My social media feed is filled with references to AirVenture this week. The annual pilgrimage to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is well underway, with untold numbers of aviation enthusiasts converging on that mythic town to celebrate the wonders of aeronautics in a thousand different ways.
Of course, not all aviation enthusiasts make that trip every year. Some never make it at all. No matter. The love of aviation and all things aeronautical still resonates in the soul of millions, whether they get to the big show or not.
I would be remiss in my duties as a decent human being if I didn’t acknowledge I’ve been to AirVenture. More than once.
I’ve been as part of a company team, and I’ve attended as an individual. I’ve stayed in a rented house with co-workers and I’ve camped on the grounds, spending the night in a lightweight, bright orange capsule made of Nylon. I’ve slept in my car on more than one occasion. I’ve been rained on, sunburnt, wind-whipped, and chilly. But I’ve never been disappointed. Not once.
AirVenture may be the most amazing gathering of human beings I’ve ever encountered. There is true joy amidst the sightseeing. Commerce takes place in the buildings and out in the field. Friendships are made, maintained, and celebrated. It’s peaceful, productive, and thoroughly invigorating.
As much as I enjoy being at home and dealing with my more or less normal routine, I miss being involved in the big show sometimes. But then, I’m not alone in my distance from Camp Scholler, the Theater in the Woods, the Red Barn, or the Brown Arch. There are massive numbers of aviation enthusiasts who are still out in the world, doing what we do, even when our professional pursuits conflict with the scheduling of the greatest aviation gathering in North America.
There are pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics working today who wish they could be in Wisconsin for a day, but they just can’t. Not this year. Maybe not ever. But their hopes and dreams extend all the way up into Cheesehead territory — and hope, as we know so well, springs eternal.
Corporate pilots go on doing their corporate pilot gig, regardless of the AirVenture schedule. Flight instructors, ground instructors, and support staff remain at home where they continue to staff the counter and the cockpit for the benefit of their students and customers, even when their imaginations take them to Oshkosh during their downtime.
The mechanics who are performing the annual inspection on my airplane this week are here in Florida, not in Wisconsin. Thank goodness for me and my needs. Yet, I think it is a safe bet at least a few of the wrench-turners in that shop wish they were up north this week. As I do, too.
The folks who flew up to Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison on commercial airliners interacted with crews who flew back out again later in the day or the following morning. Those crews may get folks to the show, but they don’t necessarily get to attend themselves.
And let’s not forget the Air Traffic Controllers who remain behind to guide and advise those of us in the air, keeping the system as safe and fluid as it can possibly be.
Aviation goes on. No matter how big the numbers that flow through the gates at AirVenture, there are an equal or greater number of aviation hobbyists and professionals still out in the field, doing what they do, making people and things move by air day in, day out, all year long.
That’s a big deal, frankly. While the crowds in Oshkosh are almost unimaginably large — large enough for the entire town to gear up for the influx and benefit from the cash left behind by hundreds of thousands of short-term visitors — they represent just a fraction of the total market.
Aviation is big business. Those who participate professionally or as hobbyists are a much larger group than the numbers logged in the FAA Airman Registry might suggest.
I’m still in Florida this week, with my toes in the sand and aviation in my heart. Pretty much like every other day.
Part of the reason I’m at home base this week is that I’ve been presenting safety meetings in conjunction with FAASTeam representatives who put the safety of flight way up high on their list of priorities. A highlight for me was a pair of topics I was able to present at FlightSafety in Vero Beach, Florida. This is the big-time for flight training, located just down the ramp from the Piper Factory, where raw materials are transformed into actual flying machines.
While more than a thousand miles from the big show, I was able to talk about the importance of decision-making, and how to operate safely in a non-towered airport environment. Eighty-four pilots shouldered into the classroom I was given. They came from Israel, and Asia, and Rhode Island. More than a few came from nearby airports, and at least a handful were local residents.
Eighty-four isn’t a huge number. By Oshkosh standards that’s a drop in the bucket. But then, I’m just one CFI among thousands. My peers are out teaching this week too. The airlines are maintaining their schedules. My corporate pilot friends are airborne this week, shuttling passengers between continents, across national boundaries, to do business where business needs to be done.
AirVenture is perhaps greatest, in my mind, not because of the numbers of people drawn to it, but rather for the even more massive numbers of people it represents, and the ever advancing technologies we put to work in order to improve the lives of those around us — every day, all over the world.
Congratulations to those who made it to the show this week. Big thanks to those who elected to stay behind and do the work they do that is so necessary.
Whether you’re here, or there, or somewhere in between, we can all celebrate aviation with equal vigor.