“High wing, 1/2 mile SW from Fisk, rock your wings”
“Good rock, sir. Reaching Fisk, turn right heading 090, enter left base to Runway 36L.”
“High wing approaching Fisk be ready to turn now and monitor tower on 126.6.
Good Morning. Welcome to the show!”
It was right after our return from or during our very successful flight to The Bahamas, that Linda and I decided we were ready for another challenge: How about Oshkosh during AirVenture?
Normally, I don’t make any personal commitments if I can help it, during the last week of July. Professional commitments, as well as unexpected events, are a whole different matter and take precedence over everything else. Each year, I am never really sure if I can make it to Oshkosh until the last minute. So Camp Scholer, a drive-in camping area near the convention grounds, is absolutely perfect. For you never need to worry about not finding a spot to pitch your tent and call it home for the duration of your stay.
That is, until this year: I found an even more perfect spot to pitch tent and hang out.
The weather during the week of AirVenture was perfect. Sunny skies and nary a thunderstorm in the forecast. I thought we might luck out this time. Almost. I monitored the weather and as the coveted day arrived, the forecast got gloomier and gloomier. Still, I had hope. Human beings, thrive on hope. So often meteorologist forecast weather and it never happens. So it could still turn out for the better.
Despite my optimism, Thursday arrived, in bangs and bolts: thunderstorm, lightening and at times heavy rain. We had decided the day before, that we would monitor weather and coordinate a departure time. As the day progressed, our departure times went from 8 am, to possibly noon, to maybe 4 pm until we decided to call it a day and show up bright and early on Friday morning. It was forecasted to be a nice, sunny, summer day in the east coast. At least we hoped.
The flight time from Leesburg, Virginia to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is approximately six hours, and we had picked two destinations along our way for the outbound leg: Dayton Wright Brothers Airport (MGY) in Dayton, Ohio and Waukegon, Regional Airport (UGN) in Waukegon, Illinois. While the journey could be completed with a single halt along the way, we had multiple reasons for wanting to make a second halt before arriving in Oshkosh. Daily afternoon air shows at Oshkosh meant that the airport was closed between 2:30 and 5:30 pm after which departures were first handled before incoming arrivals were accepted. Further, the airport closed for the night at 8:00 pm.
Knowing we couldn’t make it there before the start of the afternoon air show in our Cessna 172, and allowing for any delays in the completion of the afternoon air show, we had a small window between 7:00 and 8:00 pm to arrive. The second landing also enabled us to top off our fuel, just in case holding procedures were in effect at our arrival in Oshkosh, or we had to divert to another airport in case general aviation camping was full, or we were late arriving at the airport before it closed for the night. Finally, one of our goals was to land in every state we crossed paths with, if we could.
We departed right on schedule on Friday. It indeed turned out to be a glorious summer day, that is, until we crossed over the Shenandoah Mountains. Thick clouds laced the area, west of the mountains. We attempted under first, before climbing higher. We continued to dodge clouds as we made our way west, before landing at Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport in Dayton, Ohio for some fuel both for ourselves as well as our transport. Aviation Sales Inc. is an excellent FBO to leave your aircraft, grab a courtesy car and head out for lunch. We headed to the nearest recommended restaurant with vegetarian food: Max & Erma’s Restaurant. While walkable, the restaurant is more accessible via the courtesy car, due to the volume of traffic and pedestrian unfriendly roads. We arrived back, to find our aircraft fully fueled and windshield squeaky clean!
Linda and I set off on our second leg of the journey to Waukegon, Illinois. As we made our way north, we battled cumulonimbus clouds, and rapidly building thunderstorms, so common in the East and the Midwest. We dodged between two storm systems and before we knew it, we had to land and wait it out. And so we did in Gary, Indiana. The passing storm grew in size and as 6:00 pm arrived, we knew there was no way we could depart in time in order to make it to Oshkosh before 8:00 pm.
Saturday arrived with clear blue skies: perfect and peaceful. Just the Wright day for a flight up to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. We were up, breakfasted, and ready by 7:30 am, departing right on schedule. Where were the clear, blue skies? We climbed to 500 ft, turning right, dodging clouds, and headed north. Luckily it was clear up north for now. We leveled off at 2,500 ft, and headed up north, past the non-existent Meigs Field, up Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive, past Sears Towers and downtown Chicago. A crystal clear day for now.
15 miles from Ripon: We went dark. The moment had arrived.
Intimidating, it was!
Did I want to do it? You betcha!
