Oshkosh and Beyond: Part 4

AirVenture — Day 1


Airplanes, helicopters, and jets–oh my! AirVenture 2006 is in full swing and there is literally so much to see that we didn’t even get close to the runway until mid afternoon. There was a real sense of community as everyone took in the sights and sounds of all things aviation. The stunning air show was a perfect finale to our first day of AirVenture.

Monday morning arrived, and we were excited for the show. Before leaving the hotel, Phil called the mechanics at the ASI Jet Center in Minneapolis to touch base now that they were on duty. They said they could look at our starter problems, and would do their best to have us all fixed up and ready to fly by Wednesday morning. Of course, they hadn’t even had a chance to look at the airplane yet when I phoned at 7 am, so there were no guarantees.

I continued to look for our next hotel. We did find a room in Appleton, though it was very over priced. We both agreed that it was worth the extra expense to just book it and not worry about a place to sleep while we enjoyed today’s show. Another option would have been to try calling hotels around noon to hope to catch a last-minute cancellation. We packed everything up, ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant and we were officially on our way to AirVenture.

AirVenture was amazingly well organized and efficient. Granted this was the first day and crowds would thicken by the end of the week. I was still impressed. Parking was painless and waiting in line to by our entry wristbands was actually pleasant thanks to the company of a fellow pilot, Jerry, from North Carolina. Jerry recently earned his Sport Pilot Certificate and was planning on looking at the new category of Light Sport Airplanes that he was certified to fly. This new category of pilots and airplanes was created to make aviation more accessible to the recreational flyer — read more about it at the EAA Sport Pilot website This atmosphere made me very proud to be part of the aviation community. Vendors, volunteers and attendees were all very friendly and excited to share information and provide directions.

Diamond Aircraft

Phil tries on a brand new Diamond DA40 for size.
Garmin G1000 instrument panel in the Diamond DA40

Just inside the main gate we spotted the Diamond Aircraft display. We’d seen these planes from a distance, but never had the chance to admire a brand new instrument panel of the Diamond DA40. Phil was obviously enjoying the close up view, so the sales rep invited him to sit in the pilot seat. Phil immediately accepted. The Diamond rep shared a few impressive performance statistics while Phil tried to control his drooling. Surprisingly, the DA40 has a similar performance and fuel burn to the Mooney for a meager $329,000 (yikes!). I tried to put it out of my mind that this airplane was worth more than our house and just soaked in the new airplane feeling. I’ve read so much about the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit. It was really a thrill to see one in person. Someone asked me if it had that new car smell, and indeed it did. When the Rep mentioned an opportunity for a demo flight, Phil’s only question was, “When?” We had only been inside the gates for 20 minutes and Phil was already booked for a demo flight at 9 am the next morning. Okay, it was one thing to sit in an airplane on the ground and hear about all the wonderful things it could do. I jumped at the opportunity to actually take one of these birds for a flight. I started doing some quick math to figure out what the payments would be on a new airplane like this one, but my head started to ache. It’s fun to drool over new airplanes like this one, but the fact is our Mooney fits us just right — like a comfortable old pair of sneakers (plus the Mooney is already paid for).

Friendly Faces Everywhere

A few of the airplanes and people at AirVenture
A vintage Ford Tri-Motor landing at Oshkosh. Notice the person in the right seat is wearing a bright pink shirt. Chances are that’s an Oshkosh air traffic controller getting a ride.

Earlier we told you about how nice everyone was when we first arrived at AirVenture. That welcoming and friendly atmosphere continued throughout the day. There was a real sense of community as everyone took in the sights and sounds of all things aviation. We toured through a variety of exhibits and quickly filled our backpack with small purchases and free trinkets. Lunchtime arrived and Phil volunteered to stand in the food line while I scoped out an open table. Just a few steps away, I found two open seats and a friendly offer to share a shady table. My table mate, Chris was waiting for his father, Don, and we chatted about the show while we waited. I was excited to learn that Chris was a veteran AirVenture attendee with 15+ years of experience. I immediately asked for hotel advice and he willingly shared his strategy (though I am sworn to secrecy). I was also thrilled to discover that Chris and Don had just flown in from Manassas, Virginia–the same city that we chose for our visit to Washington DC. In fact, Manassas was our next planned stop after leaving Oshkosh. Chris and Don shared lots of tips about the DC area as well as AirVenture. Naturally we talked all about airplanes and swapped stories. Don had actually purchased an airplane in Idaho many years ago, and he had fond memories of flying over and around the mountains we have in our backyard. They also made sure we knew all about the special procedures needed to fly near Washington DC due to the “temporary” ADIZ We had a good visit and then it was back out in the sun to enjoy the show. We’ve all heard the phrase, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” Those words are absolutely true. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach the 100 degree mark in Idaho during the summer, but the humidity is always very low in our high desert climate. The temperature that afternoon in Oshkosh was 90 degrees, and the humidity was 50%. Everyone’s skin was glistening with sweat (with a few people doing more than their fair share of glistening).

