It begins when you hear those magic words over the radio, “Welcome to the Show!”
Oshkosh isn’t something you attend; it is something you experience. Trying to explain to people outside the aviation community what EAA Airventure is, commonly referred to as Oshkosh or just Osh, presents a challenge. Even to those in the aviation community, it is hard to put into words the scope and magnitude of the experience.
I usually end up saying something like, “It is the biggest air show event in the world. They have an airshow every day for a week, any vendor that has anything to do with aviation is there, and there is just about every plane you’ve ever heard of, and then some. You see planes from 1930’s that look better than when they rolled off the production line.”
Even that doesn’t really describe the event. When I tell them that this year there were about 677,000 people that attended with more than 10,000 planes that flew in, it blows their minds. Here are a few other random numbers from the Oshkosh 2023 News Release.
- There were 21,883 aircraft operations at Wittman Regional from July21-31.
- The airport averaged 148 takeoffs/landings per hour when the airport was open.
- Camp Scholler (outside the airport) is 350 acres and turns into a city of about 32,000 people.
- 848 Commercial exhibitors
- 2,372 attendees registered at the International Visitors Tent from 93 countries outside the U.S.
- 863 media representatives from six continents
In 2021 I arrived Sunday morning and was parked near the south end of the Vintage Aircraft Camping in the South 40. It was a nice spot, but I thought perhaps if we got there on Saturday, we would get a closer parking spot. I am now of the opinion it doesn’t matter. We arrived, held up our VAC (Vintage Aircraft Camping) sign in the window and followed the marshal’s directions. Then we watched as we taxied past empty spots and completely empty rows before parking us in 148, two rows from where VAC officially ends and the South 40 begins. We were three rows further away than in 2021.
The next time I fly to Osh, I will plan to arrive Thursday mid-day before the afternoon airshow and let them plug me in a spot where someone has departed. One other drawback of the early arrival is that none of the Exhibit Hangars are open, only some of the food vendors, and you are limited to just walking around and looking at planes. (Granted, there are a lot of planes to look at, and it is not a terrible way to spend the day.)
Speaking of limited food venues, Saturday’s dinner was more akin to a couple starving college kids. After timing it to arrive between the rainstorms, we set up our tent and relaxed inside while the rain passed. Half-starved (not really, but we were hungry) we wandered over to Red One Market East and evaluated our options for food. We settled on a Totini’s Pizza, cooked it in their oven, and ate there at the counter.
This isn’t really a complaint about the parking. I was initially annoyed, but we were close (not too close) to the porta-potty, close to the showers, and the bus would stop and pick you up or drop you off near by. Talking with different folks over the next few days that were in the North 40 convinced me that I LIKED where we were. They complained about noise from large groups late into the evenings, along with road noise from the nearby streets. Where we were, it was quiet.
And, just to make myself feel better, I measured distances on Google Maps from the west end of the North 40 to Boeing Plaza and our spot to Boeing Plaza. It clocked in at 1.59 miles from that part of the North 40 and only 1.46 miles from our campsite. However, if you are in the far reaches of the South 40 and NOT Vintage, it is almost 2 miles to Boeing Plaza (the busses do run all the way there). The North 40 puts you closer to Target and some restaurants if you’re looking for that, but I’ll take the quiet area to the South.
Here are random observations, likes, dislikes, and lessons learned from my second trip to Oshkosh, in no particular order.
Keep your eyes open, you never know what will be flying in and what you will see. They had the Nasa Super Guppy there this year and we missed seeing it land. We did see it take off and come around for a low-ish pass which was awesome. ‘Connie’ a Lockheed Constellation was scheduled to be there but had mechanical problems and showed up later in the week after we left.
The Boeing Dreamlifter, a converted 747-400 flew in and was on display, and again we missed the landing. Along with the Super Guppy it had you shaking your head at the aerodynamics of flight.
Have you ever been given an intersection departure? We watched an Airbus A350 make an intersection departure on 18. Granted, 18 is 8,002’ long, but still an intersection departure in a massive A350 is pretty cool.
