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Oshkosh 2003

Well, I'm back. The pilgrimage has been completed. I have gone to Oshkosh. I've been to aviation's Mecca, and the simplest way to summarize the experience is this: Holy Shit.

If you've never been to a local airshow you have absolutely no friggin' idea what Oshhosh is like. Even if you HAVE been to a local airshow, you have no friggin' idea what OSH is all about. Airventure, as the EAA prefers to call this spectacle, is an annual event held at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It started over fifty years ago, when the EAA decided to host a “fly-in”, at their headquarters’ home airport, just a gathering of pilots flying in with their home built aviation creations. But it has steadily grown—as has the homebuilding, or experimental aircraft movement—into a huge, huge, deal.

My friend’s friend was generous enough to offer me a seat in his plane, a rather nice Piper Aztec twin-engine plane. I jumped at the chance.

Now that it’s over, I’m still trying to figure out what I feel. I remember the first day, Friday, when I walked onto the field and saw all the old military planes from wars in the history books. Warbirds, they’re called. And there was a quarter of the field littered with them (click images for larger versions).

P-40 Warhawk

B-26 "Hard to Get"

B-17G "Yankee Lady"

Usually, you go to an airshow, and you see three or four warbirds and it's enough to get you excited. Part of the thrill is that you are close to a piece of history. You look at that Mustang, or Corsair, or Flying Fortress, and you go back in time. You remember the sacrifices, the bravery, the skill of the pilots. You try to put yourself in their shoes, and you get goose bumps. But your tunnel to the past is limited to a plane or two. you are forced to adopt a little tunnelvision, as you focus on that Mustang and block out all else. But at OSH, you find yourself surrounded by warbirds. Suddenly you are on a friggin’ flightline of warrbirds, and you are there. I was told that this year's warbird turnout was disappointing; not for me. If this is a weak year, I can't wait for a good one.

Now, lots of people will tell you that OSH is cool, lots of planes, etc. What I never knew is that almost all of those magnificent warbirds fire up their big radial engines and join up in the sky overhead for lots and lots of flybys. Even better, similar aircraft types fly formations over the field. Imagination goes out the window, as large formations of T-6 Texans fly overhead; I'm a WWII cadet!

T-6 Formation Flight

Warbirds, while a highlight for me, are but one part of the fun at Oshkosh. Vintage aircraft and homebuilts flesh out the other main portion of the flightline, and you'd be amazed at the skill level of the restorers and builders on this planet. Someday, I will build my own plane, and this RV-8 is a fine example of what I'd like to build. (Thanks Phil, for snapping the photo.)

The antique aircraft area was full of pretty birds, but the Spartan Executive was always a fave of mine. There were a couple at OSH:

Spartan Executive

Ernest K. Gann flew these:

DC-3

Sadly, every year one or more people wreck airplanes flying to or from OSH. The desire to get there in time for the festivities, or home in time for work, sometimes forces people to press on into questionable weather or inhospitable terrain. Sometimes lady luck just deals you a bad hand. Sadly, this year’s first victim was one of the builders of what I thought was the most beautiful airplane at the show, the Hughes H-1B replica. Folks, I am really saddened by this news. Here is a photo of the plane:

Hughes Racer Replica (H-1B)

And here is the preliminary report. So sad. It was a beautiful plane.

We flew home playing games with old man weather, and had to land at Reading, PA, just 20 minutes short of our destination because the NYC area was ringed with thunderstorms like a medieval castle. We waited a couple hours, then flew IFR into the area, shooting the ILS 24 approach at MMU, which unfolded just like it had all those times on Flight Simulator. What a trip, what a show, what a vacation.

What a country.