I spent most of last week at Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the big annual fly-in known as Airventure sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association. I attended Oshkosh for the first time in 1990 just after getting my private pilot’s license and have made it there every year except in 1991 and 2001. So 2006 marked my 15th Oshkosh attendance. For the past 10 years, I‘ve camped out under the wing of the airplane in a tent and have endured the hot, muggy, and sometimes rainy weather that Wisconsin offers up in the summer time. But the minor inconveniences are all worth it to be immersed in the world of aviation. There’s nothing quite like being at Oshkosh during Airventure if you love aviation.
Prior to the week I left for Oshkosh, I was in China at a factory outside Shanghai for a new production startup. After eating the food there for about 4 days, I didn’t feel too well and was worried I wouldn’t feel well enough to attend Airventure. That would have been a shame. I secretly believed that my healing would require some Wisconsin brats along with pork BBQ sandwiches from the SOS brothers’ tent. It must have done the trick, because a few days after returning from China and thinking about this form of food therapy, I felt well enough to fly to Airventure for the cure-all effects of genuine Wisconsin foods.
I’ve traveled the 862 mile distance from Greeley to Oshkosh non-stop in the LongEZ before, and felt that I was up for it again so I fueled up in Greeley and hoped for some good weather that wouldn’t require too much diversion from a straight course. I was trying to arrive in Oshkosh before the afternoon airshow on Tuesday. I was off the ground at 7:15 a.m., but I’d lose an hour due to the time change so I only had about 6 hours to get there since the field would close promptly at 2:30 p.m. If I missed that arrival time, they would close down the field for 3 hours and I’d have to park the plane somewhere nearby and wait it out while everyone else in Oshkosh was enjoying the airshow. Thankfully, there were great tailwinds and minimal weather issues and about 5 hours later, I was on the ground at Oshkosh taxiing to the homebuilt camping location. I still had 2 hours of fuel left in the tanks.
With each passing year that I attend Oshkosh, I wonder when I’ll grow tired of it and decide to skip the next year. But for some reason, I have never reached that threshold. The most difficult part for me is that Terri doesn’t like to attend and after the second time we attended together, she had had enough. She doesn’t like to be around me when I’m distracted like I am at Oshkosh. In her words, “I don’t like being around you when you’re like that.” I’m sure a lot of aviation wives feel the same way.
This year Terri was scheduled to go to Singapore for the week of Oshkosh, so if I couldn’t attend, it would have been a waste since she’d be away from home anyway. She’s still in Singapore as I write this and I miss her and wish she was home.
This year’s Airventure had a number of unique events and some of the highlights included:
• Beach Boys kicking off the celebration on the first night
• F-22s aerial display
• The Blue Angels, for the first time ever at Oshkosh
• A new theater to show classic aviation movies
• A Lancaster bomber (one of only 2 flying in the world)
• The B1 bomber, including a static display followed by a fly-by
• Spaceship One dedication at the EAA museum
• Many new Light Sport Aircraft, including one from Cessna
• Several new Very Light Jets, and a certification announcement from Eclipse.
I stayed until the last day and was amazed to find that about 90% of the homebuilt planes in homebuilt camping had already departed by the time I was ready to leave. An intense thunderstorm blew through on Sunday morning around 8:00 a.m. just before I was ready to strike camp and I stayed in my tent trying to keep it from collapsing from the high winds. This was the third downpour I endured in the time I was there. A lot of damage occurred due to the high winds including several sections of a chain link fence blowing over and even the Port-a-Johns in the homebuilt camping area were lying on their sides after the storm ended. I had hoped that no one had tried to stay in any of them to escape the downpour.
After waiting a few hours for things to dry out, I decided to pack up the very wet tent and its contents and get out of Oshkosh while VFR conditions prevailed. I spent about about 30 minutes taxiing behind two L39 jets and I almost suffocated with the jet-A fumes. My eyes were stinging. That’s the last time I’ll make that mistake. I gave them at least 200 feet of clearance but the fumes were virtually overwhelming. The only bigger mistake you can make at Oshkosh, evidently, is taxiing in front of a tailwheel warbird which can chop you up because it has no forward visibility. That happened to an RV6 about 30 minutes after I left. It’s the second time I recall a tailwheel warbird running into another plane at Oshkosh causing serious injury, primarily due to having no forward visibility.