New Mooneys and an Update on our Mooney

The new Mooney Acclaim is the fastest piston airplane currently in production. It recently recorded a speed of 237 knots true air speed at 25,000 feet and 20.5 gallons per hour.

That’s about 50% faster than our 1977 Mooney 201 at 100% greater fuel burn (and at an altitude twice as high as we typically fly).

Just as we approached the Mooney tent, the mechanics called with an update on our airplane. I was just starting to look over the brand-new Mooneys and wondering how our 1977 model was doing back in Minneapolis when my cell phone rang. Joe from ASI Jet Center said they tested out the battery in our airplane and it was fine. He recommended replacing our starter with an overhauled unit. Joe also found a few other minor things that were worth fixing. Joe and I discussed his recommendations for a few minutes (and I should mention that he was extremely patient and knowledgeable), he gave me an estimated cost, and I authorized him to do the work. Joe said as long as they got the overhauled starter by the next day we should be fine to pick up the airplane Wednesday morning.

The Air Show

There’s an air show during each afternoon of AirVenture and the start time was fast approaching. We navigated our way back to the car, dropped off our purchases and picked up our camp chairs. We found a spot near the runway and settled in. There were several different aerobatic performers, some were solo and some were in teams. I was zapped from the heat and my eyes began to feel very heavy after an active day in the sun. I missed a lot of the show thanks to my long blinks. Phil was in photographer mode. Luckily he didn’t take any pictures of me trying to sleep.

I could ramble on about the air show, but I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking instead.

Steve Oliver flies the Oregon Aero SkyDancer
Steve’s airplane is a 1956 de Havilland Chipmunk.
Tony Kazian climbs out on the bracing wires as Dave Dacy pilots the 500 HP Super Stearman.
Tony stands on the upper portion of the wing as Dave does a loop. Oh by the way, Tony is not using any kind of safety harness, and is not wearing a parachute.
The only thing keeping Tony in place is the fact that Dave is maintaining a positive G loading throughout the loop (and a few prayers wouldn’t hurt). This is a hard concept to understand, so for another example watch this video of Bob Hoover where he pours a glass of iced tea while rolling the airplane through 360 degrees.
Tony gets a nice view of the crowd as Dave pilots the Stearman straight down.
If riding on top of an airplane wing with no harness or parachute isn’t scary enough, then just do it backwards.
Tony Kazian gives the crowd a big wave. There was huge applause for his wing walking and Dave Dacy’s flying.
Mike Mancuso and Matt Chapman start their formation aerobatic routine.
Completing a formation loop.
Mike Mancuso and Matt Chapman complete a head-on pass.
Matt flies inverted while Mike gets the easy part.
Sean Tucker waves to the crowd in his unique way. He maintained that flight attitude down the entire length of the runway.

As the show progressed, you could see a storm rolling in from the north. A few performances were cancelled because of the incoming weather, but at least they started the Beach Boys concert early to fill in the schedule gap. The music sounded good, but the thick crowd kept us a long ways from the speakers and the distant music couldn’t compete with the volume of nearby conversations. Several lightning bolts lit up the sky to the north. We didn’t want to be stuck in this crowd when the storm arrived, so we decided to beat the rush to the parking lot and find our new hotel for the night. As we weaved our way through the parking exit, you could see campers dashing to secure their campsites. I’m really glad we weren’t camping tonight!

A panoramic shot of a B-1 bomber and the crowds admiring it shortly after Monday’s airshow ended. Notice the stormy clouds threatening. You can also see some of the airshow airplanes that are dwarfed by the B-1.

The showers intensified as we made our way north to Appleton. The rain continued to pound on the car roof while lightning would occasionally light up the dark sky. The storm quickly moved south and we were in the sun again by the time we reached our hotel. We checked in, found a restaurant nearby for dinner and made a plan for tomorrow. We decided to drive back to Minneapolis on Tuesday afternoon so that we could depart for Washington DC early Wednesday morning. That meant we would miss part of Tuesday’s air show, but it was also a good reason to come back another year.

Series Navigation<< Oshkosh and Beyond: Part 3Oshkosh and Beyond: Part 5 >>

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