Sunday, February 24, 2013

Of the 1,279,634 Reasons I Love EAA Airventure Oshkosh, This is my Top 10!

By Dan Pimentel
Airplanista Blog Editor

As this piece is being written, the official Hamilton Countdown to Oshkosh clock shows 154:08:15:58. To someone like me who lives to make his next trip to this part of Wisconsin in late July, that is about 154 days, eight hours, fifteen minutes and fifty-seven seconds too long of a wait. I want to be there right now.

Last year during late summer, I was celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary in Europe. The trip through Austria and Italy with my wonderful and supportive wife was one of the very few reasons when I can justify missing this massive aviation family reunion in a city that for 51 weeks per year is known for building huge fire trucks and being the birthplace of incredibly tough kid's overalls.

But man, when that 52nd week hits, sleepy little Oshkosh turns into a completely different place, one so special to the aviation community, it has been called "Hallowed Ground" on many occasions. EAA calls Airventure "the World's Largest Aviation Celebration" and for good reason...there is nothing like it on this planet. It is so much more than a collection of airplanes and airplane people that we who have been lucky enough to spend time on Wittman Regional Airport during show week sometimes have a hard time explaining "Oshkosh" to non-flying members of the public.

And just to be clear, in this article, I alternate between "Airventure" or "EAA Airventure" and "Oshkosh" and this always creates confusion. So think of it this way..."Airventure" refers to the official show, while "Oshkosh" describes the happening around the show. It is very similar to the Woodstock Music & Art Fair being commonly called "Woodstock."

So in no particular order, here are ten things about EAA Airventure Oshkosh that I am looking forward to:

The People of Oshkosh: Each year, I am amazed at how cordial everyone at the show and in town is to the massive crowds that invade their city from all over the world. Their cheese curds are your cheese curds, all you have to do is ask. One year I stayed with a Cessna pilots group up in Waupaca, and the hotel's night manager actually sent a family member all the way up to Green Bay to pick me up at the airport. The driver – while giving me a tour guide's introduction to Wisconsin – refused to take a dime for gas. He said it was the least he could do for anyone coming to "EAA" as the locals call it. These people around Oshkosh are fine examples of humble, hard-working men, women who redefine what it means to be friendly to visiting guests.

The helicopter: Days at Airventure can be non-stop, but they cannot officially start until EAA's Bell 47 helicopter starts endlessly circling overhead, taking people on aerial tours of the show grounds. All day, it circles, bringing the sound of M*A*S*H to our ears as background music while we go about the business of packing each day with too much to do. Oshkosh would not be Oshkosh without that chopper overhead. You eventually tune it out, until you glance up to see it making the 12,769th lap of the day, and you smile because inside is a 12-year-old kid and his parents, and you just KNOW the grinning is ear-to-ear.

Jerry's One Man Band: Anywhere else on this planet, Jerry's One Man Band would just be a 80's-ish guy with a van and a bunch of noisemaking devices banging on stuff to corny canned music. But found on the same corner for as long as anyone can remember, Jerry's One Man Band is an Airventure institution, and the show would not be the same without him. As you ride past the corner at Knapp and Vern streets on the tram for the 13th time in a day, you smile, not because of the music he is creating, but because you are at Oshkosh, and there would be something missing if Jerry wasn't there. While this ANN story seems to indicate that 2012 was Jerry's last year, I truly hope he is back for #OSH13.

The airshow acts: I made the mistake one year of scheduling a Forum Presentation in the afternoon. Of the 160 chairs in the tent, two were filled...one with a client of mine, and the other with someone who admitted to being lost and tired. It was because I was competing with that afternoon's flying circus, featuring the most incredible acts ever to fly aerobatics...the biggest names on the circuit bringing their "A" games to "the box" over KOSH. One time I saw Patty Wagstaff do a maneuver that to this day defies explanation using mere words. Each year, the acts get better, the planes get faster, and even in the scorching heat of a Wisconsin summer, I will cherish every second I get to spend with my toes a silly millimeter from that big orange line you absolutely cannot cross without the Flight Line girls on scooters busting your chops like you were a Minnesota Vikings fan at a Packers home game.

