Part I – Oshkosh Rookie – Getting There

The uncertainty, the expectations, the anticipation, and a myriad of other thoughts and emotions combine to make the “First Time” different than all the rest, regardless of the event. Oshkosh, the mother of all air shows, is no exception. 2020 was going to be my Oshkosh Rookie year, but like…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
23 May 2022

The uncertainty, the expectations, the anticipation, and a myriad of other thoughts and emotions combine to make the “First Time” different than all the rest, regardless of the event. Oshkosh, the mother of all air shows, is no exception. 2020 was going to be my Oshkosh Rookie year, but like many other things it was pushed to 2021. Over the next three articles I will share my experiences getting there, my time at “The Show,” and the journey home. If you are Oshkosh Veterans, perhaps it will bring back some memories. If you have never been, maybe it will fuel that fire and get you there in 2022.

I have a good friend who loves to go flying with me and he was more than willing to come along. My sweet wife was happy to send us on our way, a sort of “work the kinks out of the trip” before she joined me at Oshkosh next year. There was a moment when I told her we were going to deviate and fly the Chicago skyline on the way home that she regretted her decision not to make the trip.

The plane was flying great, and with my ongoing IFR training it was flying regularly. The only thing that needed to be done was an oil change with the number of hours I would put on it flying there and back.

What do you need to bring to Oshkosh? That depends on if you are just flying in and staying at a hotel or if you are camping. We wanted to camp, so there were all the things you would expect to need when camping. Tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses, camp chairs, small cooler, tarp, etc… If you want an amazing sleep, get a basic twin air mattress and then a thin backpacking air pad and put it on top, it acts like snowshoes and spreads out your weight, so you don’t end up like a taco in the morning. I also bought some 15.5” x 10” plastic cutting boards to put under the wheels to keep them from sinking into the grass. They are lightweight and worked perfectly. You can pack food to cook, buy stuff to cook at the markets or Target outside the North 40 gate, or what we did which was pack snacks and eat meals at different vendors.

I bought Goal Zero solar panels and a power station for charging everything at night but that isn’t necessary. There are plenty of charging stations to charge a phone, or if you aren’t comfortable leaving your phone just plug in a power bank at the charging station and retrieve it in the evening to charge your phone in your tent overnight. I saw lots of power banks and phones charging unattended and people just leave them alone.

You will also need tie-downs for your plane. “The Claw” is a popular one, EAA has plans to make your own, but I decided to purchase the “Storm Force” tie-down kit and was pleased with it. They do not recommend tying down with the screw in type, but I did see some planes tied down that way.

I use Excel all the time at work so putting together a spread sheet for the weight and balance was child’s play. I have a W/B app on my phone so the variables I needed to know was what could be loaded in the baggage area and what needed to go in the back seat. Everything was weighed and the weights recorded in the spreadsheet. I moved things around on the spreadsheet and ended up with 102 lbs in the back seat and another 91 lbs in the baggage area. With full fuel we were 60 lbs under gross and within the CG envelope.

Friday after work we met at the airport and loaded up the plane, using the Excel list to make sure everything went where it belonged. We then made the short flight to Palm Springs (KPSP) so that we could get an early start Saturday and not be trapped by a morning marine layer in the LA Basin. We stayed at a “luxurious” Motel 6 in Palm Springs. Okay, it wasn’t luxurious, but it was clean and although the lights weren’t left on for us the lights did come on when we flipped the light switch. Our Uber driver even told us that it was the “nicer” Motel 6 in town.

The trip truly began Saturday morning. It was beautiful, the temperature hadn’t started climbing, and the with the anticipation of the adventure ahead, we would have to wait just a few moments longer. Just after taking off, we noticed that the top of the door had not latched all the way and had popped open about an inch.

Me: “Palm Springs Tower, Mooney 878, the top of our door popped open, and we need to come back around and land.”
Tower: “Mooney 78878, make right traffic runway 31L, cleared to land.”
Me: “Right traffic, 31L, cleared to land, 878.”

We landed and got a “Welcome back, did you need to taxi to the ramp or just back to the runway?” I told her just back to the runway where this time I made certain the door was latched properly and then we were on our way.

