We made the pilgrimage again this year to the biggest aviation event in the world, EAA’s Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This was my third time visiting, so I had a bit more knowledge about the event and what I wanted to do once I got there. My son Alex went along this year and we tent camped in HomeBuilt Camping.
The week leading up to the trip was a bit stressful. I have been having some little issues with the ignition on the airplane. The P-mags were both just overhauled and updated at the annual condition inspection in June, but after putting them back on there were some little issues I had to work through. I have the Electronic Ignition Commander display, so I was able to cure the first issue pretty easily. The P-mags came back from the factory set to the most advanced timing settings of 40 degrees, which caused my cylinder temps to get very hot. I figured out that one and pushed them a different timing curve more suited to my engine. I thought it all was good after that, but I was still getting this ever so slight stutter occasionally. The EIC unit was also showing some timing divergence between the left and right P-mags. There is a nice bright red LED that blinks when that happens, so it definitely gets your attention. I flew on the Monday night before our departure to do an inflight Lean of Peak ignition stress test, Mag check and induction leak check. Everything seemed OK, except for cylinder #1’s EGT was quite a bit higher on one P-mag. This means I have a weak spark on that mag and plug. I wasn’t sure exactly why it is happening, but I did take off the P-mags to inspect them, and re-time them, and make sure all of the wires are in good shape. During this process I found one of the spark plug connectors was just a bit loose (on cylinder #1). Turns out one of the spark plug wire terminal clips was broken.
This was finally found on the Thursday night before we left on Saturday. I had bought a new plug for the one cylinder that was suspect (I love having all of the data from the EFIS display to point you directly to the problem cylinder), but it wasn’t the plug, but the connection to the plug wire. I had bought a spare spark plug terminal and boot during my annual inspection, so I was able to pop off the broken clip and get the spare one on. After that, the engine was back to running smoothly. However, I was still seeing a random bit of divergence when I did a ground run up of the engine. The timing advance on one P-mag will be different from the other P-mag and the divergence alarm can still pop up. On Friday, I flew over to Gillespie Field to fill up the fuel tanks, and to just see if the ignition was behaving. Thankfully, it was OK and I figured the problems were behind me. Also a big shout out and thank you to Bill Repucci of EIC who worked with me over the phone several nights in a row to troubleshoot all of the ignition issues.
Saturday – Departure Day
The plan was to depart Saturday morning at dawn and head to Ankeny, Iowa for the first night. The weather forecast looked like there might be some lingering thunderstorms over the Arizona desert, and there was. We loaded up the airplane with all of the camping gear and our bags. I had weighed everything beforehand and we ended up having to leave behind our two folding chairs (15 pounds too heavy).
We took off around 6:15am and once in the air we could see on the ADS-B weather display that it looked clearer to the north of Arizona, so we headed towards Lake Havasu then turned east. We got just a touch of rain on us at Havasu. Somewhere west of Flagstaff on the emergency guard frequency 121.5 (always good to monitor that) we heard an Emergency Locator Transponder going off. I contacted Prescott Flight Service and let them know. We were able to fly directly over Meteor Crater, then we landed in Holbrook, Arizona for our first fuel stop.
Our next leg took us across New Mexico between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We landed in Dumas, Texas where it was 101 degrees. We filled up our bellies with some good BBQ from the restaurant on the airport, and gassed up for the next leg. On both of these long legs the airplane was purring just fine and no timing issues at all. We cut across the panhandle of Oklahoma and then Kansas towards Iowa. We did our third fuel stop at Clarinda, Iowa. All the way the skies were clear and we got to Ankeny in the early evening. The hotel is just a short walk from the airport, and we went over to the nearby Outback Steakhouse restaurant for some good food and drinks.
To Oshkosh, or not to Oshkosh?
The forecast for Sunday in Iowa was clear, but to the east in Wisconsin it was low overcast and Oshkosh was probably going to be IFR until noon. We walked over to a nearby IHOP in the morning, had breakfast, and did a late checkout from the hotel at noon. We headed back to the airport and took off for Wisconsin around 1pm, figuring we would be in Oshkosh by 3pm and the weather would be clear there. It was, but I think everyone else flying in had the same idea. As we flew east the cloud layers started showing up and we descended underneath them. We landed at Boscobel, Wisconsin to top off the fuel for our last leg into Oshkosh. About 40 miles out we could just start to pick up the Oshkosh ATIS and arrival information, along with the Approach controller frequency for Ripon and Fisk, which are the waypoints for the VFR arrivals.
