I was doing some research for a coming editorial project on runway separation when I thought to look into the history of runway accidents at Oshkosh during AirVenture. I figured this would be rich pickings because for those few glorious days in July, the Oshkosh tower is the busiest on the planet and they work with reduced runway separation. It’s not uncommon to see two or even three airplanes on the runway at the same time. This is a considerable relaxation from the standard runway separation requirements. The usual 3000 feet, for instance, is reduced to half that.
Logically, then, it’s fair to ask if this has resulted in more bent metal? Perhaps a little, but not much. In more than 250,000 operations, I found three dozen and only three of those resulted in airplanes hitting each other on the runway. And one of those was a formation flight. In other words, the reduced separation doesn’t seem to result in a meaningful increase in risk. But my sweep also turned up quite a few of another kind of accident: your plain vanilla trip through the tulies after losing control on the runway. These haven’t been fatal, nor have they produced many injuries, but they account for mortifying embarrassment for as surely as a cold brat is a fat pill, you’ll have an audience for your runway dustup.
Now comes 2021 to offer what I’m quite will sure be an accelerant to the routine chaos of AirVenture arrivals. The important thing to remember here is this: We haven’t done this for two years; not pilots, not controllers, not volunteers, not fuel truck drivers … none of us. Everyone atrophies in different ways, but few of us escape the inevitable accumulation of rust for not having done something in awhile. I experienced this vividly in April when I covered Sun ’n Fun and bumbled my way through four days of fumbling with cameras and mics, misplacing notebooks and forgetting some critical fitting or accessory that causes the entire not-that-well-oiled-machine to begin to sputter to an inglorious halt.
I mentioned this in a previous blog, but it’s worth repeating. If you’re flying into Wittman Field for AirVenture and maybe you’ve done it a dozen times, you still haven’t done it in two years. I expect Saturday through Monday to be a little rough, to be generous. As we enter the second week of June, now would be a good time to start prepping for this with some proficiency work. First, read the NOTAM. It’s out now and there are some minor changes in it.
It remains as complex and detailed as ever with just as many exceptions and gotchas as always. You really need to know it cold before making that first turn toward Ripon or even before deciding on the trip in the first place. Wittman Field is not a must do. As outlying relievers, both Fond du Lac and Appleton have always done well at accommodating the AirVenture influx and have the advantage of being easier to exit if you’re on a schedule and/or the weather gets iffy.
Almost every year there are accidents of some kind involving airplanes en route to Oshkosh. These are sometimes weather related, sometimes fuel related or sometimes planning related. Did I mention we haven’t done this in two years? Keep that in mind when planning the trip and err on the side of cautiousness, especially with regard to fuel. The more of it you arrive at Oshkosh with, the less you’ll have to fuss with one more thing. I have a fairly extensive planning checklist for show coverage and the reason I had trouble at Sun ’n Fun is that I forgot to use it. I won’t make that mistake again.
The runway prangs at OSH occur for several reasons but if there’s any commonality to them, it’s trying to land off speed and more often too fast than dropping it in because the pilot got too slow. The latter can break things, flatten tires and drive the occasional oleo up through the wing, but they tend to stay put in one place. Easier to sweep up that way.
The too fast landings are what we politely call excursions, as though we’re just off the cruise ship for lunch and a tour of the aquarium. But this tour is usually a tire-screeching trajectory toward runway edge lights and the muddy taxiway. Collapsing the gear on a retract is a local specialty. While Oshkosh in July can be stinking hot, it usually isn’t and very often an energetic cold front passes through and puts a brisk crosswind on Runway 9/27.
To be honest, I secretly hope for this kind of weather, not so much because I want to see pilots sweat in the crosswind … oh, hell, who am I kidding here? Of course I want to see this. There is no finer entertainment than to perch in your camp chair with a cold Leinenkugel and watch some other poor sot dance the Tango on the rudder pedals knowing it’s not your tires about to snake off the rims. Of course, we would never wish any real damage, but where’s the harm in savoring the occasional crow hop or wild swerve? On the other hand, every 10th landing or so will be done by a real artiste, making one feel not so much smug as inadequate.
Aviation journalists being predictable and all, this is the point where I remind everyone to avoid the ignominy of a runway departure with an audience, start practicing now. I would recommend landing in every crosswind you can between now and the third week in July and get comfortable flying approaches both faster than normal and slower. It’s quite likely pilots flying into Wittman will need both skills, just as they always have. If you have to plant it on the orange dot, you’ll be a lot more confident if you trained it up a little.
And you may have to compensate for the shortfalls of others. Hardly a year goes by when someone doesn’t relate a tale of the Twin Cessna driver who blew by everyone at the wrong altitude in the wrong direction or the Cherokee who misunderstood the instruction to turn a tight base and cut off a Baron in final. Or just missed Fisk entirely. It happens. Be ready for it. Be ready for controllers who haven’t done this in two years, too. It may take awhile to get back into the groove.
And if you see the AVweb staff looking more frazzled than normal, remember we haven’t done this for two years, either.
Webinar Planned on OSH Arrivals
This week, EAA’s Dick Knapinski contacted me to report that EAA will hold a webinar for Oshkosh arrivals for AirVenture. It will be held on June 23 and here’s the link to get connected.