Part II – Oshkosh Rookie – The Show

“Welcome to the show!” You hear it multiple times on the radio as you are arriving at Oshkosh. I wonder, do the controllers mumble that in their sleep at night? After arriving on the “Green Dot” we followed the marshal’s directions along the taxiways, crossing runways, and eventually to a…

Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
4 Jun 2022

“Welcome to the show!” You hear it multiple times on the radio as you are arriving at Oshkosh. I wonder, do the controllers mumble that in their sleep at night?

After arriving on the “Green Dot” we followed the marshal’s directions along the taxiways, crossing runways, and eventually to a parking place. When it was our turn to cross 27 the marshal was waving his arms as fast as they could move, an incentive to give it more throttle than a regular taxi, because there is a plane crossing the threshold 1,400’ off your left wing was a new experience.

We arrived at our “First” parking spot, shut down, and climbed out. “Let me give you your arrival briefing,” the marshal said. “You are parked outside the burn line, so you need to get all your stuff out of the plane because you won’t be able to come back and forth to it.”

“So, then where do we put our tent?” I asked.
“Oh, You wanted to camp?” He replied.

In my mind I said “Well, that is why we were holding up the sign with VAC on it in the windshield for the past 20 minutes while we taxied.” But what came out of my mouth was “Yes.”

After some back and forth between him and another marshal he directed us to start up and follow the new guy. Eventually we pulled up at the end of one of the rows of planes and he gave us the signal to shut down, blocking the end of the taxiway for the row. “Are we pushing back from here?” I asked. “Nope, this is your spot” he replied. “Where do we pitch our tent?” was my next question. “Wherever you want,” he said with a smile. “Welcome to the show.”

After setting up the tent and unpacking the plane we proceeded to wander around. It was Sunday afternoon, so Oshkosh had not officially begun, but there was plenty to see. If you have not been, it is hard to describe the sights and sounds. Everywhere you look there is something to see, it is like going to a giant General Aviation “show-n-tell” event with military planes thrown in for good measure.

Be prepared to walk, a lot. On Sunday we walked 10 miles. On Monday when the trams were running, we cut that down to 7.5 miles. We were parked in the South 40 (more on that later) and from our spot to show center was 1.4 miles. The warbirds were another ½ mile to the north of show center. There are busses and trams that run, however be aware that on Sunday (pre-show) they stop early, and even during the week they weren’t running as late as the signs suggested they would.

However, there is so much to see that you just take your time and mosey along. There isn’t enough time and space to describe all the planes that we saw. Looking down the rows of T-6’s, I think it is possible that every airworthy T-6 in the country was parked there at Oshkosh. There was a row of Beech Staggerwings that were all beautiful and pristine. There were planes I had to look up because I had never seen them before. Everywhere you looked there was something to see.

Bring a refillable water bottle to make use of the many water stations and stay hydrated. If you didn’t bring a way to cook food at your campsite there are plenty of places to eat, most of which are not very healthy, but they taste pretty good. If you are looking for a healthy choice the only place we found was Subway. Next time I will bring a small camp stove and buy eggs, bacon, etc… at one of the Red One Markets spread throughout the grounds.

The “Dreaded South 40…”

This was my Rookie Year at Oshkosh, and they say that “You don’t know what you don’t know,” but I really liked the South 40. The shower trailers, not brick and mortar buildings, but as far as camping goes, they were nice, and the water was as hot as you wanted it to be. Walking past some of the bigger groups that had flown in together and parked together having their get togethers late into the night I was glad to get to our quiet corner of the grounds and pass out in my tent to nothing but the non-human sounds of the night.

“But Richard, I heard the South 40 is horrible and you might as well be camped in Fond Du Lac!”

There was a sign that someone has put up saying “Fond Du Lac City Limits” in the South 40. But, the reality is that it is roughly the same distance from show center to the south end of the South 40 as from show center to the north end of the North 40. Where the distance comes into play is if you are wanting to go to Target or Friar Tuck’s. They are just outside the gate of the North 40 but a looonnngggg way from the South 40.

If you decide to go to the Ford Fly In Theater to watch a movie, be aware that the trams and buses will be done for the night and you will be walking all the way back. Where we were camped it was just over a 2 mile walk, but if you were parked in the North 40 it would have been about the same distance.

