Winning Essays from Airplanista’s “For the Love of OSH” Essay Competition (First Place Winner)

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This post continues a seven-part series featuring the essays submitted by the seven finalists from our just-concluded Essay Competition at #Oshbash 2019. I will continue to post additional essays in the coming days - dan

Aircraft Spruce and Specialty First Place Prize: Robbie Culver

Skydreams, that’s what I remember most...

Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, trips to Oshkosh were an occasional treat for a young boy crazy about airplanes. It wasn’t AirVenture then, just an adventure involving airplanes. Whether I drove up with my Dad or, later, flew up with my brother in his Piper Tri-Pacer, OSH was the destination of my dreams. I can still see the view from the back seat as we turned over the quarry...traffic like angry bees in the sky.

An endless sea of aircraft, shimmering in the summer heat in row upon row, every type imaginable. It wasn’t then what it has become now. It was Oshkosh. That’s all you had to say to see it. But as the years have passed, and Oshkosh has grown into AirVenture, so has the young boy with dreams grown into an older pilot. A pilot with so many memories of Oshkosh.

Summer skydreams were never lost to slumber. There were Snowbirds and Eagles, Sean Tucker and a French Connection, Fifi and Aluminum Overcast; roaring and snarling their way across the flight line, smoke and flames dancing in the sunshine, wings flashing. Later, a Concorde and an SR-71, nose to nose, close enough to see, and smell, and dream about...then ripping off Runway 36 until they faded from view, only to come back again. Come back each night. I can still hear them.

The flight line fence.

I remember that fence. And the round cardboard pass I treasured, the one that let me through that fence. Taking photos with my Dad’s Rangefinder 35mm still camera, dreaming that I’d capture the moment, envious of the photographers out in “the ditch.” Many years later, I got my chance in the ditch. More dreams come true. And yes, yes I did capture the moment. It’s in my heart.

It was at Oshkosh that I first learned people actually built their own airplanes, and some flew these beautiful creations to the show. That thought sank deep into my soul, manifesting itself many years later in the Sonex kit I built and flew to Oshkosh in 2015. Even landed on that dot on 18 Right! Can’t remember the color, but I swear the mains touched down right on it!

Oshkosh, to me, is what triggered so many parts of my life. My intense interest in aircraft led to a love of jumping out of them. Skydiving led me to meet my wife, and we were married at a grass strip. Oshkosh is where we went for a memorable day in 1998 when we were dating, just a couple of years after we met, walking slowly through the rows, soaked in memories. She grew up going there also. So many dreams.

Oshkosh means seeing old friends and making new ones, the sound of radial engines and the smell of jet fuel. Ok, some 100LL too, please. Thank you. Wandering through vintage, and trekking up north to the warbirds, and then further still into the North 40. Walking past where Jerry’s One Man Band used to play, year after year after year. Thanks Jerry! We miss you!

You knew you were at Oshkosh when you woke up to yodeling. My wife and I knew we were at Oshkosh that morning in the North 40 when we awoke in our tent, next to the Cherokee we flew up, waking to the sound of P-51’s departing on 27. Then we laughed, looking at our young son, sound asleep and dreaming, oblivious to the sweet sound of Merlins. We weren’t. We still talk about that moment at Oshkosh. That’s full circle, right there.

I’ve written about Oshkosh, about the soul of Oshkosh. It’s all around us, every day we are there and far beyond. The heart, the soul, the dreams...are the people. I can’t tell you how many memories, how many new friends I’ve made here. Too many to count.

And now, my favorite thing to do is...nothing. To sit, to listen, to soak it all in. Later, in January, it keeps me sane.

There are memorial bricks.

My brother, the one with the Tri-Pacer. My good friend Dane, who built a beautiful RV. Others, in memory of friends old and new. One day there will be a brick for me.

But not so soon. There are many dreams yet to come true, and many rows upon rows of aircraft to wander through.

That’s what Oshkosh has always been. It’s been about those skydreams.

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