Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

Oshkosh Observations - 2019

 

September 1, 2019



There are GOOD Oshkosh EAA Conventions—and there are OUTSTANDING Conventions—but there are no BAD Oshkosh Conventions. There have been Conventions that stand out in our minds—“Did you see Concorde at Oshkosh?” “Did you see Voyager at Oshkosh?” “The U.S. military demo teams?” “The French Connection act?” “Fifi” (or “Doc?”). “The Martin Mars water bomber?” The multitude of outstanding aircraft displayed every year at the Main Plaza?

We remember the outstanding aircraft—we remember the outstanding accomplishments—we remember the incredible performances—we remember the aviation luminaries—we remember the programs—in short, we remember the very BEST of aviation.

If an aircraft or a product is NEW—it’s at Oshkosh.

If an aircraft is OLD (Vintage or Warbird)—it’s at Oshkosh.

The outstanding aviation personalities—whether record-setters, military teams, inventors, designers, builders, pilots—from someone that builds or restores an aircraft at home, to the astronauts—ALL are available at Oshkosh. EAA Founder Paul Pobrerezny made sure that the Convention (and that is what it is INTENDED to be—not an airshow) allowed EAA members to learn from the best in the business—not entertainment for the masses. If you were an EAA member, you were a “privileged insider”—not just a spectator. It was absolute GENIUS!

In the past few years, we’ve become accustomed to ever-fancier and complex Conventions—yet with all of the new airplanes, airshow acts, products displayed, the emphasis is still on building, restoring, equipping, maintaining, operating, and FLYING our chosen aircraft. As we’ve grown, attendance at the Convention has also grown—and EAA has worked hard to keep up. Increased ground space for aircraft display, parking, camping, and crowds have had EAA stretched to the limit.

In a few of those years—Mother Nature has thrown the very worst at the Convention—and EAA has handled it well. In 2010—heavy rains turned the grounds into mud—it was nicknamed “Sloshkosh”—but EAA not only responded immediately, but took it upon themselves to work to make sure that weather would not have major effects again. Roads were built, new campgrounds were built, new aircraft parking was added, more car parking, more display areas, more amenities. The aircraft industry itself was changing—with a shortage of pilots, mechanics, and aviation personnel, there was a need to add purveyors of training to the mix—“Gateway Forums.” The success of Young Eagles and the desire to cultivate interest in younger children resulted in repurposing part of Pioneer Airport into “Kidventure.” Interest in Warbirds resulted in a huge expansion in that area. The Forums area underwent a huge expansion. It seems like there was an unbroken string of Conventions with increased attendance.

THIS YEAR looked to be yet another continuation of that record growth. The Convention has become so popular that it is getting difficult to accommodate all that would like to take it in. EAA found that so many wanted to come early to find a good spot to enjoy the show that they had to resort to “Pre-registrations”— a good gauge for EAA in forecasting attendance. This year’s pre-registration was up 60% from last year—it looked to be yet another in a string of record-breaking attendance years.

We arrived on Friday afternoon—more than two full days before the “official” start of the convention. Last year, there was such demand for camping that EAA quickly leased land south of the grounds for camping—and this year, added even MORE camping. With a weather forecast for rain for the weekend, we wanted to be in place before the rains came. Even though EAA has been “building-out” crushed rock roads in the hayfield that is Camp Scholler—there is only so much that can be done each year. We got in just as the rains started and immediately set up. Within two hours, the MORE THAN TWO INCHES of heavy rain had turned the lowest elevations in the campground into a sea of mud—there were campers stuck everywhere. EAA was prepared, though—they had huge John Deere tractors ready to pull the campers out—in an incredible display of aid “above and beyond the call of duty,” we witnessed EAA volunteers digging in front of mired motor homes and campers—then diving into the mud to attach pull straps! The campers were extricated—but the road were mired messes—impassable to all except 4 or 6 wheel-drive “Gators.” The capacity problem was compounded—vehicles were lined up on the frontage road for a mile north and south of the entrance trying to get in—and there was no place to put them!

Even after the rains let up, aircraft arrivals had to be paused—the infield, the Vintage parking, and landing on the Ultralight airstrip were no longer safe for parking and landing (though a few aircraft with Tundra tires were allowed as the large tires didn’t chew up the sod).

