For many who attend AirVenture, this annual gathering of planes and pilots is one of the most pleasurable and rewarding events of their year—a time to meet old friends, make new ones, and learn just about anything and everything concerning sport aviation. It’s no wonder that people often refer to it as an “adult summer camp”, which is really a misnomer, as AirVenture has something to offer all ages and interests, including many unrelated to flying machines. AirVenture recharges one’s mental batteries, providing the renewed motivation and skills to complete a homebuilding or restoration project, get an additional rating, or contribute to the efforts of a local EAA chapter. The AirVenture “buzz” helps carry you through the cold winter months, knowing that there are only so many weeks before it’s time to head back to the world’s largest campground on the shores of Lake Winnebago.
If you have attended AirVenture before, you probably need little convincing to return. However, if you are one of those who always has something better to do in late July and early August (is that possible?), read the following to learn what you have been missing. And for those who think they have seen it all at AirVenture (that is impossible!), you might be surprised to learn a few things you didn’t know.
The comments below were contributed by seasoned AirVenture attendees from the author’s EAA Chapter 1114 and from others around the country. You’ll see their answers behind their initials throughout the story.
These friendly EAA members included:
Mary Kelly-Crapse (MK, Fuquay-Varina, NC)
Chip Davis & Alison Martin (CD, Apex, NC)
Jim Dukeman (JD, Apex, NC)
F.J. Hale III (FJ, Raleigh, NC)
Bill Hood (BH, Dover, NC)
Chris McClure (CM, Raleigh, NC)
Bernie Ockuly (BO, Cleveland, OH)
Matthew Paxton IV (MP, Lexington, VA)
Jack Phillips (JP, New Hill, NC)
Ron Rader (RR, Raleigh, NC)
Bill Thacker (BT, Chenoa, IL)
Bob Waldmiller (BW, Rosamond, CA)
Jeff Witwer (JW, Bend, OR)
How often have you attended AirVenture and how do you get there?
JP: I attended the very first one that was at Wittman Field in 1970. I have flown in with a rented Cherokee, my RV-4 and a Pietenpol I built myself, mixing in with Bonanzas in the pattern.
JD: We travel by car every year, taking our camping gear so we can visit family on the way home.
Suggest a few general travel tips to help others save time, money & stress.
CD: Go with a friend. Have an Oshkosh checklist and update it every year. Study the NOTAM and the AirVenture website in advance. Pack clothes for every possible weather condition. There are many options for housing - the AV Housing Hotline can describe them all.
JP: What stress? It’s like dying and going to Aviation Heaven.
MP: Check out staying in a private home with a family during the convention. Rates are generally in line with the college dorms, and they may feed you breakfast.
BW: The number one rule is: Don’t be in a hurry. After all, it’s a vacation!
JW: Buy, borrow, or rent a travel trailer and stay in Camp Scholler. Great experience. Convenient. Low cost.
What are your main reasons for wanting to return to AirVenture?
BH: I like to sit with the old boys at the Red Barn and listen to them relate tales of flying, the likes of which I look forward to telling when I get that old.
JP: When building an airplane, I like to go there to shop for parts and components. Otherwise, I go look for airplanes I’d like to build. I always try to attend at least one workshop - it’s the best place for a free education I’ve ever seen.
What should a newcomer not miss in their first year?
CD: Ride every tram from one end to the other, just to get a lay of the land. Spend the day at the EAA Museum. Attend at least one Burt Rutan forum, hands-on workshop, type-club banquet, aviation pioneer interview at the Theatre in the Woods, Saturday air show, and talk to the owner of an exquisite aircraft about the work & love that went into it. Wander the Fly-Market. Get a picture of yourself under the entrance sign - with the year visible - to document the first of what will be a long sequence.
JD: The first year you can just walk and ride around to see it all, but it will take years and years to do it all.
MP: Take a ride on the Ford Tri-Motor. If you didn’t fly in, photographs won’t be able to convey the vastness of the convention grounds and the airplanes parked.
JW: Seaplane base. The start up of a WWII piston aircraft. Demo flight of a Harrier jet.
Where is the best food at AirVenture?
CD: When you’re tired of fast food, there is Flying Aces Café that offers real cafeteria food.
CM: The “Doughnut Tent” is quite excellent for morning snack time!
MP: We sometimes order pizza or we go off-grounds. Friar Tuck’s in Oshkosh has been a “first night” tradition.
JP: At least one breakfast has to be at the Plane View Café, just west of the airport. Roxy Supper Club in downtown Oshkosh. Ardy & Ed’s for a great hamburger joint that is a throwback to the 1950’s right off the approach end of runway 27.
JW: Mostly on-site. Food is surprisingly good. Lines are usually not too long.
Describe an important friendship you have made through AirVenture.
CD:You’ve gotta be kidding! In twenty years it’s darned near all of them.
JD: Whenever we heard Paul or Tom Poberezny speak it was always about the “Friends you make here at Oshkosh...” It took two trips to find out that that was a very true statement.
JW: AirVenture has given me the chance to re-connect with a cousin. We’ve both been aviation enthusiasts for most of our lives, but, living 1000+ miles apart, we had not been seeing each other for decades. AirVenture has given us the chance to re-unite every summer.
What are your most memorable experiences from past AirVentures?
BH: In 2008 I was able to listen to one of my aviation heroes, Joe Kittinger. Only at Oshkosh would this type of individual take the time to have his picture taken shaking my hand.
