I finally, after 30 plus years, made it to the biggest airshow in the world. To fly there in an airplane you built by yourself in the garage made it even more special. Van’s Aircraft was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the very successful RV-6 model, and boy were there a lot of RV’s there. I committed to going early enough to clear my busy schedule and take off for the week.
The trip out to Wisconsin started early Saturday morning. I was awake before the alarm went off at 4am. I got to the airport while it was still dark and put the last of my stuff in the airplane. Camping gear was already in the back. I just put my luggage in the front seat, strapped it in and was ready to go after a quick preflight.
Ken (RV-7) and Suresh (RV-7A) were also headed out, so we flew in a loose flight of three. First stop was St. John’s, Arizona for some cheap fuel. The sun came up as we were just getting over the low desert. Clear skies the whole way.
After we fueled up we departed again towards Dalhart, Texas. We flew higher on this leg to cross the Continental Divide. I put on the O2 and cruised comfortably at 13,500′. The descent into Dalhart was bumpy and hot below 8,000′. We lined up for fuel, then tied down the airplanes, borrowed the courtesy car and went into town for some lunch. At this point our destinations diverged. I was going to Ankeny, Iowa, and they were headed to Kansas and Chicago. We had a very high overcast that eventually spawned a few rain showers, but I only got a few drops as I crossed the Missouri River. I made a brief stop in Tarkio, Missouri to fill up the tanks and have a quick bio break. I departed the hot, humid, steamy ground for cooler air up high. I picked up flight following with Des Moines Approach and flew direct into Ankeny. Not much going on in Des Moines traffic wise. The only other airplanes I saw across Kansas were Ken and Suresh.
I got the airplane tied down for the night at Ankeny, and was planning on walking over to the hotel, but the FBO offered to drive me there (in air-conditioned comfort). After getting settled in I walked across the street and had a nice Steak and Shrimp meal at Outback Steakhouse.
I got up early the next morning and walked over to the airport. It was less than a mile, and the temps in the morning were much cooler. The skies were clear towards Wisconsin, but were expected to go overcast as we neared Oshkosh. I cruised across Iowa and crossed the Mississippi River and landed at Boscobel, Wisconsin to top off the fuel before heading into Oshkosh. As I came into Boscobel, the skies were starting to close in with a low overcast. By the time I fueled up, it was solid overcast and fairly low. I decided to wait around until it got better.
Weather looking wet and stormy by Oshkosh.
I met a guy fueling there that was from Ft. Collins, Colorado. Just before I fueled up another guy in a Navion was getting gas and he was also from Ft. Collins! Turns out they knew each other. As we talked about whether to press on or not (Oshkosh was looking Marginal VFR), another RV shows up. It was a guy from Santa Ynez, California I had met before at Alpine County airport last year. After a couple of hours the ceiling seemed to be improved, so the 3 of us decided to test the skies by flying over to Tri-County Lone Rock airport, which has a diner on the airport. None of us had eaten breakfast and it was almost lunchtime. The forecast indicated that the ceilings over Oshkosh should be improving during the day.
After a nice breakfast/lunch meal I was able to scoot safely under the overcast at 1,800 to 2,000 feet towards Ripon, Wisconsin. Ripon is where you begin to line up and fly into Oshkosh. The bad conditions had turned better, but this caused everyone to bunch up in the arrivals. About 20 miles out, I started listening to ATIS. Nothing. OK, let’s just listen to Fisk Approach Control. Now it gets real. The controllers are talking nonstop and there apparently was an incident that closed down one of the arrival runways. This meant that the spacing needed to be around a mile between planes, instead of a half mile. I quickly learned that it was going to be awhile before they could drain the queue of airplanes on the Rush Lake hold and we get past Ripon. There are two holding patterns for situations like this. Since I was not yet past Ripon, I was to circle Green Lake and hold at 90 Knots and 1,800 feet. There were probably 100 planes in the area, so it is important to keep looking outside for traffic. There were some knuckleheads going the wrong direction in the hold, and others flying too high, too fast, too low, and too slow. The other holding pattern was closer to Oshkosh and they hold around Rush Lake, which is between Ripon and Fisk. The controllers were slowly draining the airplanes out of the Rush Lake hold and over to Runway 18 at Oshkosh. Each runway has an approach that you fly. It is pretty easy to understand the procedure if you have the NOTAM and have studied it. After two laps around Green Lake, the airplanes in the Rush Lake hold were cleared on, so the next time I came around to Ripon I figured I would be able to head into Oshkosh. The problem was that everyone holding had the same idea. The controllers got too many folks that moved up to Ripon, so they started to sort them out again in the Rush Lake hold. I did another lap around Green Lake at 90 Knots and 1,800 feet with at least a dozen airplanes around and ahead of me.