Keep a refillable water bottle with you. There are drinking fountains around but none of the bottle filling stations at them work. Inside Exhibit Hangars B and C on the east sides there are bottle filling stations with cold water. There are some water refilling tanks on trailers, they look like a large white potbelly stove on wheels, that say “Jim’s Water,” along Whittman Road south of show center that have better water than anything that comes out of the drinking fountains.
While I’m mentioning Exhibit Hangar B, it has air-conditioned restrooms. You may laugh that I point that out, but when it is hot and humid, you will likely find yourself planning your day around restroom breaks at Hangar B and walking the extra steps for the air conditioning.
Be ready to walk, a lot. Sunday, before all the trams were running, we walked 20,797 steps which comes out to 10.3 miles. Speaking of trams, if you are parked in the South 40, they added an Express/Direct Tram. It picks up at the stop just south of the Ultralight Field and drops you off between Hangar B and D, no intermediate stops.
When EAA publishes the schedule of exhibitors and speakers go through it BEFORE you get to Osh and highlight the ones you want to see. There is also an app on your phone that you can mark ones that you want to attend and have it send you reminders. I say BEFORE you get there because once you are there you will likely be overwhelmed and miss out on some.
The best one we went to was “Flying for Hollwood” at the Theater in the Woods. The main speaker was Kevin LaRosa II who did all the camera flying for Top Gun Maverick and Devotion (along with over 100 other motion pictures and commercial productions). To say it was fascinating is an understatement.
I regret we didn’t plan more forum visits ahead of time. By the time I was looking through the program we had either missed someone I would have loved to hear, or they were a long walk from our current location. Had I planned better we could have mapped out the day to be in the right area at the right time.
You should catch at least one show at the Fly In Theater. Look at the schedule and pick something out. In 2021 I saw a documentary on the Albatross that was very well done. This year on Sunday they were showing Top Gun Maverick so it was a no-brainer what we were going to watch. Get there early to scope out a good spot. Bring chairs and bug spray. In fact, every evening as dusk approaches you will want to either be inside or have bug spray on.
If you choose to sit on a blanket you will have to be strategic to see around people in chairs in front of you. There is free popcorn but go ahead and drop a tip in the jar. If you are there early, you can just walk right up and grab multiple bags. If you wait until just before the movie starts the line will be 50+ people long. The free popcorn is standard fare movie popcorn, but you should buy a bag of Faris Popcorn. ❤❤❤
Part of the experience is leaving the Fly In Theater after the movie. As numberless bikes go past you and the sea of people on the road making your way back to camp, you get a small sensation of the size of the city that is Camp Scholler. And while we’re on the subject of bikes, pause and take in the bike pen outside the gate coming from Camp Scholler. I have no idea how people find their bikes later in the day.
At some point you must take the trip out to Seaplane Base. Sign up for the free boat tour and just spend some time relaxing there and enjoying the slow, quiet pace which is in stark contrast to Whittman Field. If they are selling the Pulled BBQ Pork Mac-n-Cheese you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try it. We ate a lot of food at Osh, but that was right up there with the most delicious.
That brings up the topic of food trucks. There was an Osorio’s truck parked down by the Ultralight Field with amazing food. Don’t think you will get the same food at the Osorio’s concession stands, I don’t know why, but they just aren’t as good as the food truck. The El Agave food truck by Exhibit Hangar B was great too!
Plan at least one evening to show up for the STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) event at the Ultralight Field. It is like watching a flying rodeo, complete with announcers and judges! Highly entertaining. Stick around for the Twilight Flight Fest and watch the powered paragliders all lit up flying around.
Go out and set up your chairs or shade for the afternoon airshow ahead of time instead of carrying them around all day. We didn’t have any issues with anyone taking or moving them. I saw someone with a Helinox Royal Box when I was at Osh in 2021 and decided I needed one for its light weight and shade. I was a little nervous about leaving something that expensive alone all day, but I set it up, staked it down, and left our chairs in it. Nobody ever bothered it or the pricy lightweight chairs. If you do pop up a shade, be courteous and don’t do it at the front of the flight line. Pick a spot further back, you will still have a great view but won’t be blocking other’s views.