EAA INNOVATES

Though EAA has contingency plans, there was nothing to prepare for the inability to accommodate the aircraft and vehicle traffic due to the sodden ground.

EAA was prepared—they had a “bailout” plan in the event that aircraft couldn’t be landed at Oshkosh due to weather or lack of parking. Aircraft were diverted to Fond Du Lac and Appleton—and EAA sent ground personnel, busses, and even a truckload of Porta-Potties to help handle the needs of those arriving by aircraft—and it all happened within a couple of hours!

Campers were registered and sorted. Tent campers were escorted to workable sites. Campers and motor homes were sent to Wal-Mart parking lots for an estimated one or two nights, to the Oshkosh airline terminal parking, and to the local University.

Saturday was even worse—up to 6 ADDITIONAL inches of rain fell—along with some severe thunderstorms with damaging winds. We took advantage of leaving the grounds ahead of the storm and going East to Manitowoc to visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum—we were halfway through our tour of the submarine Cobia when we were required to “abandon ship” and come into the museum due to Tornadoes in the vicinity (personally, I can’t think of a SAFER place to be than in a 1600-ton steel-hulled submarine—half submerged—and with only 4’ between her keel and the bottom)! There were high winds and tornadoes, and after passage, we made our way back to Oshkosh. Incredibly, we found little damage—though there were multiple tales of “up to 4 people holding down aircraft to avoid damage to that aircraft and to others.” “People helping People”—THAT is “The Spirit of EAA!”

EAA had a new addition to the South 40 all prepared for the convention—but though the area would be safe for aircraft, there was no way to reach it because the taxiway was under water. EAA was able to access it by road, however, and put campers on it. In a remarkable display of ingenuity and cooperation, “Ripple Road” on the south side of Camp Scholler was lined with campers—registrations completed, but no place to go. EAA Security and the local law enforcement told them “You’re going to camp right here—go ahead and prepare for at least one night—and perhaps two.” Again, EAA provided security, busses, and porta-potties to make life bearable! EAA also opened up all the areas on the grounds for campers—impromptu campgrounds opened up at the Air Academy, the Pioneer Airport, and even on the grounds of the Museum.

WHAT A GREAT SHOW OF PLANNING AND IMPROVISATION on EAA’s part! Though there was some expected grumbling, there was surprising lack of invective or blame. Though some were afraid that this would be a disaster for EAA—others pointed out that EAA had plans in place—that they went “above and beyond the call of duty” to keep the attendees safe and to get them through this issue.

Contrast EAA’s performance with the huge Music Festival that started on the west side of the freeway. It was nearly the size of the campground at Camp Scholler—and not nearly as well organized. It too became a sea of mud—and there was not the well-organized cadre of volunteers as was mustered by EAA—the entire festival was called off the first night—and 5 days later, there were still campers stuck in the mud.

I was VERY IMPRESSED with EAA’s performance. Rather than throwing their hands up in the air, they followed pre-set plans—and when even those plans were inadequate to handle the problem, they INNOVATED and ADAPTED. Like Winston Churchill stated in his famous speech at the start of the Battle of Britain “…..THIS was their FINEST HOUR!”

Thinking back on the events on this anniversary of the first Moon Landing—those same words were spoken by Launch Director Gene Kranz at NASA—when it was suggested that the follow-on problems in space of Apollo 13 would be a “black eye” for NASA—“On the contrary—I believe that this may be our finest hour!”

Congratulations to EAA, their amazing volunteers, AND the stoic conduct of Convention attendees—they not only showed the willingness and capacity to innovate, but they showed “WHAT EAA’ers ARE MADE OF!”

Within two days, the roads were drying out, EAA volunteers on Gators scoured the grounds checking for places where aircraft and campers could be accommodated, (they even used helicopters—hovering to dry out parking areas!) and the backlog of inbound attendees was cleared.

EAA will not have the final number of attendees until sometime after this is written, but I’m guessing that this will be a near-record year. Whether arriving by airplane or by ground, we all had something that helped bond us—we had been through this together!

