• Brigadoon: AirVenture 2004

    FlightSim.Com: AirVenture 2004

    By Tony Vallillo (5 August 2004)



    The sign says it all - and it's 100% true!
    Brigadoon is a legendary, magical place that, according to ancient Scottish tradition, was saved from some terrible societal collapse by being spirited away, and thence appearing only for a single day every hundred or so years. A Broadway musical and its subsequent movie version have popularized the legend in modern times, and today, perhaps more than ever, it seems a seductively attractive premise - to be spirited away from troubled times and to drop back by only on occasion!

    Aviation, to be sure, has its own Brigadoon, a magical legendary place that, fortunately for us all, appears not for just a single day but for an entire week, and not once per century but every single year! I speak, of course, of the Mecca of aviation, Oshkosh. Now the word Oshkosh, to a pilot, has nothing to do with jeans, children's wear or heavy trucks. No, the word Oshkosh is forever linked in the aviator's mind with the annual Fly-In Convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA, (www.airventure.org) which has its headquarters in the delightful town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This event is, without doubt, the world's best air show. In fact, to a pilot, it is the world's best get together of any kind! Over three quarters of a million aviation enthusiasts, over 12,000 airplanes, and just about every kind of aviator-candy imaginable make for an outstanding time, whether for a day or the whole week!


    Waiting for the airshow on Friday, just after the skies cleared.

    The thought that always strikes me as I make my way onto the grounds for the first day of the show is that, like Brigadoon, this whole merry assemblage has been going strong all year long in some never-land, and it is I, rather than the show, that drops in for a yearly visit! This is, of course, partly true - I generally only visit the place during the show. But Oshkosh does indeed have a year-round existence - just ask any of the exceptionally friendly natives! Once, a few years ago, I attended a workshop on airplane building here during the winter, and it was then that I came face-to-face with the reality of Oshkosh the city! So, in fact, it is not the city that disappears, only to reappear the following year, but the show itself, and the people who love it!


    Classic airplanes in the Antique/Classic area.

    Beautiful Ryan STA, a symphony in polished aluminum.

    The world is full of air shows, a few of which boast greater single day attendance than Oshkosh does, mostly because of performances by the Thunderbirds or the Blue Angels. But overall, I have never seen a bigger or better spectacle, and I've been to just about all of them over the years. The grounds alone are bigger than just about anything out there, certainly on the order of magnitude, say, of the Indy 500 speedway. The number and quality of displays and exhibitions are unparalleled. And to top it all off, there is a world-class aviation museum right on the grounds. This last attraction also houses the headquarters of the EAA, and is open all year round.


    Goodies, goodies, goodies -- for sale all over the show!

    A very small part of the homebuilt parking area on
    the main flight line!

    There is something unique about the camaraderie of hundreds of thousands of airplane buffs, to say nothing of the thousands of generous volunteers who give of their time and enthusiasm to meet, greet, direct, entertain, care for and otherwise assist the vast throngs who politely stream through the gates each day. Whether gathered around an interesting airplane, or enjoying a meal or snack at one of the many food emporiums on the grounds, you can strike up a conversation at any time and make a new friend almost instantly!


    An RV6A taxis in past the Van's Air Force parking area.

    Each year the Fly-In has a particular focus, but this year that focus is twofold. First of all, the FAA has just approved a new category both of pilot license and of airplane -- the Sport Pilot license and the Light Sport Aircraft category. This has been in the works for a long time, and should be of particular interest to the flight simulation community, because the hoped-for net result will be less expensive small airplanes and a shorter, less expensive training track to license. This will mean that those of you who are interested in making the transition from virtual to reality will be able to do so faster and with less outlay of cash! The airplanes certificated in the new category should also be much cheaper to acquire and operate, as well as maintain and insure.


    The famous Little Toot, a homebuilt aerobatic design.

    Glassair ready for inspection.

    I'll leave the details for a trip to either the EAA or AOPA web sites, but in general a light sport aircraft will be a small two-seater with a single piston engine and a modest level of performance. Just like the Thorp T-211 Sky Skooter that I have! (The 211 will be one of the new approved designs and may possibly make it into production after nearly 60 years!)

    Overall, this is the most exciting thing that has happened in General Aviation recently, in terms of opening up the world of flying to a larger number of people. Hopefully, more of the world will adopt such standards. The cost of getting the license should be less than a top-gun computer system too, another big benefit. So if you have been sitting on the fence regarding actually flying, it may soon be time to make the jump!


    The most dangerous sign at Oshkosh -- FOR SALE!

    Checking out a beauty!

