Why You Should Never Fly Into Oshkosh

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Like moths attracted to the proverbial flame, some pilots can’t resist the urge to fly into Oshkosh during AirVenture. And why not? There’s nothing quite like it in all of aviation. You get an unrivaled opportunity to see everything under the sun related to aviation and to rub wings with thousands of like-minded people.

Oh, see what I did there? That rub wings analogy is a bad choice given what happened during this year’s arrival. Refreshing your memory, the weather tanked on the Saturday before the show only to become flyable about 1 p.m. on Sunday, at which point everyone decided to arrive all at once. The chaos was predictable, but it all worked out, more or less.

Reporting on this in real time, I commented on how many pilots I spoke to said it was “the worst they’d ever seen.” Of course, I unearthed a comment on one of the forums that said 2016 was the “worst they’d ever seen.” Are we raising the bar on chaos every year and what is it that we’re seeing that’s the worst?

I’m not sure, but some post-AirVenture email sent my way suggests that some pilots don’t have a clear grasp of either the risk of flying into AirVenture or what, exactly, ATC is supposed to do to sort out the confusion. Or what they can do. One pilot complained that on Sunday around 2 p.m., the controllers were losing it and yelling at the pilots. Do tell.

Before even considering flying into AirVenture, you should have an understanding of what ATC—which can be completely overwhelmed at times—can do for you. And it’s not much. Class D towers like OSH are normally on the hook for sequencing and runway separation, and for AirVenture, the latter is relaxed and reduced. Normally, for Category I (less than 12,500 pounds) landing aircraft, it’s 3000 feet between airplanes on the same runway. But at OSH, you’ll see a lot less because it’s common to see two or three airplanes landing on the same runway at once. That’s what the colored dots are for.

Some people who see this just freak out and although it amps up the risk a little, the accident record over many years proves that it’s hardly any real risk at all. Airplanes don’t run into each other on the runway and given the traffic density, the number of midair collisions has been vanishingly small. You do see an elevated number of runway loss-of-control incidents due to botched landings—call it performance anxiety—but that’s probably because of the sheer concentration of landings. No matter where they’re happening, the luck of the draw will cause a certain number of pilots to drop one in or lose control. Do it at OSH, and you’ll be YouTube Gold. Sorry …

And, of course, some pilots are idiots. They’ll miss Fisk entirely, cross at the wrong altitude or speed, turn left instead of right, do a surprise spin into the face of oncoming traffic or do things no one ever thought of. And yet, it works out because pilots flying into Wittman have their eyeballs expanded to the diameter of dinner plates and for all the mistakes they may or may not make, historically, they’ve proven adept at not t-boning each other entirely independent of exhortations from ATC which, as I said, can do only so much.

That applies right down to the runway. One year, I listened on a portable as the controller repeatedly urged a pilot to land on the green dot. Two thousand feet later, he finally got the wheels on the concrete and the controller gave him a habitual “good job” for a job that clearly wasn’t, unless he was relieved that the guy didn’t run off the end of 27 and chop up some unhappy campers.

I’m perplexed at the number of pilots who were surprised at the traffic piling up when the weather cleared. This is hardly an unheard of thing, it’s just a question of whether it happens Saturday, Sunday or Monday. Veterans of flying in—and I didn’t talk to them because they went elsewhere—know that it’s a good idea to have a Plan B, say Fond du Lac or Appleton, to avoid the madness until things settle down. (Unless you like the madness, in which case, carry on.)

Another complaint I heard was that EAA, for some suspicious reasons, kept the fuel trucks out of the North 40 for two days. Yeah, “the worst I’d ever seen” for fueling. And yes, EAA did keep the fuelers away during a wet period when they would otherwise bog down into the muck, creating deep ruts that cause airplanes to struggle while taxiing or worse, cause prop strikes. The solution? Don’t come into Oshkosh needing fuel. You’ll be lighter going out and if you had the time to fly into the circus in the first place, you can afford a fuel stop somewhere else on the way out. Airports throughout the region offer deals on fuel. Plus free hot dogs.

