By ALBERT DYER
So, here it is, late July. For me, that means aviation convention and airshow. Not just any — the largest in the USA. And I wanted to attend in my LSA.
EAA AirVenture at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis. — or OSH as it is known among pilots — is an event where pilots dream of going. As I prepared to go a few years ago, I could have driven there and camped as thousands of pilots and aviation enthusiasts do. Or, I could fly into the convention as thousands and thousands and thousands of pilots do.
Checking the long range weather forecast during the convention week looked great. Of course it would be hot with the possibility of a daily mid-day thunderstorm, which is to be expected in July, but overall blue skies and light winds were being forecast. Four days of aviation intoxication was what I was after.
It had barely been a year since becoming the owner of an LSA after flying my gyroplane for three years. When this airplane was new it was advertised as a real modern traveling machine that boasted its speed as one of its many attributes. It is a 1938 Luscombe, Series 8 (like the one pictured)
It is considered one of the “classic” era types of airplanes that fit into the current LSA category. With its bulletproof Continental 65-hp engine, it can carry aloft two people, cruise at 85-95 mph with a fuel burn of around 4.5 gph.
Most Luscombes can be bought between $15,000 through $20,000, depending on condition and model. It is a very affordable airplane to fly and maintain. Some Luscombe models fall outside the LSA criteria so knowing the differences between models is important. I want to point this out because there are a lot of wonderful well built “classic” production airplanes that were produced by different aircraft manufacturers that fall into the current LSA category that are safe and a hoot to fly — and they don’t cost a $100,000 to buy.
Anyway, as camping gear came together I wondered just how much stuff would I really be able to take with me. The baggage area is the size of a small suitcase, at best. The compromises realized on camping gear took me to the idea that I would also fly the trip the way a student or private pilot would have flown in 1938. No radio to navigate from, just a map with a course line and check points drawn every 10 miles along the way. A handheld radio to communicate with as a safety issue would be my only electronic device taken.
Flying over miles and miles of farmland between 2,000 feet and 3,000 feet with the side window open and my elbow hanging out in the slipstream felt good as thoughts about pilots flying in the 1930s visited me. As I flew toward OSH, there were places where I had to fly close to airspace, which required radios for identification, as well as MOAs and airports with gliders and skydiving operations. The fun daydreaming of simple flying ended as I had to get serious about my flying around these areas.
When my course heading changed, it also meant a change from where the wind was striking the airplane… and at times not from a good direction. Looking down after one such course change I saw the cars on the roads below going faster than I was, but that didn’t matter to me. I still had enough fuel to make my planned fuel stop and I hadn’t missed a check point yet. I stayed busy; it was a fun challenge to fly this way.
AirVenture VFR Arrival Procedures begin over the town of Ripon as described in the NOTAM. Following the procedure made the arrival into OSH a non-event, well, except for all the pilots on the ground who were lined up a few hundred feet parallel to the runway watching all the landings being made. You just know you are going to be talked about and judged in those final seconds. I really hoped I hit my dot color on the runway without bouncing the airplane as I began the landing flair.
This is a really well thought-out landing procedure. After I landed (it was a very good landing without a bounce) and being flagged to my parking spot, I secured the airplane. I set up my tent behind the wing, taking time to socialize with my camping neighbors for the rest of the evening.
Before leaving for OSH I had a question that I wanted answered while at the convention. With my campsite and airplane secure, I put on a pedometer. I wanted to find out how many miles I would walk while at OSH. My plan was to walk as much as possible for two days and then use the tram/bus system the rest of my time to get to the major areas on the airport.
The north 40 area was where I was tied down, almost as far north on the airport as possible. The ultralight runway was all the way at the south end of the airport. Between those two points were 10,000 airplanes, forum buildings, vendor tents, a music stage and outdoor theater.
With a schedule of the week’s events I highlighted a pretty active day for each day that I would be there. I want to go on record right now and say I wish I had the entire week and then a few more days! There is just too much to see and do.
As an example, I wanted to learn about welding. I took in the forum on welding. Then I could go where hands-on welding was being done and I could have welded every day I was there or until I felt like I was a pro at welding tubing. The same was true for composite structures and fabric covering. There are talks and talks given by professionals in the industry hourly, every day…all worth hearing…if you have the time.
When you get to the vendor buildings/tents, your credit cards and checkbook just want to jump out of your pocket. Oh boy, are the goodies there! Then there is the tent full of used everything! Prices are good, knowledge of the item sought after is key, and there is not much left by the end of the week if you procrastinate.
