By now the heart-breaking news has been spread through the aviation community. Oshkosh 2020 is no more. Perhaps it pains me a bit less than most, as thanks to the Army I'll be on the other side of the world still when Wittman Regional Airport became the Busiest Airport on Earth for a week. I will say I was heartbroken long before the rest of the world about that. I finally made the pilgrimage to Oshkosh in 2017, and since then I move hell and high water to block that week off as me-time. But perhaps more than that, it's the one time a year where I get to connect with friends from around the world I otherwise only know from Instagram or Facebook. I'm sure I'm not the only one saddened by the cancellation, but I'd like to share some memories of Oshkosh and some of the amazing friends I've seen there. Hopefully you'll share some of yours in the comments too.
Every year, Oshkosh is a challenge to plan for. A wealth of owner workshops (someday, I keep telling myself!), manufacturer presentations, and the challenge of visiting as many airplanes as possible during the day. Followed by the ...er...legendary nightlife. After my second trip, I gave up trying to plan out each day. Each morning I'd wake up around 6AM, get cleaned up, charge the camera, and start to wander. Early morning is a great time to get in ahead of the crowds and take pictures. I remember my first morning of Oshkosh 2017, I went out near Boeing Plaza, grabbed some breakfast, and just sat listening to ATC: "Turn right into the grass, and Welcome to Oshkosh." That was a pretty emotional moment for someone who'd dreamed of going to Oshkosh since childhood. By 8AM, I'd usually run into someone I knew and let them navigate for a while. This approach has led me to greeting an arriving TA-4 flown by a friend of a friend, cleaning the bottom of a very freshly restored Hellcat fighter, or wandering to Vintage to scope out Swift Row.
2019 was a special treat because I finally had the opportunity to fly into Oshkosh. I caught a ride with another friend who owns a Citation 1SP. I can't overstate the importance of reading the full NOTAM published each year. I had it saved on Foreflight on my iPad and tagged to the Jet/IFR arrivals page. As it turned out, the arrival was pretty simple because only aircraft with parking on tarmac were able to arrive on Saturday. But that first "Welcome to Oshkosh" still sounded so good. I also encourage those flying to arrive early, as the traffic count only picks up throughout the week. By arriving Saturday prior to the show and departing on the Friday of the show, we avoided the really busy weekend crowd, and also were around for most of the mass arrivals, as well as flyovers from the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels.
For those who haven't been to Oshkosh, every day from Monday-Sunday offers a daily airshow, with night shows on Wednesday and Saturday that get better every year. If you're a warbird guru like me, each morning on Warbird Row a different aircraft will be towed over and put on display for Warbirds in Review, in which the owners will talk about their aircraft, answer questions, and share the stage with others who flew these living legends in war. In the past, this included P-51s with talks from Bob Hoover and Bud Anderson, P-38's like the famous Glacier Girl (I know we have at least one P38 pilot in the CPA ranks, this shout out is for you Walt!), and this year, the very unique Fairey Firefly, which was recently re-restored in Fort Collins. The owner of this beautiful aircraft flew in the Navy with my stepfather, so guess who got pulled into that detailing adventure. Don't offer help at Oshkosh if you don't mean it. It was my pleasure to help prepare the Firefly for show time, and the opportunity to document the display for the owner. As you can see, no expense was spared. In the owners' words, it was several Mustangs worth... good Mustangs. His words, not mine.
Oshkosh is many things. For many of us, we come for the airplanes, but stay for the people. Not often in our day to day lives can we have a conversation with Sean Tucker of EAA and Oracle Airshows, a trans-Atlantic speed record holder and his TBM like Phil Bozek, or MG Jeannie Leavitt, the Air Force's first female pilot. But at the end of the day, Oshkosh is an airshow. With annual emphasis from fighters to tankers or fire bombers, each year is unique, but always spectacular. The Air Force Demo teams, Red Bull, and aerobatic stars all flock to Oshkosh to put on a show daily, and many also participate in the Night Show, which is simply spectacular (and the fire ball at the end gets bigger every year). In 2019, our own Rocky Mountain Renegades stole the show during the day (in my completely unbiased opinion) and the US Air Force Raptor Demo team tore up the night with a twenty minute demo with LOTS of afterburner. Randy Ball gave a beautiful night time demo of the afterburner on his MiG 17 capped off with a race against Shockwave, the airshow favorite semi-truck with 3 afterburning jet engines. Bring your ear protection, because with this years' cancellation I expect 2021 to be even louder.
For aircraft owners, warbird enthusiasts, or off-road aficianados, Oshkosh offers something to appeal to everyone. B-17, Ford Trimotor, and Bell 47 rides fly nearly constantly. Kidventure offers an aviation themed segment for the kids, to make sure our passion for flying stays alive in the next generation. EAA offers workshops for aspiring kit-builders, the FAA offers discussions with air traffic controllers as well as talks by the FAA Administrator, and Vintage has many classes and discussions on keeping our well-aged aircraft flying safely. The STOL track includes an entire strip for STOL drag races and competitions, and every manufacturer from Textron on down has their aircraft on display. Our own Metro State University of Denver's Aerobatic Team has had a presence in the past (hopefully showing off yet another trophy, go Roadrunners!), and most aviation colleges and airlines offer access to recruiters and even in-person interviews.
Oshkosh is the highlight of my year without a doubt. My plans for 2021 are all ready in the works, and I hope to see Colorado well-represented. I'd love to hear your memories from Oshkosh in years past, and your hopes for 2021 in the comments below. If you haven't been, 2021 is the year to go. Show your Colorado Pilot spirit, Print off the NOTAM and welcome to Oshkosh!