AirVenture 2000

AirVenture, 2000
By Jack Welsch


Click on ThumbnailIntroduction

When most non-pilots hear the word "Oshkosh" they probably think of kids' clothes. To pilots, however, the word has an entirely different meaning. Every July, the small town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin is invaded by over a quarter of a million people, most of them pilots. The attraction is the Experimental Aircraft Association's "AirVenture" fly-in and air show. During the days of the one-week-long show, sleepy little Wittman Regional Airport becomes, literally, the busiest airport in the world, handling more traffic than Chicago's O'Hare! There are lots of statistics and photos in every aviation magazine but nothing can prepare you for the size and sheer excitement of Oshkosh.

Sunday, July 23, 2000 - The trip out

I'd been asked by my friends Ed and Ron to join them for their annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh. For many years, they flew out in their Cherokee. Last year, they discovered the joys of taking Ed's motor home and that was the plan for this year as well. The down side, of course, is that slugging it out across several states is not nearly as much fun as flying. The up side is that living in a camper is a lot more civilized than camping under a wing! We had planned to meet at Ron's house at 7:00 AM. I got there around 6:50 and there sat Ron in a lawn chair on the sidewalk, surrounded by his gear. He looked distinctly like a kid ready to go to summer camp! Ed arrived at 7:05 and we loaded all the gear on the vehicle and attached the bikes to the back.

Ed said they had a tradition and promptly took out a bottle of vodka and two glasses! I've known these guys for quite some time so I was shocked to think they'd be drinking at 7:00 AM, especially before starting a long drive. They asked me if I'd like to participate and I politely declined. They filled the two glasses and toasted Oshkosh. When they poured two more, I was really starting to question what was going on here. It was only when Ed said, "Let's do it this way..." and started drinking directly from the bottle that I realized these cruel bastards had duped me. Ed, being an underhanded and sneaky bastard, had filled an empty bottle with water and choreographed the whole thing as my initiation. We're all still laughing about it, as are everyone in our pilot's club!

Off we go...This was also the day when some of our friends were taking three planes for a one-month flight to Alaska so we stopped by WBW to see them off. All three planes were loaded to the gunwales for the long trip. Deciding against delaying until they were airborne, we departed for OSH at 8:15. We alternated driving tasks as we proceeded across PA, OH, and IN. By the time we neared the IL border, we realized we'd be very late for our scheduled overnight stop north of Chicago so we agreed to simply drive straight through. When we finally got to OSH at 2:30 AM local (3:30 eastern), we expected the gate to be closed. We'd figured we'd just park at the gate and sleep until morning. Much to our surprise, the gate was open and we found a site, set up in Camp Scholler, and went to bed.

Monday, July 24 - Setting up camp

Settled inWe woke at 7:00 local (sic!), ate a quick breakfast and rode the bikes to Wal-Mart for supplies. On the way, we stopped by the gate to buy our tickets for the show and to pay for our campsite. One major need was yellow construction ribbon with which to mark the borders of our site. Wal-Mart didn't sell it but a kid working there, Jason, found some in their maintenance department and got permission to sell it to us for $2.50! Back at camp, we deposited our purchases, set up camp properly and went back out on the bikes to Friar Tuck's for lunch. As expected, the brats were great and we discovered that "Howly" weissbier is a good choice.

After lunch, we went through a gate near Friar Tuck's and onto the airport grounds, rode east along the north side of 09/27 to near Bassler Aviation, then back around the threshold of 09 and down the south side of 09/27 where we stopped to find and visit with some of Ed & Ron's friends. We sat on the flight line for a while and watched landings. I counted as many as 12 planes at a time on final for 09.

Rode back once again to camp for a shower and cocktails. We talked to a number of out neighbors and generally settled in. We then rode back to the north side of the airport for dinner at the Char Pit. We had brats, beer and the absolutely hottest horseradish on earth. I love horseradish and the hotter the better but this stuff was pure fire! Rather than go all around the airport, we decided to cut through the grounds. Got in OK but the gate near Camp Scholler was locked so we had to ride all over the place while trying to find a way out! Eventually got to camp, had more cocktails and went to bed.

Tuesday, July 25 - Lots of landings!

During the night, a group of "Beverly Hillbillies" set up camp near us. I didn't hear them come in but the guys said they made a lot of noise. Based on their camp and their behavior, these were definitely not "pilot types"; they were crude and ignorant. They had a construction generator that ran constantly and made a lot of noise. This was not a happy situation.