By mid-day you will probably want a break. The Theater in the Woods is central, there is nothing going on during the day (typically) and you can lay down across the padded chairs and take a nap. In some parts of it the air isn’t moving, but if you walk around, you can find a spot with a breeze going through.
If you find yourself getting a little overheated and you are near Exhibit Hangar B, on the north-east corner there is an A&W with amazing root beer floats! There are other A&W vendor booths scattered around, but that one at Hangar B serves them in a big paper cup which seems to keep them cool longer than the plastic cups at the other places. I’m not sure that a root beer float is an official way to manage heat exhaustion symptoms, but it seemed to work for us. 😊
Try to time your trip to see either the Wednesday or Saturday night airshows. Planes streaming showers of sparks, planes shooting fireworks from their wings, and fireworks launched from the ground WHILE a plane flies around them launching its own fireworks is not something you want to miss. Then stick around for the actual fireworks show. It is a top-notch show capped with a wall of fire that from 1,000 feet away you feel the heat that the concussion blast.
In 2021 I never made it over to the museum. Don’t make that same mistake. It is very well done and has an incredible number of displays; you could spend an entire day in there if you were to stop and read about all the different displays. It is also air conditioned, which makes it a great midday stop.
Talk to people you come across. This one is outside my comfort zone, as I would rather just keep to myself and watch the planes. I was able to meet some great folks and learned that Osh is even bigger than I had imagined. While waiting for the bus to return from Seaplane Base, I visited with a pilot from England. He was part of a group of 17-18 (I can’t remember exactly) that came over because he had to experience Osh. On another bus ride we talked with two guys that flew their Aztec from Argentina to Osh! Here I thought I had traveled a long way from the West Coast. Finally, while sitting waiting for the afternoon airshow a guy sat down next to us and we started visiting. He is from Australia, owns a de Havilland Gipsy Moth and like the guy from England had a dream to come experience Osh. He showed me pictures of formation flying in his Gipsy Moth with a Tiger Moth. That makes people from three different continents that I was able to meet.
If you park in Vintage, you can ask them to judge your plane. It does not need to be showplane status, you can still ask for it to be judged and they will. You can stop by the Vintage Red Barn just south of Boeing Plaza and pick up a free glass mug which is very cool.
You can also pick up a plaque with the picture they take of your plane when they judge it. I wasn’t going to get the plaque, it felt like getting a participation ribbon, but I did it at the urging of my wife. If you aren’t a member of the Vintage Aircraft Association (different than your EAA Membership) then I think it was $15 for the plaque. Here’s my regret, and it comes down to wishing I had more information at the beginning of the week. If you are a VAA Member, then breakfast at Tall Pines is free. We ate at Tall Pines every morning. It’s a decent breakfast and I think was around $11. Had I paid for a VAA Membership I would have come out slightly ahead after the breakfasts and plaque, but I learned that on Wednesday afternoon after paying for breakfast Monday-Wednesday. That’s just something to keep in mind.
If you are tent camping and haven’t camped with a cot, I highly recommend it. We have always used air mattresses, which are nice, but they are nothing like a nice cot. To keep weight down we (I) splurged and got two Heliniox Cot One Convertible with the leg extensions. They are amazingly comfortable and with the extensions you can sit on them and put bags and stuff under them.
If you are going to leave in the morning, it is worth getting up early, getting packed up, and starting up when they open the field at 6am, or as close to it as possible. The longer you wait, the more time for things to go sideways and leave you stuck in a line of taxiing airplanes going nowhere. We spent almost three hours from when we started up to when we were finally wheels up. In 2021 it was 21 minutes from startup to wheels up from almost the same camping spot.
I was going to do a full writeup in this post about the flight home. It was the best kind of flight, uneventful, but I have rambled on long enough. It did include an aerial tour of Chicago along with some other adventures, but that will have to wait. for a future post.