks, grass, small children and other trash through their campsites. They’ve washed and waxed their airplanes, they do not need rock chips from your stupidity. Pull your airplane forward into the taxiway alley, turn it 90 degrees, then get in and start it. If you are by yourself, there will always be two or 10 folks around who will help you pull your airplane forward if you only ask. If you start up and taxi out of your tie down spot do not be at all surprised to be called up a day or two later and asked to pay for a tent you destroyed or a touch up paint job on the Bonanza parked behind you. By the same token, offer to help someone pull his airplane who looks as if he is about to start up in his tiedown spot.

If you are parked in the Antique/Classic/Contemporary parking areas, you must have a wing-walker before you start your engine.

Look But Don’t Touch:
Please, please, please, look all you want at the wonderful aircraft, but don’t touch them. Would you want mobs of people putting their grubbies all over your pride and joy? This is especially important if you have kids, or are apt to behave as one … tell them ahead of time they are to look but not touch, and remind them frequently, until they are saying it back to you and actually following the admonition.

The airport shuts down to flight operations shortly after dark. Have some consideration for your fellow campers and keep your personal noise level down as well. The ugliest confrontations at OSH have been over late, loud parties.

QuickPortable Power:
Gasoline-powered electrical generators are great technological achievement, but … in the airplane camping area these should be shut down by 10:00 pm. Yes, I know the ad says they are so quiet you won’t even hear it. The ads are wrong. Everyone nearby will hear it and you will not be very popular for very long. It is still not considered acceptable for someone to put a small potato in the exhaust pipe of one running later than that. Despite provocation it is also not acceptable to do the potato bit in the RV parking areas.

Airplane Camping Buses:
Thankfully, a number of school buses run almost continually to shuttle folks around the airplane camping area. The drivers are usually very friendly. (Hey, this is Wisconsin, what’d you expect?) There is a box for a small contribution as you get in. Be a little less of a tightwad than usual and put the quarter or so requested in the box, smile at the driver and enjoy the ride.

Lawn Chairs And The Afternoon Airshow:
Please do not sit on the front edge of the flight line and block the view of the “groundlings.” Have a heart and sit back about 20 feet. While it is probably too much work, it would be nice if the EAA would put a second “lawn chair line” about 20 feet behind the spectator line. You can see just fine and it gives those who sit on the ground the ability to see as well. Do not bring your lawn chair and leave it hoping to stake out a spot on the airshow line. Because of the risk it will blow into an airplane potentially more valuable than you, the EAA volunteers will pick it up and store it until time to melt it down for Wisconsin beer cans. Many feel this is the highest calling for a lawn chair.

The Airshows

Gee BeeA major portion of the airshow is watching the general aviation arrivals. Otherwise, there is nearly constant activity in the fly-past circuit along runway 18/36. You will see all manner of homebuilts, classics and antiques working that circuit during the day. No, you cannot simply take your airplane up and fly by; there is an involved briefing by EAA officials so that the number of airplanes in the pattern is limited and safe operations are stressed. Often, someone on the PA system will talk about the airplane in which you are interested and give some details, or tell you how to get more information.

Each afternoon the EAA puts on a major airshow. The EAA AirVenture web site includes a schedule. It is preceded by additional, usually warbird, fly-by activity. The airshow runs several hours during which the airport is closed. The length of the show does vary and is published in a number of locations. The second-best seats are at the edge of the flight line and tend to start to fill up about an hour before the show starts. Not to worry. You can still get a piece of earth on which to sit and see everything at the last minute.

Make sure you have something to cover the back of your neck. You will be facing east and the afternoon sun will turn the most staunch liberal into a redneck. Bring sunscreen. While there is not supposed to be food and drink on the flight line, I strongly recommend you bring some plastic containers of water, but keep them firmly in hand so they do not become litter or a projectile. The airshow is long enough that there is a danger of dehydration on warm days.

Warbord FlybyThe airshow performers are usually nothing short of incredible. They are not paid at AirVenture. Give them lots of applause when they are driven down the flight line, they are the best of the best in this country.

Airshow announcing is awful. The performers usually bring the announcers that have been giving their patter to the rubes on the county fair circuit all summer. The result is laughable at AirVenture. Every year those who suffer through the announcing on the flight line get to hear announcers mis-count the number of stops in a twelve or sixteen point hesitation roll, call a snap roll a Lomcevak, do some half-wit routine of making a telephone call to the airplane in flight or endlessly repeat “…as he pulls the stick back, trading airspeed for altitude…” until you want to go postal and take out the announcer.

A request was made of the EAA some years ago for an “announcer free” zone on the flight line. It was denied. Someone needs to point out to the announcers that they are speaking to a sophisticated audience who wants only to hear the name of the performer, the type of aircraft and, perhaps, the upcoming maneuver. Then, all we want to hear is the aircraft. Sadly, if you sit on the flight line, that desire is generally hopeless.