Wow!This was the day before the official show opening. For show days, you must have a wrist band for admission. However, there's one band that works for Tuesday and Wednesday. We had breakfast, took the bikes down and looked at antiques and classics, then set up on the flight line to watch airplanes land. While sitting along 18/36 we saw and heard an interesting event. There are two taxiways parallel to 18/36. They turn the eastern one into a parallel runway, 18L and 36R. As we sat along the western taxiway, a plane descended to land on it. A lineman with batons waved him off so he went up a tad, then landed long on the same taxiway! The controllers at OSH are great. Very calmly, the woman controlling said. "All pilots are reminded that the runway is the big piece of concrete!" These controllers are unbelievable. They're controlling more traffic than at O'Hare, yet they are both calm and polite. Typically, they say something like, "Nice landing, welcome to Oshkosh" as each airplane rolls out. There are two towers, one for 18/36 (Left and Right) and one for 09/27. Runway 09/27 crosses 18/36 at the threshold for 18 and they use all three at the same time. To make it more fun, they land two planes at a time on each runway, one short and one long. That means 6 airplanes are landing at a time, controlled by two controllers! All this and the controllers have time to be polite! After a while, we moved to the south side of 09/27 to watch warbirds land on 27. AT-6'sAt one point, a flight of 41 AT-6's came in. They landed on 36, however, but they parked near where we were sitting. Seemed like they were taxiing by forever. As a pilot, you're given a flight line pass and can walk all over the field except on the runways and taxiways themselves. There were lots of planes taxiing all around us. At one point, we had an AT-6 in front of us, a B-25 to our left and a Super Connie low overhead! This is definitely overload! Quite literally, my neck was getting sore from pivoting all over the place!

MustangWe walked around the warbirds for a while then took the bus to the gate near Friar Tuck's and had lunch there. B-25That's where we saw the news of the Concorde disaster in Paris. What a tragedy! Took the bus back and looked at more planes as we made our way to the bikes and the motor home. When we got there, the hillbillies were out front drinking and generally being annoying. Their generator was still running and making a racket. At about the same instant, we realized that all three of us were thinking we should move. We took the bikes to find a better site, then I stood to reserve the site while Ed and Ron went back for the motor home. We got settled into the new site, cleaned up, then rode to the museum, then had a Chinese buffet dinner. I normally don't like buffet Chinese but this was great. Rode back for some more cocktails, then bed.

Wednesday, July 26 - The show begins

ClassicsThis was actually the first day of the show. We visited the antiques and classics again, then the ultralights. The ultralights have their own runway on the southwest corner of the grounds. They have essentially their own show over there and appear to have a lot of fun. Walked back through the classics, then on northward to the experimentals and the warbirds. Stopped by a Breezy parked along 18/36 to see about a ride but there was no pilot around and a lot of people waiting so I blew it off. Next we visited the four huge exhibit buildings and I tried out and bought my new Lightspeed ANR headset. After our cocktails, we took the motor home to dump waste and get water, then drove it over to Wal-Mart to get supplies. Left it in Wal-Mart's lot and walked to Friar Tuck's for dinner. We had to sit in the parking lot for quite a while until the traffic cleared out. The bikes are definitely a better means of transportation here.

Thursday, July 27 - Show day #2

Fly MarketAfterbreakfast, went down to see about the Breezy but there was still no pilot so that was a no-go again. Patty WagstaffThat certainly would have been a good way of getting aerial photos.Took a look at the other exhibit buildings like NASA, FAA, etc., then visited the "Fly Market". The fly market is a kick; some good stuff and tons of junk. There were people selling airplane parts that I'm not at all sure I'd trust my life to. While there, I got a cell call from Bob, a friend and customer from Chicago, so I arranged to meet him on the north side of the tower. Sat in the grass talking to Bob for a 1/2 hour or so, then met back up with Ron and Ed at the fly market. We were there when the air show started so we walked to the flight line to watch it. We saw Patty Wagstaff, Gene Soucy, Matt Chapman and a guy named Nicholai (I didn't catch his last name and it wasn't on the printed program) who was filling the spot scheduled for the French Connection. AirshowLike the French Connection, he put on a magnificent show accompanied by music. It was essentially an aerial ballet. There was also a jet-powered Waco and an aerobatics competition. I was amazed that, even coming late, I was able to sit right on the ribbon. This is an up-front experience! The show was cut short by an impending squall and Ed and Ron left for camp but I stayed to the bitter end and got soaked before I got to the bike. The parka I had in my pack was great but did nothing for my legs and feet.

Got cleaned up and had cocktails, then took the Bikes to La Sure for dinner. After dinner, we went back onto the airport grounds and rode all the way to Bassler looking for a friend's Twin Beech. Decided to go back via the road and I fell and almost went down a large embankment. Not a good scene. Sat up for a while, then went to bed.

Friday, July 28 - Over already??

Junkers JU-52I wanted toget some early AM photos of warbirds so we set the alarms for 5:00 but all of us were up at 4:45. For the first time, I showered in the shower house. That was not a great experience; the motor home is definitely better. MustangsGot down to the airport by about 6:00 and got some great photos.Had a second breakfast down there and bought some shirts, visited the fly market and tried to see Chuck Yeager but couldn't even get near the building. By mid-morning, we had struck camp and left. The drive back was simply long. Hit Chicago at rush hour which is not a good way to make time. Switching off, we drove straight through, arriving at Ron's at about 8:00 AM. What a trip!!


And people think this is easy!