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

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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

Sporty’s Second Place Prize: Michelle O'Hare

EAA Airventure means family to me and for one week in July I make the global commute to Oshkosh for the world’s biggest family reunion. It may seem unusual to use the term ‘family’. Particularly given that each year I travel alone whilst my parents wait back at home in Australia, ready to clear their inboxes of the thousands of unrequested photos I will be sending their way. However, this family is different. They are connected by a shared passion for aviation. A lot of people ‘like’ aviation because it can send them to an exotic beach holiday or return them home quickly after a business trip. But this is different, and you can sense the passion as soon as you get to the gate of that final flight to Appleton Wisconsin. I am no longer getting bumped and pushed around by crowds of commuters busily scrolling through their phones in an attempt to avoid any risk of eye contact. Instead I am surrounded by extended family from across the globe each wanting to catch up and share stories of their aviation adventures.
This family is big and often parking space can get a little tight as everyone lines up wingtip to wingtip creating a mosaic of the most diverse mix of aircraft I have ever seen. Some branches of the family like to stick together to show their unique collections of warbirds, ultralights, aerobatic and vintage aircraft, whilst others are just happy to get a spot where they can camp under their wing and get to know a new member of the aviation family. The family grows every year as new partners and kids join the reunion. Others, like myself, come alone and are surprised by how welcoming and supporting this family is.

I still remember my first trip to Oshkosh in 2017. I didn’t know anyone else that was attending, yet somehow I spent the entire week engaged in conversation. It was somewhat unexpected when an aviation family member, who looked no older than me, said ‘oh I wish I could go back and be your age’. In this family age is measured by the number of times you have been to Oshkosh and there was no denying that I was still quite young and naïve as I raced around the grounds each day in an attempt to see everything, yet becoming frozen with a wide eyed stare as each new aircraft flew overhead.  The older generations of the family are more relaxed and are happy to spend their time volunteering to pass on their passion, skills and experience to the younger generations.

One of my favourite activities at Oshkosh is the homebuilder workshops. I hang on every word as the older generations teach me the family traditions of riveting and welding. To an outsider these pieces of metal may just look like scraps. But I carry them with care, knowing that one day if I am ever lucky enough to build my own aircraft that these pieces will hold the sentimental value of my beginnings. Technically speaking in 2018 I did build my first aircraft, the ‘One Week Wonder’. However, to be honest my one rivet was only a small part of a major family effort.
Along the runway the family gathers to watch the airshow, many now in variations of matching Oshkosh t-shirts. Oshkosh feels like a second home and so everyone is welcome to spread out and relax in the shade created by the wings of the parked aircraft. This place is respected and you won’t see a single piece of littered trash on the grounds.
Some members have brought along aircraft I didn’t even know existed whilst others work together to recreate amazing displays of past aviation endeavours as they remember those family members who are no longer with us. The skills of these pilots are world class and it is these images of powerful aircraft rolling and looping across the sky that are front of mind when I return back home to Australia and sign up for aerobatics training.

When I had planned my first trip to Oshkosh in 2017 I had decided that I would spend the entire week there so that I could see everything in one go. Yet, those who have travelled to Oshkosh know that this is not possible. It was Monday morning, and after the mass departures of most of the aircraft Oshkosh was starting to feel more like a quiet small Midwestern town. As I stood on the kerb, suitcase in hand, waiting for my ride back to Appleton Airport , a volunteer walked past and said just a few simple words, “See you next year!” I had never met this person before, and in any other situation it may have felt unusual for a complete stranger to make such a comment. However, it was in this moment that it was set in my mind that EAA Airventure Oshkosh means family to me. In this big family we may not know everyone by name and many of those we do know may live far away.

But the passion will keep us connected, until we meet again next year.

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