Oshkosh 2023 – The Journey There

ATC: “RV, land now land now, thank you. Mooney turn left into the grass, follow flagman to park, traffic behind keep it movin’.” ATC: “All right we got you off the runway Mooney, thank you follow the flagman to park, Welcome to Oshkosh!”…
Written by
Richard Brown
Published on
1 Sep 2023

Departure Minus 2 Days for Arrival

I suppose this starts at D minus 3 days, when I was updating my logbook and the spreadsheet that I track all my flights on. I use MyFlightbook.com instead of a paper logbook. It’s great and you can even have CFI’s and DPE’s digitally sign it. But, back to the updating. When I bought our Mooney I setup an Excel sheet and track all the hours along with things like maintenance and when I add oil. It’s helpful to see when things are coming due, and if I start to use more oil than normal it will jump right out.

Well, I had several flights to input. It seems I always do, as it is more fun to fly than to log the flights. When I had them entered, I saw that it had been 36.5 hours since my last oil change, which posed a couple of problems.

The odds were excellent that during the Osh trip I would tick over 50 hours, and it was a Wednesday evening, with an all-day work meeting the next day (including dinner), and we were planning to depart Friday afternoon. After some debate I decided that I must get up at my normal 4:45am time but instead of getting on the exercise bike I would skip the workout and go change the oil before my meetings began.

Yes, I get up at 4:45am M-F and workout, it helps to keep my personal useless load down, and I suppose is an article for another day.

Which is how I found myself at the hangar at 6am on D-2, a Thursday morning, changing the oil in our Mooney before heading off to a full day of meetings.

Departure Minus 1 Day for Arrival

Two years ago, I went to Osh as a Rookie with a friend. We took the southern route around the Rockies past Albuquerque before turning to the northeast. This year my wife was coming along, and we wanted to get about a 3-4 hour jump on the trip Friday so that we could arrive Saturday. However, along the southern route there weren’t very good options for an overnight stop in the 3-4 hour range. After looking at all the options for the southern route I decided to plug in the northern route through Salt Lake before turning east over the high plains of Wyoming. It was only a 10-minute difference in flight time, so we decided to go to Salt Lake Friday night to stay with family and then try to make the push to Osh on Saturday.

I landed at nine new airports on this trip, starting with Ogden (KOGD) on Friday. I hoped to make it without a fuel stop but the winds made it questionable. It was a typical late summer afternoon flight over the desert with the nose alternating between 3-5° pitch down in the updrafts to 3-5° pitch up in the downdrafts trying to maintain altitude.

During the rare times when we were in stable air cruising along straight and level I was trued out at 166 mph but thanks to the Powerflow Exhaust I had installed I was leaned out to 9.1 gph instead of the usual 10-10.2 gph. (With the O-360 carbureted engine you can’t get as lean as the IO-360 injected model).

Approaching Delta (KDTA) with just under an hour to go I still had over 2 hours of fuel remaining thanks to the 9.1 gph burn rate and decided to push on to KOGD. Over the Great Salt Lake, which was as smooth as glass, we made the turn to the northeast and were almost on a 29nm straight in for runway 03.

The problem was the winds were variable and they were advertising 17 on the ATIS. As we approached there were a number of planes shooting practice approaches to 17 so I didn’t bother asking for something different. Besides, this would let me enter a regular pattern and put us right near the FBO. Tower instructed us to report entering a right downwind for 17 so we continued on, staring at the long stretch of 03 out in front of us.

Just under 2 miles from the end of 03, at 5,400’ MSL (KOGD sits at 4,473’) and slowing down to make a left turn onto the downwind tower called up.

Tower: “Mooney 1015 Echo, winds are calm, do you want runway three?”
Me: (After a quick glance at my location and the 8,000’+ length of 03) “Sure, we can do whatever is easiest for you.”
Tower: “Mooney 1015 Echo, runway three, cleared to land.”
Me: “Runway three, cleared to land, 15 Echo.”

I am sure that he figured it was easier for me to come straight in and it also kept me out of the area that he had two guys on practice approaches. I pulled the power, slowed to 120 mph, threw out the gear, put the left rudder to the floor, and began an elevator ride down in a full sideslip. The VSI was pegged but Flight Aware showed my last two hits at 1,273 fpm and 1,676 fpm. With 8,170’ of runway to work with I wasn’t concerned, and we touched down about halfway down and rolled out to the end.

