They changed the name of the Oshkosh EAA Fly-in this year and future years to AirVenture. But it is still Oshkosh to almost everyone. I thought that it would be fun to document my trip to Oshkosh ’98, I mean AirVenture ’98. I went last year using AA Advantage miles by way of Green Bay. This year I decided to fly there myself using my Cherokee 180, N642RJ.
I thought about going by myself but decided against that. I did not want to go by myself for a couple of reasons. One, it is a long trip and it would be nice to have someone along with me to past the time. And two, I wanted a second set of eyes to help me during the busy Oshkosh VFR arrival. And since this would be only my second long cross-country, I wanted my travelling partner to be a pilot, preferably instrument rated. Mark Seglem and I had already talked and he was planning to fly his Mooney taking one of his sons with him. Mark has flown into OSH a couple of times and assured me that it is not difficult as long as you can manage your airspeed and altitude properly.
I ran into Mike Hance one day and told him that I was thinking of flying to Oshkosh and wanted another pilot to go with me. He was planning to go also, but had not decided how he was going to get there. Mike volunteered to go with me and even split the costs with me. Mike has been to Oshkosh over 20 times. He and I started the planning. Mike had enough connections at Oshkosh to secure us nice rooms at a friend’s house in town and even a car! We planned to leave early Tuesday and arrive later that day, then return the following Monday.
On the Monday evening before we packed most of the airplane and checked to make sure that we had all the needed sectional charts. I topped the fuel and ensured that I had an extra quart of oil. I had purchased house trailer tie-down stakes for tying the airplane down at Oshkosh and we packed those. Now to try and get some sleep.
I had put together 3 flight plans, one direct, one to the east and one to the west. There was a persistent stationary low right over Missouri and the middle of the route to OSH. I checked the weather before I went to bed and it looked pretty good, but it usually does later in the day for Missouri. I tried to sleep, but did not get much sleep because I was thinking so much about the next day.
I got out of bed at 4:00 AM and looked at the weather I thought that there was no way that we would make it through Missouri or Oklahoma. This was during the time was when Texas was in the middle of the 100+ degree heat all day and a line of storms and rain was permanently parked through the middle of the country. At the Aero Country, Mike and I talked about what to do. We had two options, try to go around it by beating the weather to Memphis, TN or head straight north and hope that we hit a break in the weather as it moved to the east. We went north.
At 6:35AM we took off from Aero Country and climbed to 7,500 feet. About an hour later we began to see the weather off to the east and some ahead. Just clouds ahead at about 10,000 feet. We were talking to the weather people (actually Mike was doing the talking) so we knew where not to go. When we got near Tulsa, OK, they told us that if we stayed just west of Tulsa and went about 50 miles straight north from there we would be OK. There was our hoped for break in the line of storms marching across the middle of the US. We flew through a little bit of rain. There was nothing hard or bumpy, in fact most the rain that we flew through probably was not even reaching the ground.
After getting past the weather, we headed toward Oshkosh, WI. But we had been in the air about 2 1/2 hours and we were due for a rest break and fuel. We landed at this small airport in Iola, KS, Allen County Airport. They had a computer to access the Internet for weather that was so slow. It was 28.8 MODEM with a 66Mhz 486 CPU. Old and slow, but it worked. Ahead of us the clouds were low, about 2,500 to 4,000 feet and solid overcast. So we climbed back up to 7,500 and headed toward our destination. We went past Kansas City and Cedar Rapids. Between Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, IA, the clouds tops below us got a bit higher. It wasn't a problem, but for the fun of it I climbed to 9,500 feet! That is the highest that I have been in N642RJ. She flew just fine up there.
Near Madison, WI we had to decide if we should stop for fuel again. We calculated that we would have over an hour of fuel by the time we would begin the approach into OSH. So on we went. It was now about 1:00 and we had been in the air a total of about 6 hours and in all that time we had not seen another airplane. I know that they were out there because we heard other pilots talking with the weather guesser on the radio. I also know they were out because when we were got to OSH we saw a lot of them! Lots and lots.
Getting in line to approach OSH and land there is a thrill! There are airplanes coming from all over. But they have a published approach and the controllers get you lined up single file. You do not talk on the radio, just listen. They call your plane by type and color and ask you to rock your wings to signify that you heard them. It really is well managed and orderly. You do need to get the NOTAM and review it and understand it. But it is really not that challenging. Mike was a great help. He had briefed me on what to expect and prepared me very well.
