Monday, July 13, 2009

Airventure 101 for Noobs

We lucky aviators who get to trek to KOSH for EAA's annual Airplane Orgy and Swap Meet in late July already know of the many wonders awaiting us in the Land of Cheese. We know of the acres of new, old and homebuilt aircraft, so many that your jaw hurts before noon on the first day from it being dropped so many times.

But for those going to Airventure for the very first time this summer, it is vital that we who have experienced the show help the "noobs" or "newbies" so they can hit the ground running on their first day of their time at Wittman Regional Airport, home to Airventure.

EAA describes their shindig this way (from airventure.org):
"There's really no place in the world like the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual convention, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. With so much to see and do, EAA AirVenture can be a little overwhelming, especially if you're not traveling with friends who do know the ropes. During the last week of July every year, the family of EAA members gathers and invites the world to participate. More than 500,000 people attend Airventure each year. EAA is a big aviation-minded family who make fast friends with other airplane folks. Neighborhoods that reappear every year in the campgrounds, reuniting with long-lost friends who can participate in more than 500 educational forums, seminars, and workshops. It's impossible to see everything in one day, or even a week."
In pondering this post, I began to reflect on my first venture to Airventure, and thought best to pass along a couple of observations:
One day is NOT enough: If you are planning to try and experience Airventure in one show day, don't try it. Sleep in your car if you have to (more on that below), but schedule at least two days. My first time went like this: I came through the main gate, and was drawn like moth to flame to all the big shiny objects displayed in Aeroshell Square. After being blown away with every new step, I wandered the four main exhibit halls before devouring my first brat cooked on the "world's largest grill".
After grub, I headed out towards the runway, to the airplane parking areas. I turned south and saw rows of airplanes as far as my eyes could see, not kidding about that. As I strolled, every row revealed another make/model that I had admired my entire life. In that row – or two, or six – would be every flying example of that make/model, all restored to show condition. You name the make/model, there will be numerous examples of it line up, ready for your gawking.
I spent the next three hours wandering farther south, and STILL could not see the end of the rows of airplanes. SO I caught a shuttle back to show center, found a piece of grass, and settled in to watch the afternoon air show. In that display, every name in the business brought their "A" game to Oshkosh, and after sitting there dumbfounded, I left the show on a high from the sound of many radial engines, the smell of exhaust smoke and overdosing on planespotting.
The next day, I returned to the show, and quickly hit a few vendors I wanted to shop. I again made my way to Aeroshell Square, but this time, wandered north from show center. I ended up in the warbird area, and in similar fashion to the other end of the field, here were endless rows of perfectly-restored aircraft. I am one that gets lathered up when in the general proximity of even one P-51 Mustang, and on this day, I lost track in trying to count them all. My fuzzy recollection is that I counted 51 different versions of the Mustang, do not quote that exact number, but it was several rows of planes, each many, many planes long.

Where to stay: Friend, if you haven't got a place to sleep nailed down for this year's Airventure by now, you WILL be sleeping in your car over at the Wal•Mart parking lot. I found out the hard way that in order to stay in an actual hotel room within 20 miles of the show, you need to book the room a year in advance, and even that is iffy. People have been coming to this show for so long that they traditionally re-book their rooms for the next summer as they depart this year. I have stayed as far as 35 miles away in a fleabag trucker's motel, at a nice Baymont Inn that was 44 miles from the show, and last time there, I rented a girl's bedroom in a house 10 minutes from show center. Got way lucky on that one.
This year, I began my lodging search in JANUARY and still could not find a room near the show. No private residence had an opening, so I jumped on a $50/night dorm room at the University of Wisconsin that is not air-conditioned. I hear the heat is brutal (they actually tell you to bring your own fan) but the keggers and panty raid parties are killer.

So there you have it, some sage advice from a three-timer. I will assure you of this: If you go, you WILL be hooked for life. It will be like no other event you will ever experience, it will be 100 times more than you expected.

UPDATE @1036A on 07.14.09: A few readers have correctly pointed out that I omitted any mention of camping at Airventure. Yes, it seems camping on the grounds or at adjacent Camp Scholler is "always available" and you can check out availability here.