CD: The year we found that several tent poles were missing. Flying in formation with 75 other Cessnas in the first ever Cessnas-To-Oshkosh mass arrival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the C-172.
JD: Being named Young Eagle Field Representatives of the year and having our picture taken with General Yeager.
FJ: Meeting Scott Crossfield and seeing SpaceShipOne.
CM: Just arriving was a memorable experience, and the ATC system was incredibly efficient and well organized. I found a beautifully restored L-19 in the Warbird area in which I possibly flew in Vietnam.
MP: Flying the EAA B-17 Aluminum Overcast. The last visit by the Concorde. The warbird show in 1995 honoring the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
JP: The landing I made in 2007 with my RV-4. I looked over at the “Lawn Chair Judges” and saw a number of them holding cards with “9” on them. The last man in the row actually stood up and saluted me! I’ll remember that landing for the rest of my life.
BW: Participating in the 3km speed dash for Team Nemesis. I was flying a Long-EZ chasing Jon Sharp to make sure he didn’t exceed the altitude restriction…and I really mean “chase” because he was waaay faster than I was.
JW: Flying my own plane into OSH and seeing the expanse of AirVenture from the air for the first time. Hearing a young boy express his excitement about seeing an air show flight.
What’s the weirdest thing you ever saw at AirVenture?
CD: The Franken-Turbo-Helio-Courier on tractor tires with the locomotive air horns. A homebuilt twin-chainsaw-engine eight-foot flying wing flown from the prone position. Rocket-propelled inline skates.
JP: The Viking couple that rides around on some kind of strange wooden wheeled vehicle.
BW: That has got to be a ground effect hovercraft/watercraft by Universal Hovercraft at AirVenture 2000. It had 4”x4” timbers for wing spars, a blue tarp for a wing, and cargo straps for bracing. Most of us were scratching our heads wondering who’d be crazy enough to fly it while the owner was showing videos of it flying. My buddies and I couldn’t stop laughing; not at the guy who did it, but at the idea that it truly captured the spirit of EAA in a way that nothing else could that year.
What have been AirVenture’s most important contributions to your aviation interests?
MK: The latest innovations in flight/aviation.
CD: Jim Weir on electronics. Rod Machado on flying. John Roncz on aerodynamics. Cessna Pilots Association informal workshops.
JD: We found out about the Young Eagles program in 1995 by accident when we stumbled across the Young Eagles booth. There was a map there with the number of kids flown for each state in the country and to our surprise North Carolina had the least of any, so we decided to come home and try to fix it. And as Paul Harvey would say, the rest is history. With the help of others, to date we have flown over 14,000 Young Eagles in the Raleigh area alone.
FJ: Pilots who flew the right stuff.
What are your favorite after-hours activities at AirVenture?
CD: Sleeping, and hanging out with a couple dozen of my best friends. Engaging total strangers in conversation about aviation - everyone has a story, and everyone is more than they appear to be.
FJ: Movies and lectures at the Fly-In Theater and Theatre in the Woods.
MP: Observing arrivals and departures or hangar flying while watching the sun go down from our campsite.
JW: Recovering from a day of walking. Visiting with friends or finding a neighboring town for dinner.
What things can a person do beyond the grounds of AirVenture?
MK: The Union Star Cheese Factory (located in Zittau, just south of Fremont on County Road II, off US 45 North), Jelly Belly Warehouse in Pleasant Prairie and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc where one can go inside a WWII submarine.
CD: Shuttle bus to outlet malls. Tour Ripon & horseback riding in the area. Sit on the river outside the Fox River Brewery near Appleton, watch aircraft on the downwind for Runway 9/27 and sample a “flight.” The Wisconsin State Fair is around the same time in Milwaukee.
JW: Road America racetrack, Elkhart Lake, Kohler, Door County, Lake Michigan shore towns.
What might you say to a pilot to convince his family to join him at AirVenture?
MK: For some pilots, it isn’t a question if they want to go, they want to go. For families with small children, I suggest using all the facilities that are available: two nursing mother buildings (includes diaper changing stations with free diapers) and a kid’s hangar with aviation themed videos, games, puzzles, etc.
CD: It’s a great bonding, learning, and broadening experience with sons and daughters, especially if volunteering.
JW: It’s a thrill show (daily air show), shopping trip (outlet mall and Fly Market), museum (EAA Museum/Pioneer Airport), trade show (exhibits), exercise boot camp (all the walking), camping trip (camping in Camp Scholler), history lesson (warbird exhibits), film fest (evening movies), kids camp (KidVenture), culinary experience (bratwurst and fried fish!), people watching, skill-learning (builders seminars), family reunion … all rolled into one. For about the same price as any one of these single events.
Why else should someone attend AirVenture in 2009?
CD: To paraphrase The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, AirVenture “…is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big it is.”
BW: Why go to AirVenture 2009? Because AirVenture is as much about people as it is about airplanes. Perhaps you’ll meet someone famous or make a new friend. But no matter where you are you can almost always find a quiet place on the grass just to reflect for a moment…that the majority of people around you, this community of EAAers collectively share a common goal to preserve our right to dream and to fly and to honor those who’ve fought to protect the liberties of people worldwide. Go there. Be a part of it!
Kent Misegades, EAA 520919, is a frequent contributor to EAA’s print and electronic publications.