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Feature Article

Matt Debsky, Aircraft Owner WVFC tdebber@alum.mit.edu

Oshkosh 2013

I made what is becoming a biennial trip to Oshkosh this year.  As I wrote two years ago, EAA's AirVenture is a must for any aviator.  Late July and early August in Wisconsin are usually hot, humid, and often peppered with thunderstorms. While the air show the day prior to my arrival was rained-shortened, overall the weather was about ideal.  Warm enough to wear shorts but not so hot as to be uncomfortable or wish for air-conditioning. This set the stage for a great Oshkosh.  Here are a few of my experiences and reflections from this year's AirVenture.

Planes, the movie

About a month before AirVenture, I read that Disney's new Planes movie would be previewed at AirVenture a week before it opened nationwide.  AirVenture has the Fly-In Outdoor Theater with a several-story tall screen and a lawn on which to setup chairs.  When I arrived thirty minutes prior to show time, I was able to find a spot on the lawn that seemed like it was a quarter-mile from the screen.  Fortunately, most of the folks in front of me kept their heads down and I was able to see most of the screen.  AirVenture estimated the size of the crowd at a record 15,000.  The movie was fun.  It was no Toy Story; reviewers have criticized it as formulaic.  However, as you've probably read in countless other aviation periodicals, respect was given to pilots and aviation; references to wake turbulence and altitude versus airspeed tradeoffs show that the script writers did some research.  I am sure my son will enjoy it when he's old enough. And I've heard positive things about other kids loving the movie.

While watching ultralights doing patterns at the end of the following day, I overheard people discussing how Planes may help to encourage a next generation of pilots or at least get more youth interested in aviation.  Certainly having more airplane toys around houses can't be a bad thing for encouraging the dream to fly or at least making aviation seem friendlier.  The first Planes is one in a series of three (the first focuses on air racing, the second firefighting).  I look forward to the release of the sequels.

Lack of government presence

Due to the Sequester, there was very little government presence at Oshkosh this year, which usually includes military, the FAA, and the drones that are often on display.  Additionally, there were oblique suggestions to Stand Up For GA, a reference to the half-million dollar bill sent by the FAA to EAA for providing air traffic control services at Oshkosh this year.  The military usually brings some super-cool hardware to the event.  For example, just the two previous AirVentures have celebrated the centennial of Naval Aviation, Doolittle Raiders, and the Tuskegee Airmen.  While there were plenty of warbirds present by virtue of the private owners, displays of patriotism and honoring of veterans, it did feel different not to have the military kit present.

Additionally, the FAA presence was minimal.  There were some safety seminars and movies.  However, the Federal Pavilion was mostly empty.  The FAA Administrator did not make an appearance.  While the pending litigation with respect to the ATC fees may be straining the FAA/EAA relationship, the FAA Administrator not making an appearance at the world's largest GA gathering was unfortunate.  AirVenture is often an opportunity to demonstrate the partnership that exists between the Association and the FAA in improving general aviation safety.

WVFC and Other Friends

I've written articles in the past about how welcoming the aviation community is.  One of the great things about AirVenture is that as you look around the grounds at the thousands of people present, you know you can start a conversation with anyone by asking about airplanes or flying.  On Saturday morning, I did the Runway 5K run. Leaving my campsite to jog to the starting line, I joined another runner in her warm up.  The conversation included her and her husband's planned homebuilt, the experience of flying to AirVenture, training for and running the Boston Marathon, and introducing kids to flying.  At lunch one day, I discussed mountain flying with a pilot from Texas, and later that night discussed training to be a pilot with aviation enthusiasts, one of whom arrived late to Oshkosh because she'd just had a ten-pound tumor removed earlier in the week - that's dedication.  Of course, all the vendors and exhibitors are more than happy to talk.  AirVenture provides a great venue to meet people from around the world who love to share their passion for aviation.

Among particular subgroups of the people at AirVenture were those of WVFC.  Each of the evenings I was at AirVenture I was fortunate to meet up with different people from the club and then frequently ran into folks during the day.  One WVFC member was there with airplanes used for competing in the Reno National Air Races.  Hearing the stories of maintaining, exhibiting, and just getting the planes to and from Oshkosh was fascinating.  The following night, I met up with the instructor with whom I've done my ratings and a former chairman of the WVFC board.  On my last night, I joined another instructor and learned some techniques for teaching better stick and rudder flying, and then met back up with him and another WVFC member to watch the evening air show.  So, in addition to meeting some great people from around the country, I got to reconnect with folks from right down the street.

While I'm far from a seasoned AirVenture veteran, I'm beginning to get its rhythm, recognizing the parts that stay the same each year and things that change.  The camaraderie and the immersion in aviation culture won't go away.  If you haven't been to AirVenture yet, make your plans for next year.

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