Just after we got past the initial approach waypoint, RIPON, the controller asked us to hold by circling the lake just north of RIPON. So out we went. I ended up behind a Cessna. Which would have been OK except the Cessna pilot could not hold a speed nor his altitude. The controller cleared us for the rest of the approach after one time around of the lake, 1800 MSL and 90 kts right over the railroad tracks. I was a little worried about the airplane in front of me only 300 to 500 yards away. Mike kept telling to stay over the tracks, "stay at 1800, don’t worry about him" he would say. I had done some slow flight practice in preparation for this and it paid off. I stayed right over the tracks near the required speed (had to slow down because of the guy I was following). At the next waypoint, FISK, the controller told the Cessna to go back to RIPON around the lake. Great! That’s what can happen if you can not maintain the approach speed and altitude or if the spacing is not what the controller like. That gave us a bit better spacing and a clear view of airport.
At the runway they have three big dots painted on it. A white one the approach end, a green one 1,500 feet down and an orange one 3,000 down the 6,187 foot runway 27 that we landed on. They asked me to land on the middle dot. There was a plane landing behind and one landing in front at the same time! I did just fine. In fact it was a pretty good-looking landing. I did not see the judge’s scores, but I am sure that it was at least a 9.5. I pulled off the left side of the runway, smiled at all the people, the flagmen and myself and taxied around the airport to where they parked me. Whew! I had just landed at the busiest airport in the world (at least for that week it is the busiest). Seven and a half hours of flying time. We left Aero Country at 6:35 AM and I shut the engine down at 2:20 PM.
I had a great time during the week. Looking at airplanes. Lots and lots of airplanes of all types. Watching the airshows. Going through the exhibits and seeing what else I can spend some money on. Lots and lots! That is sort of the theme of Oshkosh, lots and lots. Lots of walking! Lots of looking. Lots of people. And lots to do. I went to a few of the forums and presentations. And a couple of times I just found the wing of an airplane to sit or lay underneath and relax.
Oshkosh is a BIG deal. Let me tell you how big it was this year. There was a record attendance of 855,000 people. There were a record 2,743 showplanes. A total of 12,000 planes flew to AirVenture ’98 during the seven days. The weather was great. I hear that this was one the best years for weather. Coming from 100+ degree Texas to mornings or 55 to 65 in Oshkosh was great. The only rain that we saw was a light rain as we were packing N642RJ to leave on Monday.
Mike and I even had time to visit one the local long time watering hole, Acey Duecey. A nice small town bar and pool hall. A good way to wind down after a long day. I guess that a few may have spent several more nights at the Acey Duecey. Later Tuesday the rain started coming down in buckets. Quite a few pilots were still cooling their heels on Thursday and Friday, waiting for a sliver of sun to appear. By Friday, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson had declared many parts of the state a flood disaster area. I guess timing can be everything.
We left on Monday morning at 8:30 AM. Another Cherokee and me side by side on runway 27. The controller released him first and when he got about 600 feet down the runway, she released me. And off we went. Both of us were headed south and I stayed on his right until I was well above him. I then climbed to 3,500 and headed for Lake Michigan. We had decided earlier that it would be fun to do a landing at Meigs Field on the Chicago lakefront. This southerly route was also the best due to the weather. The rain was coming in from the east and the storm line in Missouri was still there.
As we approached the greater Chicago area, we slide out over the lake about a half-mile off shore and about 800 feet AGL (or is that AWL, above water level?). There are some really nice homes or mansions on the north side of Chicago. Not many people on the beaches due to the overcast day. Soon we under that class B Chicago airspace and the towers of downtown could be seen ahead and actually above us. Mike contacted Meigs tower for clearance to land. We flew past Chicago’s gold coast and I circled out around Navy Pier, then into a left base for 36. On final I had the Planetarium on my left and the Shedd Aquarium on my right. I remember thinking that I had been here before. Oh ya! That was in Microsoft Flight Simulator and I think that I crashed last time. That simulator was always harder to fly than the real thing. But I am more experience now and the landing was uneventful.
I had landed at Meigs! I needed a souvenir, so what better than a fuel receipt. Well, 16 gallons later I had my souvenir. $2.72 a gallon plus Mayor Daley’s $12 landing fee.
From there we flew on down the Lake Michigan coast line over Gary Indiana and to Valparaiso, Indiana. I had lived in the Valparasio area and I wanted to do a touch and go in my birth state before heading back to Texas.