Oshkosh changes bring a bit of sadness

One of the highlights of my summers is a trip to Oshkosh, Wis., for the annual AirVenture show. The best parts of the show are seeing what is new and catching up with old friends.

Since I have been going to this show for about 30 years, I have noted a lot of changes. I assume that the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has a master plan for all of the moves, but it still makes it hard to find specific exhibits. Sometimes I wonder if they do not take last year’s show map, run it through a paper shredder, then put it in a food processor for 8.27 seconds, and then throw it into the back of an oscillating fan blowing into a small room. When the dust settles, they go in and look at the floor and say “that is next year’s layout.”

I cannot tell you how many people were asking directions to such and such booth. It also helps that there are very few booth numbers for people to look for. This can be a real challenge, especially for newcomers.

Many of the changes are the result of the show going from a group of flying enthusiasts doing a fly-in to a corporate-sponsored event. Many of the changes, like the exhibit halls, are great improvements — and I could mention many more.

But there are some downsides to the changes. For example, in the past, the traffic directors were usually volunteers who were friendly and helpful. Now it appears to be a bunch of high school or college-aged youths who do not quite understand the show. For example, one tried to direct me into a lane that was clearly marked one way — the other way — and there was oncoming traffic. Then he got very upset when I declined his offer.

Another concern was the flightline. I remember the thousands of people who sat on the flightline in chairs and on blankets to watch the airshow. Now part of the flightline is filled with corporate chalets, which limit the amount of space for the common person to view the airshow.

Another thing is the location of the homebuilt exhibits. The homebuilt/kit built market is one of the things that built the EAA (I believe that EAA does stand for Experimental Aircraft Association). Now they are out in the back of the site. Now I assume they like to be out there because they are close to the runway and can give demo rides. But why can’t the EAA at least pave the road in front of these exhibits? I stopped by there after a big rain and needed waders just to get to them. They should at least have decent access to these exhibits.

While I am on the subject of roads, I could not believe the changes at 9th Street and Highway 41 just off the show grounds. Before it was a slightly congested intersection during the show. Now it is a series of four traffic circles that some of the locals have mastered, but confused many visitors. I think that from the air, traffic circles look like big wheels that spin off wrecked cars. With the traffic circles and the new traffic directors maybe Oshkosh will also become known as the body shop capital of the world.

So, is AirVenture still a great air show? Of course it is still the greatest general aviation show in the world. But there is a little sadness when a show changes from a group of “fire in the belly” aviation lovers who get together to further aviation, to a corporate-sponsored, money-making show.


Ben Visser is an aviation fuels and lubricants expert who spent 33 years with Shell Oil. He has been a private pilot since 1985. You can contact him at Visser@GeneralAviationNews.com.

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