Strafing The Runway At Wittman

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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.

Comments (14)

Those people aren't buying airplanes (or getting into aviation in general) in part because we absolutely suck at marketing ourselves. The only significant marketing effort we make is Young Eagles, and as great as it is, it's promoting something to people who don't have the money or control over their lives to do anything about it, even if they wanted to.

Marketing of GA needs to target adults with enough disposable income to at least partner up on something like a Sonex. We need to go after people who can start flying *now* and get working on building or buying, not a 10-year-old who might one day in a decade or three later decide to finally go take flying lessons.

That's also going to require us to be a little more friendly and outgoing, not standoffish, and to not look down our noses at those "mere mortals" or anyone who isn't up to whatever level we think we're at ourselves.

And it would really be helpful if the Feds would lighten their iron grip on light airplanes. Ditch some of the absurd "ZOMG terrorists!!!1!" security theater at small airports andimplement Primary Non-Commercial.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | July 28, 2017 6:31 AM    Report this comment

These people are not buying planes because GA is killing itself with ever spiraling out of control costs. C-172 @ $250,000+ is not a deal and is out of reach of most professionals. The cost of equipment is ridiculous, the hardware garmin sells for marine use is $3000 the avation unit $20,000. An engine is $60,000 for something that has not changed in 50 years. When I was young I could work four or five hours and pay for one hour of flight lesson, plane and instructor. Now a kid has to work 16 hours or more for the same. I see AOPA saying a $100,000 C-152 is a real deal, completely disjointed from the real world. At least there is some hope with EAA who is working hard for the regular guy while AOPA is just whistling awaay thinking $100,000 dollar avionics upgrades are a real deal.

Posted by: John Majane | July 28, 2017 9:48 AM    Report this comment

"Then this thought occurred to me: Who the %$#^ are you people and why aren't you buying airplanes?"

Gee, Paul, I'm glad you asked

When I got my license in 1981, I could rent a Cessna 172 for $35/hour. Fuel was less than $1/gallon, I was single and spent my entire excess income on flying.

In the mid-80's, career and family came first (I had gotten married by then) and flying took a back seat. The love was still there, just the money and time wasn't.

So along comes 1990 and, even though we can't afford it, my wife encouraged me to start flying again. Having an expired medical meant I'd have to get that renewed, plus currency training, etc. Well, the FAA Medical Examiner discovered what turned out to be a brain tumor. It was benign and was removed with no re-occurrence, thank God.

So here I am in 2017, seeing avgas prices over $4.50/gal, among other costs of flying. So the money, time and ability are gone now.

The love of flying is still there, and I spend a lot of time watching on Youtube watching others experiencing what I wish I could enjoy.

I think about it every day, what I lost, and what I'm unable to do now.

But at least I've got people asking "Who the %$#^ are you people and why aren't you buying airplanes?" to remind me that everybody has a story, and can't do what some people expect of them.

John Leonard
DeKalb, IL

Posted by: John Leonard | July 28, 2017 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Come on man, post that video!

Posted by: Lee Burk | July 28, 2017 10:27 AM    Report this comment

I sort of regret not being at AirVenture, mostly because, for once in a blue moon, the weather is actually decent: not tropically hot and humid (of course without shade!).
And I'm sorry missing you doing passes down 27/9 in a gooney bird!
But the real reason for this note is to thank you for your marvelous writing. I simply love reading your pieces. Keep up the good work. And, hey if that guy who used to be with Velocity and now the chief at the Raptor ever gets his plane built and flying, you should absolutely do a review of it: He claims 225 knots cruise, in a pressurized vessel, being pushed by a double turbo diesel, for $130K!!, which should do something for the market.
But it still would be nice if flying was takes a wealthy guy or an owner of a very profitable business that can afford and use a Cirrus to buy one. And used planes aren't exactly cheap either.

