Sunday, August 06, 2006

Oshkosh Air Show

As promised in the last post, I will write about the Oshkosh air show that I attended last weekend. For those of you who don't know, EAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association, has been holding an annual fly-in at Whittman Field (KOSH) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for decades now. It has grown to be one of the biggest airshows in the world, and certainly the biggest focused on general aviation. Each year, some 2,500 aircraft fly to KOSH over the course of a week, and all the major industry players are there.

This was my third Oshkosh in a row, but unlike the last two, I didn't have to work the booth for my company. But an even bigger first is that it was the first time I had flown in and camped at the plane. A couple co-workers and I plus a friend rented a Piper Arrow for the weekend to make the trek. I didn't do much flying, given that I'm not instrument rated or checked out in the Arrow, but I did get a little in, and plenty of radio work. Most of the flights were uneventful, aside from the surprise snake on the plane (rubber, of course). One of our fuel stops on the way out was Clare Municipal Airport (48D) in Clare, Michigan. One of the most pleasant little airports I've even been to, with very friendly people, good gas prices, and a courtesy car. And they even serve you free milkshakes right after you land! I highly recommend stopping there if you are in the area.

After refueling, we made our way over Lake Michigan to KOSH. Once we made landfall, we started to notice other traffic headed the same way. By the time we got within 30 nm of Oshkosh, there were aircraft everywhere. The way they have it set up is that there is a holding pattern that circles one of the nearby lakes. Communication is all one way, and you acknowledge tower commands by rocking your wings. Due to the volume, they use all three runways at the same time. When we were on our base leg for 18R, there were people taking off on 27 right below us. And to make it even more exciting, they have multiple aircraft taking off and landing on the same runway. They mark colored dots on the runway as your target, so we were cleared for landing on the pink dot. Rob, our PIC at the time, made a spot-on landing, and we quickly pulled off on the grass to make room for the next arrival, and taxied to our campsite.

Once settled in, we caught up with our company, having a big steak and lobster party. From there we proceeded to The Bar (a simple name if I ever saw one) and the back to one of the company houses for more partying. Was a long night, but at least we got to crash on couches there. After recovering the next day, we began roaming the show. Saw the Eclipse tent, where they were giddy with having received their provisional Type Certificate, the first of the Very Light Jets to do so. They've still got a long way to go before they can really start shipping feature complete aircraft, but it's a nice milestone. And of course, got in the requisite amount of scouting work, checking out other companies' products, gathering info on what's been done, what new stuff people are doing, how they're doing it, etc. I like to look at the experimental market too, because they're the real innovation lab for GA. Without the certification constraints, it's pretty easy to implement new ideas on the technology that's available these days.

Other highlights of the show: saw Chuck Yeager give a talk, hung out with some A-10 pilots, got to meet Chuck's family (some of the nicest people in the world), learned from a conspiracy theory guy that if you take highly-compressed liquid mercury and spin it at high speed, it's mass drops by 90%, allowing for anti-gravity flight. (Seems like this would be easy to test, so why do these guys keep repeating this stuff, saying that it's all hidden technology? Ideas don't happen in a vacuum. A specific plane is easy to keep secret, but basic technology? No way, if it's been done, it will leak out and someone will be able to repeat it. Otherwise, it's just junk pseudo-science) Also had some amazing sushi, in Appleton, Wisconsin, of all places. And lastly, our tent nearly got flooded by a fast-moving squall line that rolled in at dawn on Sunday. If it weren't for Chuck's chamois cloths, we would have been done for. Nothing like starting your morning off by bailing out your tent with cloths as rainwater blown along by a 60 mile per hour wind pours through the zippers.

All in all, though, an amazing trip. As far as I'm concerned there's no other way to go to Oshkosh than to fly in. Now I just have to get instrument rated in time for next year....


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