By Balaji Sivasubramanian, EAA 1461827
I was sitting in my tent, looking at a fiery skydiver tumbling down from the sky, flares galore, at EAA AirVenture 2022 thinking about what makes Oshkosh so special. Is it all the airplanes? The air show with the crazy stunts? The new product announcements? Is it all the aviation swag you can collect? Rocking your wings and landing on the dots? Is it all the practice flights you took before coming here? It should definitely be the bragging rights, correct? No. For me, it wasn’t about being a better pilot. It was about getting humbled and becoming a better person than I was before I went.
First time at Oshkosh. Every pilot’s dream. Be it flying the Fisk arrival and rocking your wings, touching down on the various colored dots, or watching people give a thumbs up/down or score your landings, things get interesting and exciting right from when you arrive at Oshkosh.
After a good rock and an excellent job on landing, my friends and I had just enough time to tie our aircraft down and set up our tents before a massive storm hit us full force Saturday evening. Holed up in our C-172 (the C-130’s bigger brother) with seat belts and shoulder harnesses strapped, we were ready to go in the event our tiedowns lost the showdown with the 60 mph winds. Luckily the tiedowns survived the storm and so did we. We picked up our dignity, a completely soaked tent, and the unfortunate umbrella that got its canopy ripped away within minutes of the storm, and got organized for a long night that would be followed by the most beautiful three days of our lives.
Sunday saw us over at Vintage showplane parking after an early breakfast at one of the food vendors. I have never heard so much aviation talk in my life. Everyone was talking airplanes — the 4-year-old kid in me got excited and I wanted to join every single conversation, give my opinions, disagree with a few, nod my head to others. Well, the excitement never dies, does it? Maintaining composure, we spent most of the morning at the edge of 18-36 watching people come in and land on 36L. Armed with a radio, my friends and I cheered with the tower as a skillful pilot kept flying his 182 a few feet above the ground while a P-51 Mustang landed in front of him and a T-34 behind him and had to wait till they both rolled away before touching down. We cheered while others bounced, went around, and then came back and did a successful landing. We watched as some weren’t as successful.
This is where I had an epiphany about what Oshkosh was all about. The moment that will be etched in my memory for all the years to come.
I saw this beautiful Cessna 170 taildragger, coming in from the pattern. The pilot was a little high and tried to slip down, but he got into an unstable approach that probably should have been a go-around. He tried salvaging it, bounced once, got unstable again, bounced twice and still did not go around and tried to plant the airplane on the runway. Excess energy and the added instability caused the aircraft to ground loop and hit the right wing on the grass. He shortly thereafter picked it back up and taxied away. Our hearts stopped while all this happened. But as he taxied past us, we all cheered as loudly as possible and from the bottom of our hearts. Not in mockery of what had happened, but glad that he did not get hurt and beyond a scarred wing and ego, there was no other damage and he lived to fly another day. We were all genuinely worried (initially) and then happy for him. We stayed behind to make sure the V-tail Bonanza that came in on an unstable approach and went around to try it couple more times before landing did so safely. We cheered madly for the L-39 that nearly made us deaf, we stopped by the Lockheed Electra, one of the few that was still flying, and had our eyes opened by the pilot brothers who taught us more about the airplane and flying back in those days than Wikipedia ever could.
Oshkosh wasn’t about the machines that were there. It was really about the people, the passion for aviation and the stories that people shared.
The first day there was filled with more amazing people, a warm reception by a friend and his wonderful family at the Cirrus hospitality, friends from KC Flight who flew the 50-ship RV formation flight where as an RV-4 builder and an apprentice (FNG — fun new guy?) at KC flight, I was welcomed with arms wide open. Finally, a wonderful conversation with a very kind EAA staffer who dropped me at the STOL competition on his golf cart. He told me stories of having been to 24 conventions and inspired me to write about my first-time Oshkosh experience. This conversation made me realize once more that the magic of Oshkosh was really the people and their passion, a fire that has been kept burning ever since the first human looked up at the birds in the sky and yearned to fly amongst them. As I called my wife that night from the two person Kelty tent that had held up to the massive storm, I was thinking about what I should be grateful for. My Garmin GDL 52 with SXM weather that saved our bacon and helped us miss the storm flying in? The wonderful person next to us in his Cessna 182 who helped us push our aircraft and helped setting up our tent? The medical doctor who loaned me his power bank for the night so I could call my friends when the airplane was locked, and I did not have the keys? All the wonderful volunteers who not only drove us around in the busses and trams but also shared their insight with us on what we should see/not miss that day? The kind lady with whom I had a 10-minute friendly argument as we both insisted the other one take the only vacant shower stall first? I was thankful for the one thing that bonded us all at Oshkosh — The Spirit of Aviation.
The next couple days went in a flurry of activities. Meeting the famous aviation influencers, seeing the first-ever high-wing RV (the new RV-15), watching smiley faces being drawn in the sky, taking pictures in front of the iconic Brown Arch, walking around Boeing Plaza, there was not a dull moment at Oshkosh. Right from waking up to the smell of jet fuel and Timmy’s (one of my friends was Canadian and swore by Tim Horton’s) at the EAA Canada tent to going back to bed with the view of hundreds of airplanes around you, AirVenture Oshkosh 2022 was everything I ever dreamed of. The perfect piece of aviation heaven tucked away in a sleepy Midwest town.
Balaji Sivasubramanian, EAA 1461827, is a systems engineer at Garmin. He comes from Vellore, a small town in southern India, and has his master’s in aerospace engineering from ERAU (Go Eagles). Balaji has been passionate about airplanes since he was in the fourth grade. He is a private pilot who is currently on the journey to getting his instrument ticket. An RV-4 builder, skydiver, and aviation enthusiast, Oshkosh 2022 was Balaji’s first AirVenture experience.