“All good things must come to an end,” or so they say. Our plan was to stay for the Wednesday evening airshow and depart Thursday morning. As I had done every morning, I woke up and looked at the weather forecast for the day. Unfortunately, what I saw was thunderstorms forecast for the evening with the possibility of large hail, winds at 30kt gusting 45kt, and up to an inch of rain. The forecast was enough for my friend and I to call it and get out of Dodge. We weren’t the only ones that came to that conclusion as evidenced by the constant stream of planes departing.
This was just my first time flying into Oshkosh, but from those I talked to before going and since returning, the anxiety many have about the arrival and departure I think is overblown. I felt that the arrival was easy and doable for anyone that knows how to follow someone around a traffic pattern. The only difference is that you are following someone for 20-30 miles, or in the case of our arrival that began at the town of Portage about 60 miles. The departure from Oshkosh is even easier than the arrival.
After breakfast and a trip to the seaplane base, we stopped by and got our mandatory departure briefing. The departure briefing boils down to one of the folks that work the show reading through the pertinent pages from the NOTAM. For a moment, I thought it was silly that they require you to have someone go over the NOTAM with you, but then I remembered the shenanigans that we heard on the radio during arrival on the radio from pilots that had obviously not read the NOTAMs and figured the mandatory departure briefing was a good thing. I imagine there are those that didn’t go through the briefing, but I wasn’t going to be one of them. With our highlighted copy of the NOTAM in hand we packed up camp and contacted a Marshall to come help us taxi out.
Looking down the row of planes I asked if we should push back and go out a different aisle. He responded that they would walk the wing and assured me we would fit through just fine.
It felt extremely close as we taxied along, sometimes with only a couple feet between the end of the wing and the spinner of the plane we were passing, but they had one guy walking along off my right wing and the other keeping an eye on my left wing and with their help we found ourselves on the wide taxiway heading toward 18R. In a reversal of the arrival, you just follow the directions of the Marshalls and whoever is in front of you. Eventually we were next in line and heard “Mooney 878, line up right side.” Shortly after the plane on the left side of the runway was on his way we heard “Mooney 878, 18R, cleared for takeoff.” I pushed the throttle in and we were on our way down the runway and lifting off into the hazy sky.
A short note, unlike normal operations you are not supposed to respond to the radio calls, just follow their instructions. Despite this, we still heard pilots repeating back radio calls which only clogs up what is often a very busy frequency.
The departure procedures are fairly simple. We were departing on 18R which meant flying runway heading at or below 1,300’ until clear of the Class D airspace. If you can fly a heading and an altitude, you can fly the departure procedure. Again, I was amazed at how well orchestrated the arrivals and departures are for Oshkosh.
Once clear of the Class D we climbed to 2,500’ until clear of the patchy clouds and then up to 3,500’. As we approached the shore of Lake Michigan, we descended to 1,500’ for the skyline tour. When I was first planning the trip to/from Oshkosh I noted how close Chicago is and decided it was the perfect opportunity to fly the Chicago skyline, a bucket list item. The Oshkosh NOTAM stated that Milwaukee Approach would not provide VFR traffic advisories within 70 miles of Oshkosh. Once we were 85 miles from Oshkosh, I tried called up approach. “Milwaukee Approach, Mooney 78878, VFR request,” and was told “Stand by.” There was a handful of other VFR planes calling in after I did, and they were given the same “Stand by.” After what seemed like a long time she came back and asked our request. Upon hearing that we were looking for flight following along Chicago she informed us that Chicago Approach was not handling any VFR advisories. No problem, we just cruised along VFR, squawking 1200 and trying to find the planes that were showing up on the tablets.
It was hazy, and a little bumpy, but it was AWESOME! We flew along, just offshore, taking in all the sights. We only flew the shoreline, but if you look at the charts there is room under the 1,900’ shelf of the Bravo to loop around downtown. If you fly to Oshkosh, the Chicago tour is worth the detour.
Once clear of the Bravo we climbed to 6,500’ and hooked around the south end of the Bravo and headed southwest toward our first fuel stop at Pekin Municipal Airport (C15). It is a small little airport just south of Peoria, IL. There was a young guy from the FBO that came out and helped with the fuel and we enjoyed a little air conditioning inside while looking at the next leg of the flight. With no desire to leave the cool indoors for the hot humid outdoors, we grudgingly headed back out to the plane and began the flight to Ponca City, OK (KPNC) where we would stay the night.
We had checked ahead to see if there was Uber available in Ponca City and considering it has a population of just over 23,000 we weren’t concerned. Luckily, we were able to get a ride with the one operating Uber driver to our hotel for the night. We arranged for her to pick us up in the morning and asked where to go for some good BBQ. She told us Danny’s BBQ was the best, and it was conveniently right across the street from our hotel. So far, we hadn’t been steered wrong by a local and this was no exception, the BBQ was amazing!
I watched the weather that evening in Oshkosh, the deserted grounds, the show planes with wings wrapped in bubble wrap and anything else they could find, and the notifications that they were bussing people to the museum to shelter from the incoming storm and was glad to be in a hotel room almost 675 miles away. Thankfully the storm did not produce the hail and winds that were forecast and everyone that stayed were treated to the night airshow on Thursday.
The first leg of the final day of our adventure was from Ponca City, OK to a fuel stop at Dalhart, TX (KDHT). The runway was in decent condition, the FBO was nice, but if you go be very careful taxiing to the pumps. There are big potholes in areas of the concrete which could cause a prop strike with the low clearance on our Mooneys.
The final fuel stop was in Holbrook, AZ (P14) where we got fuel and I took a long look at the weather radar after noting the building storms to the west. Once in the air I picked up flight following and was promptly advised by ATC that the gaps in the storms were closing quickly and that we should divert south to Phoenix to get around them.
Approaching Phoenix, it looked like we were in the clear, but ATC advised us of an area of precipitation ahead. “I’m not sure if it is at your level of above you,” he said, “State your intentions.” I could see the returns on my tablet but looking out the windshield it looked clear. However, it would be just a slight detour to avoid it so I cued up the mic and said, “It looks like if we go direct Buckeye that will keep us out of it.” He replied, “I concur.” From there on it was smooth flying until our touchdown back home at KFUL. Five days of flying, over 4,000 miles flown, three and a half days at Oshkosh, and memories for a lifetime. If you have ever dreamed of flying to Air Venture, take it from a Rookie. It is not as scary as you think, and it is more fun than you can imagine, just make it happen.