Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Oshkosh '14

This year was my fifth time flying to "The Show." I brought in a Cessna 172 (N738FZ) in 1999 and 2010, and a Cessna 170A in 2011 and 2012. So I'm quite familiar with the VFR arrival procedure and have landed on several different runways (including the infamous tight left base to 18R that got Jack Roush). That said, flying a Cub in presents its own challenges, namely that it's far slower than nearly everything else coming to Oshkosh; its maximum cruising speed is actually below the stall speed of several single-engine homebuilt designs. The Fisk arrival procedure calls for inbound aircraft to maintain 90 knots and 1800' MSL over the railroad tracks from Ripon to Fisk, or 135 knots and 2300' if they can't go that slow. It says nothing about what to do if you can't go that fast! So that poor little Continental 75 had probably never been thrashed as hard as I pushed it for the last 15 minutes inbound to Oshkosh, it was redlined the whole way. I possibly even made it up to 85 mph.

Surprisingly, nobody passed me - until just before Fisk, when a C-185 snuck around me to the right. We were actually within sight of the controller, who asked if we were a flight of two. "Affirmative," answered the Cessna as he sped off ahead of me. Jerk. I had to clarify that the Cub was not part of a flight, and the understanding controller gave me my own clearance to fly east down Fisk Avenue as fast as I could for 36L. Off I went. Once I was with tower, they cleared me to land on the yellow dot (midfield) and asked me to go direct to the dot, a slight dogleg. A Piper Cherokee behind me was told to slow to final approach speed, square his base, and land on the numbers. I stayed redlined at 90 mph all the way down final, knowing that the Cub's massive drag would slow me to landing speed within seconds of pulling the throttle to idle. Still, the Cherokee apparently made up a lot of ground on me and then floated his landing, because an anxious-sounding supervisor broke in on tower frequency as I was just about to touch down on my dot: "Keep it in the air, Yellow Cub, keep it in the air! Cherokee, I need to you put it down!" No problem, I had a good 3000 feet of runway left and only needed 300 to get the Cub stopped. Several seconds passed and I was wondering if tower had forgotten about the Cub flying down the runway when he said "OK Yellow Cub, this just isn't going to work, go around, immediate right turn, enter right traffic for 36R." Must have been quite the floater for that Cherokee.

The go-around and subsequent landing on the narrow east taxiway (temporarily repurposed as Runway 36R) was uneventful. I fast-taxied with the tail up to a midfield crossing of 36L, and from there it was a straight shot to race plane parking at smack-dab show center. I tied down the Cub, gathered my camping equipment, and was halfway to Camp Scholler when the skies let loose with a mighty deluge accompanied by an impressive albeit short-lived lightning display. Glad I didn't arrive 20 minutes later! It was actually a fairly active weather day in Wisconsin and I was lucky to not encounter much of it on the race course, in Wausau, or on my way into Oshkosh. Dawn got lucky too: she was riding her Yamaha FZ6 motorbike from Minneapolis and stayed dry the whole way.

This was a rather different Oshkosh experience for us. We didn't walk nearly as much as usual, and we didn't even attempt to see everything. We spent a lot of our time meeting up and hanging out with friends, and otherwise just relaxing, admiring homebuilt and vintage airplanes, and chatting people up. Unlike my four previous conventions, we didn't camp under the wing - it wasn't allowed in the race plane corral, and I wasn't about to give up the novelty of parking the race-numbered Cub alongside sleek Lancairs, Glasairs, and SX300s. Fortunately, we got to pitch our tent in one of the best and most convenient campsites in Camp Scholler: in the second row of Paul's Woods, just behind the exhibit hangars, with a fun bunch of AirVenture Cup and EAA volunteers. Unlike showplane camping, which is usually pretty quiet by 9pm, the beer & campfire stories flowed well past midnight. We had more freedom than usual thanks to Dawn's motorcycle; it was actually my first time venturing far off the airport into Oshkosh proper. For the first time, we caught a night airshow, which Dawn loved. That and the "One Week Wonder" Zenith CH750 project were her favorite aspects this year, and we were both among the 2500 attendees who pulled a few rivets and signed our names on the plane that flew less than a week later.