As we got closer we started seeing lots and lots of airplanes all heading to Ripon. The controllers were overwhelmed and they really were only letting a trickle of airplanes into the field for some reason. We could see on the EFIS traffic display literally hundreds of airplanes all circling the approach area. Not Good. We could hear the controllers just telling every to line up a mile (or two) in trail. Within 2 miles of us, there were probably over a dozen airplanes! That’s not going to work well. We decided to stay away from this mess and we ended up circling the Green Lake hold 3 times. At this point we had been up for well over an hour of circling and by doing the math we could see that the mess was just getting worse and worse. It would just be dumb luck to get through Ripon to Fisk to Oshkosh for landing. I punched in the nearest airports on the GPS and we diverted to Wautoma. Better to be on the ground and safe than to have a mid-air collision. We definitely came way too close to other airplanes circling in the Green Lake hold. It looked worse on the screen farther ahead. Lots of tempers were flaring on the radio with people getting cut off and other stupid pilot tricks like going the wrong way in the holds.
The Wautoma airport had about 30 airplanes already down on the ramp, so we landed, taxied over and parked on the grass area by the fuel station. There were about 6 planes already in line for gas. We ended up just tying down, pitching the tent and spending the night there. We were able to get into the nearby town for some dinner, and we got to sit around and visit with all of the other refugees from Oshkosh. By 8pm there were at least 70 planes on the ground for the night. We could listen to the Fisk approach on liveatc.net, and watch the conga line of traffic on flightradar24.com safely from our smart phones. Landing away from Oshkosh meant we missed the HomeBuilt Camping Beer bash, but I was very glad to NOT be stressed about trying to get there. We were also able to eventually top off the fuel tanks later that evening, so in the morning we would have plenty of loiter time if needed. I figured it would probably be just as bad the next morning (it was).
To Oshkosh, Take Two
We got up early, broke camp, packed up and were in the air before the 7am arrival opening at Oshkosh. This time we only got turned away once. We headed to Ripon, then over the railroad tracks to Fisk and the controllers again were overloaded and told everyone to “turn left” and go back to Ripon. Our second attempt again had us right over the train tracks, but there were airplanes both right and left of us. Some high, some low. You are supposed to be directly over the railroad tracks at 1800′ and going 90 knots. I stuck to this track and ended up getting past a trio of slower and lower Cubs that were too low and off to the left side of us, then we pulled away from a slow going low-wing airplane that was high and to the right of us. Next thing I know, we are over Fisk and we have good spacing back from the airplane directly out in front of us. Rock the wings and welcome to Oshkosh for landing on Runway 27’s green dot. We made it finally!
Alex made a YouTube video of our arrival attempts.
The next several hours on Monday were spent tying down the airplane, unloading everything, setting up camp, and getting registered. We ended up at the very south end of the HomeBuilt Camping area, where we were at least closer to the show center. We got some lunch and wandered around various exhibit halls looking for some good swag. We were just checking out the Boeing Plaza area when we ran into my niece’s husband, (actor/comedian Johnny Pemberton) and his brother and Dad. Amazing that with tens of thousands of people over acres and acres that we would accidentally bump into them.
They just were there for the day and they wanted to come see my airplane later. That afternoon we hopped on the trams and went all the way to the South 40, then all the way back to the home built area. We met up again at our camp and they got to take a look at the purple RV. Monday night is the RV beer bash, so we spent some hours there talking to all of the RV folks.
At 8pm we left the beer bash and walked back up to Boeing Plaza where the opening night concert was just finishing. We walked over to the Balloon glow and took some pictures of the show planes along the flight line.
We hit some more exhibit halls and wandered around more of the show. We decided to take the Warbird Tram tour, which was great. They drive you out and about in the Warbirds area and talk about all of the different types of airplanes there. From there we hit the Homebuilt area and Alex got to sit in the RV-14A. Yes, it has more leg room and shoulder space than the RV-9A, but I’m not going to start building one any time soon.
Tuesday evening was the RivetBangers.com dinner event at the Black Otter Supper Club where the 32oz Prime Rib is the small cut. Always a good time, and we took back plenty of leftovers.
We walked around in the NASA pavilion and also hit up the Innovations area. After that we again walked around the Boeing Plaza and decided to spend some time in the Vintage area. We lined up for the Vintage Tram tour and were first in line waiting in the shade when the tram arrived, by the time we walked the 10 feet to the tram it was completely full! We ended up just walking around the area looking at all of the cool Biplanes. Where else would you see a dozen Staggerwing Beechcrafts lined up in a row?