The AirVenture website has a wealth of information on planning an Oshkosh arrival. The Webinar provides excellent information on what to expect, what to review and how to prepare for your flight into Oshkosh during AirVenture. There are even a set of videos to demonstrate the Fisk Arrival procedure from Ripon to each destination runway. The one thing that always brought a smile to my face was hearing the controller say “Rock your Wings”. There was almost a sexy lilt to it
The bible for this trip was the 32-page NOTAM, usually published well in advance, that can be reviewed and memorized. The Fisk arrival is the most applicable if you are a single engine aircraft, can maintain 90 knots and fly at 1,800 ft. Once you arrive over RIPON, the remainder of the journey is completed totally visually by following the railroad tracks and maintaining separation from the aircraft ahead and following instructions.
Linda and I had hoped to practice some slow flight, spot landings and holdings in preparation of the flight the weekend before, but unfortunately weather spoke otherwise. So here we were, 30 miles from OSH, having flown GYY direct RIPON, north past the pristine Lake Michigan, Lake Shore Drive, Downtown Chicago and beyond. Brisk thoughts racing through my mind:
Step 1: Listen to ATIS on 125.9, 15 miles from Ripon (fortunately no holding was in practice)
Step 2: Turn on all lights
Step 3: Set Transponder to Standby and go dark
Step 4: Breathe… and reduce speed to 90 knotsand plan to be at 1800ft at Ripon
Step 5: Continue breathing… while maintaining 90 knots and 1,800ft, following the railroad tracks directly overhead towards Fisk, in-trail 1/2 mile behind an aircraft you are following
Step 6: Continue what you are doing beautifully and monitor Fisk Approach at 120.7.
Step 7: Expect to hear from Fisk Approach only after crossing the town of Pickett, 6 miles from Ripon. Don’t forget to breathe.
Step 8: Know how to rock your wings briskly and quickly when asked.
Step 9: Most importantly, Aviate, Navigate and maintain silence.
Unsurprisingly, despite all this tension, I felt calm, relaxed and excited to be achieving one of my AirVenture bucket list items.
“High wing on left base, cleared to land on runway 36L on the purple dot, traffic on short final,” cleared Oshkosh Tower
Down below, on the taxiway were a slew of aircraft waiting to depart. As we descended, we spotted the straight-in arrival. On the runway, lined up were two aircraft on the left and right of the center line waiting to depart. “Am I landing over these two aircraft,” I asked Linda. “Yes,” she responded, “Over them, on the purple dot”
I have been to Oshkosh many times since I obtained my private pilot license in 2001, whenever I could, which is eight or nine times so far. This was the first year, I actually flew in to Oshkosh, Wisconsin during AirVenture. While flying in on Sunday or Monday during the start of the week when mass arrivals occur would present the most challenging arrival, our late arrival almost towards the end of AirVenture, had enough excitement to keep us alert and on our toes.
“I am going to have to go around,” I thought, as I watched the aircraft on the right start to roll. There was an aircraft executing a go-around ahead of me; one on downwind; one calling Warbird island; and another at Fondu Lac. Meanwhile, the controller continued to talk to another aircraft. I waited for him to stop, so I could ask him if he wanted me to abort landing when:
“Cessna, put it on the numbers, aircraft departing… they are rolling now. Put it on the numbers”
One click, and I dipped the nose down right behind the rolling duo of aircraft in formation
“Good job Cessna, nice job, turn left onto the grass. Follow flagmen. Welcome to Oshkosh!”
Linda had already placed our printed tag: GAC on the windshield as we turned left onto the grass and waited for the ground personnel to steer us to North 40.
This year, it was all about the journey. Although we had planned a full two and a half days in Oshkosh, we got barely a day due to all the weather delays we experienced. Considering the short time we had, we took it easy: taking in the two air shows on Saturday, checking out the aircraft on display, visiting the fly-mart and catching up with old and new friends, but mostly spending it in a daze. It is not every day one gets to log a landing and a take-off from Oshkosh when it is operating in its busiest mode. The next day, after taxiing behind innumerable aircraft, maybe 20 or more, we departed Oshkosh.
No added fuel, but this time we flew south towards Waukegon to make our coveted Illinois halt, before heading southwest to Mansfield Regional Airport in Ohio for lunch and fuel before we finally headed home to Leesburg, Virginia.
If you happen to run into someone with a wide, beaming grin on their face for no known reason – a little out of this world, floating on clouds – it just might be me 🙂
As always you can read about my detailed adventures at https://flynthings.wordpress.com/oshkosh/
Notes: This appears in the September issue of the Slipstream, the Newsletter of the San Luis Obispo Ninety Nines and appears in September 2013 issues of the Aviatrix Aerogram.