Hold It and They Show Up

AVweb continues its coverage of EAA AirVenture 1998 ... .

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Osh '98

It’s happening right now. The yokes and sticks are being gripped by slightly sweaty hands as pilots look for all those other airplanes they know are around out there, while their ears are filled by a controller’s voice, "T-tailed Lance, turn your base now; Mooney on downwind, start your descent, keep it in tight; homebuilt on final, land on the green dot, keep it in the air to the green dot, that’s it, keep it in the air; Cessna behind the homebuilt, land it on the orange dot; nice job homebuilt, turn off the runway to left as soon as you have it under control; red and white Bonanza, make a left three-sixty on the downwind, stand by for sequence; welcome to Oshkosh, keep it rolling onto the grass…"

Thus, the airplanes flow into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, watched by scores of pilots in lawn chairs along the fence, scanners on. The parking folks wave planes in as fast as they can, pilots and passengers emerge, slightly dazed, looking around at the incredible number of airplanes and intone, "wow," making it several syllables long, as the only airworthy Martin B-26 rolls by, a J-3 slowly climbs out, and a Sea Fury turns short final. It’s overwhelming, and it’s why people come, year after year.

From all over the world, from little airports and some big ones, the multitudes are making final preparations to come to OSH, checking the bank account to see if it can stand the trip, finding friends to fill the seats of a six place single—the cheapest way per person for most to fly in, last minute maintenance performed, and charts laid on the floor for the last time. The quiet pleasure of trip planning comes to a conclusion as the last lines are drawn and fuel burns calculated.

In the final days before the show, airports all over the U.S. and Canada are host to strange and wonderful airplanes stopping for fuel as they make their way to OSH. A Dyke’s Delta lands in Jefferson, Iowa, and causes a minor sensation. A Lockheed Electra slides into Rock Springs, Wyoming, in a rare summer rainstorm, splashing through the puddles as people walk from the old hangar and watch history taxi in, oblivious to the fact they are being soaked. Quiet, country airports are suddenly host to P-51s, Beech Staggerwings, and exotic antiques not seen in local skies for decades. The sounds of their arrivals cause residents who had largely forgotten their airport existed to come out and gaze at the winged history. For those who are going to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the excitement heightens until it becomes nearly palpable.

Finally, The Day Arrives

Finally, the day arrives. Sometime before dawn the car pulls up to the hangar or the tiedown and for a while all that is heard are muffled sounds of doors opening, of snatches of conversation in the early morning air, of loading the airplane. Someone peeks at the intimate places of the airplane while others lay out charts and secure the baggage. Soon the stillness is shattered by the bark of the exhaust as the engine comes to life. The airplane with its excited occupants moves to the runway, the run-up is completed, and it accelerates away, the propeller making a small contrail around the fuselage in the humid air. Lifting off and turning, you are on your way to the Experimental Aircraft Association convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

From the communities of Canada the pilots so used to flying over desolate terrain work their way on headings which include the word "south" in the description. The California pilots and passengers on their second or third or fourth day of travel marvel at the early mist and fog lying in the valleys of southwestern Wisconsin and of the brilliant greens and yellows of the corn and soy beans of the Midwest.

Still they come, teenagers with new private or commercial certificates, absolutely unaware that they are the future of aviation, wearing to-hell-with-you clothing, but inside so excited about airplanes and flight; the outwardly jaded professional pilots; the quiet, competent women who have discovered the magic of flight; the yuppies who want more toys for their pricey mounts; the dedicated homebuilder journeying to set at the feet of the man who has been teaching welding here for the last twenty-five years and hoping to learn as much as they can while here; the gray hairs, so long in aviation, hoping for just one more OSH; and all come, whether they are willing to admit it, to see those moving, flying works of art, all in one place for such a very short time before dispersing to the corners of the world.

Your airplane, with so many others, converges on aviation’s Mecca. You wish the tailwind were stronger or the headwind not so strong, for you want to be there RIGHT NOW! The GPS and the grubby finger on the map indicates the airplane is finally drawing near Oshkosh. Suddenly, a passenger gasps and, out the window you see a P-47 and P-51 in formation arc by a mile away, the speed so great that they are nearly out of sight before you can do much more than widen your eyes in amazement.