For the past decade, I’ve flown into Wittman not to get there, but to fly demo airplanes and produce press coverage. I find it amusing, but not something high on my list of must-dos. But, it is aviation’s Hajj and everyone should do it at least once. Or regularly, if the spirit moves.

But not at all if you go into the game thinking that (a) controllers are in charge or (b) they’ll sort out any potential conflicts and keep you safe. Assume that, and your experience really could be the worst ever.

 

Comments (16)

Not being a member of the homebuilder community nor an aficionado of any other distinct gathering group, including the camp in the mud under the wing contingent, I just find the hassle of getting in & out of Whittman less than appealing. Taking the kerosene queen is simply easier and cheaper albeit with the same requirement to arrange car & lodging.

Actually, my most enjoyable visit was the year I drove the motor home and settled in at the farm right outside the gate. Super convenient when the feet need a break. But it's a looong drive from SoCal.

Posted by: John Wilson | October 21, 2018 5:15 PM    Report this comment

At my summer time hangout 35 miles west of OSH - less to Ripon or Fisk -- we don't need a radio to figure out what's happening at the show. Suddenly, hoards of airplanes will start showing up looking for terra firma while things sort themselves out. THIS year, we had three gaggles of airplanes try it three times on Sunday before they vaporized into the ether. All told, more than 125 airplanes cycled through. And, they can get gas easy and cheap, too. Growing numbers of folks are choosing to eschew OSH and just stay with us once they see the place. Not only is it safer, it's funner. And -- for high value airplanes -- we can hanger some of them. One group from ABQ even bought a hangar so they can party all week and go in a couple of times. "I'm having fun at Airventure, honey ... burp" Sounds nuts but true.

This year, one of 'us' indirectly became one of the statistics you describe. We'll call him "two rivet" ... long story. Two rivet spent well over a decade building his machine and was very proud of it. That said, two rivet is getting older, is having a real hearing problem and decided it's time to sell his LSA. Knowing he wasn't up to the task, he gave the keys to a light sport CFI to fly into the LSA area with a gaggle of like airplanes. Well ... the CFI got bunched up, got slow and WHAM ... down comes the LSA from about 25 feet. Fortunately, the CFI lived but the LSA didn't. We saw him crying ... what else was there for him to do? In the end, he did sell the airplane ... to the CFI but for less money because -- well -- it was no longer airworthy.

I've been to almost 40 shows and have tried every lodging arrangement there is. Even though I now live within commuting distance, it's still too far to drive every day. A few years ago, I started tenting then RV'ing and that is the way to go, I am now convinced. Being right there AT the show puts you in the middle of it all and if bad weather hits, you don't lose a prized airplane. I saw the carnage at Sun-N-Fun a few years ago; it was sad. Like the hajj, everyone should fly in once but -- after that -- rent an RV and stay in the campground.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | October 21, 2018 9:05 PM    Report this comment

I did fly in this year, and because of how things happened to work out timing wise from my end, we ended up flying the VFR arrival right in the thick of things just before they closed the airspace for the day. We were one of the last ones to land, in fact.

ATC did "yell" at a bunch of pilots. Pilots who clearly didn't read the NOTAM about proper in-trail spacing. Pilots who were blatantly skipping whole sections of the arrival, and couldn't hold altitude or airspeed. A few times, I had to get off altitude just to provide enough spacing between me and another pilot or three who either didn't see me, or didn't care. And of course there were a few pilots with a fuel emergency...or at least claimed to have a fuel emergency (it wouldn't surprise me that some pilots faked an emergency just to get in).

I don't know how many pilots go charging in to OSH without a Plan B, or even, it seems, a Plan A. But I deliberately landed short of OSH to get fuel so I wouldn't have to worry about fuel, and Plan B was to go to Appleton and Plan C to Fon du lak if I couldn't get into OSH. It's really not that hard to plan for the arrival. The fact that more accidents don't happen even with so many pilots being clearly unprepared could also be a bit of "herd immunity"--enough other pilots are competent and prepared enough, and willing to ignore their ego, to give way to the other pilots who really shouldn't be flying the arrival.

