Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Sloshgosh" Was Like No Other Airventure I have Attended

As I sit here Tuesday night in a rented room about 5NM north of KOSH, I am thinking about the people who somehow managed to convince both Mother Nature and EAA officials to let them pitch a tent on the airshow grounds. Why? Because a serious-looking, well-defined squall line called "severe" by Accuweather was moving towards their tent stakes at 35 mph with embedded hail and strong winds.

Yes, "Oshkosh" has experienced windy, rainy, thunderstorms before, but with the soggy ground just barely dry enough to park a Stinson, it could be very easy for a blast of Wisconsin weather to rip those tents from their anchors. And I don't even want to think what could happen if the many airplane tiedown stakes pounded into that sopping soil were to come up.

In my two days at the show, it seemed like the weirdest Airventure vibe I have seen yet. This is my fifth trip here, and all before have been pretty standard stuff. But this year, there is nothing standard or normal:
As you might have read, I arrived at the show late Sunday afternoon in probably the coolest way I could imagine, inside the happiest plane in the sky. I was met by Rod Rakics and Mike Miley, the avgeeks behind the very cool MyTransponder.com online pilot community site. As we drove off the grounds past the North 40 – on the eve of opening day – it should have been covered in GA planes and tents. But it was deserted. The lack of flying campers was a testament to the wet ground conditions, and EAA was not letting planes in. While I do not know where all these people were instead of at Oshkosh, it is a pretty safe bet that they were pissed.
Rakics and Miley were staying in Miley's very elegant Fleetwood triple-pop out motor home, which usually becomes the MyTransponder mobile command center during the show. On a normal year, you find the motorhome in Camp Scholler at the epicenter of the Airventure aviation social media community. So why were we driving OFF the grounds? Good question:
While the airplane parking lots were soggy, the motorhome camping areas were a flooded mess. Large areas remained so soggy from the torrential rains that Winnebago County has experienced, it would be "up to the axles" stoopid to try and drive a heavy rig around. So EAA thought on their feet and procured a large number of vacant paved lots around town, and sent the campers off to wait for drier conditions at the show site. So instead of parking steps from Jerry's One Man Band or the 1909 Bleriot, the @MyTransponder rig was parked two miles away...in an old Sears parking lot.
I am sure that as is the case with any Airventure, the 1,000s of EAA volunteers had their hands full coming up with workable solutions for the parking dilemmas. Rumors were everywhere that the usual "reliever airports" for the show, Fond du Lac and Appleton, were at overflow capacity. I heard stories of FBOs with people sleeping in cots, or of large owners groups pinned down en route to Airventure because they were not allowed to land. But as Monday became Tuesday, it did appear that the GA parking areas were filling up.

So with the parking issue changing minute-by-minute for the better, the show was starting to resemble a typical Oshkosh year. But unlike those before, this show felt far more connected:
With the help of a fast-growing community of aviation social media users, there was endless chatter on Twitter all day and night about where the next Tweetup, meet-up or even "meat up" was to take place. One such shindig was the @AirPigz First Annual Bacon Festival, where a bunch of us aviation Tweeps took a few minutes out of our constant tweeting to encircle a Coleman stove at 43rd and Lindbergh to watch bacon fry. It is just an Oshkosh kind of thing, a bacon fest. On any other day in any other place, I do not believe any single event could draw a reported 18 people from their busy Airventure schedules...to chat and consume bacon. Not bacon, salad, corn bread, beans and cheesecake, no, just bacon. In fairness, though, the second course was a different brand of fried, sliced slab o' hog. At a college football game's tailgate party, people drink beer and eat Tri-tip. At Oshkosh, you chug a tasty and very orange non-alcoholic beverage and eat only bacon, and somehow it feels so right.
But while we were sitting far from show center a little after 6P, the normally enthralling sounds of all sorts of flying machines circling overhead went silent. It was as if someone had turned off the soundtrack to Oshkosh. It wasn't long before someone read on Twitter what had happened:
About 6:20P, we learned that Jack Roush – who owns a very prominent NASCAR racing team – had stalled his Premier business jet, landed hard and slid into one of the GA parking lots. The expensive jet broke in half, with the wreckage ending up maybe 100 yards west of the centerline of runways 18/36, about halfway between the runway and the main frontage road that runs the length of the grounds. Roush and a female passenger were both hospitalized, and this incident could have been far worse, judging by the impact, the distance the crashed jet bounced, and the way it landed right where many 1,000s of people were sitting only minutes before during the air show. Had the Roush crash happened earlier, this could have been the most disastrous fatal accident in EAA Airventure Oshkosh history.
Just when the airport was beginning to get back to normal, EAA was ordered by the Feds to shut the movement areas down until further notice. While I was walking by the scene trying to find my ride back to my accommodations, I heard one EAA security team member's radio say that "NTSB was on their way", and that until they concluded their investigation, no flights came in or went out of Airventure. But by the following morning, the wreckage had been move to a maintenance hangar at KOSH and the airspace was re-opened.

We will not hear what caused the crash for some time, but the smart money was on rumor #1, that Roush was attempting to land on 18, made a sharp hard left from base and overshot the runway, tried to correct, and overcompensated in a slow flight condition very low to the ground. On ATC recordings on Avweb, you can hear Roush cast doubt about a Lake amphib that was flying near the approach end of 18. After I listened to the audio, it is easy to speculate that Roush might have tightened his left base-to-final turn to make room for traffic he thought might conflict with his approach.

We at the World of Flying HQ want to personally thank everyone that helps put this show on each year because it is as monster effort....your hard work is appreciated.

Yes indeed, this is sure to be the craziest Oshkosh in anyone's memory, with a mammoth storm on Tuesday night ready to slap those tent campers silly. You can always expect some level of crazy stuff at this show, and this year, the biggest aviation event in the world has not let us down.