I’m just your average 64-year old instrument-rated pilot who flies an average 47-year old Cessna out of an average non-towered airport. In April 2016, Josh, a VFR pilot half my age, and a member of the group I belong to (Galion Air, based at KGQQ), asked if I would like to fly with him and his family to Oshkosh for AirVenture. I had only been to AirVenture once. That was in 2012 and I drove from Mansfield through Chicago to get there. The drive was horrible, but the time spent at Oshkosh was wonderful.
Since that trip, I had contemplated flying to OSH and studied every YouTube video that showed pilots converging on Ripon, flying over the tracks in single file with half-mile spacing to Fisk, where they were instructed to rock their wings. Then the Fisk controller would reply with those three words that make every pilot smile, “Welcome to Oshkosh!”
This would be Josh’s fourth year flying to Oshkosh so he was an old pro who knew first-hand how it all worked. He also knew from experience that the weather could be challenging for a VFR pilot flying from Ohio to Wisconsin and back. I’m IFR rated and current so if the ceilings or visibilities became too low for VFR, we could still fly the IFR-equipped Cessna 182 to our destination.
Friday morning, July 29th, at 6:50 am, our camping gear was loaded into the Skylane and Josh’s wife and son (he turned 6 on the 29th) had settled into the back seat. Josh programmed the Garmin 430 and I called Mansfield Clearance to activate my IFR flight plan to Porter County Regional (KVPZ) located in Valparaiso, Indiana, for the first leg of the flight.
Patches of fog hugged the ground and the visibility was marginal VFR, but the ride was like velvet as the verdant farms and fields of northeast Ohio and then northwest Indiana slid underneath us. Just under an hour-and-a-half later, the South Bend controller offered vectors to intercept the localizer for the ILS 27 approach. But I could see the airport clearly so I canceled with him, switched to the CTAF, and landed on the 7,000 ft. runway. It wasn’t until we looked at our cell phones, which had automatically adjusted the time back an hour, that we realized we had flown through a time zone.
Josh got a weather update prior to the next leg of our trip and found that although Chicago was VFR now, it was forecast to have heavy rains and possible storms within a couple of hours. Oshkosh, on the other hand, had heavy rains and possible storms now with the forecast to become VFR later in the afternoon. His recommendation was that we continue north to get ahead of the weather coming into Chicago and then land at Waukegan Regional (KUGN) in Illinois until the weather over OSH cleared.
Josh fired up the engine, got Flight Following, and took us to the Lake Michigan shoreline, then followed it north past Chicago while staying under the class Bravo airspace.
We made it to KUGN and spent some time at the Signature FBO while we waited for the weather to clear over Oshkosh. In case you were wondering why I just didn’t fly us there IFR, I hadn’t planned on flying the second and final leg of the trip so I hadn’t made the required reservation which had to be filed at least six hours in advance.
As predicted, the weather over Chicago deteriorated and the weather over Oshkosh improved, but now we couldn’t get into OSH because the airshow had started. So we came up with a new plan.
Back in the air, Josh was handed off from Chicago to Milwaukee, who vectored us inland for a bit to keep us out of their commercial traffic flight path. The marginal VFR ceiling and a couple of 1,100 ft. agl towers in the area made us glad when we were able to get back over the shoreline. Just south of Sheboygan, we turned west and flew direct to Fond du Lac (KFLD) in ever-improving skies.
We landed at KFLD, which was outside of the Oshkosh TFR, and then took the shuttle bus to AirVenture where we got our tickets, made sure a camping spot in the Vintage aircraft section was available, and watched the balance of the airshow.
After the airshow was over, Josh and I took the shuttle back to Fond du Lac to retrieve the Skylane. We now had less than an hour before the controllers would stop incoming flights at 8 pm.
“Do you want to fly the plane into Oshkosh?” Josh asked.
He didn’t have to ask twice.
We took off from KFLD and I pointed the nose toward Ripon. All my lights were on, the transponder was on standby, and we both scanned for other aircraft as we listened to the arrival ATIS. Along with the reminders to stay single file, no S turns, etc., we heard the following:
“Any aircraft not within 30 miles of Oshkosh will not be allowed into airport. The field closes at 8 pm. I will not hear any deals you try to make. Plan to land somewhere else.”
At Ripon, I put the 182 over the railroad tracks and motored on at 1,800 ft. MSL and 90 knots toward Fisk, now listening to the Fisk Approach controller giving directions to aircraft ahead of us.
Then it was my turn.
“High wing aircraft with the landing light on the left wing, rock your wings.”
“Welcome to Oshkosh!”
I sprouted a smile as big as a kid who just woke up and saw the toys under the Christmas tree.
“Turn right at the big yellow roof and follow Fisk Avenue to runway 36. Monitor tower on 126.6.”
On a left base for 36 and approaching final, I was still 1,000 feet over the ground. The tower hadn’t made contact with me so I radioed a request to descend.
“High wing Cessna, you are cleared to descend and land 36 Right. 36 Right is the skinny one (the one that is usually a taxiway). Land on the red square.”
I’m still just an average pilot, but now I have bragging rights.