On an average of once in four or five years there is an airshow act which causes even the most jaded onlookers to gasp in amazement. In the early ’70s it was a young kid, Gene Soucy, doing knife edge to knife edge snaps the length of the runway at about ten feet of altitude in his S1 Pitts; in the ’80s it was the Italian Air Force team doing things in jets no one thought possible. It didn’t happen in the ’90s. If you are very lucky, you will be there for one of those years – we’re (over)due for another one.

Unfortunately, every few years EAA brings in some act which bombs abysmally at an otherwise stellar airshow. For a while it was the clown or drunk or old woman who winds up flying a Cub by “mistake.” Recently it has been a truck with old, straight-pipe jet engines on the back with one-stage afterburners which proves anything will go fast if enough fuel is shoved through it. As part of its routine it “races” a slow airplane. Ten-year-old boys seem to like it. While noisy, it does provide a good time for aviation enthusiasts to take a Port-A-John break.

Those who go to AirVenture year after year know the best seats in the house for the airshow are not on the flight line. They do one of two things during the airshow: Either they hit the vendors and Fly Market while the crowds are thin, or, get together with friends at a convenient campsite and sit back with a cold beverage and, perhaps, a hand-held aircraft radio, and enjoy the show. Some tune in the local Oshkosh radio station which broadcasts the airshow, just so they can hear a particularly annoying announcer, then take great pleasure in turning him off.


Old GloryThe heroes of AirVenture are not the airshow pilots or EAA brass. They are the women and men who stand in the heat and rain and help out in some manner. They walk wings, they give out information, they drive water wagons, they help, and help, and help some more. There are never enough volunteers. Ever.

If there is any way you can somehow volunteer for a day or two while you are at AirVenture, the EAA will welcome you and other convention-goers will thank you. There are a couple of pretty-well marked volunteer areas you can visit should the notion strike while at AirVenture. Or, you can check out the Volunteer page on the AirVenture web site and sign up online or call the phone number listed on the page. Either way, the nice folks will set you up in an area which interests you.

Once you have volunteered, you will discover two things: You got more out of the convention than those who did not help out and you are qualified to be the picture in the dictionary for the definition of “pooped.”

Leaving OSH

Do some planning before you start up. IFR departures can be a pain in the whatsis. If weather allows, it is a great deal easier to go out VFR. The IFR Procedures NOTAM has the IFR departure procedure. To help assure you are not directed to the wrong line, put a sign in your windshield stating whether you are VFR or IFR.

Please, again, pull your airplane out of its parking spot and turn it ninety degrees before starting. Be considerate of others at all times.

Be patient, there may be dozens of folks trying to get out at the same time. Lines to the departure runway can be long, and it is often necessary to do the zipper bit as two lines of aircraft converge, so be polite. Everyone will get out. After all, we’d like to think we have a little more on the ball than the road ragers on the freeways. Yelling at the folks with the wands can be counter-productive. Besides, you never know which ones are with the FAA and decide to violate you for stupidity or aggravated stupidity.

Oftentimes, waiting to leave until about 45 minutes after the airshow is done means you don’t wait in line to get out.

Be extra patient for IFR departures. This is the one area where the EAA and FAA just don’t have it together – IFR releases have been taking from one to three hours.

Everyone Is Watching:
Plan on having either the left or right half of the runway for your takeoff, so be able to keep your airplane straight on the ground and tracking straight once off. There will be other airplanes near, some faster, some slower. So, do not make any sudden moves. A lot of people are watching the departure show, thus, if you do something dumb, it will be seen and probably, filmed.

There are max altitude restrictions on many of the departures because arrivals are coming in over the departure path. Take the time to review them, and have everyone in the airplane be as observant as possible. Remember the rules on overtaking slower airplanes. Make your turns gently, because as you overtake someone, someone else may be blowing past you.

Closing Thoughts

Aerial view of OSHI promised I’d tell you how you tell the low-time pilots at OSH. They are the ones with all the patches and pins on their clothing or hat. It’s a hoary axiom of aviation in general, and OSH in particular, that the flight time and experience level of the pilot is inversely proportional to the number of patches and pins decorating his/her apparel.

Oshkosh has gotten so big, so commercial and so far away from the low-key airplane-watching airshow it used to be, that I keep telling myself I will not go back next year. (Unfortunately and perhaps for these reasons, people are staying away – attendance has been dropping.) But, every year after it’s over, I think about again getting together with a lot of friends from all over the country that I only get to see at OSH, seeing the many things I want to see, and watching airplanes I would not otherwise get to watch, and I make plans to return.

I will probably plan to arrive IFR, because I know the variability of summer weather in the Great Lakes. I will not be found where announcers may be heard during the airshow. I will bring lots of food and buy ice and other necessities on arrival. I will wear very good walking shoes. If you happen to see Aztec N448VP, I may be in a lawn chair, with a cold one. Stop by, I’ll pour you one, too, and we’ll talk flying.

Finally, as a personal favor, please don’t shut off your flying brain when you come to OSH. Don’t go stupid and auger in on the way to (or from). The media types will cast more aspersions on general aviation because you were foolish and I will not remember you fondly. I’d much rather hand you a cool one during the airshow.