Adventure at AirVenture – the experience of flying to Oshkosh

It was 06:55 CDT as I approached Ripon on the Fisk arrival into Oshkosh (KOSH) for what would be my 10th straight visit to EAA’s AirVenture.

Departing 3CK
Getting to Oshkosh in time to park means an early morning takeoff.

I had departed about 6:10 a.m. from my base airport, Lake in the Hills (3CK) for the 101nm trip in what was promising to be a severely clear day on AirVenture Monday. I used to try to arrive at 7:05 on Tuesday morning but for the past couple of years the event has reached saturation on Monday and we have ended up enjoying the hospitality of Fond du Lac (KFLD) airport and busing or carpooling back and forth. Don’t get me wrong; their hospitality is first-rate, but it is just not the same.

My partner on this trip for nine of the past ten years has been lifelong friend, Chauncey Niziol (Chauncey’s Great Outdoors, ESPN AM-1000). Also joining us this year would be one of his sidekicks, Tom Palmisano. Because of scheduling conflicts, I was flying up solo and they would be meeting me, having picked up our show press credentials. The only year Chauncey missed was the year he had surgery and we did not think he could depart my Piper Dakota in an emergency.

As I approached Ripon, having devoured the 32-page NOTAM, I was at 1800 feet and 90 knots and had my transponder squawking 1200 (I already have my ADS-B). While I appreciate the additional safety in using ADS-B most of the time, in this case it showed no fewer than 18 planes converging on Ripon. The ATIS was still reporting KOSH as closed for arrivals and occasionally someone would ask the frequency if Oshkosh was receiving aircraft yet.

This had been a particularly bad weekend preceding our Monday arrival with several of the mass arrivals being scattered and not received on time due to weather. As a result, there were an unusual number of planes arriving. Honestly, when the ATIS says 7:00 for arrival, that does NOT mean 6:45! So several planes needed to retreat to the Rush Lake and Green Lake holding areas, no doubt assuming that the controllers would open up at any minute and clear the holding areas first – NOT!

OSH18
It all works, but you have to follow the rules.

For those who have never done this, the rules are really simple but prescriptive. You are to approach Ripon and find another plane to follow, 1/2 mile in trail, at 1800 feet and 90 knots. If you can’t fly as slow as that you should be at 2300 feet and 135 knots. You are to fly over the railroad tracks from Ripon to Fisk until identified by a controller for additional instructions. This is a metering process to assure whomever gets advanced to the runway has sufficient separation to be able to use the dot system for landing.

Here is what the NOTAM does not say: NOT 78 knots, NOT 2000 feet, NOT 110 knots, and NOT direct from Ripon to Fisk.

On my first pass up the route, I was in trail behind a high-wing taildragger whose altitude and speed were all over the map and try as I might, I could not keep from gaining on him. What was wrong? Was my altimeter different than his (checked against ATIS). Was my airspeed higher than his? I finally commented for the taildragger on approach to keep his speed up to no avail. The controllers were steadily trying to cajole people to keep the speed up, the gap maintained, stay over the tracks…

The controllers are absolutely the best under some really stressful conditions but, finally, I gave up and peeled off to 270 degrees to return to Ripon and try again.

Now I was trying to merge with those arriving at Ripon for the first time. Some were returning from the holding areas, recognizing that the controllers were not likely to be able to break them in and some were just getting there. I was able to find a lull over Ripon and rejoined the approach, trying desperately to ignore the ADS-B.

As I was flying northeast over the tracks toward Fisk, I was joined on my left by a Glasair flying 200 feet above me and overtaking me from behind. I again checked my speed and altitude to make sure I was where I was supposed to be. The controllers were again chiding everyone to not overtake but to stay in trail.

Suddenly, I received a call from the controller, “White Cherokee over Fisk, right turn to 090, turn NOW!” Well, I don’t need to be told twice and there were none of the niceties of “rock your wings – good rock.” It was, “Turn NOW!”

Oshkosh camping
Welcome to Oshkosh!

I did as I was told and received a, “good turn, cleared for left base runway 36, contact Oshkosh tower on 126.6, welcome to Oshkosh!” So I guess they were talking to me and as I reached for the frequency button I heard, “red and white Glasair over Fisk, turn left 270, try again!”

The tower controller called me as I was turning on a 1.5 mile final and I was told, “White Cherokee 1.5 mile final, cleared to land on the purple dot.” Then as I was flaring, I received instructions to “keep your speed up, cleared to land on the yellow dot.” No problem, power, power, flare, and back down. Welcome to Oshkosh.

Now began the 25-minute taxi north to runway 5 (closed), taxiway alpha, hold short of runway 27, cross runway 27 to taxiway bravo around the west end of runway 27 and then south on the grass and around to row 539. After all that, I was lucky enough to park one row west of the red shower house and 8 planes from the ring road.

One of my friends whom I only see at Oshkosh is Jim M, from California. He and I used to work together at a medical device manufacturer and he is a formation flying instructor for the Bonanza mass arrival. He was six planes down from me in the same row! Another friend whom I only see at Oshkosh, Jim C, is a volunteer on the ground crew. He met me at the plane and helped me hook up with Chauncey and Tom and get their gear to the plane. We kicked off the show by attending Jack Pelton’s opening remarks at the press tent.

The weather was great, the people were great, and the show was, as usual, outstanding. Life would be a little less stressful if we all followed the rules over Ripon!

18 Comments

  • Great experience! Every year something new grabs your attention.

