By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
It was a breeze to fly from the West Coast into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, with no delays or mechanical gremlins slowing my progress. United Airlines delivered me to KATW in Appleton, and after renewing my annual vows with my aviation family of #Avgeeks in Camp Bacon upon arrival, am now at day one of this incredible spectacle.
During the flight here, I was lucky enough to experience one of what we call "Only at Oshkosh" moments, those brief moments when something almost unbelievable happens that can only happen at this show. Here's how I spent my layover in Chicago waiting to board for Appleton:
I am known to chat people up, and when traveling to the show, that ramps up big time when at the gate at KORD waiting to board for ATW. That's because probably 90% of the people on the flight are going to the same place. I started chatting with a very pleasant and chill man waiting next to me, and in conversation I found out he's with Lockheed Martin, working on the NASA Orion spacecraft project. I spent the next 20 minutes discussing spacecraft, future of NASA, the commercial space industry, and the lift required to propel something into orbit (it is a lot). We always kid people and throw the term "rocket scientist" around, but it was really, really cool to share a few minutes of quality time with an ACTUAL rocket scientist. I learned more in these few minutes about our space program and the future of it than I every knew before.
Before crashing hard last night, I made the usual and mandatory stop at Ardy and Ed's drive-in for my traditional "Welcome to Oshkosh" meal. This very cool place is stuck in the 1960s, even down to the employees and their boss treating them with respect. We sat at the small four-person counter inside, where I had a perfect view of this restaurant, aka "the busiest place in Wisconsin" this time of year. As swarms of avgeeks milled about - outside in cars, on the patio, sitting on the grass, literally everywhere - owner Steve Davis stands in the middle of about 10 mostly young helpers, and he is their quarterback.
Without a single change in the tone of his voice, in a humble and typical Wisconsin drawl, Davis coordinates everything from his position between the cash register and root beer tap. Outside three small windows, young girls on roller skates are working the cars, and behind Davis in small quarters that demands everyone get along are three very busy Ice Cream tenders. They are making floats and sundaes as fast as they can, all being coordinated verbally by Davis. Through a small pass-thru, at least four cooks are grilling and frying as fast as humanly possible.
Watching this crew work was really interesting, as Davis was cool, calm and very pleasant with his workers. And in return, you have a crew of young people cranking out orders without one ounce of attitude or giving Davis any lip. See, like I said, this place really IS stuck in the 1960s.
The show grounds are very busy, and this is only noon on the first day. EAAs Communications Director Dick Knapinski told me upon arrival today that GAP (general aircraft parking) and GAC (general aircraft camping) were full. "We are parking planes anyway we can find to cram a few in," he said.
And in yummy airplane news, the one that has caught my eye so far is the Petral ES light sport amphibian. Interesting is that this Brazilian plane is a BIPLANE. Very cool design and a good example of the gobs of innovation evident each year at this show.
Each year, Oshkosh takes on a subtle vibe, a feeling that percolates to the top of everyone's mind. This year, if I had to boil this down to one word, it would be "optimism." With full aircraft parking and very nice WX to start the week, everyone is cheerful, feeling fine and everyone I have met has a positive outlook on the future of GA. Because of the recent "win" the industry received with third-class medical reform being passed through a gigantic effort from AOPA and EAA, people are encouraged that GA is strong and may get stronger soon. When that happens, everyone at this show wins.