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.
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!
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!”
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!