My journey to Oshkosh began in 1977 when, freshly posted from London to Chicago, I flew low across Wisconsin’s green and golden striped fields in a Republic Airlines Convair 580 to the world’s largest gathering of aircraft, the EAA Fly In.
Back then it was the Mecca of general aviation. Today it still is, and I am here for the 28th time.
Along the way, at Oshkosh I have tented in Camp Scholler, camped under the wing of my Taylorcraft, won an award for my Auster, a British army observation plane and unbelievably met the man who photographed it in service in Korea in 1954.
Today’s EAA AirVenture dwarfs the grass roots event it used to be. It’s now an open fire-hose of enthusiasm, inspiration, invention and spectacle, far removed from drinking an illicit beer under a tree as the fireflies glowed.
And it’s still the Mecca of aviation, only more so.
This year we drove, leaving two airplanes in pieces in the hangar at home. One of them will make it next year!
To ease the shock of total immersion, we stopped at Brodhead, Wisconsin, to check out the time-capsule Pietenpol fly-in. This is a real grass-roots event on a lovely grass airfield, where enthusiasts gather to celebrate the Air Camper and Sky Scout that were the RVs of the 1930s after Bernie Pietenpol set out to prove that anyone could build his (or her) own airplane. Thousands of sets of plans have been sold, his grandson still runs the Pietenpol aircraft company (yes, you can buy planes from him), and more than 450 Pietenpols appear on the FAA register (including mine).
Then, to arrive at Oshkosh fully inspired and in the right frame of mind, I rented a J-3C Cub from Steve Krog, EAA Vintage Aircraft Association director and president of the Luscombe, Taylorcraft and Cub type clubs, which are here at Oshkosh by the Red Barn. He also owns the CubAir Flight school (motto: Old School is Still Cool) at Hartford, Wisconsin –- an old-world taildragger operation.
From overhead Hartford in the Cub I could see Lake Winnebago in the northern distance, and promised myself that next year I would head there in my own homebuilt and once again become part of the extravaganza that so inspires others to achieve their dreams.