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An airplane jigsaw puzzle, and life in the Bonanza camp
Story and photos by Jack Hodgson

Airplanes fitted into every spare part of the ramp at Orion Flight Services.

John Roney and Tom Schick of Charlotte NC in the AirVenture Bonanza Camp.

Although conditions have improved dramatically in the past few days, the soft ground and limited parking spaces here in Oshkosh have been inspirational for those looking to create this year’s Oshkosh experience.

Many arriving planes that normally would park on the soggy grass are parked this year across the field at Orion Flight Services, located in the old airline terminal building.

Orion normally parks around 100 airplanes on their ramp during AirVenture week. But this year they estimate they’ve squeezed in close to 300.

We’ve all seen hangars that were trying to fit in as many airplanes as possible. Parked at different angles, the wings overlapping fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. That’s what Orion’s whole ramp looked like on Sunday.

About every square foot of the ramp is crowded with airplanes, leaving only haphazard taxiways.

David Champaign was acting as stage manager for all the activities at Orion. Like all the ramp people there, he’s wearing a headset connected to a radio on his belt. He’s in constant motion behind the FBO main counter, answering phone calls, helping pilots at the counter, and relaying instruction to the crew out on the ramp.

A steady stream of requests is coming in asking about parking spaces for airplanes and even places to pitch tents.

In addition to taking in all these displaced planes, Orion also has reservation slots from other AirVenture attendees and from everyday biz-jet customers. They’re juggling all these airplanes, parking, refueling and generally pitching in to help address the unprecedented challenge being faced at AirVenture 2010.

Many of the planes parked at Orion are from the B2OSH group, Bonanza’s To Oshkosh, which for some years now has thrilled us with their mass arrival of more than 100 aircraft arriving in loose formation and taxiing in long lines to their traditional parking and camping locations in the North 40.

This year, the wet grounds made it impossible for any large groups to fly in. B2OSH waited patiently for a few days, but when it became clear things weren’t going to improve soon they made a new plan.

Orion Flight Services said they could accommodate 50 B2OSHers, and many others flew to various nearby airports and traveled to the North 40 by ground transport.

They all then ported their camping gear to the southwest corner of the North 40 and created a tent city.

John Roney and Tom Schick are residents of this makeshift Bonanza camp on the edge of Wittman Field.

Camping in the North 40 without your airplane is a strange experience, but everyone is just happy to be here.

“There was a little bit of disappointment when we learned there wasn’t gonna be a mass arrival,” says Tom. But it’s not about sleeping under your planes; it’s the camaraderie.”

“The planes are secondary,” says John, “a means to an end. Basically it’s the camping and camaraderie.”

John and Tom are from Charlotte, North Carolina, and flew to Wisconsin in John’s 1978 V35B Bonanza. Their home airport is Concord Regional Airport (JQF).

Another difference not having the planes around is the friendly competition is changed.

“Here it’s great,” explains John, “because there’s no bragging rights. Everyone spends weeks detailing their planes. They’re all pristine and perfect. So I’m always embarrassed, even though I think mine looks good. Everyone’s created equal now. But now it’s about who has the biggest tent.”

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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