With spring finally here and only a few months before Oshkosh 2017, I’m writing about my 2016 Oshkosh trip in a light airplane, a Cessna 170 taildragger.
For a second year in a row, I had the pleasure of joining a friend of mine for a long cross country flight from Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) to Oshkosh (Wisconsin, US) in July 2016. In 2015, my first year at the annual EAA AirVenture, I wrote about my stay there for one week, and this year I will tell more about how I prepared for that fun trip.
Preparation for long cross countries requires more than for a short hop at an airport within, let’s say, 100 NM. Different aspects become more important such as: weather, fuel, equipment, time, etc. (Well, they are always important on any flight, but you know what I mean?)
My friend Joe has done the trip numerous times, and he was a great coach in guiding me through all that there is to know about a visit to this exciting week of aviation fun when you are using a light airplane to get there. For a week, Oshkosh airport (KOSH), becomes the most busy airport in the world. Some 10,000 airplanes fly in, and about half a million visitors walks the vast ground.
His first time was in 1967, in Rockford. Then in 1970, the EAA Fly-in left Rockford for Oshkosh. He drove and parked a trailer that first year, among a very small crowd. He missed 3 years in total and then he drove twice more. The remainder of the years up until 2016, he flew his Cessna 170. He flew to Oshkosh and camped under the wing at least 45 times with about 40 lake crossings (crossing Lake Michigan – one of the five great lakes of North America). Many times he flew there with his familly and you can safely state that he has been a loyal visitor. He contributed many times to the EAA by giving human factors presentation on site as well as facilitate the Cessna 170 Club forum.
To this day, he is still flying that same Cessna 170. An aircraft he rebuilt himself. In 1967, he had part of it with him on a trailer when he visited the EAA Fly-in at Rockford, as he had just bought some parts for the restoration project.
Many will tell you that part of the Oshkosh experience is to camp under the wing. That is, to put up your tent under the wing of your airplane (well, if you have high wings!). It is full of sense as that way it protects you against the sun and some of the rain. There are no trees close to an airport, in most cases, and at Oshkosh there aren’t enough of them anyway for the big crowd. (It ain’t 1970 anymore!)
The first year I went, Joe gave me a thorough briefing on how to prepare, clothing & camping wise included. Oshkosh weather can be of two different mind. Very hot, or very cold. And windy is not something unseen. It happened more than once that a tornado (or a strong storm as in 2015, only a day or so before we got there) hit the ground and a few airplanes went flying before their flight plan were filed, or their pilot on board for that matter.
In 2016, we had strong winds hit us as well, but no airplanes were moved. Still… we were all looking for cover, and it’s in the airplane I chose to wait out the summer storm when left with the choice between the airplane or my tent.
Clothes & sleeping gears
Bring stuff for very warm days, and cold nights. I’ve seen very hot afternoon with some +30 degrees Celsius (and more). You leave early in the morning with a sweater on, and jeans to be confortable. By the time 1:00pm comes around, the sweater is off and you wish you had shorts on. Or just a bathing suit by the pool…
But then you also get days where rain comes down like the temperature. Now the sweater ain’t enough to keep you warm and you need a coat as well, and an umbrella. Last year, one day at 8:00 pm I was seated under the wing with good socks, shoes, full length jeans, three top layers including a coat, all wrapped in a wool blanket trying to watch the airshow and… still freezing! At that point I gave up and went inside my tent to snuggle in my sleeping bad. I put down part of my tent window panel so I could still have a look at the airshow…
With a light airplane, you can’t bring a lot of stuff in most cases, but I try to bring a variety of clothes to keep me cool as much as warm. You can also aim at buying wearable souvenirs from the many shops on site. That’s a good solution too, as long as you can take the load back home or don’t mind leaving some other stuff behind (maybe an intentional wardrobe change?).
I bring good confortable shoes. Although it can be very hot, there is no way I would walk around in flip-flops. Seriously. There is so much walking involved at Oshkosh, even with all the buses and tram provided, that I would hate myself for wearing those cute and fancy sandals.
For two years in a row, I could easily walk 10 km per day, every day. There is so many people, the airport ground is so big, and there is so much to see, that you can walk all day and still not see it all. Plus by staying the week, you will want to go back and forth around different areas. There are the workshops, the conferences, the airshow, and then back to your tent for some feet up time. All this without any vehicles of your own allowed on the site. For certain sections, you are allowed to ride a bicycle, but you need to have one to start with. Makes sense with all the people going around, it would become a dangerous time for a pedestrian.