My wife’s daughter was there with her family to pick us up and our granddaughter happily helped out with the luggage. The fuel truck put in 41.3 gallons so I was just above my personal minimum of “on the ground with 10 gallons in the tank.”

Arrival Day

We got an early start on Saturday. A Cessna 182 departed before us also heading to Osh. My wife had been chatting with them in the FBO while I was doing pre-flight on the plane. Tower asked them if they would be coming back and they replied that they were heading to Osh. As we were leaving Ogden’s airspace tower asked “Mooney 15 Echo, will you be coming back today?”

“No,” I replied, “We’re going to race the Cessna to Osh.” 😊

It wouldn’t be a fair race. Although he can cruise almost as fast (burning about 5 gallons more per hour) he was also going to have to make more stops as they were heavy and couldn’t take full fuel. They would end up landing in Mankato, MN 232 nm short of Osh 20 minutes after we landed in Osh.

The northern route had a couple of benefits. First, we would get to take an aerial tour of Mt Rushmore. Second, we would get to land in Rapid City, SD. When I started flying and learned that Rapid City’s identifier was KRAP, it had been on my bucket list to land in KRAP. As I told my wife, “Boys never grow up.”

Mt Rushmore was great, and Rapid City, while they have a tower, is what I would call “relaxed.” He directed us to enter a left base for runway 32. There was nobody else on frequency when he cleared us to land, but he cleared “one-zero-one-seven Echo” to land. I called back asking if he meant “one-zero-one-five Echo” to which he responded, “Yes, one-seven Echo, cleared to land.” Now, we were the only ones on frequency for at least the last five minutes, and I was sure he was talking to me, but I wanted to hear my tail number before putting rubber on the runway.

Me: “Just confirming it is Mooney one-zero-one-five Echo cleared to land?”
Tower: “Affirmative, one-zero-one-five Echo runway three-two, cleared to land. Sorry, I wrote it down wrong, you’re the only one out there.”
Me: “Thanks, cleared to land three-two, one-five Echo.”

After a quick fuel stop and a couple peanut butter and peach jam sandwiches, we were back in the air headed east. My initial plan was to stop in Winona, MN (KONA). That would have us going into Osh with almost full fuel for any delays on the Fisk arrival, as well as check the state of Minnesota off my list.

As we winged our way across South Dakota and Minnesota with a light tailwind and groundspeeds between 170-180mph I was keeping my eye on a couple different storms. There was one giving KOSH a hint of things to come, and a bigger, slow moving one, stretching 150 miles from Minneapolis to the shores of Lake Superior.

I concluded that if we landed at KONA there was a good chance that we would be stuck there by the approaching storm if we had to wait for KOSH to clear, and then we would likely be stuck there for the night. Looking at the charts I decided to stop short at Owatonna (KOWA) and if needed we could swing further to the south around the storm and get into Osh ahead of it.

As we flew over the field and I began the turn onto a left downwind for runway 23, I saw a wonderful surprise.

“Hey! There’s three T-38’s painted up like the Thunderbirds on display!” I declared to my wife.

After landing and getting fuel at a discount because we were enroute to Osh, we took a walk out to the display at the entrance of the airport. There, in all their glory in the high bomb burst maneuver, were three T-38’s in the Thunderbird’s regalia which was the demonstrator from 1974-1981. According to the plaque at the base of the display, each 12,500-pound plane is mounted on a 36’ pylon, and the noses are 70’ high in the air. It was an incredible display and the only one like it in the country. Owatonna sees high winds, but the display withstood 113 miles-per-hour winds when tested in a wind tunnel.

It had a special place in my heart as my dad was an instructor pilot for several years in the T-38.

I looked at the radar returns and the movement of the storm and determined that if we swung a little south of our route, we could skirt it and come into Osh ahead of it with about an hour to get tied down and set up the tent. It wasn’t going to be a monster storm, so I wasn’t worried about waiting for it to pass Osh.

The Fisk Arrival

I am not quite sure why people get nervous about the Fisk arrival. This is the second time I have flown it, and neither time did it seem overly stressful. If you can fly into a busy uncontrolled field and land within 100’ of your target, you can fly the Fisk arrival.

The decision to land at KOWA was the right one. As we passed about 10 miles south of KONA I could see the dark clouds to the north and the rain was approaching the field. We “bounced” our way through the air across the Mississippi River prompting my wife to ask, “Why are we flying in this?”

“Flying in what?” I responded, looking out the windscreen with great visibility, albeit a blanket of gray above us.

