In July 2019 I met up with Mike Cahill and Brett Silvester at Oshkosh in Wisconsin USA at the Annual Fly-in Convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) aka “AirVenture”. Held every July at Whitman Field Airport, on the shores of Lake Winnebago, 300km north of Chicago, it is the biggest gathering of light aircraft enthusiasts in the world. It is a huge event that lasts for a whole week, so we decided to make a week of it. The stats for the week looked like this: 642,000 people attended with more that 10,000 aircraft. There were 12,300 campers, 2772 international visitors, 2758 show planes with 127 takeoffs/landings per hour. That’s why it’s the World’s Largest Air Show.
Brett and I arrived about 12 hours after Mike. Mike picked us up in his hire car from Appleton International Airport, about 30 minutes north of Oshkosh, at 11pm on Saturday 20th July. Our flights had been delayed by thunderstorms around Chicago where we both had to transit. I’d seen some interesting towering Cumulus as we flew from Dallas to Chicago that stretched right up to 35,000ft and Mike had experienced a mini tornado on the ground at Appleton.
It was Mike’s third visit to Oshkosh and the 50th Anniversary of EAA AirVenture. The theme was “Year of the Fighter” and Mike was a bit disappointed. He thought that although there were F15 Eagles, F18 Super Hornets, F22 Raptors and F35 Lightnings, so all the modern day fighters on static display, only the F22 and the F35 flew in regular displays. We were treated to a flypast of both the Navy Blue Angles (F18) and the USAF Thunderbirds (F16). I thought it was pretty impressive.
The Sunday was opening day and the main event was an opening party at the Cirrus tent. As a Cirrus owner Mike had received a few passes for the party so we all went along. Cirrus founder Dale Klappenmeier addressed the crowd at the Cirrus party, Oshkosh, explaining how his wife Patty was responsible for a lot of the good ideas incorporated into the design.
We chatted with various Cirrus people and enjoyed the beer and canapés.
The next day was Monday and the first real show day. We drove down to Oshkosh on the interstate in about 30 minutes and had no problem parking. As Mike had been to Oshkosh a few times before he was able to explain where most things were but it is so large an area that it takes a while to get your head around it. We had a Bell helicopter ride that morning to get a bird’s eye view of the layout and understand where everything was. It then took me all week to cover most of the things on offer.
For me, the technical seminars were a major attraction. The EAA App lets you work out what’s on where each day and makes it easy to compile a program of interesting topics. Want to know how best to avoid icing? How to adjust your mixture to get best fuel economy or best power? How to read met forecasts better? What the latest is in unmanned aircraft?
With about 20 different presentations running simultaneously from 8am to 5pm each day there was almost always something interesting to go to. And when the jet lag got the better of me (it took me four days to get over the jet lag) I went out and watched the airshow which ran from 2-6pm each afternoon.
One highlight for me was a restored De Havilland Mosquito. My dad was a navigator in the Pathfinders in WWII and flew in Mossies (the so-called “wooden wonder”) so it has always been top of mind for me. To see (and hear) one actually flying was amazing. It’s the third one that Total Rebuild, a company based in New Zealand, has restored from scratch and was only delivered in February 2019.
It had been shipped in pieces from NZ to its new home in Texas and only flown 17 hours including the flight up to Wisconsin so was essentially a brand new aeroplane. The head of Total Rebuild was interviewed at a forum on the Friday afternoon and told the story of how the wreck was found, recovered and restored. The interview was filmed and can be accessed online by the link below. The interview is typical of the types of sessions that occurred the whole week. In this forum the first 40 minutes was an interview with retired USAF veteran Dick Rutan, followed by the Mosquito restoration discussion.
Seeing a real B17 Flying Fortress and B29 Superfortress up close and in the air was amazing too. There were so many other historic aircraft and of course the modern day fighters.
There were also all the light sport aircraft of all shapes and sizes and the GA aircraft suppliers, whether it be Cirrus, Diamond, Piper, Cessna, Beechcraft and the larger corporate types like Pilatus. Everyone who is anyone was represented as well as a huge variety of aircraft equipment suppliers. Some had their own large display area while others rented booths in one of four large halls. I didn’t even really investigate these, there were too many of them.
I’d recommend any light aircraft enthusiast to make at least one trip to Oshkosh. Accommodation in the area around Oshkosh is booked our early so we had an AirBnB at Appleton, about 30 minutes up the interstate motorway to the north. It was an easy drive down and back each day and the traffic management was so good that we never had to queue. Avalon management could learn a thing or two from the EAA.
We flew into Appleton from Chicago. If you want to fly yourself in, you can arrange to fly in with a US instructor. If you do fly in and camp you will probably have a really good experience, being fully immersed in the Oshkosh world of aviation for a full week. Camping is a reasonable option given the warm weather we encountered. However, there is still a risk of storms and rain so for me an AirBnB makes more sense. It’s good to retreat to a home like environment at the end of the day and enjoy a barbie. Having said that, the EAA do have events on site most evenings so they would have been interesting to attend. Flying into Appleton is easy and it’s easy to hire a car there. My only other recommendation is to fly into the US a few days before the start of the event so that you can recover from the jet lag and make the most of what is a really busy week.