Although I've been involved in flying of one form or another since 1972, I've never made it to the summer aviation extravaganza at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI. As I began my 2015 summer planning, I found out that our Cascade Warbirds group was planning a few cross-country flights from Seattle to Oshkosh to join the world's greatest aviation celebration, along with arranging for the access to a rental home for the entire week. There was a slot in Dave Desmon's Navion, as he planned to lead a two-ship cross-country to Oshkosh with Kirstan and Vic Norris in their IAR-823. Dave offered a co-pilot slot, and I gladly accepted the chance to attend Oshkosh by flying in!
The Navion and IAR-823 stopped at Renton to pick me up on a gloriously sunny Northwest Friday in mid-July, we loaded up bags and departed from Renton northbound, turning immediately east as we started tracking I-90 eastbound. I flew right seat in Dave's Navion, with Rich Cook, a fellow Cascade Warbirds member, in the back seat. Climbing through the Snoqualmie Pass, we noticed how little of the snowpack remained on even the highest peaks. We continued east past Ellensburg, Ephrata, Moses Lake and Spokane, with Kirstan and Vic in the IAR-823 in a relaxed trail position at our 5 o'clock. Our first fuel stop was at Coeur d'Alene, ID (KCOE), where we decided to press on to Bozeman, MT, and started hotel arrangements for our overnight in Billings, MT. After takeoff from Coeur d'Alene, we climbed into the rising terrain of the Rocky Mountains, still generally following I-90, as we encountered our first and only weather for the trip, skirting to the south of some mist and rain near Missoula, MT.
Continuing eastbound past Missoula, we crossed the broad mountain plateau west of Butte, enjoying the clearing skies and nice tailwinds en route to Bozeman, MT (KBZN) for our second fuel stop. After a short leg to Billings, we had our most interesting landing, flying into the setting sun with a stiff crosswind to the tabletop 3488-foot elevation runway at Billings (KBIL). Billings was an excellent host, with lodging at the newly updated Northern Hotel downtown, and a great steak dinner at Jake’s.
The next morning we departed eastbound in the late morning, crossing a corner of Wyoming, flying into the high plains of South Dakota, where we had an inspiring flyby of Devil's Tower and Mt Rushmore en route to a refueling stop in Rapid City (KRAP). Since the weather was gorgeous and the tailwinds were aiding our journey, we decided to press on as far as we could eastbound. After transiting the surprisingly green South Dakota expanse, we landed at a small airfield in the middle of a cornfield near St James, MN (KJYG) for refueling, enjoying the amazingly low price of $3.99/gal for 100LL Avgas.
With lots of daylight remaining, we flew on into Wisconsin, and landed at sunset at Appleton (KATW), where we picked up our rental car and drove the short distance to our rented home in Oshkosh, on the shore of Lake Winnebago. On Sunday morning, we flew a short hop to make our arrival at Oshkosh (KOSH) using the well-orchestrated Ripon/Fisk VFR arrival procedure, landing on the Blue Dot in the center of runway 27, joining the thousands of aircraft already on the ground for EAA AirVenture 2015. We parked in the Warbird area, lined up with other liaison aircraft, tied down and started to explore!
I was impressed with the thousands of parked aircraft already at Oshkosh! The week was fantastic, and I'll try to convey the impressive size, diversity and spirit of Oshkosh with a list of just a few of the aircraft and events I experienced:
Since I had parked in the Warbirds area on arrival, I was immediately impressed with numbers, types and amazing condition of the aircraft in the Warbirds collection. I checked out 22 P-51 Mustangs, 5 Corsairs, a P-38, P-39, P-40, Spitfire, Hurricane, Zero, the world's only flying Mosquito, a Skyraider, a Yak-9, and rows of T-6 Texans/SNJs, Nanchang CJ-6s and T-34s. Bombers were well represented with the B-17 Aluminum Overcast, B-29 Fifi, Lancaster, a few B-25s, a rare PB4Y-2 Privateer, and even an active duty B-52.