This was my first time at Oshkosh since I began writing for Flying, which made for a few memorable experiences. I had several people walk up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed my writing - a few were even readers of this blog. That was really neat. Though Flying didn't have a tent this year (there was a mix-up and/or politics involved, depending on who you asked), I was able to meet Robert Goyer and several other editors/writers for the first time. Dawn and I were invited to Flying's big party at The Waters on Tuesday night, which was pretty fun. And lastly, shortly before the show I got an email from Jeff Skiles - yes, that Jeff Skiles - saying he liked my writing & asking if we could meet up. Wow! Jeff is currently EAA's Vice President of Chapters & Youth Education. He and Dawn and I spent an hour on Monday morning tooling around the convention grounds in "Teal 1," one of EAA's vintage VW Beetle convertibles, chatting and stopping to check out airplanes that caught our eye. Really nice, cool guy. At hour's end he invited me to sit in on an interview with CubCrafters' General Manager, Randy Lervold. After the interview Jeff made plans to fly the CarbonCub that night at a grass strip north of Oshkosh and urged me to fly it too; the CubCrafters people graciously obliged my request. That was fun and cool enough to merit its own future post, so that's all I'll say about that for now. But it's something I likely never would have done if not for the Flying column.

I will say that there was something in the air this year that has been missing the previous several times I've been to Oshkosh: a palpable sense of optimism. Last time I went, 2012, was the year of "Occupy Oshkosh," when a large number of volunteers and members made their displeasure at EAA and AirVenture's direction loudly known at the membership meeting. That anger was gone this year. The flight line chalets are gone. Oshkosh is as commercialized as ever - witness the Thunderbirds performing for the weekend airshow - but EAA's new leadership under Jack Pelton has made big changes in their tone & actions towards members and volunteers, and the EAA Board of Directors seems to be newly invigorated in taking their oversight responsibility seriously. But I dare say the optimism went beyond EAA politics and reflected positive opinions about the state of the economy, the aviation industry, and prospects for the future of GA. A lot of people seem to feel that GA flying has rebounded quite a bit in the last year, which matches what I've been seeing at my local airport. It's supported by the attendance numbers at OSH this year, and by the number of vendors that reported having a good year there. Time will tell if the optimism is warranted, but it's a good start. Sometimes I feel that negativity about GA can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nobody wants to go hang out at the airport or fly somewhere if they think it's going to be dead.

Our time at Oshkosh ended on a sad note. I was planning to fly out Thursday morning, but my departure was delayed by a fatal crash of a Breezy. This was the 50th anniversary of the Breezy design, and 13 of them were at OSH, an all-time record. The Breezy has a special connection to OSH because over the years Carl Unger and Arnie Zimmerman gave so many kids and volunteers free rides in their Breezys. My little brother Josiah is among the thousands that got a ride around the patch in Carl's Breezy. Carl passed away a few years ago but his Breezy was there, as was Arnie's. It was Arnie's Breezy that crashed, with his friend Jim Oeffinger as the pilot. Jim didn't make it. His young passenger was an EAA volunteer named Jenn, and she was camping a few tents over from Dawn and I. Fortunately she survived and is well on her way to an expected full recovery. I certainly hope this doesn't mean the end of the Breezys giving rides at OSH, because I think they are a wonderful symbol of what EAA and Oshkosh is all about.

I really enjoyed this year's show, and between the race and the convention, I made a lot of new friends that I'm looking forward to seeing next year. I just might become one of those "can't miss a year" guys yet!

















4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sam for another great post, excited to ready you column in Flying too need to go pick it up.
Matt from KDSM

Blogging with Spencer said...

Sounds like a ton of fun! Surprised you didn't get bored on the way as slow as the cub is!

Sam Weigel said...

Heh, well, I did put nearly 18 hours on the Cub altogether over the week. Wasn't bored, though. It's all relative. When you're flying around at 500 feet, 78 mph seems plenty fast, and there's lots to see! Plus of course trying not to get lost as I was primarily navigating via pilotage (I have a GPS app on my phone but was mostly using it for periodic groundspeed checks so it wouldn't drain my battery). Meanwhile, the winning Lancair IV that averaged 346 mph was cruising at 17,500', pilots on O2 and navigating via GPS. I dare say I had as much fun in my 5 hr 20 minute race as they did in their 1 hr 13 minute race! ;-)

Waseem Randhawa said...

I appreciate examining to boot to following your current article once I notice them implausibly useful to boot to exciting. this text is equally useful in conjunction with exciting. Appreciate it with relevancy details a personal already been gaining creating your diary such Associate in Nursing exciting.
Airline Pilots
.