By Warwick Patterson, EAA 1234586, Vintage 729822, Squamish, British Columbia
There are always a hundred excuses why we can’t go to Oshkosh. Work commitments, family time, burning up vacation days, the expense, the threat of weather, even an underlying fear of the Fisk arrival. “Next year I’ll have more time,” we say. But sometimes, we just need to double down and tell ourselves — and the other stakeholders in our lives — that this is the year.
I’d been to AirVenture once before, filming with Flight Chops in 2017, but I flew in commercially to Appleton and we stayed off-site. This year, I was going to embark on a “trip of firsts” and fly my 1965 Maule M4-210 from Squamish, British Columbia, to the big show. It would be my longest cross-country trip and my first time flying into the U.S. And with hindsight, I can now say the AirVenture experience is exponentially more powerful and meaningful when you fly in and camp under wing.
For the same reasons people gravitate toward religion or sports or special interest groups, humans thrive on community. Being among 650,000 like-minded enthusiasts and 10,000 visiting aircraft, it made me forget about luxury taxes, fuel prices, and increasing regulation for a moment and reminded me why we all got into this in the first place. Airplanes are awesome! It also restored my faith that general aviation is alive and well, and not going anywhere anytime soon.
On the outbound trip from British Columbia, I was joined by Marco Probst and Tim Tallevi in Marco’s newly built Murphy Radical which was going on display in the Murphy booth for the week. We crossed the border at a tiny gravel strip east of Oliver called Avey Field. The border agents walked over from the car crossing and processed our paperwork, commenting that we were probably only the second and third aircraft they’d seen this year! Our flight planning for the trip essentially consisted of drawing the direct route to OSH in ForeFlight and pulling the track to the nearest and most interesting fuel stops along the way. This took us directly over Glacier National Park to Cut Bank, Montana, and then an overnight in Dickinson, North Dakota. On departure the next morning, a P-40 fighter landed in front of us — a sure sign that the pilgrimage to OSH was under way!
With the Radical fitted with a climb prop the progress was ‘steady.’ We had planned to take three days to get to OSH, but with a 30 mph tailwind pushing us the entire way we found ourselves 50 miles out from Oshkosh on Thursday, with an hour left before the airport closed. So on we went, and as we puttered through the arrival sequence at the prescribed 90 knots there wasn’t a soul around. Reporting over Fisk, they asked, “What runway do you want?” Well, that was anticlimactic. I felt a little short-changed having not experienced the traditional chaos, but after two long days in the air I was thankful for the easy ride in. Another benefit of arriving early, my vintage Maule earned me a prime parking spot right on the flightline near show centre!
For the next three days, I sat under the wing watching the masses arrive. If you study the arrival procedures, there’s nothing too complex about getting into OSH. Like most things, it looks scarier on paper than it is in person. During busy periods, the hardest part is likely getting established in the conga line at the first waypoint. The next challenge will be the final approach. Most pilots stick to the tried and tested standard circuit procedures and fly conservative, safe approaches to long paved runways. With more than 120 landings an hour at peak times, and three runways in use, there’s no room for that at AirVenture. The final moments of the arrival call on skills more suited to backcountry operations. With the controller rapidly firing out instructions, pilots are asked to make a tight low-level continuous turn from downwind to final; make it a spot landing; oh, and it’s a 9-gusting-19 crosswind. Kudos to all the pilots, controllers, and volunteers who make it happen safely. My advice if you plan to fly in? Study the procedures, have someone with you as a second set of eyes, and go practice some tighter circuits to spot landings. Most people miss the actual dots, but you’ll get a “nice job!” from the controllers if you hit yours. And remember, you can always go around!
As Luke Penner suggested during one of my Flying BC podcasts, “AirVenture is a multi-year project.” And indeed, your first time at OSH will simply give you the lay of the land, and make you realize you need better walking shoes. The scale of the event is hard to fathom. With more than 3,000 aircraft parked in the showcase areas — mainly vintage and homebuilt aircraft — and a staggering 400 warbirds amassed at the north end, the eye candy is endless. And that doesn’t include the thousands of airplanes parked in the North and South 40.
But airplanes aside, you really go for the people. To be surrounded by a community who share and celebrate your nerdy airplane obsession. For the instant new friends from Canada and around the world who stop in the shade of your wing to say hello.
Attending AirVenture reminds you why you make the sacrifices to own or fly an airplane. And if you are lucky enough to bring your family, it sparks the imagination of the next generation. So, start planning for next year, knock off the list of excuses, and join that conga line to Fisk for the time of your aviation life. See you under the Canada flag flying above the Maule in Vintage camping!