    For us this year, it was a somewhat “lost” Cirrus heading right for us at the same altitude while we were on final for 27. The controller got him to continue his turn (“turn…turn…turn – keep that right turn coming”), headed him out over the lake and finally got him onto final in the correct direction and worked him into the flow to 27. Nothing phases those guys and gals!

  • It is a wonder that there is so little bent metal littering the ground between Ripon and OSH. I credit the dedicated and focused FAA staff and the REAL pilots for making this aerial circus work, year after year. It’s hard to think of another country where citizens have so much freedom to gather by air and so much cooperation by government.

  • I totally agree with your article !

    I tried to get in on Sunday for over 2:45 hours over and over again !
    Very few airplanes stayed over the railroad tracks, very few pilots
    flew at 1800 feet and the speed varied between 60 to 110 knots ….
    Airplanes cut into the spacings of other airplanes ….
    So what was that ?

    I complained about this in the EAA forum

    http://eaaforums.org/showthread.php?8495-Fisk-arrival-on-Sunday/page3

    The sad news are nearly no one in this forum agreed with my opinion –
    instead they argued that they had been forced NOT to follow the rules because
    of so many airplanes ……..

    The question is “Why don’t so little pilots follow the rules to fly the FISK arrival” ?

    And I really agree with the author Joe Sener ……

    “Life would be a little less stressful if we all followed the rules over Ripon!”

    Peter
    GERMANY

  • Great article and great replies on the EAA forum. It’s becoming more dangerous with the beehive of planes merging into RIPON. I’m surprised there are not more accidents. Hope ATC understands why so many people are complaining. I’m not sure what the solution is but they may have to ammend or modify the NOTAMS in the future as this problem will likely get worse.

  • I submit that 90 knots and 135 knots are way too fast. I arrived in a high wing vintage aircraft that cruises at 90 knots. I had to slow down to re-establish separation several times as the speedsters passed me above, below, and on both sides to fill up the gap I was struggling to maintain in front of me, so they could merely go around again. My only goal was to hit Fisk with the controller’s requested gap in front of me, which I accomplished, and got in on my 1st try. I realize that I was creating a “tail-lite wave” behind me for anyone who may have been willing to also slow down, but 99% of those who didn’t “remain in trail” went around for multiple tries. Dummy – don’t you know what your throttle is for?
    Also, the mass arrivals of various types were a possible catalyst of much of the subsequent congestion. Perhaps eliminate those and make everyone play the same game, or at least no mass arrivals on days that are normally congested to begin with.

  • I have been flying into Oshkosh for 40 years now. There have been a number of incidents of folks that either just didn’t read the NOTAM or don’t know how to follow instructions. These folks add a level of risk we don’t need. I arrived Tuesday morning this year after the field was closed to general aviation arrivals (I fly a Vintage). This made the arrival much less crowded, although Fisk was socked in and we received approach instructions from the tower using position reports (fortunately FISKE is in the database). I heard from friends that the Monday arrival was a zoo. It would seem something will have to be done if there is a traffic overload of that magnitude in the future or we will have a very bad year for safety. That may put at risk the whole wonderful experience of flying in to Oshkosh.

  • I am really relieved about the last postings !

    Flying into KOSH like too many pilots do in a reckless manner put the whole wonderfoul OSHKOSH experience on risk !

    We have to do everything to keep the FISK arrival save and like it is, the ultimate freedom of flying into the greatest flying event on earth !

    Peter

  • Not to knock the controllers, they have a very difficult job. But I do think they caused some of the problems Sunday afternoon by not loading up the runways more. When I arrived on final the North-South runways were empty and it was not after a temporary closure. Controllers kept turning everyone back instead of calling out some to turn back and directing others in. Maybe that’s not possible, I don’t know.

    After landing I watched the traffic come in. Other airshows I’ve been to usually had 2 planes on the runway pretty much all the time. One landing long and another short, on rollout… Airshow personnel seemed to agree.

    FWIW I think 80 kts for the lower alt and keep the same for 2300? All it takes is one Kitfox or Cub to slow it down. Controllers wanted 1 mile separation when I came in. I was behind 5 planes in that distance with 2 clowns beside me and the tracks. My speed was 70 kts so I wouldn’t overtake the planes in front of me. I ended up going out and flying back in at 2300 since there was far less traffic at that alt.

    Possibly having a North arrival for the East-West runways and fine tune the South arrival might be something to consider?

    Whatever they decide, I’ll be back next year. It was still great fun!!

  • Arriving Sat cleared to 36R about 1/4 mile back and 300 ft High wing cleared to 36 L suddenly turned to 36R abreast of us and below us. Needless to say abrupt pull up go around with max gross C206 full flaps. Interesting but I can’t understand what people are doing. Just follow instructions

  • Sounds like a zoo. This never appealed to me. I’ve been to Oshkosh a few times (arriving by bus). I much prefer Aero Friedrichshafen. All under cover from the hot sun or rain, and the food is much better.

    • Hi Barry !

      Really a funny comment !

      Comparing EAA AirVenture with AERO Friedrichshafen / GERMANY is like
      comparing Chicago O’Hare KORD with Mackinac County Airport 83D in Michigan,
      you know what I mean ?!

      I am German and every year at AERO/Friedrichshafen.

      And believe me …. no one cares with his decision where to go about the food !

      AirVenture is AirVenture …. and Mickey Mouse AERO in Germany is AERO !

      And when you want to be all under cover and don’t want to see the other thousands
      and thousands of warbirds and GA airplanes …. It’s up to you ….

      Peter
      Germany

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