I definitely want to bring my camera, but I keep it for my personal souvenirs. You know, a picture with that cool airplane, or in front of the Oshkosh / EAA AirVenture post sign, or meeting that special aviation star (I had a picture taken with the pilot who flew his Cessna 140 to Oshkosh in 2015 all the way from Argentina! 90 flight hours in 40 days! I was seriously impressed.), etc. For some $20US, I can purchase a really good quality video edit made by the EAA and available a few months afterward.
However if you are a professional photographer or taking pictures is your thing, then you will have a blast with the airshow, both during the day and at night!
Electronics do not recharge only with the wind (actually it’s technologically possible, but not yet accessible for individuals). We tend to bring some electronics with us as we travel, like a cellphone and tablet for inflight navigation. I like to bring my own recharging devices. They are solar powered and work wonders. Well, as long as there is daylight and it’s not raining. Which is actually not hard to manage.
I have this panel that unfold and usually put it on some surface of the airplane. I plug in one or two of my electronic gadgets, and within a few hours, it’s all charged up. I do it while having breakfast by my tent in the morning or when I come back in the afternoon to watch the airshow from underneath the wing, comfortably seated in the shadow, away from the blistering sun.
But you can also count on recharging booth on site, if you don’t mind leaving it behind for a few hours and walking back there to pick it up. I haven’t tried it but I’m being told it works well.
Planning for the flight
Planning a flight to Oshkosh starts with reading the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen). The one for 2017 has now been published. It can be found here, either by downloading it or by ordering a printed copy. It is a 32-pages document with all the necessary information such as VFR/IFR routes close to Oshkosh, procedures, frequencies, dos & don’ts, etc. It is a mandatory document to ready – every year – before you fly in.
Then there is the cross border flight. Remember to file in your eAPIS and flight plan, stay in radio contact while crossing the border, and stop at your selected US customs airport with all the good documents in hand. Remain in the aircraft until ordered otherwise by a US customs officer. After the customs have been cleared, you just need to fly your airplane up to Oshkosh following the procedures outlines in the 32-pages NOTAM.
On a longer distance, weather can change significantly. I make it a habit well before the departure day, especially for a long cross country, to check the weather forecasts with different tools to observe the patterns. Low pressure, high pressure, winds, precipitations, etc.
Most of the time around our area, the weather goes from the west to the east. Meaning you could get more favorable winds in one direction, but also come head-to-head with a system sooner than if you had stayed within a 100NM of your airport. When not trying to make it to a time sensitive event, such as Oshkosh, I like to postpone my trip until I get 2-3 good days. I also like to keep one extra good day for the return trip, in case of a delay. The point is to try not to get stuck someplace for days. (All part of the joys of flying a light aircraft VFR!) So far, so good. Only had to sleep one time in an airport pilot’s lounge at Lindsay, unplanned (return trip from Oshkosh 2015).
Here is a list of weather tools I use:
- intellicast.com (US website: interactive / interactive weather map)
- aviationweather.gov (US website, equivalent of the Canadian Nav Canada website)
- The Weather Network (For longer forecasts, to get an idea of weather patterns.)
I also like to make up a list of airport codes (i.e. CYND) that I will be looking up for weather. The airports on the list don’t need to be places where I will stop, but airports on, or close to my flight path. METARS & TAFS will help me get a picture of current conditions and what to expect en route. Based on that, I could choose to divert away from bad weather.
Fuel, equipment and time
« The only time you have too much fuel is when you are on fire. » A famous aviation quote. Part of the planning to get to Oshkosh is to have plenty of fuel to factor in the real possibility of having to hold for a while, or divert to another airport. Last year they had to close the airport at least twice due to accidents on the runway. And at least one day, the airport camping was full so you couldn’t land. A fuel stop close to Oshkosh is always a bright idea.
The Lake Michigan crossing is about an hour. Always depending on winds of course. We made it once in about half an hour with a very strong tailwind. Because it is more than 50 NM from shore, it is mandatory to have life vest on. We are on lake watch radio frequency for the whole crossing, so if something happens, I’m told that rescue would come within 30 minutes. We flew at a high altitude, so that with an engine failure, we would be gliding for most of that time. The vest are uncomfortable to wear, but well worth it.
I love the planning process of a long cross country. When to leave? Where to stop? Which route to take? What to take along? It’s an adventure that requires from you all the knowledge you have acquired over your training days, and the experience along the way that you have acquired. All the work is a lot of fun and it is a rewarding adventure. I still remember the first time I exited the airplane after landing at KOSH in 2015. I was thrilled to have made it into that busy airspace and get to enjoy a whole week filled with aviation fun.
Are you going to Oshkosh for the first time in 2017? A returning aviation enthusiast?