    The other focus this year is space, specifically civilian space. It is no surprise that several groups, with that of Burt Rutan currently in the lead, are vying for the 21st century equivalent of the Orteig prize, to be awarded to the first group that achieves space flight in a non-government vehicle. The prize will probably be won this fall; and, at least according to Burt in his outstanding presentation at the convention, space barnstorming will be following quickly in the wake of the first few flights. Don't be in too much of a rush to sign up just yet - the first few dozen or so rides will cost a king's ransom, because there are a lot of dot.com kings out there with a few hundred grand to spend on a 15-minute trip to the black sky regions! But in around 5-10 years fares should come down to the duke's ransom level!

    Yet another benefit of all of this space barnstorming will likely be a renewal of interest and, hopefully, passion for space exploration. The world's space efforts since the end of the Apollo program have been much more modest and cost constrained, to say nothing of robotic! This may change as more and more people, and influential people at that, get the chance to actually go "where no man has gone before". Or at least not too many men! And even fewer women!


    Even the little tykes get into flying!

    The lady in red!

    The one thing that was conspicuously absent, from our standpoint as flight simulation enthusiasts, was Microsoft! Of course, the Museum and the KidVenture area abounded with flight simulators, many from the Grand Dame of Redmond. But the usual huge MS exhibit, in the main exhibit hangar, was gone. This, in its many previous visits, was one of the most popular and crowded exhibits in the entire show, with 8 or 10 computers all running the latest beta of whatever the Wizards of Washington were working on, be it FS or CFS. I won't attempt to draw any conclusions about what the absence of MS means, especially since Oshkosh is probably not their primary exhibit venue. Maybe just a bit of belt tightening.

    A visit to Oshkosh is like a stroll down the largest circus midway you could imagine, all filled with the people and things, sights and sounds, of flying! Here is a little sample of what a day at Oshkosh has to offer!


    Self portrait in polished aluminum.

    T-33 passes in review during the afternoon airshow.

    We enter the grounds around 8:30 in the morning, just in time to catch a bite of breakfast, including some really fresh baked donuts! Nothing like a good donut, a cup of coffee, and 12,000 airplanes! By 9:00 the main exhibit buildings are open, and we'll spend around an hour or so grazing through hundreds of booths, displaying everything from the newest glass cockpit ensembles to concoctions guaranteed to polish anything to a brilliant luster. Perhaps the most welcome booth is the one that demonstrates foot and back massagers! This is a good place to be after around four hours of walking! This year, I myself broke down and bought one, although I should have given it as a gift to the family I stay with in town, so it would be available next year!


    Lockheed city -- the Connie, C-130, C-141 and C-5; four generations of Lockheed excellence!

    After emerging from the merry gauntlet of the exhibit buildings, laden down with a great many freebies (including the obligatory copy of "Trade-a-Plane", the yellow newspaper of used aircraft listings) we are ready for an early snack. EAA has thoughtfully provided several large food courts around the grounds, and one of these sits in the middle of the four exhibit hangars. Everything from Wisconsin Bratwurst to McDonalds hamburgers is available, and the price is only a little bit higher than on the outside! By the way, calories don't count here -- you can easily average several miles a day in walking.


    BIG engines for a BIG airplane -- the C5B

    Red White and Blue abounds!

    Onward now to the main airplane ramp, located just to the east of the food court on the midway. It is here that the really big iron is on display. This year the roster includes one of the really biggest, the C-5B, one of my old alma maters, so to speak. This one is open front and back, and the lines to troop through it are long indeed! The upper deck, which contains the cockpit and crew area, is, unfortunately, off limits this year, no doubt due to the dizzying ladder up which one must climb to get there. In 9 years of flying FRED, as we called him, I was sure that I would one day come to grief on that very ladder. Fortunately, I managed to retire without falling off of it!


    There is also a seaplane base, a beautiful spot a
    few miles from the airport on Lake Winnebago.

    The Wright Flyer simulator, powered by MSFS.

    In addition to my last Air Force jet, the C-5, my first one is also on display. This would be the Cessna T-37, known affectionately as the Tweety Bird, or sometimes just Tweet. This less than dignified moniker was bestowed decades ago as a result of the high pitched whistle that the two centrifugal flow engines emit when running. Dogs for miles around the various pilot training bases that the Tweets called home were no doubt hoarse from howling at the sound! To round out the roster of my Air Force career, the T-38 supersonic trainer that we flew during the second half of pilot training, and the C-141, which was my first operational assignment, are also on display. Since it is very likely that there is a Cessna 172 somewhere on the field, every airplane that I flew for the Air Force is here this year! Seems like they made this list just for me!


    My first and last jet aircraft in the USAF, the T-37 and
    the C-5B.

    The Connie, perhaps the most elegant airplane ever designed.