Having done the arrival twice now (once as a pilot-not-flying copilot, and once flying myself), I probably won't do it again. But the experience is worth doing at least once, if only to see what true madness in the air is like. It sure makes flying into Block Island during the summer seem a lot more tame to me now.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 22, 2018 8:17 AM    Report this comment

Driving in is discomforting enough. While the romantic (?) aspects of joining the aerial conga line of arrivals has a certain appeal of "being a member", the idea of then getting stuck there for who knows how long coupled to the usually tropic-like humidity and temperatures has triggered my thinking of "uh, maybe this isn't the greatest idea". An RV with substantial air conditioning, a large refrigerator, and large capacity toilet would be my conveyance of choice. And, what a perfect place to test out the new "uber electric vtol's", park 50 miles away in a relatively uncrowded parking lot, hop an aerial conveyance, walk around at the fair for a few hours and then pop back out.

Posted by: Richard Katz | October 22, 2018 9:13 AM    Report this comment

Flying into OSH... something everybody should witness. First year I flew in, had a green CFII in the right seat, except she was so freaked out, turned to be useless. Didn't help OSH was shut down due to a gear up, and 100 planes were circling the lake in one direction, and two circling in the opposite direction.
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2nd year, was supposed to fly in with the Mooney Caravan. I had an IFR reservation, just in case. The field was IFR, and during the Caravan briefing, they were changing things and people were confused. I chose to bail out of the briefing and make use of the reservation. Sweetest arrival ever!
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3rd and final time, a Cherokee 140 cut in front of the air show pilot in front of me (I was 3rd). Now we were suddenly bunched up going into final. Controller sent the 140 pilot around, asked the air show pilot to land mid field, and for me to land on the numbers. We both complied and got a thank you. Departure was interesting that year, as I only developed 2500 RPM (instead of 2700) on takeoff. I was faced with the decision of continuing take off or aborting. Right or wrong, I continued take off roll and landed at Madison where we determined and corrected the issue.
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Definitely an experience flying into OSH.

Posted by: Phillip Hecksel | October 22, 2018 9:49 AM    Report this comment

As one of the hapless ones trying to get in on Saturday, and then Sunday, I'll inject my own comments. On Saturday evening I arrived at RIPON at about 6:30 pm, only to be told all arrivals for the rest of the evening were shut off for a mass Bonanza arrival, and to divert to an alternate. The controller kept insisted to all inquiries that no one else was going to get in from RIPON that night. I stuck around for fifteen minutes or so to make sure things would not change, and then diverted to Appleton. I found out later that arrivals resumed shortly afterwards and continued until the shut off time for the evening at 8:00 pm. The weather on Sunday started clearing at about 11:30 am or so and I got off Appleton thinking I would beat the rush. Just when I got to RIPON they shut the arrivals down again for another mass arrival, so I entered holding. The ensuing number of aircraft kept building at RIPON as they then started arrivals again. However, the most frustrating thing for me is that when it got too chaotic with arrivals between RIPON and FISKE, the controllers just broke everybody out to return to FISKE. So, during those periods nobody was getting through the mess at RIPON as guys tried to re-enter and join those already in a ten mile line. It just got worse and worse. I've flown in to Oshkosh several times but on that Sunday I saw more than my share of stupid pilot tricks. The difference for me is that the controllers were not controlling. Shutting off all arrivals and turning everybody out because of spacing at FISKE just compounded the chaos. Selectively letting every other aircraft through at FISKE would have at least gotten some airplanes on the runway and reduced the mess southwest of the airport. It did not get better for the rest of Sunday. I held for five hours and saw and heard some stuff I had never seen before from pilots. I did get in near the end of the day. If I had any sense I would have just diverted early and called it a day, and would have if I did not have a sorta-commitment to have my RV-8 at Oshkosh. I won't do it again; not worth it. (On the plus side, departure on the following Saturday morning was a breeze.)

Posted by: Scott Thompson | October 22, 2018 9:50 AM    Report this comment

When this happens to ya ... head to Y50.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | October 22, 2018 10:25 AM    Report this comment

While at the Rockford EAA fly-in in 1967, I made a teenage vow that someday, some how, i would fly into the EAA event in my own airplane. It took 40 years to accomplish. In 2007, I flew my straight tail 1956 C172 into Oshkosh.