“These bumps,” she replied.

“Well, I guess we could be over there,” I said pointing to the south where about 20 miles away you could see the edge of the clouds,” but I don’t think it would be much smoother.”

The arrival was not very busy and began at the Puckaway Lake Transition. Two years ago, it was so busy, that they weren’t even starting at the Endeavor Bridge Transition which is labeled as used during “extremely high volumes of traffic.” On that trip they were starting at the town of Portage, about 12 miles south of Endeavor, and not even part of the NOTAM. You can read about that trip here.

We picked up the “conga line,” I dropped my gear and set my power. Everyone followed the NOTAM, well, except for Cessna N5550Y (video below). Passing off our right wing, 1,800’ above the rest of the traffic, six miles past the transition point, he began his descent sliding in between two planes at the east end of Green Lake, a full 15 miles past where he “should” have joined the line. The guy he cut off, N4522Z, bailed out of the line and came back around to rejoin. I’ll never understand those who don’t follow the NOTAM. I hoped that the controllers would kick him to the back of the line, but they didn’t see it.

Anyway, back to the approach. We picked up the railroad track at Ripon and followed it along until we heard the magic words, “Low-wing half mile southwest of Fisk rock your wings.”

I gave it a good wing rock and was rewarded with, “Good rock sir, straight ahead, down the train tracks, enter a right downwind for runway two-seven, just keep it inside the gravel pit, one-thousand-eight-hundred feet until you get to the downwind, you can monitor the tower on one-one-eight point five.”

We continued along at 1,800’ and into our view came the camper city of Camp Scholler along with row after row of planes parked on the ground. The NOTAM for 27 states, “Turn base prior to reaching shoreline. Do not continue past shoreline unless advised by ATC.” On this my second trip to Osh I would be “advised by ATC” to continue.

Note: You don’t talk back to ATC unless requested. Anything from this point until after we landed that is written in italics is conversation just taking place on the intercom in the plane.

ATC: “Mooney over the gravel pit, start your descent, keep that downwind nice and tight and keep descending, keep descending. We’re going to have a, ah, tight base for you.”
Me: “We can do that.”

At this point I think he was hoping to squeeze us in before the flight of warbirds inbound from Warbird Island. That would quickly change.

Warbirds: “Redstar flight, two miles.”
ATC: “Redstar flight, cleared to land. Mooney continue your downwind I’ll call your turn.”
Me: “Same thing happened to us last time. He’s gonna bring us in after these two guys coming in.”

I could see the planes over the lake on final for 27.

ATC: “Yak flight cleared to land on the green dot two-seven.”
Warbirds: “Cleared to land on the green dot for the Yaks.”
Me: “Gonna follow them in.”

Normally, when you are on downwind, you wait for the plane on final to pass before turning base, but this is Osh, and things aren’t normal. The planes had not yet passed off our wing, they were still out in front of us when ATC called up.

ATC: “Mooney turn base now.”

I began the turn to base at a time that would have the tower at home yelling at me.

ATC: “Mooney, you’re following a flight of three Yaks over the shoreline, you have them insight?”
Me: “Affirmative.”
ATC: “Roger, cleared to land ooonnnn the orange dot, runway 27.”

I suppose this is where people get nervous about the Fisk arrival. I am turning a base leg with the lead Yak off my nose and two more in trail, and I’m going to follow the third one in. We began the turn to final and it felt like we were almost on top of the third Yak. We rolled out tightly in trail, but they were taking him down to the green dot and we were slowing to land on the orange dot.

ATC: “The Yak flight, continue all the way down to the green dot please. Cleared to land at or after the green dot. Mooney you are cleared to land on the orange dot.”

He was giving instructions to an RV behind us but came back to us as we crossed the threshold for 27.

ATC: “Mooney keep it airborne please, airborne toooo the orange dot, cleared to land on the orange dot.”
Me: “I’m doing it.”
ATC: “Yaks turn left into the grass, thank you, welcome to Oshkosh.”
ATC: “Yaks I need minimum time on the runway I got traffic coming up right behind you.”
ATC: “And Mooney, minimum time on the runway, got traffic behind you.”

We put it down just past the orange dot.

ATC: “RV, land now land now, thank you. Mooney turn left into the grass, follow flagman to park, traffic behind keep it movin’.”
ATC: “All right we got you off the runway Mooney, thank you follow the flagman to park, Welcome to Oshkosh!”

Stay tuned for “The Show” and the journey back home.

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