The Adrenaline Rush

Then the adrenaline rush of the Ripon arrival, in trail with a multitude of other airplanes, flying the low, tight pattern to expedite arrivals with pilots showing those skills you have been honing, knowing there will be thousands watching each arrival, with the gut-tightening desire to make this one, just this one, landing in front of all those people, a greaser, to show that you, too, know what you are about in this airplane.

Then, park, set up the tent, maybe, or just get to where all those airplanes are parked and try to see everything. For you are where it is all at, having just arrived at the busiest airport in the world, assisted by some of the very best air traffic controllers in the world.

Over at the seaplane base the arrivals are a bit less hectic, as they select their line on the lake, and idle taxi to the seaplane base. As they approach the inlet a boat appears, signaling them to shut down, then towing them to the dock. There, the occupants again experience solid land and unload the airplane before it is towed to a mooring to make room for the next one. Of course, some things always get forgotten in the airplane, but, not to worry, the boat will run you back out to get it.

Yes, it has started, a few days before the official start date, but the place is filling up. Airplanes are arriving steadily and folks are walking around, happily looking at the incredible mass of airplane nuts and their mounts.

A Few More Things For Those Preparing To Attend

If you haven’t left for OSH yet, there are a few things that I should pass along for this year.

The Fly Market has moved. It is southwest of its old location, now to the west of the control tower, west of Knapp Road. It is bigger than ever, but the quirky, funky feel is still strong. Knapp Road is closed and it is not as easy to get from a car to the aircraft camping area as it used to be. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The parking folks are doing a great job and have been extremely helpful and patient with the arriving pilots. The guy on the motorscooter who lead me to parking knew his stuff, he went at an appropriate speed, gave appropriate signals and made it clear exactly where I should park. I don’t know who you were, you zipped off to guide the next airplane, but I thank you for volunteering and being good at what you do.

The controllers are, as usual, outstanding. "Nice job, thank you, welcome to Oshkosh," are heard frequently on the air. It just makes coming here that much more fun.

The seaplane base, as usual, is a haven of tranquillity in an otherwise bustling convention. Yes, if you fly into the seaplane base you do not have to go to the main convention area to camp. you can pitch your tent under the trees right there. Seaplane base campers do need to ride a shuttle bus to the land-based aircraft portion of the convention. Allow about forty five minutes to get one way or another as there can be lines long enough that you won’t get on the first bus which stops, and the ride itself runs about fifteen minutes.

I did make a mistake in the survival guide. The far south parking is not for current general aviation aircraft as I indicated, it is for the contemporary aircraft, which mean factory built and manufactured 1956-1960. "Spam cans," yup, the stuff most of us fly, park in the "North 40" on either side of runway 9-27.

It’s really windy here, some tents are having problems, but pilots have been pretty considerate of each other, something which is a true pleasure to watch.

We’ve also had a little more excitement than really necessary. At about 1545 Monday afternoon, in the midst of well over one hundred Bonanzas arriving as a rather large group, with three airplanes on final for runway 27, a red and white Cherokee landed on runway 9. The controllers caught it, sending the three around, one of which was in the flare. Very nice flying, you three. The Cherokee, being shoved by a tailwind of nearly twenty knots, used up most of runway nine getting down. He turned off at the end and taxied for some distance before being surrounded by orange and white VWs used by EAA and FAA folks for traffic control. That is a conversation I would have liked to have heard. There was no emergency call on frequency by the Cherokee. By and large, pilots seem to be reading the NOTAM and flying the arrival as published. The instrument arrivals are flowing pretty smoothly and are being blended in on short final to runway 27.

The new AirVenture arrival briefing card being given out is very handy. It is worth taking a few moments to read as it provides very good information on registration, camping, transportation, fees, and a good outline map of the camping areas on the airport.

Another good idea this year, you may rent tie-downs and a hammer. Someone was thinking. There are always a certain percentage of folks who get halfway here and realize the EAA tie-down stakes are in the hangar right where they were left on return from last year’s convention.

Airplanes For Sale

By the way, there are a lot of airplanes with "For Sale" signs here. If you are looking to buy something, this might be a way to make some progress on the process. Rather than calling on print advertising, take a walk through the parking areas and see if there is anything which matches your interests. You may be able to dismiss a few as unsuitable which would otherwise take some time to do from home. You may also find a real gem and start negotiating with the owner and maybe even arrange for a pre-purchase inspection at one of the airports around here and possibly fly home with a very fine airplane.

Hope you can come before this thing winds down.