I next checked out the jet Warbirds, including an F-86 Sabre, A-4 Skyhawk, MiG-17, QF-4 Phantom, FJ4 Fury, a T-33, a T-37 painted as an A-37, a rare Super Pinto, an equally rare DeHavilland Vampire and numerous L-39 Albatros aircraft. I was able to sit in and check out the cockpit of a beautiful arriving L-39 from Texas.
I arrived at the Icon A-5 exhibit just as the unveiling occurred of the first production A-5, which was delivered to customer #1 - the EAA Young Eagles organization. Later in the week, I was at nearby Brennand airfield after a short flight in a T-41, and was able to sit in the Icon A-5 cockpit and discuss the A-5 with the Icon design team, as the first two aircraft were basing there at the end of their daily Air Venture demonstration flights. The A-5 is an amazingly fun 'jet-ski with wings', requiring only a Sport Pilot license, and well designed for safe, easy handling flying characteristics.
Through Cascade Warbirds connections, I was able to fly along on two enjoyable three-ship formation training flights in Navions, with Tom Burlace, Greg Young and Dave Desmon, providing a great orientation to the Oshkosh area and local flying landmarks. The weather all week was excellent, with highs in the low-to-mid 80s, relatively low humidity and no rain. Storms on one day passed safely to the south, leaving only great flying weather.
The Perlan II glider was on display, hosted by the chief pilot Jim Payne, an accomplished sailplane pilot and an AF Academy classmate. The goal of the Perlan project is to use mountain wave lift and the Polar Vortex to achieve 90,000 foot altitude in a sailplane. The cockpit interior was bare of instruments, with only the basic flight controls installed. The Perlan team had recently picked up sponsorship from Airbus, and planned first flight from Redmond, OR in the fall of 2015, before planned 2016 flights in South America for the record attempts.
I had made contact with Dean 'Cutter' Cutshall before Oshkosh, and was able to check out the cockpit of his meticulous F-100F Super Sabre right after its arrival. The restoration and condition of that Hun was impressive, along with the resounding boom when Cutter lit the afterburner during his airshow.
Homebuilt aircraft were everywhere, with numerous examples of the entire lineup of Van's RV aircraft, the SubSonex personal jet, and numerous other homebuilt offerings, including the impressive Sling 4 from South Africa, which I sat in and arranged for a potential future flight from their US base of operations in Torrance, CA. My friend Paul Kuntz had flown from Seattle to Oshkosh in his homebuilt Pipistrel Sinus, and was chosen to participate in a short flyby of Oshkosh with 9 other homebuilt designs. I had flown the first flight in Paul's Sinus in 2013 from Sequim, WA. I met another friend from Seattle, Stan Mars, who had flown in on a Bonanza with a 100+ aircraft arrival.
Two F-22s and two F-35s attended AirVenture, with one of the F-22s performing its impressive flight demonstration.
One of our visiting Cascade Warbirds members, Neil Morrison, was piloting the B-17 Aluminum Overcast during AirVenture, and arranged a flight for me on the B-17 as it repositioned from Oshkosh to Appleton at the end of the flying day. I was able to check out all the B-17 positions during the flight, including a few minutes of left seat B-17 time as we cruised around Lake Winnebago en route to Appleton. The B-17 was very stately, with a very solid feel as I climbed en route and made some shallow turns. After the B-17 flight, I joined Neil and his daughter Marie as she flew us from Appleton to Brennand, WI, in their T-41 they had flown from Seattle. Maria is only 15 years old, with excellent flying skills.
I attended an inspiring Apollo 13 debrief with astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise.
I was able to checkout the HondaJet, and make contact with a fellow USAF Academy grad and ex-F-15 pilot, Glenn Gonzales, who is one of the project pilots on the HondaJet.
Throughout the week, I attended numerous seminars, while checking out the exhibits and demonstrations of every aviation product you could want, while bouncing into aviation friends from years past, and making many new ones.
Thanks to Dave Desmon and the Cascade Warbirds for coordinating this outstanding opportunity! Oshkosh AirVenture 2015 was outstanding, and I'm looking forward to returning many times in the future!