The Big Daddy of all NOTAMs Will Make You ‘Rock Your Wings’

10:47 AM



By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
 
Ask anyone who owns an airplane, and they always have one gigantic bucket list item that some are able to check off every summer in late July. That is to fly into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the World’s Largest Aviation Celebration. If they have not done that yet with their bird, chances are they’re planning the most exhilarating of all VFR arrivals.

Each year about this time, the mammoth Oshkosh NOTAM is released, and in PDF form, it is 40 pages. Since EAA has been doing this show for a few decades now, this very specific document is highly refined, and you’d have to be a complete idiot to not follow their instructions and make a safe arrival on one of the many colored dots at KOSH.

I personally have never flown into Oshkosh, at least not as PIC. I was, however lucky enough to arrive at the 2010 show inside Duggy, the DC-3 “Smile in the Sky” as part of their crew that took the friendliest plane in the sky to the Rock Falls, IL “Last Time” DC-3/C-47 reunion. You can read the entire thread of that adventure here (and my photo gallery of the trip is here), but basically we flew the “Warbird Arrival” (Duggy started life as a C-47) to RWY 27, and that dance goes like this (this is not verbatim, so please read and follow the NOTAM): 



This arrival starts near Fond du Lac (KFLD) on the south end of Lake Winnebago and is restricted to high-performance turbojet, turboprop, and Warbird aircraft capable of cruising at 130 knots or greater. Proceed from the city of Fond du Lac direct to Warbird Island and descend to maintain 2,800’ MSL within 4 NM from FLD but stay clear of KFLD airspace. Pilots may be instructed to orbit the island making left turns until a landing sequence is issued. When cleared at Warbird Island, proceed to the assigned runway as directed by ATC, reduce speed to 150 knots or less and begin descent to 1,800’ MSL. If your landing clearance appears unsafe because of spacing, speed of preceding aircraft, or any other reason, go around! Pilots may request a 360° “overhead break” fighter pilot approach, with different instructions and altitudes published for various runways. Land on the colored dot as instructed by ATC, and have fun for a week. THIS IS IMPORTANT: When arriving over the shoreline on final to RWY 27, rock your wings vigorously for all the #Avgeeks down below enjoying their burgers, fries and Black Cows on the patio at Ardy and Ed’s Drive-in.

For everyone else arriving VFR, there is the famous Fisk VFR Arrival, which is one of aviation’s most insane but also most exciting ways to get into any airport. On the weekend before the show opens when everyone is arriving, it’s sort of like taking three Los Angeles freeways and shoehorning them all down to one lane, but telling everyone to maintain the exact same speed and spacing between cars. Of course that would never work, but in Oshkosh, the Fisk Arrival has been working fine for years because unlike rude, agitated SUV drivers, [most] pilots read and understand the published NOTAM and are able to follow instructions. That dance is as follows (again don’t take my word for it READ THE NOTAM):
This procedure is to be used by all VFR aircraft landing at KOSH from the Friday preceding the show through Sunday the last day of the show. The procedure starts at Ripon, WI (15 NM SW of Oshkosh) and pilots are told to follow a railroad track from Ripon to Fisk, WI. A temporary FAA “control tower/trailer” at Fisk controls traffic flow and assigns OSH landing runways and approach paths. Approaching Ripon, ensure lights are on within 30 miles of OSH and obtain Arrival ATIS no later than 15 miles from Ripon. Arrive at Ripon at 90 knots and 1,800’. For aircraft unable to operate comfortably at 90 knots, faster aircraft can use 135 knots and 2,300’. Proceed single file, directly over the railroad tracks from Ripon northeast to Fisk and remain at least one-half-mile in-trail behind any aircraft you are following. Do not overtake another aircraft unless authorized by ATC. If possible, lower your landing gear prior to reaching Fisk.
    
I had the golden opportunity to visit the temporary FAA approach control at Fisk a few years back, and it is pure ATC magic watching the best of NATCA’s controllers work a flood of GA traffic, coming from all directions and squeezing them into a single-file inbound Conga line. Once they get to Fisk, the fun really begins (my translation from the NOTAM):

At Fisk, controllers will call your aircraft by color and type (usually high-wing, low-wing, biplane etc), and no verbal responses are required, you are instructed to ROCK YOUR WINGS to acknowledge you have your final approach instructions. Transition instructions to the airport will either be “Follow the railroad tracks northeast” or “Reaching Fisk, turn right and follow east/west road (Fisk Ave.)”. Pilots should be prepared for a combination of maneuvers that may include a short approach with descending turns, followed by touchdown at a point specified by ATC which may be almost halfway down the runway on one of the famous colored dots.

One of the things that can trip up pilots inbound to Fisk is that if something closes the airport, they will be required to hold in one of two areas. Aircraft at or beyond Ripon must continue to Fisk and enter the Rush Lake holding pattern, while aircraft approaching Ripon should watch for traffic to follow and enter the hold at Green Lake. But if holds are required during “rush hour” things can get interesting very fast:

In a “Holding pattern saturation” situation, if the Green Lake holding pattern is reported to be nearing capacity, stay clear and proceed no further. Instead, make left turns over a point on the ground and continue to hold until ATC advises you to proceed or to transition into one of the published holding patterns.

So suddenly, the Conga line is told to all make various “left turns over a point on the ground” where they are. When I was at Fisk, there was an endless line flying towards the FAA controllers, all with their landing lights on so there were airplanes visible as far as a human eye could see. And sure enough, there was a crash on the field that closed the airport. Without missing a beat, the controllers just started peeling the Conga line off to the two holds, with maybe a half dozen pilots reporting “unable, low on fuel, need to get into Oshkosh.” The controllers did not waiver, the airport was closed, and to them, closed means closed. Those pilots who balked at going into the hold were told to exit the line immediately and vacate the area, and go to either Appleton or Fond du Lac for fuel, and then return to Fisk to try again.
    
I can just imagine the chaos that would have erupted if the holds filled up and all those inbounds had to start making left turns around a point, all at the same altitude. I can think of a million ways that could go wrong very fast.
    
So while I never got the chance to fly on 1964 Cherokee 235 into AirVenture via the Fisk VFR arrival, flying that approach as PIC is still a very high bucket list item. It WILL happen, maybe not this year or next, but it will happen.
    
And when it does, you can be sure I will give those controllers a wing rock like they have never seen.

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