The first leg would be the longest of the day as there was a lot of moisture in the air, and even though it was early, there were storms to go around. The scenery was beautiful and just over four hours later we were touching down in Grants, NM (KGNT). We fueled up, I checked the weather briefing for the next leg, and we were on our way. It wasn’t any too soon as there were thunderstorms to the north and directly east. We wound our way south around them, along the south side of Albuquerque, and then north-east to Garden City, KS (KGCK). Flying over the plateaus and canyons east of Albuquerque was stunning.

After 2.8 hours of flying, we landed in KGCK to get fuel for the plane and for ourselves. There is a nice little Italian restaurant on the field and the food was decent.

The final leg of the day would be 3.4 hours to Ankeny, IA (KIKV) which is on the north side of Des Moines. My weather briefing at KGCK had shown storms building to the north, so we headed east to Topeka to get around them. In the time between when we took off from KGCK to when we turned north at Topeka there was a second line of storms which was about 160 miles long that had developed. However, there was a gap about 60 miles wide and the storms weren’t moving so we headed for the gap and upon reaching the other side we were rewarded for with a spectacular sunset. We landed at KIKV, booked a room, and had the most entertaining Uber ride I have ever had. The driver was just telling stories the whole ride.

But, enough about the flight legs getting to Osh, for those that haven’t been to Osh, you’re probably wondering about the Fisk Arrival. I’m sure you have heard stories. Well, it was no big deal. Really, it wasn’t difficult, nerve wracking, confusing, scary, or any of those other adjectives you might have heard. To prepare for it I watched a lot of YouTube videos on the Fisk Arrival. There are videos that EAA put out as well as a multitude of videos from the GA community. I also read, re-read, and then read again the NOTAMs.

I planned our arrival to be between the two mass arrivals for the day. If you get there at the same time as a mass arrival you will have to hold. EAA added additional waypoints for 2021. The Endeavor Bridge, Puckaway Lake, and Green Lake Transitions before Ripon. Before we were close enough to pick up the ATIS I was listening to ATC for the arrival. “We are starting at Portage right now” the voice on the radio said. “If you are not in the conga line yet, get in line at Portage, 1,800’ and 90 knots” he continued. Portage is a town about 12 miles south of the Endeavor Bridge Transition. Although it wasn’t part of the NOTAM, it is right there on the charts and by them pushing the starting point out further it made for less confusion and conflicting traffic.

ADS-B and traffic in the cabin (yes I know not everyone has ADS-B out) made it simple to find a gap between a couple of planes, and we slid into the conga line about ¾ of a mile behind a Cessna. Crossing over Ripon we followed the tracks and listened as the plane two ahead of us rocked his wings, then the Cessna in front of us, and then “Looks like I have maybe a Mooney over Fisk, rock your wings.” I rocked them and heard, “Nice job, straight up the tracks runway 27, monitor tower eighteen-five, where you in from?” “Los Angeles” I replied. “All right, great to have you here,” he said and then he was on to talking to the plane behind us.

We followed the tracks and entered a right downwind for 27. Everyone was currently landing on 27 because they had closed 36 temporarily for a pair of F-15’s to arrive. Just before entering the downwind a twin Comanche dropped in between us and the Cessna we were following from the higher arrival for faster planes. On the downwind we could see the F-15’s off to our right doing an overhead break for runway 36, it was awesome! Tower extended the downwind out over the lake for some T-6’s that were coming straight in on 27 but all we had to do was listen to the radio and follow the guy in front of us. If you can follow a plane in the traffic pattern you can fly the Fisk Arrival.

Coming across the numbers we heard “Mooney see if you can run it all the way down to the green dot, keep it flying all the way down to the green dot, we’re trying to shrink this up here, thanks for the help.” I added power to stop the descent, flew it down the runway, and nailed the landing on the green dot. It felt great! What followed was a long taxi, no talking on the radio, just following the signals of the marshals.

The ground frequency was very quiet, but about halfway through our taxi we heard one of the marshals say, “The Cirrus says he can’t taxi on the grass.” As you all know, anyone can say anything on a radio and you don’t know who said it. Well, a couple seconds after the marshal gave the message about the Cirrus, someone keyed up their mike and uttered one word, “Weenie.” It was hysterical.

“Welcome to the show!”

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