Oshkosh: Remember, We Haven’t Done This For Two Years (Updated)


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.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. I am not going this year. I think it is going to be an insane Zoo with all the pent up demand.

    • The craziest zoo I ever saw was in 2018 – it was the year where the weekend had lousy weather until Sunday afternoon, and everyone was trying to get in. It just happened that I had planned to depart on Sunday several weeks earlier, so I arrived at OSH just before closing time. This was obviously pre-pandemic, but everyone was certainly behaving as though they hadn’t done it in at least two years. The sky around Green Lake was a jumble of planes doing pretty much whatever they felt like, with a small handful actually trying to follow the NOTAM procedures without getting left in the dust. Supposedly changes were made for the following year to fix that, but I can’t go every year so I didn’t get a chance to find out. I was planning to go last year, but we all know what happened with that one.

      If this year is no worse than 2018, then that would be a success in my book. I’m still not going, but that’s mainly because I have to make my go/no-go early in the year, and at the time it didn’t seem likely I would have been fully vaccinated by then. There’s always next year, and I suspect it will probably be the better year to go anyway.

  2. Worse is losing control in turns before landing, including when controllers tell the pilot to slow down .

    Years ago a person known to some participants in the old Avsig forum on Compuserve crashed in such circumstances.

    He had a single reputed to be trickier to handle than average, and little flying experience.

    A concern has been too much reliance on controller and trying to help too much.

  3. I’ve flown into Oshkosh several times–and flying a turboprop, most of them have been IFR. Even cancelling some distance out and proceeding VFR is not a good option–trying to mix it up with aircraft of far differing speed capabilities–won’t do THAT again!

    IFR arrivals (IF you can get a slot) have their own issues. Usually, the approach is scheduled for runway 27 if possible–leaving the parallels to accommodate more arrivals. There is nothing quite like breaking out of an overcast and facing multiple VFR targets–even with in-cockpit traffic info, there are too many to keep track of–and it would require another set of eyes in the cockpit to keep track of them. Tower is no help–too busy to call traffic.

    Perhaps the worst was breaking out at 600′ on short final, and catching a glimpse of a B-17 at 10 o’clock off the cross runway–dare not go lower, and not enough runway left to land on 27–can’t break into the tower frequency to declare the missed approach, so kept it low until able to contact tower. “We saw the conflict and the missed approach, maintain VFR if able and we will call your base for 27 again.”

    IFR departures also a pain–lots of traffic if constrained by ceilings (again, need a second set of eyes!)–I always feel better when entering clouds–and even better when handed off to Center.

    For those reasons, we’ve decided not to be “part of the problem” and instead, take the motor home to KOSH–we stay for a week anyway.

  4. Growing numbers of airplanes are using our airport 35 miles west of OSH to not only wait out conflicts, runway closures or anything else that hoses up the airport. Many are now choosing to just RON and get a rental car IF they’ve made the arrangements in advance. That’s a great way to go. Unless you’ve got a show plane you want to show off or compete with, why subject yourself to the above aggravation? Also, we can usually find enough hangar space to house at least the rare airplanes if weather comes up.

    Now that we’ve been ‘schooled’ in the fact that VFR towers are nothing more than controlled chaos, there’s no way I’d subject myself to that pressure. Besides, I, too, pull an RV and just enjoy the show that way.

    • Why subject yourself to the aggravation and challenge? For the same reason we subject ourselves to the aggravation of the FAA’s “kinder-gentler-but-not-really” oversight and the difficulty of learning to fly and keeping one’s certificates: because we find the challenge rewarding. There’s also something special about flying in to OSH that you can’t do anywhere else.

      However, anyone who isn’t up for the challenge definitely should NOT fly in to OSH. There are many ways to enjoy the show.

  5. One way to lessen the chaos is to join one of the type club mass arrivals, if possible. Cessna, Beech and Piper all have them, perhaps a few more. That way, all of you are traveling in the same direction with (mostly) similar aircraft. The best part is that the airport is closed temporarily to all other traffic so you have the approach all to yourself with the other folks in your group, with much less chance of someone blundering into the pattern. And, it really does not take that long to get all the planes in, so there isn’t much impact to outsiders. The Cessna arrival of about 110 planes only takes around 15 minutes. In order to participate, you must attend a training seminar in advance where you practice formation flying and approach/landing procedures to get you used to the process. This year, that extra practice would be a good thing. For most, the training classes are going on now, so if interested, better get a move on. Good flying.

  6. “The Cessna arrival of about 110 planes only takes around 15 minutes.”
    That’s one landing every 13.6 seconds.

      • That’s true, YARS, but since they fly in groups of three aircraft per formation, and use the east taxiway (if winds permit) as a second runway, you can basically consider three landings as one. So one landing every 24 seconds. It’s not exactly right, but it works well and goes pretty quickly. The biggest problem is getting everyone lined up after landing and pointed along the grass path to the north 40. If recent rains have turned the “taxiway” into a muddy mess, that part slows to a crawl and backs up planes onto the paved surfaces. At any rate, it simplifies the approach to landing and takes a lot of the possible surprises out of the process. Besides, it gives you the chance to camp near your friends and the big groups like Beech and Cessna set up a communal tent where you can have breakfast and a shady place to have an adult beverage in the evenings.