Oshkosh. Have you ever met an aviation enthusiast who didn’t know exactly what that word meant? The annual EAA gathering in Wisconsin, officially called AirVenture, is a common thread in an aviation community that is remarkable for its diversity. Some pilots like homebuilts and some like certified airplanes; some like glass cockpits and some hate them. But everyone likes Oshkosh.
Is it an airshow? A fly-in? A family reunion? It’s all of that and more. To me, it’s the closest you get to summer camp for adults. It’s a place to get away from everyday life and reconnect with unique people and planes. And it’s a place where everyone looks up when an airplane flies overhead.
There are probably 100 reasons to like Oshkosh, and everyone will have their own list. To get the conversation started, let me offer eight things that keep me coming back year after year:
- Landing on the green dot. Going to Oshkosh is one thing, but flying into Wittman Regional Airport is truly arriving in style. If you’ve never flown to Ripon, followed the railroad tracks, rocked your wings and landed on one of the dots on the runway, you’re missing one of the definitive experiences in general aviation. You have to be there to appreciate it. (Here’s my arrival video from last year).
- The North 40. After landing on the green dot, turn left or right into the grass and show your GAC sign to the marshallers. You’ll soon be among thousands of other airplanes in a small city that is rich with interesting pilots and stories. Want to spend a fun afternoon? Just walk up to any tent and say “nice airplane;” you’ll learn the history of the airplane and have a new friend for the week. This is also a great place to bring a non-pilot. Nowhere else in the world will you see such a wide variety of airplanes next to one another.
- Friendly people. It may sound cliched, but the people in Wisconsin really are nicer. From the young people serving food to the EAA staff to the thousands of volunteers, the entire show feels like one big family. Want proof? Try walking from the North 40 to the main show area and not getting offered a ride by someone on a golf cart–it’s hard to do. I’ve got nothing against New Yorkers, but if AirVenture was held on Long Island, it just wouldn’t feel the same.
- Walking the vintage line. From open cockpit Wacos to sleek Cessna 195s, this area is like a living history museum. Stick your head in the cockpit of one of these marvelous airplanes and you’ll be transported back to a time when a DG was high tech and gas was cheap. But these aren’t just pictures in a museum–every one of the planes flew in. It’s one of the great strengths of general aviation that so many pilots restore and maintain these aircraft, and Oshkosh is the place to take it all in.
- Up close and personal with legendary airplanes. Of the thousands of airplanes on display at AirVenture, from an old Cub to the new Boeing 787, almost none are roped off. This hands-on time with famous airplanes is just another way in which Oshkosh is friendly and welcoming. It’s also powerful. You can read about a Lockheed Constellation, but seeing it, touching it and smelling it gives you a whole new appreciation for the machine and the people who built it.
- Aviation icons. It’s not just legendary airplanes you see–it’s legendary people too. Where else can you walk right up to Bob Hoover, Burt Rutan or an astronaut and ask a question as if you’ve known each other forever? Every year AirVenture brings out plenty of stars, but what I appreciate most is there are no entourages and no red carpets. Most of these celebrities are at Oshkosh simply because they love flying.
- Everyone is an equal. Variety is really what makes Oshkosh tick–it attracts pilots from all walks of life and from all over the world. But whether you’re a CEO flying a $10 million jet or a college kid building a Pietenpol, you can have a great conversation with anyone at the show simply by asking, “what are you flying?” The passion for aviation breaks down a lot of invisible walls that get erected in everyday life.
- Your own traditions. Everyone has their own “must-do” list at Oshkosh, usually developed over years of walking the show or handed down from generation to generation. For me, the show’s not over until I have a famous soft serve ice cream cone, buy some gadget from the Fly Market and sit in the grass of the North 40 watching airplanes take off. These rituals remind me that, while the airplanes change, the spirit and traditions of general aviation are timeless.
Now it’s your turn. Add your comments below, or create your own list of “eight things I love about Oshkosh” and submit it as a story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll see you at the brown arch.