I stopped at Juneau and topped off for fuel. I asked my wife and teenage grandson to advise me of traffic. By the time we reached Ripon, I made an amendment to my traffic request and said let me know if you think someone might run into us, otherwise keep silent. No sooner as I said that a Cirrus SR22 dropped down from the higher speed aircraft above us no more than 50 feet in front of us and began to wallow around trying to fly as slow as us and the traffic ahead of us.
Our old airplane had a full Horton kit so 50 indicated was pretty easy. But that Cirrus was now all over the sky trying not to overrun the airplane ahead of him. The arrival controller at Fiske was not happy and repeated attempts to get him out of our Conga line was met with silence. The airplane ahead of him was cleared to Oshkosh via the railroad tracks for 09 and I was told to take the road to Oshkosh for 18...and the Cirrus was sent back to Ripon. The last I saw of him was his white rudder wiggling back and forth with top of his fuse fully revealed as he staggered around, wings rocking back and forth, nose high.

We landed on the pink dot on 18. I made a nice landing which avoided any embarrassing signals displayed by the ever gesturing peanut gallery lining the flight line.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | October 22, 2018 2:27 PM    Report this comment

2007 was the year that the two Mustangs collided directly across from our campsite. We were packed up, and in normal operations, would have been one of the first to be released following the airshow. However, with the 18/36 closed, any traffic released would be on 09/27 requiring taxing a long way to the other side of the airport. Plus, the Feds said, they were unsure if the airport would eventually reopen at all on Friday. Adding to the tension of witnessing a fatal accident was increasingly poor weather exploding along the Wisconsin/Illinois border.

Amazingly, the FAA reopened the airport for about thirty minutes at about 7:30PM. The estimates were about 1200 airplanes were trying to leave in that 30 minute window. We were literally at the tail end of that mass departure. Initial directions were to 27. And the FAA was launching three abreast only slightly staggered. By the time 10 minutes had elapsed the pink shirts were waving everybody through with no stopping on the runway for alignment, etc.

Then as we passed the end of the 36 taxiway the tower said they were going to get the remaining airplanes out before 8PM by launching airplanes on 18 taxiway. A bit cryptic flying over the now blue- tarped P-51. I had a Twin beech behind me an Aztec behind him with an LSA in front of our old 172 with a swarm of airplanes of all types and speeds trying to stay out of each other's way. I was told to turn around and depart the 18 taxiway along with the rest of our gaggle and never experienced so much vortices and turbulence from such close quarters of all these different types and speeds of airplanes. I felt bad for the LSA driver as he was all over the place trying to stay wings level.

Our marching orders was not to depart to the east or the west until 10 miles south of the airport. From there you were on your own. With the weather southbound many turned westbound way sooner making for a lot of collision avoidance maneuvers.

Memorable, frightening, exhilarating, and satisfying to accomplished a major dream. Haven't flown in since. Might try it in our 53 Bonanza for 2019. it will be interesting to see what surprises that will bring. Because, there will always be surprises...normal Oshkosh events.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | October 22, 2018 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Driving into Oshkosh is like taking a shower with your socks on. I have done it (twice, on motorcycles), but it isn't very satisfying, You feel like parts of the wingless riff-raff. I have flown in in my C-210s 10 or 12 times now, and it has always been the highlight of my week. The last few visits I have stayed elsewhere and flown in every day I was there.

It's fun because you need to bring your A game and be prepared to deal with surprises, like on my first time there when the Mooney stopped on the dot they told me to land on because he didn't want to taxi into the grass. They yelled at him. I went by and landed beyond and got an attaboy.

Be flexible. Know when the busy times are. Avoid the mass arrivals (or join them, if that's your thing). Watch the weather. Make your IFR reservations in advance.

Oh, and Plan B shouldn't be Fond du Lac or Appleton. It should be somewhere father out, preferably with hotels nearby, like Madison, Milwaukee or Rockford...unless you LIKE sleeping in your airplane.

Posted by: Art Friedman | October 22, 2018 3:56 PM    Report this comment

I'm gonna go get some popcorn and a beer or two ... c'mon guys ... let's hear some more frightening stories ! This is better than watching Frankenstein or Dirty Harry.

