#TravelTuesday: Taking Flight at Oshkosh

by Sue Durio on August 31, 2021 in Travel,
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Buckle your seatbelt for the world’s largest airshow. (And it’s not just for pilots.)

It’s the end of July, and the massive Goodyear Wingfoot Three blimp, nearly the length of a football field, hovers over I-41 as you approach Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Before you can marvel for long, though, your attention is drawn to field after field alongside the highway, each colorfully dotted with every imaginable type of plane for as far as the eye can see.

Texas pride is on full display among the Oshkosh airshow aircraft, many flying Texas flags like this T6 trainer. Photo Ryan Glanzer

You’ve arrived at the largest celebration of aviation in the world. Whether you are a current or aspiring pilot, a history buff, someone fascinated with flight, or simply an intrepid traveler, you’ll find something to entertain, educate and marvel over at the Oshkosh Airshow.

Formally known as the EAA Airventure Oshkosh but lovingly known as simply “Oshkosh,” this weeklong extravaganza each July is the motherlode of all airshows. After a COVID-induced hiatus in 2020, Oshkosh returned with a turbo-powered 608,000 guests – some 40,000 of whom camped at one of the 12,000 aircraft and drive-in camping sites in and around Wittman Regional Airfield.

Get an up-close look at everything from biplanes to brand-new homebuilt airplanes in the various Oshkosh “neighborhoods.” Don’t be shy about striking up a conversation with the pilots, who love to share their planes’ stories. Photo Ryan Glanzer

For the first-time visitor, Oshkosh can be overwhelming. You’ll navigate between the 1,055 forums, daily airshows, acres of aircraft and 747 exhibitors displaying the latest aircraft and aviation-related goods.  Are you exhausted, yet?

To fully experience the entire grounds, plan on five days. Here are some highlights to consider, and things to know before you go.

The not-so-best-kept housing secret

Housing is a hot commodity come Airventure week, which in 2022 will be July 25-31. If camping isn’t your thing, consider a dorm on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh campus. They are serviced by daily shuttles to the show that let you bypass the cost and walking distance of the show’s massive parking fields. A non-airconditioned room is $75; bring or buy a box fan and your own coffee pot. Some air-conditioned dorm rooms and suites also are available, but book up early. 2022 dorm reservations open Oct. 4 at 8 am.

More than 16,000 aircraft take off or land at the EAA Airventure, parking and often camping in areas designated for each aircraft type. Photo Ryan Glanzer

Air performances day and night

Even the non-aviator in your group will be in awe of the flying prowess demonstrated at Oshkosh’s many airshows. Head to Warbird Field for an afternoon demonstration highlighting restored WW2 aircraft. Or, venture in the opposite direction to the ultralight runway to watch skilled pilots maneuver their modified taildraggers in competitions to see who can land and take off in the shortest distance. The best in 2021 could come to a full stop in less than 50 feet.

Monday through Sunday afternoons, Wittman tower closes to air traffic to clear the air for airshow performances featuring modern military might, aerobatic tricks, jumpers and more. On Wednesday and Saturday nights, bring your lawn chairs early to take in the impressive night shows complete with fireworks.

Two nighttime airshows are an extravaganza of some of the world’s best aerobatic and formation pilots, and culminate with impressive fireworks displays.
Photo Ryan Glanzer

Hang out at the flight line

Even with the help of the show’s many trolleys, you likely will log 10 miles or more each day. So, when your feet need a break, set up your chair along the flight line for rest and entertainment. Over the course of the show, Wittman Regional Airport becomes the busiest control tower in the world, this year managing 16,378 aircraft operations or about 116 takeoffs/landings per hour.

To reduce chatter on the radio, pilots do not talk to the tower. Controllers direct pilots to land on one of three colored dots on the runway in quick succession. For many pilots, “landing on the dot” is a bucket list adventure.

Sit for a bit, and you’ll likely see hundreds of aircraft take off or land – from homebuilts to restored vintage planes, F16s, warbirds, light jets and more. Listen to the controllers on www.liveatc.com, opt for the Oshkosh live tower feed and score their landing accuracy.

Pilots wait their turn for takeoff, following the hand signals of busy ground crew and instructions from the control tower. Unlike normal flight operations, pilots don’t converse with controllers and controllers address pilots by their plane description rather than tail numbers. Sit along the flight line to see the fascinating choreography of Oshkosh aviation. Photo Ryan Glanzer

Tour the neighborhoods

Much like a city, EAA AirVenture is made up of neighborhoods of aircraft. Put the vintage, homebuilt and warbird areas on your must-see itinerary. Catch the shuttle to the seaplane base. Look for tags on the planes’ propellers indicating those that are competing for Lindy Awards, named after Charles Lindbergh. And get an inside look at the rotating display of featured aircraft like the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, along Boeing Plaza.

EAA’s motor pool includes 39 classic modified VW Beetles, perfect for traversing the massive grounds and crowds of foot traffic. The meet-and-greet, stop-and-go style of driving reflects the show’s friendly, upbeat atmosphere. Photo Ryan Glanzer

You may become a frequent flyer

Oshkosh runs like a well-oiled engine thanks to its 5,000 volunteers, many who make Oshkosh an annual pilgrimage. Don’t be surprised if you, too, are planning your next visit before you leave. There’s just something about a few days at Oshkosh to make you smile.

Lovingly restored warbirds like this Navy T6 trainer are on display at Warbird Alley. Some pilots offer rides, with proceeds going toward the plane’s costly upkeep and maintenance. Photo Ryan Glanzer

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Cover: For many aviators, flying into the Oshkosh Airshow and camping under their plane’s wing is a bucket list experience.
Photo courtesy Ryan Glanzer

Freelance writer Sue Durio is a regular contributor to Texas Lifestyle magazine, where she shares her love for adventure travel and unique destinations. She and her husband have logged thousands of miles in their twin-engine Cessna to places like Belize, the Bahamas and all points across the continental US, but the 2021 Oshkosh Airshow was their first. Contact Sue at www.linkedin.com/in/suedurio.