    By the time we have examined the A-10, C-130, various F-somethings and a plethora of other airplanes, including perhaps the most beautiful ever built, the Constellation, it is time for lunch. This time we'll head on over to the Classic Café, hard by the Antique showplane area. After a delightful repast, consisting of burgers and fries a la Oshkosh, we stroll down memory lane into the most beautiful collection of old airplanes ever assembled in one place! Stearmans, Ryans, old Cessna's and Beech Staggerwings, Vultee Vibrators and Bamboo Bombers abound, all looking as good as or better than the day they rolled off the assembly line! A huge amount of affection and plain old hard work goes into keeping these museum pieces flying and looking so good. Nowhere but Oshkosh!

    Having sated our interest in things of old, we decide to head on down to the future. The ultralight movement is actually already a decade or two old, and its roots go all the way back to the earliest days of flying. But the designs we see buzzing around the UL area are right out of tomorrow; and, in combination with the new sport plane category, will likely form the future of recreational aviation. At least a few of the new sport plane designs will be ultra lights on steroids!


    The afternoon air show always begins with the Liberty parachute team, seen here circled by several of the performers.

    The man who started it all -- Paul Poberezny, founder of EAA, gives a thumbs up to the future of aviation!

    The ultralight community has its own area at the south end of runway 18/36. Except during the airshow or a high wind condition, something is always flying down here, in a special and separate pattern. They seem to have more fun than anyone else at Oshkosh, perhaps because they do more actual flying! Just about anyone who has an ultralight here can take it around the pattern during several periods of time each day. Once, several years ago, I managed to cadge a ride in an ultralight here, and it was an experience to be savored. We will spend over an hour watching the little birds swoop and buzz their way around. Pure fun, from the looks of it!


    Warbird flight line, US Navy style.

    Now, as they say, it's Showtime! Every afternoon there is an airshow that lasts almost three hours. It usually starts with a Warbird extravaganza, during which B-17's and B-25's, P-51's and T-6's and just about everything else that won WWII will fly over or right in front of the crowd. You will not see this many WWII airplanes in the air at one time anywhere else in the world these days! The big finale of the warbird show is the Pyro, culminating in the "Wall of Flame", a 1000 foot long gasoline bonfire touched off to climax a simulated bomb run by the B-17 this year.


    T-6 formation.

    The Wall of Fire, a 1000 foot long pyro extravaganza.
    You can feel the heat!

    After hours, classic cars and roller skating waitresses at the drive-in a few miles from the airport!
    After the warbirds come the aerobats. Just about every big-name airshow performer will be here during the course of the week - Patty Wagstaff, Sean Tucker; the list is long and distinguished! Men and women doing things with airplanes that even pilots didn't think could be done! Perhaps the most amusing moment in the airshow comes when you instinctively look skyward at the sound of what seems to be an afterburning jet engine. Aha, an F-18 you think. But when you look up, you see a Stearman biplane belching smoke and climbing straight up! Yes, someone has put a jet engine (without the afterburner, though) on a biplane, and what a climbing fool that thing is now! Every act has to have an angle, I suppose, and this one is one of the most unique.

    As the show winds down, we head to the vast parking lots and try to find the rental car, a task made infinitely more difficult by the fact that several hundred thousand people have also rented the econo-box from Thrifty or the like, and the darn things all look the same! Once reunited with the wheels, we head off to dinner in town, preferring to eschew the culinary delights of the EAA grounds for this one meal. Our favorite place is the Roxy Supper Club downtown, where they serve prime rib that covers the entire plate! After this mammoth meal, we head over to Andy and Ed's drive-in, a place straight out of "American Graffiti", complete with roller skating waitresses and, at least on Friday, classic cars. The sundaes and malteds are out of this world!


    Mustang on the warbird line.

    The Javelin, a proposed small jet -- just the thing for
    your personal air force!

    These local delights are, of course, lost on the folks who camp under the wing over on the field, and who, for the most part, lack access to wheels. But they have their own entertainment, at the "Theater in the Woods", over by the Antique area. Every night there is a complete program of music, presentations, talks by the likes of Chuck Yeager or Burt Rutan, and even church services on Saturday and Sunday!


    The flea market, home of just about anything to to with aviation, to say nothing of a lot that has nothing to do with it.

    Sundaes slurped down, we head on back to our home away from home. We've walked near on to four miles or so today, and will do so again tomorrow. All in all, not conducive to a lot of late night partying! Tomorrow we again need an early start, for we haven't even gotten near the Flea Market or the Warbird area yet, to say nothing of the forum halls or the kit plane exhibit area! It takes several days just to get a sense of this place!


    The ultralight runway.

    It isn't always sunny at Oshkosh! This year it rained on
    and off for at least two of the seven days of the show,
    and rain ponchos were among the most valuable freebies!

    All in all, this is truly flying's Mecca. I hope that all of you can someday make a pilgrimage. Fly in or drive in, stay under the wing or in your camper or as a guest in a private home, for a day or for the whole week; it is an experience like no other. Total immersion flying! See you there next year!

    Anthony Vallillo
    [email protected]


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