Oshkosh tower
2 min read
Oshkosh tower

The world’s busiest control tower–fun or not worth the hassle?

All pilots can be divided into two groups: those for whom the thought of flying into Wittman Regional Airport during AirVenture excites and challenges them and those who think you’re nuts to be in the air within 50 nm of Oshkosh that week. Which are you?

I’m in the first group. I’ve flown airplanes to Oshkosh a number of times during AirVenture week and this year is no exception. But there will be a twist to my flight. This year I’ll be flying a Robinson R44 from Batavia to Oshkosh. I earned my helicopter rating a few years back, and this is my first long(er) cross country in a helicopter.

But back to flying into Oshkosh. Richard Collins is in the other group. In the 27 years he flew his P210 to Wisconsin for the show he always landed at Green Bay. He liked the fact that no IFR reservations were required for that airport and there were never any IFR delays either coming or going. He did have to renew his swimming lessons because the routing east from GRB was straight across Lake Michigan. Also, he had a reserved tie-down spot on the pavement at GRB.

I’ll share my Oshkosh flight experience later, but we want to hear your views on this topic. Which group are you in? If you’ve landed at the busiest airport in the country – for that week at least – tell us about the experience. If you stand with Richard Collins saying “no way,” tell us why.  No need for weather charts for this one – let’s assume it’s optimal weather conditions.  You and your airplane are fit as fiddles. Do you make the trip?

John Zimmerman
24 replies
  1. Jim Smith
    Jim Smith says:

    I am absolutely in the “fly into Oshkosh” group. With all of the great information available on the web, it is not hard at all to prepare for the flight.

    I only regret that I didn’t go to “Oshkosh” for many years because a pilot I thought of as more experienced than me thought it was too daunting…… turned out that he had gone in without reading the NOTAM! Granted, this was in pre-Internet days, so getting the NOTAM required a little more effort, but that’s no excuse. I’ve never forgiven him for delaying one of the most exhilarating flying experiences of my life!

  2. Charlie Masters
    Charlie Masters says:

    I too am firmly in the “fly” group. Nothing will ever replace the exhilaration of hearing “Cessna cleared to land on the green dot” knowing those instructions are for you. I do encourage my fellow aviators to not only read the NOTAM, but somewhere, before you reach the railroad tracks south of Ripon, find out what power setting you need to use to maintain the 90 knots and 1,800 feet specified. In my three trips to OSH I have experienced traffic as much as 500 feet above or below the altitude and airspeed deviations of 20 knots either side of 90. I understand a Cub can’t make 90, but usually these aircraft were your garden variety Cessnas and Cherokees. So please, for everyone’s safety and enjoyment, practice flying 1,800 ft and 90 kts before you get there!

  3. Frank Ladonne
    Frank Ladonne says:

    Absolutely fly into Oshkosh! It is the experience of a LIFETIME. having said that, you do need, as others have said, to be able to read and execute instructions and “fly the plane”.

  4. Armand Vilches
    Armand Vilches says:

    If you are going to fly-in, do everyone a favor… Read the NOTAM, but also as important is the ability for a pilot to have basic aircraft control down pat. Take some time beforehand to fly your trusty mount to make sure you can hold altitude, airspeed and heading. If you can’t do that, then you are probably better off driving.

    So many of the pilots attending are pilots who won’t venture near busy airports, such as ORD or ATL, yet they will blast into OSH unprepared becasue it’s just little airplanes.

  5. Mike
    Mike says:

    I am also in the “fly” camp. I plan on flying in on Monday just waiting on an airplane repaire to be completed. My flight will be IFR including the arrival. One interesting arrival story. I was flying into OSH in my friends SR22 in 2010. We were on the RNAV 27 at about 1 mile final when all of a sudden the TCAS system alerted “TRAFIC TRAFIC TRAFIC!” I looked behind my shoulder and saw a twin Cessna at our five oclock and gaining!. Tower called: Cirrus cleared to land behind the twin! My friend maneuvered the cirrus behind the twin and came in for a perfect landing right on the dot! Lesson learned. There is no place like Oshkosh! Tower: good work Cirrus… Welcome to Oshkosh!

