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On Sunday, the day before Airventure officially kicked off, we jumped off a local shuttle to find an astonishingly empty North 40. Land traditionally packed with tents and planes remained wide open, a rarity. Small pockets of enthusiasts sat in chairs lined up by the runway fences. They listened to ATC frequencies on handheld radios as scores of incoming pistons, warbirds and tail draggers received instructions to “land on the green dot” one after another after another, like winged clockwork.
Personnel operating the world’s busiest control tower just as well should have told the pilots to land next to the giant swamp to the left of them, for that is what anything at the airport not paved with concrete resembled as the world’s largest aviation gathering began. Eastern Wisconsin endured enough rain in the prior weeks to warrant construction of a giant ark, perhaps one with a landing strip.
The ground dried out later in the week beneath mostly beautiful weather. The early conditions put many planes into alternate airports (more than 10,000 landed in the immediate region for the week) and filled up tie-down spots at nearby FBOs. It cancelled or diminished several planned events, and it perhaps played a role reduced attendance figures.
EAA president Tom Poberezny called it the most challenging to prepare in his 35 years. This year’s crowd of 535,000 missed the 2009 attendance figure but still outpaced Airventure’s turnout from two years ago. Sunshine and 80-degree temperatures on most days rewarded those who bared messy, early days and the show went onward.
This year’s EAA Airventure brought with it plenty of memories, most good, such as a first-ever nighttime air show and fireworks display and mass arrival of a flock of DC-3s, resembling the Berlin Airlift. A tragic memory or two, though, happened to slip into the picture. A crash of NASCAR team owner and longtime pilot Jack Roush left many at the show scratching their heads and saying their prayers.
Roush, piloting a Beechcraft Premier Jet, appeared to overshoot his runway and clipped a wing on the ground, leading to a hard landing that broke the jet in two and hospitalized him with facial injuries. The incident spurred plenty of discussion amongst attendees throughout the remainder of the week, including conflicting witness accounts of what exactly happened. However, all agreed that Roush and those on the ground were quite fortunate that things turned out no worse than they did. No fatalities and no crowd injuries made a tough moment seem not as tough.
Cobalt's Co50 prototype
New feats of technology were on display throughout the week, as flyers and enthusiasts celebrated milestones and anniversaries of older aircraft. Cobalt showed off a prototype of its Co50 canard piston it plans to test late this year, as General Electric sponsored an electric aircraft symposium. The 75th anniversary of the DC-3 was commemorated alongside the 50th of the Piper Cherokee.
The 2010 Airventure theme centered upon a Salute to Veterans, which saw hundreds of service members, past and present, gather side by side at the airport’s central AeroShell Square for a group photo following a parade that led them to the gathering.
In another event, a memorial service took place before an Old Glory Honor flight from Oshkosh to Washington, D.C. Two daily Warbirds in Review shows further echoed the patriotic sentiment, as daily mock dogfights and bombing runs pierced the sky and shook Wittman’s hangars.
Vintage aircraft and classic warbirds enlivened the flight lines and campgrounds, while some of the military’s most advanced aircraft invaded AeroShell Square. A C-5 Galaxy and CV-22 Osprey lined up alongside a BAE Sea Harrier F/A2 that performed demonstrations of its STOL capabilities.
Air shows left little to be desired on the ground, other than the sheer gut and skill of the pilots performing up above. Biplanes climbed into hammerheads amongst diving parachutists. A jet sailplane swept along the sky and resembled a ribbon dancer with smoke tails.
Chuck Aaron’s Red Bull helicopter defied laws of physics with loops and backflips while, likewise, the AeroShell Team did the same in its fleet of T-6A Texans. On the other side of the field, the Goodyear Blimp droned across the eastern Wisconsin horizon. Musical performances capped several evenings, including concerts by Asleep at the Wheel, Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band and classic rockers Chicago.
The Partridge Family meets the Piper Aircraft Family
Beyond the amazing events, camaraderie highlighted the week for many. A family reunion takes place among longtime attendees who reunite with smiles and back-pats, as those new to the festival establish friendships they will take into future shows.
For us at GlobalAir.com, we took delight in greeting the hundreds who visited our booth in Hangar D. More than 2,100 international visitors registered at the EAA tent. Trading jokes with Australians or communicating with Portuguese-speaking Brazilians with a mix of English and Spanish made the trip to Oshkosh as unique and enjoyable as a trip to anywhere else in the world. Except, there is no place that comes close to offering the heritage and spirit felt by fellow members of the aviation community. Thus, fortunately, there are only 51 weeks until next year’s installment.
The aerial acrobatics continued as we left Wittman Field, as a crop duster tended
to his soybean field.