Look at all of the traffic on the display!
Third time is the charm! The controllers started allowing airplanes up to Ripon. I was in a really tight formation with a Bonanza above me and going too slow. There were several other airplanes side by side within a half mile ahead of me. Between Ripon and Fisk we were supposed to be single file and with half mile spacing. I decided to bail out and try again. I turned back to Ripon and could see the conga line of airplanes with some decent spacing. I saw a nice large gap and turned around to get back in line. Over Fisk the controllers start giving each airplane a runway assignment and ask you to rock your wings to acknowledge. Silver RV take Fisk Ave to Runway 18R, rock your wings! Nice wing rock, welcome to Oshkosh.
The Runway 18 approach has you descend on the downwind and make your base leg before the control tower and there is a big blue dot on the runway to line up with. I made a nice smooth turn and landed on the yellow dot. I turned right off the first taxiway and was at the big show. I put up my “HBC” sign to be directed to Homebuilt Camping. I had to taxi in the grass to park, but the ground was pretty smooth.
It took me a little bit to get situated. I got the airplane tied down securely, set up camp and then headed over to the Homebuilder’s registration to pick up my wristband and camping credentials. I got a nice engraved mug, sticker, patch, and a nice wooden plaque for completing my Homebuilt. That evening in the Homebuilt camping area under a big tent we had a craft beer tasting party that was organized by Mike Bullock from rivetbangers.com. I must have tasted a lot because I was definitely feeling it the next morning.
I slept in as much as I could Monday morning, but eventually the bladder will make you get up. I took a shower, had some food, then decided to check out the exhibit halls. There are 4 big buildings full of various vendors. It was hot out, but at least there was shade inside. I walked and walked around the first two halls, then moved up towards the flight line to see some of the static display aircraft. I got to see the B-29 “Fifi” arrive.
I got some lunch (Subway sandwich meal was $13!) and then took the tram all the way south to the Ultralight area. On the way back I did some walking around in the Vintage area. Lots of Seaplanes and Amphibians were also parked at that south end of the field. I did the rest of the exhibit halls and later headed back to Homebuilt Camping to rest and relax. Monday night was the RV beer social. I had a beer and was still feeling a bit dehydrated, so I ended up staying with soda’s and water for the rest of the night. Monday night also has an opening concert, so I walked over just to catch the last song by Third Eye Blind and their encore. Later in the evening they had a Balloon Glow. The airport closes at 8pm, so no launching, just inflating.
I woke up earlier on Tuesday, had some food, then a shower and decided to walk around the Homebuilt area. I visited the TeenFlight and Eagle’s Nest programs. These are programs that get high school students the opportunity to build an RV-12 and to learn to fly it. My wife (now teaching the PTLW Aerospace Engineering class) is hoping to get something like this set up at Ramona HS at some point.
I had lunch (Wisconsin Bratwurst sandwich) and then visited the Van’s Aircraft tent. I picked up my banquet tickets and bought a couple of T-shirts. I walked around the rest of the afternoon and saw more exhibits, tents and sat in on a couple of presentations. Dinner was at the EAA Nature Center and the Van’s RV banquet. Food was great, and Paul Rosales gave a presentation on traveling by RV around the US and Caribbean Islands.
