I am an aviation fanatic. I credit my Air Force dad for instilling in me a love of all things related to flying. Growing up on Air Force bases I fell asleep to the sound of jet engines. One of the great, fun memories of my youth was mom packing up a picnic and driving to the end of the runway to watch planes take off and land.
When Greg found out he had the opportunity to spend a week at one of the biggest aviation events in the U.S. I knew I had to go with him. I just couldn’t miss out on this! I took vacation, booked my flights and tagged along to EAA Airventure 2015 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Every year the Experimental Aircraft Association puts on a weeklong show with workshops for pilots building their own airplanes, private pilots and lovers of aviation. It’s mecca for flyers. I got the weeklong pass to the show and took advantage of Greg having a parking pass (since he worked everyday) to get up close in the morning and stay the whole day.
Day One: I was in complete AWE! There were acres of planes of all sizes parked everywhere. Many of the private pilots pitch small tents next to their crafts and sleep right there on the grassy space next to the runway. The FAA brings in special air traffic controllers to keep a close eye on the busiest airspace in the nation for the week. Hundreds of planes fly in and out every day. Each afternoon there’s an airshow of acrobatics and flybys. You can wander four completely full hangars of aviation related vendors. All the big companies set up gigantic, store-sized tents to show off products. You simply cannot see it all in a day. As we wandered, Greg introduced me to a few people he ran into who he knew from previous jobs and contacts in the aviation world.
Day Two: OK, I had the lay of the land. I’d figured out the free tram that runs from one end of the event to the other. I’d sort of mapped out a strategy in my head. This day we’d walk through the small planes, just checking out the different types until Greg had to get to his booth. This day was for dreaming: What kind of plane do we want to buy? Can we afford this one? Or that one? High-wing or low? Single engine or twin? At the end of the hundreds of planes we had a better idea – and aching feet. We were starving and it was HOT! We hopped on the tram and stopped for ice-cold water and lunch. For the rest of the day I was on my own. I found a nice spot in the shade and watched the airshow that kicked off with the scream of an F-22 flying by. The jet made a couple more passes over the field and made way for some classic WWII warbirds. A biplane left looping, spiraling contrails in the sky as it flipped and rolled and soared. More little aerobatic planes zipped and whizzed through the air showing off. I can only imagine the crazy grins on the pilots’ faces when they get to play around like that in the sky!
Day Three: I took a day off to connect with a friend and her family who drove up from outside Chicago. We popped into a local brew pub for lunch before wandering the town of Appleton and checking out several of the shops. (I even went back with Greg later in the week to pick up a few things.) We made our way to a cheese shop. We stopped at a Wisconsin fast food staple, Culvers, for ice cream. It was a nice break from the airshow, but I was ready to head back the next morning.
Day Four: With Greg working all day, my goal was to check out the warbirds and marketplace. WOW! The B-29 and the B-17 are inspiring aircraft. The T-38s, the F-4 … I could go on and on.
Many of these are the planes of the air shows of my youth. My memories danced in the sky like the aerobatic shows every afternoon. I spent a little time chatting with the pilots of a Beech King Air owned and operated by NOAA. I tried my hand in a Wright Flyer simulator. I snapped a few shots during the air show in the afternoon, but the fun didn’t end there. Oshkosh at night is also an experience you can’t miss. Friday night was a celebration of Viet Nam-era veterans and Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band brought down the house. As the crowds thinned, we worked our way to the edge of the stage…what a way to see a great performance by one of our generation’s best supporters of veterans.
Day Five: Saturday is the busiest day at Airventure. Much of the early part of the week is for the enthusiasts who are building their own planes and the pilots. Saturday is more like a traditional airshow – lots of families and people just looking at everything. I wonder how many of the kids I saw walking around are bitten by the aviation bug like I was. It’s amazing to watch the runway as many of the small planes take off on Saturday to head off to wherever they call home. It’s a constant flow of planes into the sky. The grassy edges of the tarmac become less crowded. The buzz changes from an aviation focus, to a curiosity one. You can almost feel the difference in the air. By the end of the day about half the small planes are gone. But the crowds stayed for the night airshow! Watching airplanes (and even a glider) loop, roll, and chandelle with fireworks attached to their wings is nothing short of spectacular. And the fireworks that capped the show were among the best I’ve ever seen!
Day Six: We get out to the airport about nine and the fields are mostly empty. It’s the last day. We’ve been told by noon almost everyone will be gone and the crowds will dwindle drastically. It happens as we walk out through the few remaining home-built planes. A line of four planes sit idling on the edge of the runway for their turn to taxi and take off. We take off just before two for our hotel. Our feet are aching from a week of walking and my eyes have taken in as much as I could see. It was a total blast. We meet up with the group from Greg’s work for an after-party now that the show is all packed up.
Airshows aren’t for everyone. I know that, but if you like planes and airshows and the buzz of aviation aerobatics, there is no better place than Oshkosh at the end of July every year. Next stop, our local small field near home – I’m going to fulfill a lifelong dream to be a pilot!