  6. Mark Travis
    Mark Travis says:

    I’ve camped at Airventure 7 times and flew in via Mooney 5 times (I drove the first two times). The first time flying, I snuck in 5 minutes before the field closed. Traffic was light. It took me two days to get to OSH due to WX and I was still a VFR pilot. I can’t describe the feeling of accomplishment and feeling that I was part of the true “family” of hardcore aviation addicts. Even after I screwed up at Madison and forgot to switch from tower to departure frequency. (“Mooney 48Q, press the little flip-flop button and contact departure on xxx.xx” – oops!)

    I flew in with the “Mooney Caravan” 3 times which was a more “controlled” arrival into OSH, but similarly challenging.

    Just read the NOTAM a few times, watch the multitude of YouTube videos of others who have gone before, and ENJOY THE HECK OUT OF FLYING YOURSELF TO OSH! Don’t be a wus, just DO IT! (But be prepared and be ALERT!)

  7. Steve Wilson
    Steve Wilson says:

    I’ve never missed Oshkosh and went to Rockford before that. I certainly fall in the “fly” group. Plan to be there early and stay late. It just doesn’t get any better than this!

  8. Dick O'Reilly
    Dick O'Reilly says:

    I flew a Cherokee 140 solo from Los Angeles, visiting friends and family along the way. Never did see Iowa because I was IFR on top from STJ to MSN. Too late to make the 8 pm deadline and overnighted beside the plane at FLD which set up an easy early arrival next morning. Got yelled at for staying too high (50′ agl) to the last dot, which I nailed. Guess controller didn’t know how easily that Hershey Bar wing is to plant on the ground. Five wonderful days camped beside plane, then home via kid visits in Boulder and Portland. Now that I’m flying as Light Sport Pilot in an ELSA with a Rotax 503, I’m dreaming about doing it again. Last year the wife and I went in the motor home. Nice but not the same.

  9. David Reinhart
    David Reinhart says:

    I have planned to go to Oshkosh five times now and haven’t made it yet. Every year something has come up to keep us from making the trip and this year is no different. I’m beginning to think that I am fated to never make it…

  10. Jim Kaake
    Jim Kaake says:

    I’ve flown into OSH and I’ve flown into GRB. I’m with Mr. Collins on this one, It’s faster to go to Green Bay, rent a car, and drive to OSH than landing at OSH, parking and getting a ride to the show. Also,I can leave when I’m ready no matter the time, and that is important to me. Hotel rates are cheaper and more available too.

  11. vernon fueston
    vernon fueston says:

    I guess I am greatly out numbered on this one. I wouldn’t go on a bet. First there is the mid west summer weather with a strong probability of thunderstorms. But more so it is the crowded skies with the wide variety of skill levels. I enjoy small Fly In events but am not fond of large crowds. I have attended Golden West and Arlington (flew in to both several times)and while there was a lot to see and a chance to meet vendors and take advantage of show specials I found it to be beyond my comfort level. You may find me and my Citabria at Hood River Or. or Columbia Ca. but not at Oshkosh.

  12. Dan Mayworm
    Dan Mayworm says:

    I will be flying in on Tuesday morning around 7:30 am so I would appreciate everyone else staying away :-)

  13. mike duncan
    mike duncan says:

    I would love one day to fly into oshkosh. I have landed there albeit it was the week after the show(I was the only one around). The thought does make me nervous a lot. I just don’t want to be the guy that screws things up for everyone else.

  14. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    Flying in is easy if you just follow the NOTAM instructions to the letter. Those that don’t seem to have problems. As far as IFR goes, who cares, it’s a fly-in not a drive-in (at least that was the original intent). Wait for the weather to get better; it’s not like you have to be there at any specific time. The show will be there for a whole week.

  15. Larry Baum
    Larry Baum says:

    I’ve done both. Landing at KOSH is a definite rush especially the first time. As others have said, knowing your airplane, being comfortable with flying slow, being precise, reading/understanding the NOTAM, and being able to listen and comprehend what the controllers are saying are all requirements for dealing with air traffic into and out of KOSH.

    If we have a defined schedule for AirVenture, I’ll generally skip landing at KOSH. If the long-range forecast is marginal for my planned days flying in or out, I’ll plan flying to KFLD or KATW. Both have great bus service to and from AirVenture. Two years ago, we departed on Sunday from KFLD IFR in relatively low weather and things worked out beautifully. Unless I already held an IFR outbound reservation, it would have easily been Monday before we could have gotten out of KOSH.