I'll say it again ... if you get turned away and need plan B, come to Y50 32mi west of OSH. If you have a tent, that's all you need. Oh ... the price is steep ... FREE (donations are suggested). On Sunday AM, we have a pancake breakfast for all.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | October 22, 2018 7:11 PM    Report this comment

My kids and I fly in every Wednesday morning.
ie during the middle of the show
and fly out either Friday or Saturday am.
This year I flew in with my daughter without problems.
We try to come in early to beat the traffic, and so far, this has worked.
To us, It would unimaginable to do anything else
but to fly in and camp out under the wing.

we are always disappointed when we can't park
in the rows specifically designated for and park by the other C170s
but except this as a normal consequence of arriving late
even if it means parking on the last row of the south 40

I drove in one year only
and will never do this again
it simply was not the same

Probably the day that we arrive
and are told that the airport is full,
will be our last year at Oshkosh
and we will head home

Its been a good run over the past many years

Dave

Posted by: David Ahrens | October 23, 2018 8:54 AM    Report this comment

Why did so much pilots don't follow the procedures / NOTAM ?????

Hi folks !
I was trying to get in on Sunday 2018 for over 2 hours and 45 minutes !
Finally I gave up and diverted to KATW Appleton.

What I saw were airplanes not !!! flying 90 knots, not !!! flying at the right altitude of 1800 feet
( they passed us below and above simultaneously ), flying not !!! over the railroadtracks and suddenly slowing down to 60 knots, lowering their flaps !!
I saw airplanes flying side by side, above each other heading to fisk, cutting in the spacing of other airplanes from below and above ... and ... and ...
It was really dangerous some times and the Controllers did an excellent job, but how to handle this chaotic arrivals dear pilots ????!!!!

Everybody who flew this way has to ask himself if this is the way to handle the fisk arrival ................

?? Shame on you !!!!!!!

I talked to a tower controller because of sunday arrivals, he told me that they are going to rethink their procedures ! Can you imagine what does that mean ?!
If we go on in this rude way flying into KOSH they probably will restrict the arrivals in some way ! That is the last thing the majority of all pilots want to see.........

So please !!!! first follow the procedures and then talk about other factors like weather etc. !
This makes it save for everyone.

Peter Burmeister
- GERMANY - 10th time OSHKOSH participant
Love to fly in there !!

Posted by: PETER BURMEISTER | October 24, 2018 8:44 AM    Report this comment

Just an Update .....

EAA Sport Aviation 2018 - Page 34

"Revisiting AirVenture Arrivals"

"NOTAM SUFFICIENCY AND ADHERENCE
We unfortunately had numerous examples of pilots not adhering to the
NOTAM, and actually a new phenomenon of aggressive behavior is starting to
emerge"

Posted by: PETER BURMEISTER | October 24, 2018 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Just an Update .....

EAA Sport Aviation 2018 - Page 34

"Revisiting AirVenture Arrivals"

"NOTAM SUFFICIENCY AND ADHERENCE
We unfortunately had numerous examples of pilots not adhering to the
NOTAM, and actually a new phenomenon of aggressive behavior is starting to
emerge"

Posted by: PETER BURMEISTER | October 24, 2018 10:45 AM    Report this comment

"Are we raising the bar on chaos every year..."

In a way, yes! We really have a small number of "modern, NOTAM'd" AirVenture events to baseline for worst chaos ever. I can't provide odds, but I'm sure the probability of worse chaos in future events is > 0.

I flew into AirVenture for three straight years starting in 2010. The exhilaration of landing on a dot seemed to induce amnesia about the perennial weather delays and being turned away by ATC (I think Sploshgosh was one of those years)...

I consider myself fortunate that I didn't witness the pilot deviations from the procedures shared here because it does seem worse than my experiences years ago. And Paul doesn't seem like the clickbait title type, so if he says you should never fly into Oshkosh, he probably actually means it from a quantifiable safety perspective!

On the bright side, Camp Scholler in a Recreational Vehicle has been a great way to visit AirVenture for me!

Posted by: Matt Recupito | October 25, 2018 3:18 PM    Report this comment

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