The food: Bratwurst. There I said it. Yes, you CAN buy Johnsonville Brats in Oregon, cook them to the exact specifications as the Johnsonville people do on their semi-truck sized "World's Largest Grill" and they will taste horrible compared to a Brat sandwich hot off that monster BBQ. Lunch is serendipitous while you sit at a picnic table chowing down on your third Brat sandwich of the week, becoming new BFFs with the family across from you. They tell you about the cool things they saw that day, and how excited they are to finally be getting some electronic gizmo for their RV-8A. And just a short drive off the show grounds, a required stop has to be at Ardy & Ed's 1950s-era Drive-in. The cute carhops on roller skates deliver you back to a simpler time when the burgers tasted better and Root Beer was made fresh right on the premises out of ingredients that sound more like food than chemicals.

The camaraderie at the EAA Media Center: All credentialed journalists gain entrance into Dick Knapinski's realm, the Media Center, with helpful people at the counter, and an adjoining alcove room with almost enough plugs for everyone to recharge their equipment. In this room, we journos lucky enough to cover Oshkosh hang out, trade war stories about chasing down interviews, and grab each other's business cards. Some of us file stories, while others are simply taking a load off their tired feet in a folding chair sipping a cup of free ice-cold Pepsi that, to me, is a Media Center tradition. It's always fun to hear about the next big thing happening that day, and satisfying to help a colleague through a computer glitch so he/she can get their photos uploaded and their deadline met.


The one BIG THING:
Each year, the people who plan Airventure come up with something that blows all minds. Last year it was the 75th anniversary of the Piper Cub, which filled acres at KOSH with a sea of vintage taildraggers, all painted Cub Yellow. And who can forget 2009, when they brought an Airbus A380 into the show! Most of us watching the arrival expected the giant A380 to use up every inch of the 8002' on runway 36, but after seriously crabbing into a monster crosswind coming 90 degrees out of the west, the three-eighty slammed HARD onto the runway and made the turnoff into Conoco-Phillips Square. As I anticipate #OSH13, I join legions of Airventure fans who wait patiently until this year's big announcement is released.


The Hangars full of exhibitors: Part of Airventure is making sure you slowly and carefully stroll all four of the giant "hangars" where the exhibitors show and sell their best new stuff. You can be sure that the big names will be releasing their hottest designs, their latest technology, and offering it all at show prices. I always pack a little mad cash in the backpack for that time when I see something I absolutely cannot live without.

Airplanes: While there is always lots going on at Oshkosh, let's face it, the stars of this show are the airplanes. There are so many, it defies description, you just have to see it in person to full grasp the magnitude of so many flying machines being in one place at one time. What is so cool is that you can just about name any make/model, and there will be numerous examples parked wingtip to wingtip. I remember my first Airventure, when I stumbled upon an area where maybe 30 Globe Swift GC-1Bs were parked. That is a rare bird, and at any other airport, if you saw one of these, it would have people standing around taking photos. But here, there were ROWS of them...it was truly spectacular. Multiply that by the number of certified and experimental airplanes in existence, and you begin to imagine the amount of hardware on display. It takes one day just to walk south of the main square and see the vintage area, the homebuilts parking and other surprises that stretch all the way past the approach end of RWY 36 to the Seaplane Base bus stop. You then need a second day to stroll north of the main square, where experimentals as far as your eyes can see will be displayed along with the most amazing collection of warbirds standing ready to fire up and destroy the Wisconsin sky. If you still have any energy left, catch the tram to the North 40, where hundreds upon hundreds of GA's finest specimens are waiting. Keep an eye out for such treats as Cory Robin's Wilgabeast, you can't miss it standing tall in a sea of V35s, Cherokees and Skylanes.
And I have saved the best for last.

"Airventure" is about airplanes, but "Oshkosh" is about seeing old friends and making new ones. Because of this fellowship, here is the biggest thing I am looking forward to this summer:
#Avgeeks by the thousands: Twitter has changed the way we do lots of things these days, including how we #Avgeeks attend the World's Largest Aviation Celebration. There is a growing group of diehard aviation people who tweet about coming to Oshkosh for months, and then once there, all stay perfectly connected in real-time through this ingenious social networking app. There are tons of parties organized by this crowd, and three shindigs I have to attend at #OSH13 will be the @AirPigz Bacon Party, the Podapolooza, and of course, the Airplanista #Oshbash. If you're planning a trip to the show this summer, and you love Twitter, start following the Tweeps on my public #Avgeek list. This is where the cool kids live, and in their midst, you will never miss what is going on before, during or after each day at Airventure.
There you have it...my "Top 10" favorite things about Airventure, Oshkosh, or whatever you call it. I write this piece every year about this time, once my airline tickets and accommodations have been secured. Now, as each day passes, I can get a tiny bit more excited, until my eagerness to head off to Wisconsin builds to a roaring crescendo at the precise time when I step onto the show grounds once again.