HITS AND MISSES

I’ll leave the photos to Tom Lymburn so I have room for commentary:

• Once again, EAA has focused on anniversaries and special events—50th anniversary of consecutive Oshkosh conventions.

• Featured airplanes on the Plaza—a “straight from the factory” Boeing 747 (also a 50th anniversary for the model)—a cargo version for UPS. A Boeing 787—the Boeing B-17s and B-29—a late-model Hercules fitted with skis and JATO bottles for operation from snow—a lot of military helicopters.

• Military participation—there were no “team” shows this year, but there were a LOT of military airplanes doing fly-bys—F-22s, F-35s, A-10s. BOTH the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds did flyby’s on their way to other shows. The military aircraft did a number of “Heritage Flights”—formation flights with older fighters.

• Special appreciation—there were a number of DC-3/C-47 aircraft that had done the “Daks to Normandy” flight for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There was also a “taxiway runup” of over 30 Mustangs—the largest in years—and including Paul Poberezny’s own Mustang—it wasn’t flown, but it was able to participate in the runup! The F-82 Twin Mustang prototype was a crowd-pleaser.

• Minnesota Dept. of Aeronautics again had a booth inside Building C. Maryalice and I again volunteered to help out at the booth—it does a good job of not only promoting the airports of Minnesota, but explaining all that MN/DOT Aeronautics DOES—a frequent comment was “I wish OUR State Aeronautics was this active!”

• In over 25 years at Oshkosh, I’ve never met so many people that I know—both on the grounds and at the booth. It was phenomenal—a chance to talk with so many people!

• The “Gateway Forum” for Univer-sities was doing a “land-office business”—as more people are becoming aware of the opportunities in aviation today. On the airline side, there were multiple airlines exhorting pilots to “join us for a great career!”

• The speakers and films at the Mus-eum theaters were the best selection that I recall — (besides, it is a great respite from the noise and heat!).

• In the past few years, there has been a proliferation of non-aviation exhibitors in the display buildings. While this is a source of income for EAA, many people have complained. There were fewer this year—enough so that part of Building D has been given over to the former Federal Pavilion.

• The Warbirds Tram tours had new organization. It featured a waiting area, so viewers could be assured of a scheduled time. We joined my non-pilot brother and sister-in-law on a half hour tour—though I would like to have spent more time, the commenter gave a non-stop running commentary on the aircraft as we passed by. Good addition!

The MISSES—considering all that went so right, there are hardly any:

Busses—considering the additional needs and re-routing of busses, there was really not much to complain about—other than that the volume of traffic to “new and undiscovered camping areas” left voids at the bus stops—we waited up to 45 minutes for a bus several times, and ended up choosing to walk. As usual, the bus drivers were unfailingly friendly.

Helicopter noise interrupting the Forums. This has been a pet peeve—EAA has a lot of money tied up in Forum stages—and the Forums are not only popular, but they are the very REASON FOR HAVING THE CONVENTION—NOT the airshow itself. The helicopters spend all of 55 seconds north of the tower—eliminate that leg and the problem goes away—and it’s a lot cheaper than insulating and air conditioning the Forum buildings!

The “build-out” of crushed rock roads in Camp Scholler. Something I’ve emphasized for several years now, and EAA HAS been doing the build-out. They’ve also been adding more “water and electric camping sites”—it’s time to suspend building out those sites and concentrate on making the rest of the grounds more useable. EAA did a great job of working out drainage on Cedar Avenue—PLEASE do that with the rest of the campgrounds.

The old cars are back touring the grounds. Yes, Ford is a major sponsor, but after cutting them back to a well-regulated route, they are back. Much as I like seeing them, there were complaints—they have no place with that many pedestrians and children.

Needed—food and drink on the south end of the flight line and “South 40.” All that is down there is the Vintage breakfast.

If you can’t tell, I’M A FAN—SEE YOU THERE NEXT YEAR!

Jim Hanson is the long-time operator of the Albert Lea, MN airport. A pilot in his 58th year, he is coming up on flying for more than half the time of powered flight. Now that Jim has shared HIS observations—if you would like to give him YOUR observations, he can be reached at jimhanson@deskmedia.com

 

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