Speaking of walking after dusk, or just being out of a tent after dusk, put on bug repellent. And I’m not talking a quick spray with the “OFF!” If you miss a spot, the mosquitos will find it. You don’t believe me? Put some of the cream repellent on, you know, the stuff you rub in instead of what comes in an aerosol can. Leave a dime size spot on your arm or leg bare from the repellent. You will have at least one bite there before the evening is over.

We were a short walk from the Ultralight Runway where they hold the STOL competitions which is a must see one of the evenings you are at OSH. I also recommend taking the bus over to the Seaplane Base at some point, it is a beautiful slow-paced environment. If you are lucky maybe you will get to see the twin Beech on floats that was there this year.

The daily airshows, the official ones not the constant stream of planes flying overhead, are amazing. Then again, the constant stream of planes is an airshow in and of itself. There was a Ford Trimotor giving flight after flight and a B-25 going back and forth overhead as it gave flights originating from another airport. You can set out a chair right up on the flight line in the morning and have an unobstructed view of everything. Bring something for shade while you’re sitting out there, an umbrella, light weight sun shelter, anything, you will want it. I have heard that there are years when the weather is cool, but 2021 was not one of them. The heat and sun during the day was relentless, but it cooled off nicely at night for a comfortable night’s sleep.

Speaking of the weather and sleeping at night, I have read that it runs on a five-day cycle. As you probably know Oshkosh runs for seven days. Do the math, you will probably see a storm sometime while you are there.

If you are camping, bring a good tent. You may also want to buy better stakes than the little aluminum things that come with most tents. Based on recommendations I bought a Kelty Gand Mesa 4 Person Tent. It was big enough for the two of us with two twin air mattresses, but not quite big enough to stand up in. The important thing is that it will stand up to some wind and rain.

In the middle of the night Monday, I woke up to the sound of rain and a little wind, then went back to sleep. About 1:30am I woke up to more wind and rain and something coming over the loudspeakers that was not clear enough to understand. I got my reading glasses (darn old eyes) and looked at my phone. There was a text message “OSHALERT: National Weather Service tells us storm in Shawano County that will impact EAA around 1:15am w/damaging winds 60-70 mph. Please take precautions.”

We were fairly well sheltered by the tree line and our tent was tucked up by the plane so after going outside to grab the towels off the prop so they wouldn’t be lost we went back to sleep. About an hour later (2:30am) we woke up to more sound from the loudspeakers and the text alert on my phone read “OSHALERT: 7/27/21 – Another round of storms headed for OSH @ around 4:40 am. Heavy rain & 30-45 mph winds expected w/possible lightning. Please take precautions.” Having ridden out the earlier storm we went back to sleep, and I didn’t wake up again until the sun was coming up over the horizon.

We stayed dry, but not all the other tents fared as well. On our way to breakfast we saw several tents that had either partially or completely collapsed from the storms. If you are going to camp, pay the money for a nice tent, you won’t regret it.

We planned to stay through Wednesday to see the nighttime airshow and begin the trip back on Thursday morning. However, the forecast for Wednesday night called for strong thunderstorms which may produce large hail and strong winds. The TAF Wednesday morning listed thunderstorms in the vicinity at 4pm with thunderstorms at 9pm and from 9pm-12am heavy thunderstorms with winds 30kt gusting 45kt and up to an inch of rain overnight.

The whole point of staying through Wednesday was for the night airshow and it didn’t look like there was any possibility of that happening so after breakfast we packed everything up and headed out. We were part of a steady stream of planes leaving Wednesday morning. It turned out that the afternoon and evening airshows were canceled. They offered shuttle buses to the Museum for a temporary shelter, and by the evening Oshkosh looked like a ghost town. Fortunately, the storm did not turn out to be as bad as forecast, but I didn’t regret leaving early.

As a Rookie at Oshkosh, I was on aviation sensory overload. Wandering through the exhibit halls, up and down the rows of planes, waking up to the sound of radial engines flying overhead, I was like a kid in the proverbial candy shop. If you want to hear a seminar on any aviation subject, you could probably find one. If there is some vintage plane that you wish you could see, you could probably find a pristine version of it somewhere on the grounds. A motorhome that looked like the front half of a DC-3? There was one there. Do you need a cowling off an old jet engine for a conversation piece in your hangar? There were multiple options to choose from in what was like an aviation graveyard swap meet on crack. Did you ever want to see a German A400M Atlas cargo plane? There was one there this year that you could walk through. How about a tour of a UPS 747-8F? They had one of those too. If it is aviation, it is at Oshkosh. I can’t wait for next year!

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