    This year, the plan is to fly into KOSH. Right now, the long-range forecast looks good for Wed and Sun. And our plans are flexible for the weekend to get home. But plans can and do change. See you at AirVenture!

  16. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    I flew into KOSH for the first EAA ultralight convention, and enjoyed the experience. Traffic volume was the highest I’d experienced but probably 1/3 that of the July convention. I’ve chosen not to fly to to “AirVenture” for several reasons. I don’t camp beside the plane (too old to sleep on rocks or mud any more); I carry too much stuff to get off the ground in an Aeronca Chief; arrival and departure by car not weather dependent; and I like the flexibility of havng my own car. Given the horrifically hot, turbulent weather of the usual AirVenture week, it’s not a trip to be relished in an 800 lb airplane in any case! My hat’s off to those of you who do fly in– I enjoy your presence.

  17. Chuck Macuga
    Chuck Macuga says:

    I am firmly in the `fly in to OSH` camp. Thirty three times. Thirty times using an IFR flight plan for arrival and departure. CE172, CE182, CE414. Larry above said it right. Know your airplane, know the airport, have the right charts, talk as little as possible and listen as much as possible. I only had one nerve-racking arrival. The other thirty two were sometimes challenging and always fun and have left me with many great memories. We always flew on a schedule and almost never missed our times. Planning and professional ops make it easy. Flying into another airport is like being with your sister if `ya know what I mean! I usually had more adventures/issues on the ground. Like the time we used a parachute as a tent… until the storm came by. Or the time we tried to get the greyhound bus to bring us back to the airport. Oh, I guess those stories would be for a different blog. If you’re an occasional flyer… drive in.k

  18. Arzania Williams
    Arzania Williams says:

    I am also firmly in the fly to OSH group. I’ve flown in now for the past four years, since I bought my Cherokee. I take another pilot with me to have a good set of eyes in the right seat. The last 2 years the traffic has been light enough that ATC has asked me for my runway of preferance (what luck!). Before going up I spend a day doing pattern work to hone up on flying a tight pattern and landing on a spot. For me, the rewards of flying there can’t be put into words.

  19. Jan Squillace
    Jan Squillace says:

    Like most things, it depends. I have done it both ways several times. Depends on who is in the airplane with you, weather, accomodations, time of day.

    I *love* flying in with 1 or 2 other pilots in the plane to keep watch. Especially if those other pilots have never been to OSH before.
    The awe and “nose to the canopy” is really worth it.

    If I have to do it all myself, I’ll take Appleton or Green Bay.

  20. Tom Campbell
    Tom Campbell says:

    Don’t understand the concern as a new pilot ( 4 years now insturment rated) I had zero problems during the big rush on Sunday before noon.
    Sure lots of traffic but no problems, same leaving the next Sunday morning.

  21. E J Arness
    E J Arness says:

    I learned to fly in Minneapolis in high traffic at all the area
    airports including International and when I flew to Oshkosh there
    was no problem or hesitation since I ‘grew up’ in high Mpls traffic.

  22. Fernando
    Fernando says:

    I flew to Oshkosh this year for the first time in my PA30 Twin Comanche. I followed the NOTAM and did not have any problem. The closest call was on final the tower urged the plane already landed in front of me to leave the runway immediately. That was complied safely and timely. I am based at West Houston, great airport with some times heavy un-controlled traffic. I do believe that in some days operating there is somehow more difficult/ dangerous that at the controlled, guided approach and landing at Oshkosh.
    In an uncontrolled airport you don’t have a tower looking at the big picture coordinating everybody. You have to coordinate yourself with others in the air, departing, landing, transitioning, students with CFI, students in solo flights, etcs….
    At Oshkosh I was prepared for its difficulty, and extra alert to other taffic, I did study (like I know everyone else did!) the NOTAM for many weeks, I had laminated satellite pictures, and all the visual aides you can imagine, my extra radio in stand-by, my family looking for traffic (normally they sleep!).
    Thus, if you are prepared, and definitely ready for an aborted landing if so required, its is one of those experience to cherish for ever. I am happy I did it and recommend it to everyone. Thanks EAA!

  23. Christian
    Christian says:

    I flew into Oshkosh this year and I must say it was no big deal! The controllers are the best in the biz, and everything went smoothly.

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