After I was in the air I found that the nice tailwinds I enjoyed coming from Colorado were now very strong headwinds. I had planned to land at Plattsmouth, NE for fuel since last year they had a great fuel price and friendly FBO. After flying for about 4 hours, I overflew the airport looking for the wind direction since no one was at the FBO to respond to my airport advisory requests. There was a very stiff wind blowing from the south. I noticed while I was landing that the runway had been extended since last year, but that the threshold had been displaced nearly 1700’ based on the markings. I generally try to land close to the end of a displaced threshold so as not to give up too much of the runway. A displaced threshold, according to its definition, is a place where you can use the runway for takeoffs, but not for landings. However, I found despite the NOTAM which declared it was a displaced threshold that it was actually a DISPLACED RUNWAY END since shortly after I landed, I saw, much to my horror, a line of barricades about 6” high strung across the runway. I added power so that I could hop across a barricade, but unfortunately caught it with my right wheel pant which exploded and severed my brake line. This meant that I had no directional control when I attempted to land because the LongEZ uses differential braking for steering.
Fortunately, the wind was a quartering headwind and the only brake I needed was the left brake to get the plane stopped and off the runway into the grass. Shortly after I stopped, a man drove out on a motorcycle to see what happened and I was relieved to find he was a fellow homebuilder. He was building an RV7 in his hangar. I pushed the plane back to his hangar and we surveyed the damage and began thinking of a repair strategy. He thought he may have had some tubing and fittings to repair the damage, but after doing a thorough search, we couldn’t find any repair parts in his hangar. We began thinking of what would be available at a Home Depot and I believed that I could get some copper tubing and fittings to construct a parallel brake line. It wouldn’t be a good long-term solution, but certainly it would be enough to get me home. I borrowed the courtesy car and drove about 15 miles to a Menard’s store which is very much like a Home Depot. I got the copper tubing and fittings and we began to install it. It was 104 degrees in the shade and I was as dehydrated as I can remember being in my life.
Kevin had some 5606 brake fluid and a brake bleeder. Otherwise, there’d be no way to do this repair. After about 4 hours, the plane was back up and running, thanks to the help, tools, and brake fluid from Kevin. I can’t say enough good things about my fellow EAA members. They are really helpful even to strangers flying plastic airplanes.
Kevin thought he remembered my name from somewhere. I thought perhaps it may have been from some of the Internet forums I’ve been involved in for more than 15 years and hoped that we had never had an online debate. I’ve only had a few Internet debates over the years and I still regret them, and have sworn them off completely since life is just too short to debate topics on the Internet with strangers. I haven’t engaged in an Internet debate in many years.
I took off about 8:15 p.m. from Plattsmouth and wasn’t looking forward to the headwinds or the darkness that was about to envelope me. I generally don’t fly the LongEZ at night if I can avoid it. I figured with the headwinds that I had about another 3.5 hours of flying to cover the 460 miles home which would get me to Greeley around 10:30 p.m. Afterwards I found that without the wheelpants and with the headwinds, I’d be experiencing occasional ground speeds of less than 110 kts., nearly 30 kts down from my usual cruise speed and something I hadn’t seen since I flew my Piper Colt.
After about 3 hours, I was getting close to Greeley, and I listened to a pilot in the pattern doing night touch and go’s for about 30 minutes in a rental airplane. When I announced my intentions to land, he did a final landing and taxied the plane to its hangar. I lined up for the runway 16 which is nearly 2 miles in length and proceeded to execute a landing. Just as I was on final, the whole runway lighting system went dark. This was just the kind of extra excitement I needed for my final approach. Seven clicks on the radio brought all the lights back on. I landed without incident and put the airplane away. I was relieved to be home.
Airventure is a wonderful experience and it’s hard for me to believe I’ve been there 15 times. Each time seems like it’s something completely new, with new people to meet, new things to see and do, and many things to learn. Another attraction is the friends you get to see year after year. I can’t think of a better place to go if you’re interested in aviation. Life will never be quite the same once you’ve visited Airventure and you’ll likely find your way back there year after year.
I sent Kevin an email that night thanking him for his help and didn’t hear back from him for several days. Apparently, my email was swallowed by a spam filter. In his email he sent several days later, he explained why my name was familiar. He had spoken to me on a ham satellite nearly 6 years ago! I was his 8th contact on ham radio satellites! I still have the QSL card from the contact. It’s a very small world and I am glad for the people we get to meet like Kevin Faris.
Update 2006-08-13: I’ve since added some pictures here of Oshkosh 2006.