The Wonder of Oshkosh
This time next week, I will be getting into a brand new pearl white, burgundy, black and gold, 180 horsepower, two seat, hand built, home built aircraft. In it, the builder and I will cross half of the United States and travel from Martin State Airport (KMTN) in Maryland to the Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Oshkosh Wisconsin. The builder of the Mustang Aeronautics Mustang II has been to EAA Airventure Oshkosh many times. I have been to Oshkosh only once (last year) and it blew my mind. This is the aircraft's first visit.
Why mention the aircraft at all? Well, this is no Cessna 172, of which there will be many. This is not even a kit built, fast build aircraft, or one of the Vans "Air Force" of RV aircraft, of which there will be many also. This is a scratch built, 15 years in the planning, 5 years in the building one off aircraft, loosely based on the plans of a Mustang II. It has already proven itself as a 175kt (200+mph) true airspeed aeroplane. The Cessna 172 that I have been flying with a very similar 180HP engine (upgraded from the regular 150HP motor) struggles to cruise at 110kts (123mph). In Mustang II circles, this is a spoken about and long awaited arrival to Oshkosh and it will be front and centre when it comes to the judging.
I hope that you have heard about EAA Airventure Oshkosh, if not then as an aviation enthusiast you owe it to yourself to find out about it.
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) was founded in the 1950s by a gentleman by the name of Paul Howard Poberezny. He and several others grouped together to assist the growing number of people that decided that building their own aircraft was the cheapest and most interesting way to get into flying. Very early on they started to gather their aircraft once a year and eventually the show got larger. Much larger. During the week they expect, and get, more than half a million visitors and over ten thousand aircraft. Let that sink in a little - ten thousand aircraft. For one week in July each year, Wittman Region Airport becomes the busiest airport in the world.
The arrival to the show by air is a right of passage for many pilots and will be for me when I have my license. The arrival is well planned, but complex for a new pilot. Aircraft are funneled into a start point over the town of Ripon and are met by a group of air-traffic controllers stationed well away from the airfield. Expect an instruction like "White low-wing, don't answer. Wag your wings if you can hear me". Then Ripon to Fisk following the railway tracks at 90kts and 1800ft. Everyone else is doing the same thing. A long line of planes spaced a half a mile apart, each with pilots and passengers with swiveling heads and eyes like dinner plates. As you near the airport you get a runway assignment. More wing rocking to confirm. As you turn downwind parallel to the runway you will see the large coloured dots painted on the runway surface. Just beyond the runway a simply staggering number of light aircraft are already parked. At the point that you pass one of the colours, you might get the command "White low wing, land on the Green / Blue / Yellow dot". That's your cue to immediately start down and turning ready to grease your wheels onto the colour that you've been assigned. And you will do the best landing of your life, because thousands of your peers have stopped to watch you arrive and right now, you ARE the airshow.
That's the key difference between Oshkosh and every other airshow I have ever been to. I love Farnborough and have been many times. Paris is great, in a corporate kind of way. The Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford is simply spectacular and the historic shows at Duxford and Old Warden are incredibly worthy of your time and interest. At each of these shows, however, you are a visitor. You arrive, you are presented with the show and you leave. At Oshkosh, you are woven into the fabric of the show.
Last year I flew in with a friend in his 1970 Mooney M20C. We parked in the section reserved for Vintage Aircraft Camping (immediately adjacent to the taxiway for the main runway) and we pitched our tent in the space between the wing and the tail. There were many aircraft parked in our row, one of which was one of only six of its type still flying in the world, another was a beautiful Grumman Goose. As we tied down our aircraft people came to see our airplane. They chatted about the history, the similar aircraft that they currently or previously owned and they enjoyed us being there. Even before our engine was cool, we had become a part of Oshkosh for those people. We were a part of the airshow.
As the week progressed, we toured the ever changing static aircraft, the lines and lines of private visiting aircraft, the war birds, the home builds, the general aviation manufacture's stands. We spent time in the hangars with many of those selling aviation products, rummaged through the aviation auto jumble, participated in the workshops and lectures. I talked to the FAA about runway safety (and the fact that at that point their budget had not been signed off so they were effectively working with a risk of not being paid). Then, as each day moved on, we settled down to watch the daily evening airshow before heading back for food or a movie on the giant outdoor screen in the woods. Harrison Ford was there on stage to introduce the movie I sat and watched.
I could have bought a ride in the Ford tri-motor that flew during each day, or the two Bell 47 (M*A*S*H) helicopters that flew constantly. Where else could you see a flying B-17 or a B-29, let alone book a ride in either? I was woken up each morning by the 8am takeoff of the Aeroshell T-6 Texan (Harvard) display team. It sounded like our tent was being surrounded by every bee in North America and they'd been taking buzzing lessons from Barry White. One evening I queued for a buffet ahead of First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles and Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger of Miracle on the Hudson fame, before sitting down to eat at the next table to Brigadier General Charles Elwood "Chuck" Yeager. Where else but Oshkosh?
I understand that I can't really do Airventure any justice here. I will simply end with the thought that there is a real freedom in being with friends; people that really, truly understand you and the things that you love. When that group is larger and their understanding and acceptance is the same, your sense of belonging becomes greater. When that group numbers over five hundred thousand for one week in the year, then that week becomes something you look forward to for the other fifty one.