By the ultralight runway there are more vendors displaying their newest products, including vendors that have on display some of the newest LSA aircraft types. Trikes, powered parachutes, single place helicopters and the latest gyroplanes coming out of Germany were all there to oooh and ahhhh over.
The only thing that tugged me away from all the eye candy was the flying taking place. While I was at the ultralight runway there were always LSA and ultralight aircraft in the air. An announcer kept you informed on what was landing, taking off or just making a low pass. It was very well organized.
Everyday there is an airshow and it is a world class airshow. To be able to walk up to these airplanes, take time to really look at them, to see how they are built and then watch them fly…all I can say is “WOW!” You can’t take too many photos or have to many memory cards…it is just overwhelming!
From the smallest of aircraft to the giants of the air, you can walk up to them, walk under them and even walk through some of them. There was even a night airshow that took place on two evenings that is simply beyond words.
Also, when was the last time you got to fly in a Bell 47 helicopter? Or, how about take a ride in a Ford Tri-Motor? Well, you can do both for a reasonable cost while at the convention.
A short bus ride will take you to the seaplane base if your curiosity floats with these types of aircraft. Another short bus ride goes to the EAA Museum and another airstrip where the Pitcairn autogyros and racing planes of the 1930s are quietly sitting in more hangers at Pioneer Airport located behind the museum.
At Pioneer Airport there are many activities for young children, including learning to fly control-line airplanes or radio controlled airplanes. How great is that for kids? As I saw all that was being offered to the kids, I just had to say again, “WOW!”
A bonus for me was at the warbird area. Not only were there a great number of fighters, bombers, trainers and liaison aircraft from the 1940s on up that I could walk up to, but there was an encampment area within this area. Tents, equipment and people in the uniforms of that period are living the week like those who fought in World War II. It really hit home just how difficult life was for all the men and women from all countries that were fighting a war. Also, this group had their own tram running. Instead of walking up and down the rows and rows of aircraft you could ride the warbird tram AND get a history lesson about all the aircraft you were seeing.
Imagine the people who came to OSH from other countries, like Germany, who, perhaps had a family member who fought in World War II against these fighters or maybe heard the rumble from the engines of the bombers overhead just before they heard the whistle of the falling bombs…here they are, face to face with these airplanes learning the history about them. This is an “E” ticket ride in my opinion… and the cost? Nothing, zero, nada. I would like to see this style tram system offered at the antique area and homebuilt area one day also.
Concerts by major bands begin the nightly activities. The bands are impressive as each night’s concert is tailored for an age group. If you don’t want to experience a live concert to keep your party going, then how about a movie under the stars? Of course the movie will be about flying, and maybe a love story is mixed in the story line somewhere. The nights’ activities end around 10 pm.
Every morning at 6 am the airport opens. An alarm clock is not needed. The sound of aircraft engines will signal in the new day’s activities. A trip to the shower facilities and onto breakfast gets you on your way to your first activity before 8 am.
As I walked up and down row after row, looking at thousands and thousands of airplanes from the earliest days of flight to the most current aircraft being built, I would occasionally overhear a conversation. I began to realize that there are a lot of people from other countries attending this convention. They are owners, builders and dreamers of these aircraft they came to see. They are here to learn how to build or to learn about some new idea someone incorporated into their airplane. Friendships that were formed years ago continue today as they camp in the same areas year after year.
Now, the answer about walking and my pedometer. Well, in the first two days the pedometer said I had walked 14 miles! I had no idea that there were that many rows of airplanes! When I took the tram system and buses to get to the areas of interest I averaged about 1.5 miles a day. The tram system works well moving people across the airport. The buses are also plentiful and do a wonderful job moving people to the outer areas of interest like the seaplane base or museum. There are even buses that go to the shopping mall just outside the airport. That is a great touch! The most I had to wait for transportation was 10 minutes. Not bad…a big thumbs up to the shuttle team, well done!
I won’t talk about the world class airshow because it is just that…world class. I’m sure there will be many pages written about the week of airshows from the many professional magazine staff writers. I will say however that there are World War II battle reenactments that are just jaw dropping. Aerobatic performers who will do things with their airplanes that will leave you asking “how do they do that?” Skydivers who display so much skill in the air as well as touching down gently on a spot barely larger than the size of a small car. And lastly, if you get there a day or two before the convention opens and stay the week you get to see 10,000 airplanes land…and what pilot doesn’t like to see airplanes land?
This year’s show kicks off Monday, July 28. Find out more here.