A GA pilot on the success of Oshkosh
August has arrived, and with it, the depressing end of AirVenture 2022, aka Oshkosh. As we plod back to our normal daily routines, we nurse sunburns, mosquito bites, blisters and bittersweet memories of good times with friends we may not see again for 12 months. It’s Monday of every Monday, and without the heavenly comforts of indoor plumbing and proper beds, returning to normal life could be unbearable.
For me it was a memorable Oshkosh for many reasons. Most notably, it was the first one I flew in to both enter and exit the event solo. I cheated a little last year.
Because I had taken delivery of my aircraft just days before AirVenture 2021, I did not have enough time to complete my order. As a workaround, another Oshkosh-based 170 owner sent me his, swapped planes, then acted as PIC with me in my machine. That way I was able to camp under my own wing, and we just reversed the process at the end of the week.
This year was different. Fully checked and able to get in and out of most airports with something very vaguely resembling proficiency, I was confident that I would be able to make the trip there and back safely and without any problems. Although I only live about 80 miles away, I still had to deal with some tough weather in the form of gusty winds, and chose to set off fairly early.
After spending the first few days at a local hotel doing some remote work, I eventually returned to my fantastic parking lot/campsite in the Vintage area to set up my campsite. In years past, before I owned an airplane, I usually drove around in my car. I would park in the parking lot of a nearby mall, walk the North 40 with my gear, and camp with friends next to their plane. It was fun, but it doesn’t compare to flying your own plane for the event.
Tied up in Row 66 West, within spitting distance of the Beechcraft Staggerwings and almost within sight of Boeing Plaza, my campsite was in an enviable location. With such easy access to most attractions, my plane would serve as an AirVenture base camp as well as an outdoor lounge where friends could stop and visit. The facilities must therefore be up to the challenge.
I made sure to pack up the solar powered party lights I bought last year. Strung along the bottom of my right fender, they absorb solar energy during the day, then turn on automatically when it gets dark. When combined with my newly purchased solar-powered tiki torches with simulated LED flames, an outdoor carpet that matches the airplane, and comfy chairs, the space under my wing became just as inviting as a local canteen. , lacking only alcohol and music.
I made sure to provide drinks, though. Thanks to the EAA Vintage Group, a UTV regularly drives around selling bags of ice. I brought a high quality cooler, kept it filled with water and tea, and kept it ice cold so cold drinks were always available. Having frequented friends’ campsites for so many years, I made sure to invite them all to stop and help themselves to the shade and drink, even though I wasn’t there.
The first days were relatively calm. Typically, I would wake up, brew coffee in my Aeropress, and relax in the shade watching the first comers arrive and buckle up. When friends showed up, they would stop, grab a drink, and drop into a chair to catch up. There, we chat and share some laughs. It was my own Oshkosh porch, and it was a good time.
Any given AirVenture is guaranteed to be hit by severe weather at some point, and this year was no exception. A storm system rolled into Wisconsin the Saturday before the show officially began. This system had produced winds of over 80 mph on the west side of the state, so it caught my attention.
Like last year, I taped pool noodles to the upper surface of my wing. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s a technique used by STOL demo pilots and not uncommon in the Alaskan bush, so I’m a believer. Unlike tricycle undercarriage aircraft which sit on the ground with a level deck angle, tail sleds sit with a positive deck angle and corresponding positive angle of attack. This means that aerodynamically they are still trying to fly and are therefore more likely to pull ground anchors out of the ground. Pool noodles act as spoilers, disrupting airflow over the wing and killing lift.
As the storm passed, strong winds battered the terrain. An antique tail sled exploded on its nose, at least one tree trunk snapped in two, and some control surfaces were damaged on various aircraft. I later learned that the maximum wind gust reached 58 mph. We were lucky that the damage was so minimal.
In addition to serving as a base camp and meeting place for friends in Oshkosh, your aircraft also serves as a subject of study and conversation for other owners of the type. Quite regularly, 170 other owners inquired about the various modifications I had installed and discussed the property in general. These conversations proved invaluable, as tips, advice and recommendations could be gleaned from owners with much more experience than me.
As is always the case, time flew in full speed and before we knew it, the end of the week had arrived. The friends began filtering to begin their journey home, usually to faraway places in many states. Being only 80 miles from home I had more flexibility and could afford to stay a bit later.
The winds were once again my main concern, but the forecast took pity on me with light and manageable conditions. Friday morning, I packed my bags and got ready to face the chaos of departure. With the EFB set up, the frequencies jotted down on my notepad, and the caffeine running through my veins, I was prepared for the worst.
As I exited, the outgoing traffic lane was a ghost town. Somehow I was one of the only planes taxiing to runway 36L at 10:30 a.m. Friday. I reached the end without having to wait for a single plane, performed a quick run-up, and was cleared for takeoff without delay.
Departure 36L calls for an immediate southeasterly right turn and an altitude restriction of 1,300 feet, which at Oshkosh is about 500 feet agl. On the way up, I finally spotted some traffic and watched an RV and plane hard at work below. With no traffic conflicts, I got out and headed south.
A confused windsock welcomed me home. A wind of maybe 8 knots passed through my home airport, getting distracted and changing direction every few seconds like a pilot walking through the warbird zone at AirVenture. I couldn’t see the actual windsock pivots from the model’s elevation, but I suspected they must have been orange from the constant movement.
As is becoming my tradition, my landing was entirely safe and entirely ugly. As I rounded, a slight tailwind in corner decided I was going to land about 300 feet further down the runway than I had planned. With plenty of distance remaining, I simply maintained a consistent bridge angle, stayed coordinated, and eventually dropped into a three-point attitude.
Arriving home safely, I could confidently say that Oshkosh had been a success. For the first time, I had flown to and from the event. I had successfully withstood the storm that swept over me. And best of all, I spent time with friends old and new, visiting and sharing laughs under my wing as the sound of Ford Trimotors, Bell 47s and 10,000 other planes floated through the park.
It’s been a good year, and I’m already looking forward to 2023.