Some people say you’re a real pilot the day you solo. Some insist you have to have that airman’s certificate in your pocket. But those who have flown into Oshkosh, Wisconsin, during the famous AirVenture Fly-In say there’s no more triumphant sense of arrival as a pilot than landing three-to-a-runway at OSH on opening day.
The icing on that cake is being complimented by your final controller with a “Good job!” as you land right on the big orange dot half way down the runway.
SUN ‘n FUN is almost as great, especially as a kickoff to a season of flying, and so are any number of smaller events across the country.
There’s nothing to it, really. Honest.
OK. There’s a good bit to it, but it’s nothing a reasonably competent VFR pilot should have trouble with.
Here some suggestions:
RTFN. That is, READ THE FOOL NOTAM. Read the airshow advisory information. In detail. There will be printed ones for the big shows available at many FBOs along the way, and they’ll be available online.
Yes, for the major events, the airshow advisory is many pages long, covering every conceivable option, but if you highlight the parts that apply to you, frequencies and reporting points, you will find that it’s excellent, even reassuring. Print it out, have it with you on a clipboard, color photos and all.
Listen to the airport information a long way out, at least 20 miles. It’s full of helpful little hints, of course, like altimeter settings, winds and weather, and also whether or not the campground you were aiming for is full. You’ll then be all set up and ready when it’s time to begin the approach.
Be prepared to change your plan, runway, even your destination airport, if necessary. Always, always have an out, a Plan B. Sometimes the show’s aircraft parking is saturated, perhaps the main airport’s runway is temporarily closed, or being drenched by a thunderstorm, and you have to divert. Not to worry. That hefty fly-in advisory very likely covers that.
The nearest reliever airports, especially for SUN ‘n FUN and AirVenture, will have ATC help, camping, bus service to the main airshow, the seaplane base, etc. They may even provide a fine Plan A if you’re reluctant to mix it up with the hoard headed for the main field.
Invite another person along. Not only is it fun to share the whole experience, but a second pair of eyes and ears is ever so useful as you get close to your destination.
Make sure your copilot/companion is familiar with the NOTAM and the radio frequencies and the check points. This person doesn’t need to be a pilot, but do go over the procedures with your right-seater and point out how to look for traffic, how to identify landmarks, how to listen for radio calls directed at you, and how to find the information for your Plan B. This is a very good time for that person to be awake and looking out the window. Just don’t let an over-eager co-pilot override your best judgment.
Explain to your passengers that you’ll have to stop the extraneous chatter quite some way out. You do have to pay attention. This is not the time to miss a call. Hearing what the controllers are telling the pilots ahead of you helps prepare you for what you’re likely to be told.
Be comfortable with slow flight if you’re flying a high performance airplane, and please be comfortable with keeping your speed up if you’re flying a really pokey bird.
I found myself behind a Champ in a holding pattern around the lake, going into Oshkosh one year, and even with the Mooney’s gear down, 10° of flaps, doing gentle S-turns with the stall warning blaring, the little guy ahead of me was so slow that I feared running over him. It would have been nice if he had nudged the throttle in just a bit. The advisory asks 100 mph for the slow lane, NOT 57 mph!
Controllers at Oshkosh and Lakeland will expect you to keep quiet and wait to be identified by type and color. If you show up over the arrival checkpoint, somebody on the ground with binoculars will call you. “Green and white Cherokee over RIPON, rock your wings.” That’s you. You enthusiastically rock your wings. Congratulations. You’ve established radio contact. You’re now officially in the queue. Follow the instructions and keep track of the airplane the controller pointed out in front of you.
The smaller airshows are busy, too, but you may be expected to call over the first checkpoint. Be brief: “Skyhawk 48-Bravo over the water tower.” Trust me, if they want to know more, they’ll ask.
Know before you go: Decide what you’re going to want in the way of parking. If you’re camping, or if you’re looking for a tie-down only, there will be instructions in the NOTAM about having a placard for your windshield so that ground personnel will know how to direct you after you land. Have that sign easily accessible. On roll-out is no time to be looking through your flight bag for the parking sign the flagman wants to see NOW.
You’ll need tie-down ropes and sturdy anchors, both for your airplane and your tent, and will probably want a sun shield for your windscreen. Be sure and zip up your tent and rig the rain fly when you leave it for a day at the show. Showers happen even when the forecast is for blue skies all day. So do raging thunderstorms. (Don’t ask. It’s a soggy story.)
Filing IFR? Weather’s a bit marginal? There’s a whole section of good advice in the advisory circular for you, including suggestions that you not try to inveigle a pop-up clearance from Major City Approach if you’re headed for one of the big fly-ins. Those controllers have their hands full. Get your clearance on the ground before you leave home or before departing your last fuel stop
Relax, fly the airplane, keep your eyes peeled, fly the airplane, comply promptly with ATC requests, and fly the airplane. That’s all there is to it!
You’re about to have the time of your life. You’re going to make new friends, learn plenty, see one-of-a-kind airplanes, pore over the latest and greatest gotta-have gear, watch the world’s best aviators do impossible maneuvers and, in general, have a wonderful experience!
Just keep it safe.