Monday, August 04, 2008

Oshkosh Recap

I figured I'd post this to fill in the gaps about Oshkosh that my photos would not have conveyed, and to tell the whole story. First let me say, just in case you hadn't figured this out: Oshkosh is awesome!

I lucked out big time for the show. Took a commercial flight to
Milwaukee and then a Greyhound bus through the very pretty Wisconsin
countryside to Oshkosh. The bus drops you right at the main terminal
so all I had to do was get a shuttle bus round to the main site, and a
second one down to the camping registration.

There, I signed in, paid my money etc and asked where I should camp.
Of course I only needed about 4x6 feet to camp in due to my tiny tent.
The lady fetched her husband and because I was a first timer and on my
own, asked him to find me somewhere good to camp. He put me with some
people he knew to be OK, who were camped right near the front entrance
gate. This was a blessing because it meant I didn't need to get
shuttle buses to the nether regions of the huge camping ground/city.

A secondary blessing occurred when the people who I was camping next
to noticed me. These folks turned out to be Mr Bill Rose and his friends, who invited me - actually I didn't have a choice! -
to join them for dinner every night and breakfast in the morning. They
had a circle of wagons (OK, RVs) and one of them contained two cooks,
who worked overtime preparing mountains of food. So I ate well during
the week! Thanks, Bill!

I arrived around 3pm on the Monday, just in time to get my tent set up
and wander into the showground to find my bearings. I got to the
flightline in time to see the DreamLifter arrive. Now that's a big
boy! Very impressive. They towed it onto Aeroshell Square where many
other aircraft were parked, including a Spitfire, P-38, KC-135 and the
SB2-C Helldiver. There was a stand set up next to the Helldiver and I
recognised the nametag on one of the gents manning it - Mark Novak,
who flew me in his T-6 about five years ago. We had a chat for a few
minutes which was cool.

Most of Tuesday was spent around the centre of the showground, slowly
spiralling out as I found my way around. I headed over to the Pioneer
airport and got myself a ride in one of the Bell 47s that were buzzing
the site all day long. This was fab as you got to see the expanse of
Oshkosh all laid out before you. I confess I was a bit daunted at the
size of it and started wondering how I was ever going to see all of
it! Great flight though, I like flying in helicopters.

On Wednesday morning I got the first bus over to the seaplane base
which is about 5 or 6 miles away to the east (I think). This proved to
be a good move as the place was lovely first thing in the morning. Not
too many people about at first but it soon got busy. Luckily I'd got
my name down early, to ride in the Cessna 185 on floats that was
giving flights around the lake. $50 well spent for the joy of flying
in a floatplane for the first time! The sensation of being on water is
quite different. The transition between water and air happens quicker
than I imagined; with a skoosh of spray from the floats, you're off
and flying up over the lake with a gin-clear view of the surrounding
countryside. You can see Oshkosh laid out to one side and a whole
forest of wind turbines on the opposite shore of the lake. Seabirds
fly below over the shallow water and small islands. A long slow turn
back towards the shore and a pass over the top of the seaplane base
(camera working overtime here) before lining up into the wind and a
gentle landing back on the water. Stick the camera out of the door to
catch the spray. Watch other aircraft water-taxi around. Back to the
jetty with the silly grin plastered firmly to the fizzog.

I headed back to the main site slowly, via the rotorcraft/ultralight
area and the Vintage aircraft parking (filled with lots of very shiny,
lovely things including that Boeing 40 mail carrier) and to the media
building, where I hung around waiting for familiar faces to show up.
Sure enough, they did. I belong to the International Society for
Aviation Photography as does a good percentage of the folks with media
passes. So I met up with several friends from previous ISAP
conventions there, many of whom berated me for not having told them I
was coming! (I was most pleasantly
surprised by this!) I ended up shooting the afternoon airshow with
Larry and Brian which was a lot of fun.

On Thursday I went back to the Pioneer airport to have a close up look
at the Goodyear Blimp which was parked there. Then I did the EAA
Museum which is well worth a look at any time of year. Some very cool
stuff in there - I loved the Bugatti Racer. Lots of lovely jet noise
announced the arrival of the F-22 Raptor. The afternoon's show
featured both the Raptor and the V-22 Osprey, neither of which I had
seen fly before. Both were deeply impressive in their own unique ways.
Unfortunately we didn't get to see the full Raptor display due to
airspace/display box restrictions but the thing can turn on a sixpence
and it just generally rocks. They say it can do a slow speed/high
alpha pass down to 35 mph! Although if the engine quits it will fall
out of the sky, so we got a pass at 85 mph instead, which still looks
impossibly slow.

That evening, Larry, DK and DK's son and I drove back out to the
seaplane base to catch the evening sun. We got there only just in time
but got some great photo opportunities in the golden light, helped
enormously by the fact we got a water tour in the aircraft tender
boats which sit very low in the water. (I'd ridden one of the pontoon
boats the day before too). Yellow Cubs look great in this kind of
light. So did the Beaver painted with the American flag on one side
and the Canadian flag on the other. Pizza and beer after this (thanks
DK), followed by a bit of night shooting in Aeroshell Square.

By Friday I was feeling the week's exertions (hauling heavy camera
gear around such a large site takes its toll on one's back and feet)
and took a slow wander through the Warbird park, down to the other
runway, where I watched the comings and goings of the GA traffic. Wow,
I can see why this place is so busy. I looked across at the North 40
parking area and all I could see was aircraft that seemed to go on for
ever. Coloured spots on the runway indicate where touchdowns should
take place; multiple aircraft landing at once. Once down, clear off
immediately to the side to allow the next one in. Quickly please,
before the T-33 on your tail runs you down in your Citabria! Hordes of
Yak 52s and Nanchang CJ6s taxi out, reappearing twenty minutes later
at the head of the queue for takeoff, doing so in mass formations.
Business jets interspersed with Piper Cubs; Cessna 172s mixed up with
unusual designs I'd never seen before.

Back to the media building to meet up with Larry again. We shot the afternoon airshow together along with some other ISAP members. The airshow in question features lots of warbirds in addition to the
world-class aerobatics we had been treated to all week. We'd already
seen a formation of fifty Nanchang CJ-6 (in the shape of '50')
celebrating their anniversary. Today we got I don't know how many T-6s
and T-28s in a huge metal cloud of aeroplanes. P-51s featured, of
course, alongside a circling mass off Cubs, Cessnas, Stearmans,
Chipmunk and L-birds of varying natures, showing off the training and
liaison roles. Finish it off with a pair of B-25s and an A-26. On the
second pass, let off a monster wall of flame from which you could
really feel the heat. Toast, anyone?

After the show it was back to the media centre again for an ISAP
gathering featuring pizza, chicken wings, fruits and beer. I sat with
Richard, Dave and Jim. We finished eating and slipped away to
Aeroshell Square to catch that lovely golden light again, of which
there had been so much this week. Richard dropped me back to my
campsite where I shared a couple of drinks with Abel the cook.

Up at the crack of sparrowfart, strike camp, onto the bus and head home after a
bloody brilliant week.

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