Posted by: Richard Katz | July 28, 2017 1:06 PM    Report this comment

Doing this flying thing takes serious commitment, essentially a lifestyle change to make it happen. It's just plain hard. Add in the money tree you need in the backyard and there you go. Plenty of these folks have no money tree, and doing this is still possible (C150 anyone? AA1 anyone?), but that license still take serious effort to get...

Posted by: Peter Kuhns | July 28, 2017 2:04 PM    Report this comment

Hey. Richard, thanks for the kind words. Always good to hear people enjoy our work.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 28, 2017 2:25 PM    Report this comment

Paul I second Richard's thoughts. There "ain't nobody anywhere" that writes a serious, sardonic, informative, humorous, thoughtful piece like Capt. Paul Bertorelli! You keep us coming back with both wit and substance. Hey and if your boss is reading, please give that man a well-deserved merit raise!

But, as for comes the flat-hatting Gooneybird...DUCK!!!

Posted by: A Richie | July 28, 2017 4:49 PM    Report this comment

"Then this thought occurred to me: Who the %$#^ are you people and why aren't you buying airplanes?". We've become dreamers. Welcome to fantasy aviation!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 28, 2017 11:36 PM    Report this comment

On the subject of high costs ...

Yesterday, I'm on the city bus coming in from UW-O and I overhear a 30ish Mother talking to the youngest of her 3 kids about being lucky to score some free wristbands from some business they knew ... so I strike up a conversation. Turns out, she LIVES in Oshkosh but has never been to the show. EVER! Expounding, she said that the costs to bring a family in are just unaffordable for their family. I asked her what they were interested in seeing; she replied that they didn't know ... just wanted to get a smattering of everything. The story saddened me so I got the bright idea that I should share some of my time and show them the 'ropes' ... starting by helping them get into the show, show them how to use all the trams and getting them pointed.

I gave them well over an hour starting at the Warbirds end knowing it was likely going to be limited to get out to the flightline later. I watched her young boy staring up and being blown away by what he was seeing. We came across Dick Rutan giving a talk and I explained who he was and what he had done. As we walked toward air show center, I found them a shady spot under a high wing to sit on their blanket and enjoy the show ... making sure they knew they shouldn't touch airplanes.

I don't know if it'll make any difference but ... as an aviator and EAA'er, I felt compelled to help them have a nice first visit to Airventure. They all kept thanking me and I walked away feeling pretty good about helping them out. I even gave her my phone number and told her to bring her boys for an airplane ride if they're in the vicinity of my summer hideout.

I did MY part ...

Posted by: Larry Stencel | July 29, 2017 5:45 AM    Report this comment

Good for you, Larry. At least your tried.

The daily admission for AirVenture is now $40. Sounds like a lot and maybe it is. But the Disney parks now charge more than $100 daily for a child. For a family of four, that'll probably be $600 for the day. I'm amazed that so many people decide they can afford it.

And AirVenture largely runs on volunteer labor. If it didn't, no one could afford it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | July 29, 2017 7:58 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Richard and one of the main reasons for coming to this site is your style of writing and informing. As to who are these people... I think they are simply spectators, a sport which has been growing in this country exponentially.

With my hangar door wide open most of the week, housing two really neat homebuilts, an RV4 and a Pitts, the occasional foot traffic rarely comes by to chat or ask questions. Our airport offers little impediment for anyone wishing to walk the hangar line and even the occasional corporate pilot hanging around for the day seems uninterested in venturing beyond the FBO office.

With five decades of flying under my belt, I see little to reverse the declining trend in GA and the inverse relation between costs and flying activity have been established quite some time ago.

Cheers, Hans

Posted by: Hans Miesler | July 29, 2017 8:49 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I'll add to the praise. Excellent work.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 29, 2017 2:25 PM    Report this comment

Larry, I see in the young men and women I give intro flight lessons the same spark in their eyes I must have had some 65 years ago. We got to give it away to keep it. Thanks!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 29, 2017 9:00 PM    Report this comment

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