Strafing The Runway At Wittman


At AirVenture, the din of airplanes starts early and builds to a deafening crescendo about the time Jeff Boerboon launches his Screamin’ Sasquatch jet-powered Waco. It’s just stupefyingly loud, to the point of causing minor trickles of blood out of exposed bodily openings. But I’m pretty sure the B-1 passes were even louder than that and there’s nothing like a touch of four-engine heater to trim out 110 db of skull crushing overpressure.

Not that I’m complaining. I’ve always believed that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. However, compared to those noise makers, my contribution was rather more delicate. Wednesday morning, Dan Gryder called up and asked if we wanted to fly his DC-3 for some passes over Wittman. Sure, I’ll sign up for that. What could be more over the top than putting a DC-3 newbie in the left seat and flying 50-foot passes down Runway 18 in the misty morning?

Unbeknownst to me, this year’s sponsor of Gryder’s Douglas, Gold Seal Ground Schools, live streamed the whole thing, replete I suppose with my foul-mouthed cursing. I’ve really got to clean that up. I’ve got some video of the flight that I’ll post as soon as I get caught up.

I told Gryder that flying the DC-3 was about what I expected; it’s a big dump truck of an airplane with control forces that require both hands, both arms and three feet. I thought Gryder was pushing against me on the rudder, but no, it’s just that stiff. We strafed the runway three or four times and Gryder kept hectoring me to push the thing lower. He said we were at 100 feet, but I thought closer to 50. When an airplane that big gets into ground effect, it’s like flying into a big sponge; you have to forcibly push it lower.

In the midst of a busy Oshkosh morning, we were essentially doing pattern work for 40 minutes. Kudos to the tower controller who took all this in stride. We were weaving past the lumbering Tri-Motor, Cherokees and Ercoupes, all the while sweeping the thing inside of Runway 9/27, which had a steady stream of arrivals who I’m sure were wide-eyed at the green-shirted maniac barreling at them in a 25,000-pound classic twin.

From the cockpit, it looks like the airplane can’t possibly turn that tight, but it’s only going 100 knots, so the turn radius is surprisingly compact. If it looks stately and effortless from the ground, it ain’t that way from the cockpit. I’m pretty sure the audio will reveal me grunting to roll the beast over and put both feet on the yoke to get it to dive.

What great fun! And only at AirVenture.

Who Are These People?

Everyone I talk to, but especially the vendors in the hangars and the outdoor booth dwellers, seems to think there are more people at AirVenture this year. I’ve been doing this too long to rely on my own perceptions, so I’ll wait until EAA releases some final numbers.

Nonetheless, as I was driving out of the press parking lot on Thursday afternoon, an absolute sea of humanity streamed in front of the car, pinning me in place for what felt like 10 minutes. They were dragging folding chairs, bags full of food and drink, cameras, funny hats, kids in strollers and all the rest of the paraphernalia people haul to airshows. I was in a hurry, but it was at least entertaining.

Then this thought occurred to me: Who the %$#^ are you people and why aren’t you buying airplanes? If this many people are interested in coming to the spectacle of an AirVenture airshow, why aren’t they interested in participating and what will it take to get them to do that? Or maybe everyone who’s really interested in being a pilot is already here. But that can’t be it, because we’re getting all sorts of wish-I-was-there emails. Hey, it’s not too late. Today’s Friday and there are still three more days left. I was planning to leave today, but no way. There’s still too much stuff I haven’t covered. Today, I’ll hump my camera gear on foot; it’s faster. Maybe I ought to borrow one of those strollers. I long ago got over the fear of looking ridiculous.