Oshkosh, or to give its official title ‘EAA AirVenture’, happens toward the end of July every year and it is probably best described as an annual Woodstock for pilots. Every year, thousands of planes and tens of thousands of pilots and aviation enthusiasts converge in this small Wisconsin town to experience this mixture of convention, exposition, airshow, campsite and general party.
Oshkosh also becomes the world’s busiest airport for the 10 days around AirVenture with planes arriving from all over North America and further afield. To the faithful followers of aviation, it is a literal Mecca and like Mecca, pilgrimage is a must in one’s lifetime.
This destination had been on our company fly out bucket list for some time. So when we found ourselves hosting two student pilots from Ireland mid 2018, who had won our biennial STEM scholarship, Aerprize, we thought of every quintessential America and aviation enthusiast must-do experience we could cater. How could we not have them experience this taste of both American and aviation culture?
So the plan was made and on a Wednesday morning we took off from Long Beach Airport in a Citation Mustang bound for Oshkosh, Wisconsin (KOSH). To arrive into Oshkosh by plane requires some planning and preparation. To arrive IFR into Oshkosh or any of the closer airports requires a slot. The real fun is to arrive VFR and get in the conga line of airplanes bound for the gathering. Our plan was to fly IFR to the closest airport that did not require a slot, find VFR conditions, cancel our IFR flight plan and proceed VFR into the show.
We set out with CEO, Seosamh Somers as PIC and flight instructor, our head of business development, our two Aerprize scholars and their instructor. We brought their instructor so we could make the best of the prize winners’ time (break time ground school) to keep their training on track.
Flying out of Long Beach (KLGB) we had the first of the students, Carmel, at the controls of the jet. After 3 hours of flight time, we stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska for some fuel and lunch and to shake off any jet flight jitters.
The plan now was to get to OSH after the airshow, but before the weather deteriorated as a line of thunderstorms was forecast to arrive. Conor (our second Aerprize winner) took the controls as we zoomed out of Lincoln. “I just love to watch the faces of these newbie pilots taking control of a jet with 2900 lbs of trust at their disposal when their only previous experience is a 180hp piston engine,” says the Pilot-in-Command.
Once en-route and dropped jaws were repositioned, we were IFR to Madison, Wisconsin. On arrival into Madison, the cloud level was lower than forecast but ample enough to make the VFR leg up to OSH. At this point we had transitioned from IFR to VFR flight following and about 40 miles from our destination we transitioned to position for the VFR ‘Warbird’ arrival. This involved flying offshore along Lake Winnebago while maintaining all altitude and radio call requirements. Amazingly, we were the only people coming in from that direction (or determined enough to out fly the storms) and we got our clearance to land a good five miles away over Warbird Island. The impending hazardous weather had conspired to keep everyone away and our impeccable (or maybe lucky) timing had eased our arrival beyond any previous experience. It must have been the luck of having three Irish onboard.
After our Business Development Manager managed a greaser of a landing on runway 27, we popped our preprinted sign in the window and were guided to parking without a word exchanged on the radio. (The ability of ATC to manage so many aircraft necessitates as little radio chatter as possible, so preprinted signs such as IFR, VFR, FBO etc. allow the marshalers to guide you where you need to go whiteout the normal calls to a ground controller).
An hour later, sat a campsite eating burgers and hotdogs with other fly-in friends, the thunder and lightning that came to surround reinforced our good fortune of a smooth arrival and lively few days at AirVenture.