My mission was to go see the EAA Museum. I took the bus over and enjoyed walking around in the airconditioned building for several hours. They have a really nice collection of airplanes there. I got lunch just outside the museum and the guy sitting across from me at a picnic table got an alert on his phone that rain was coming. About 10 minutes later it was pouring. I waited out the worst of it in the museum, then once it let up, got on the bus back to Airventure. I took the tram out to the Warbirds area and from there had a front row view of the afternoon airshow. It sprinkled a bit more, but nothing like the first downpour. At 4:00pm I met up with the rivetbangers.com crew and we headed over to Camp Scholler with some help from the Welcome Wagon. There must have been 10,000 camp sites in Camp Scholler! We got in a car and drove north to the Black Otter for some prime rib dinner. I came back with a huge piece of meat and a potato for dinner the next day. We got to watch some of the night airshow when we returned. That night there was some rain, but my tent managed to stay dry. The temps really cooled off with the rainy weather and I actually had to get in the sleeping bag to keep warm.
Last full day at Airventure. I got up early and actually had to put long pants and a sweatshirt on to stay warm. It was cloudy and rainy off an on during the day. I went to several more forum presentations, and did another pass of the Warbird area before they roped it off for the afternoon airshow. I thought about getting on the bus to the Seaplane base, but just ran out of time. Leftover Prime Rib for dinner, then I headed up to the North 40 camping area via bus to go to the Uncontrolled Airspace Podcast party just outside the gate to the Super 8 motel. They had lots of good beers and snacks. I got to meet a bunch of really nice folks. I have to say that everyone at Oshkosh was so nice and friendly. Airplane people are the best! They had a trivia contest about the podcast and I managed to win a T-shirt. Thursday night I went to bed early (it was still pretty cool out). It rained hard during the night, but again I managed to stay dry.
Time to depart for home. I packed up, took a shower and loaded the airplane. The tent was still pretty wet, so I put it loosely into a plastic garbage bag. The ceilings were below 1,000′ AGL, so no VFR departures for several hours. Finally, after listening to ATIS and the Tower frequencies on my handheld radio, they opened for departures around 11am. I had to really tug and pull on the towbar to get my plane out of the soft, wet grass field where I had been parked all week. I started up, got marshalled to the taxiway and was in line to leave VFR. The line moved constantly, so it probably only took 15-20 minutes to get on the runway and take off. You have to stay below 1,300′ in the Class D airspace on a certain heading before you can turn or climb. I knew that the skies north of Oshkosh were clear and sunny, so I headed northwest to Central Wisconsin at about 2,000′. Thankfully, no mountains out here, so flying low under an overcast isn’t too scary. I landed at Taylor County airport for fuel, then flew just clear of the clouds to the south down to Luverne, Minnesota for my next fuel stop. I got in line behind a SuperCub who was refueling. The guy asked me a couple of questions about my RV-9A. Turns out, he was Larry Vetterman of Vetterman Exhaust, which is where I bought my exhaust system for the airplane. He asked where I was headed and I said I didn’t really have much of a plan for where I was overnighting. I mentioned that Rapid City or Colorado would be an option. Larry lives in Hot Springs, South Dakota, so he gave me the phone number of the airport manager and told me to call him and reserve the courtesy car and that I could get a hotel in Hot Springs. About 2 hours later, I land in Hot Springs, get the car, Larry takes me into town to get a hotel room, and we have dinner together. It was a perfect serendipitous evening.
Tied down in Hot Springs, SD for the night.
I got up early, had some food at the hotel, then took off from Hot Springs and headed due north for about 15 minutes to see Mt. Rushmore.
From there I turned west towards Wyoming and home. There wasn’t much to see over Wyoming. A few fires made it hazy and smoky as I got near Rock Springs. I landed at Evanston, which is just next to Utah and got refueled. From Evanston I flew non-stop for 4.5 hours home. I got some light chop bumpiness over Utah, but it smoothed out once I hit Nevada and the desert. The Las Vegas area had extremely low visibility due to dust and haze. I had to dodge a thunderstorm building over the Palm Springs area and some clouds out in the mountains by Ramona. I got back around 2:30pm. Total flight time was just about 27 hours out and back.
All of the photos I took are here.