They also had a nice selection of WWI aircraft to celebrate the 100 years since the war. We also walked the flight line and saw all of the aerobatic planes at the IAC headquarters. There were just so many airplanes to look at, it was hard to not be overloaded with aviation. We ended up back at our airplane for the afternoon airshow and took some shade under the wing and watched. Alex had a headache, so he decided he didn’t want to go to the Young Eagles awards ceremony and dinner event at the Museum. I ended up going over there by myself (free meal!). I sat down at a table with some other YE volunteers and got to see Jeff Skiles, Sean D. Tucker and Jack Pelton give out some awards. I left there after the ceremonies and headed back to the flight line for the evening airshow. The weather was looking like it was going to rain and it did right as the show started. There was a big thunderstorm headed to Oshkosh, so they canceled the night airshow. We ended up back at the HBC pavilion and did some beer drinking while the rain really came down. Thankfully, it let up a bit and we were able to get back to the tent before the next cell hit the area. It got really windy and then the rain really started coming down. The tent held up fine and we stayed dry.
The weather the next morning was clear, but everything outside was drenched. I had put the travel cover on the airplane to keep the rain from getting inside. It held up and kept the electronics dry. Alex and I decided to head out to the Museum and Pioneer Airport where they have the helicopter rides. We got in line, paid our $49 and got to go up in a Bell 47 helicopter. They take a route over the grounds that lasts maybe 8 minutes, but it is well worth it to look down and see everything. The campgrounds are just huge where all of the non-fly-in campers stay during the week.
After the helicopter ride, we did a quick pass through the EAA Museum. We hit some of the last remaining exhibit areas that we hadn’t been to yet. I went over to the FAA display and was able to get them to pull up my ADS-B compliance report (which was acceptable). I’m now good for the 2020 deadline to be in compliance. We did some last minute shopping for souvenirs and also did another pass of the One Week Wonder RV-12 build. We got there just a bit too late to pull a rivet on the wings. On the way back to the campsite, we took a look at the Bally Bomber. This is a 1/3 scale B-17 that can be piloted by a single person. Scratch built, it took the builder decades to complete.
The UCAP podcast tie down party was over by the North 40, so we got on the bus to take us over there. We had some beers and talked with some other folks and Dave Higdon, who is one of the podcasters. We were hungry so we walked across the street from the airport and found a Mexican restaurant for dinner.
Time to pack up and head home!
We got the camping gear all packed up, and checked out from the HBC. The weather was looking VFR, but there were some lingering low clouds over Wisconsin until we got more to the west. We got in the conga line to depart and took off on Runway 36 without too much delay. Our first gas stop was Mauston – New Lisbon, Wisconsin. After that we were able to get above the scattered clouds and we made it all the way across Minnesota and landed in Yankton, South Dakota. The EAA chapter in Yankton had a nice lunch spread for pilots, so we donated some dollars and filled up on hot dogs, chips, soda and desert.
The next leg was a long one. We left Yankton as the thunderstorms were starting to pop up over South Dakota and Nebraska. We diverted just a bit to the north and went around the main cells that were between us and Wyoming. The skies became much clearer as we headed west. We crossed the Rockies in Wyoming and we headed towards Casper with a nice tailwind (the only time we had one). From Casper we turned towards Rock Springs and it got pretty bumpy on this leg. We got tossed about for an hour or so. Anytime the autopilot can’t handle the airplane, you know it is pretty rough. We landed at Rock Springs and filled up again with gas. The winds were better on the next leg as we headed towards Salt Lake City for our overnight stop. We landed in Bountiful, Utah and Marissa came over to pick us up. We had a nice dinner and spent the night at her house.
I got up early on Saturday before it got too hot outside and did some yard work on the rental house by trimming some bushes and pulling all of the weeds. I guess this means I can write off this trip for tax purposes!
We had breakfast, then headed for the airport around 10:30am. The clouds were again starting to build up some thunderstorms, and we dodged a few of them in central Utah. Once we got over the Nevada desert the clouds disappeared, but we fought some strong headwinds the entire way home. It took us 4.4 hours on this leg from Bountiful to Ramona. We were back at the airport and in the hangar by 3pm.
Another Oshkosh trip complete!
Hundreds of photos were taken by Alex and me and they are in this gallery.