I've travelled in style to Oshkosh the last couple of years, in a turbine powered King Air. But I'd always wanted to do the journey the 'proper' way, in a small General Aviation aircraft. So when friend Glenn asked if I wanted to join him in his Cessna 172 for the trip, I couldn't say no.
Dawn at Georgetown
Glenn, his wife Nadya and I left Georgetown, TX (KGTU) early in the morning on Saturday 21st July. The fuel pumps were broken at the airport, so our first stop was Hillsboro (KINJ), about 90 miles up the road, to fill up. I rode in the back, which was actually pretty comfortable. Way more legroom than a commercial flight! We passed by Dallas on the way up.
Then it was on to Neosho, Missouri (KEOS). This is the home base of Kyle Franklin and pictures of his airshow acts were all over the walls inside the FBO there.
Pit Stop at Neosho
Nadya chose to ride in the back for the second half of the trip, which allowed me into the right seat up front for the next leg to Fairfield, Iowa. By this point, we had caught up with another Cessna 172 also out of Georgetown, and flew up in parallel with them, a few miles apart. We landed at Fairfield (KFFL) just ahead of them, and ended up borrowing the airport car for a run into town, for some late lunch.
First Solo certificates at Fairfield
Fairfield gate guard
The town of Fairfield was interesting; it seems to be heavily populated by Ayurvedics, there is the Maharishi University of Management, the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, and plenty of other Maharishi things around town. Lots of buildings are built in the Maharishi Sthapatya Veda style of architecture and there is a whole Vedic town three miles down the road. According to Wikipedia there is a thriving green and tech culture here too. We only managed to sample the local Subway shop, but their main street looked nice.
The last leg was the shortest at around one hour, and I remained in the right seat, to my delight. Glenn decided to fly on the other Cessna pretty much all the way, which allowed for some air-to-air shots :-)
We were going to follow the Ripon-Fisk arrival into Oshkosh. There is a NOTAM that gets distributed in the months before the event, it is thirty pages long and describes how to arrive and depart from Oshkosh for all the different classes of aircraft. You can download a copy here if you fancy a look at it, although I don't know if that link will last forever. Rotorcraft and ultralights have their own procedures, faster warbird and turbine aircraft approach from the other way over the lake, but all fixed wing prop-driven aircraft must arrive from the same direction.
You start to fall into line at Ripon. Eyes on stalks, keeping a lookout in all directions for other aircraft. We joined the conga line of aircraft in single file, spaced half a mile apart. There is a water tower and farm buildings pictured in the NOTAM, and on arrival you can spot them just fine. Then follow the railroad tracks up a few miles to Fisk. We spotted a few more aircraft joining behind us. We flew the low and slow version; 90 knots at 1800 feet. The other option is 135 knots at 2300 feet for faster aircraft. We did get overtaken by a Vans flying the higher, faster version of the arrival.
We were monitoring the radio well in advance of Ripon, listening to the controllers routing aircraft into the two runways currently in use. They are fast-talking, busy people! Unlike standard radio procedure, you don't talk back to the controllers unless they directly ask you something. Some of the aircraft in front of us were being given the choice of runway 27 or 36. When you get to Fisk, they will say something like 'Red and white Cessna, rock your wings!' and you give a vigorous wing rock as your answer. Then they tell you where to go.
Landing at Oshkosh on 36L
Our traveling companion was a bit close to us, so he got routed to runway 27, and we got told to make the right turn to follow the road out of Fisk towards Oshkosh, and join the left hand pattern into runway 36. You're then listening to another controller, who guides the various aircraft into land. There is a series of colored dots painted on the runway, and you get asked to aim for one of them, so they can space aircraft out. We landed juuuust short of the yellow dot! Since we were going to park at the Basler FBO on the other side of the field, we then got a tour of the airport as we taxied around.
This was my first time doing the Fisk approach, and Glenn's first time to actually fly it, although he'd been in the right seat before. I was able to help him with the frequencies, speeds, navigation etc while keeping a lookout, which I enjoyed being able to assist with; it was good to be involved. The whole thing seems actually pretty straightforward, as long as everyone does what they're told.
We made it to #OSH12 tired but happy!
Parked with our travelling companion at Basler FBO, Oshkosh
Fast forward to the following Saturday (27th), after a week of non-stop airplanes (of which more later). We got a later start than we anticipated due to a flat battery of all things. Glenn whipped the cowling off and hooked up a charger; 40 minutes later the engine started just fine. We taxied out and joined a very short line for runway 27. A jet took off in front of us, then we were marshaled out by the pink-shirted FAA controllers and off we went. The North 40 dropped away underneath us and we were gone.
FAA Pink-Shirt Marshaler
Only two fuel stops were planned for this trip, since we had filled up at Basler. The only snag was that on the way home, we would have to hand fly the plane! There is a little button in the panel that switches the autopilot on and off, which had got itself stuck just before we arrived at Oshkosh. No amount of fiddling and tweaking by Glenn would shift it. So back to basics it was...
The first leg was two hours down to Monroe City, Missouri (K52). Here we found a very pleasant lady - I think her name was Ruth - who was excited about all the extra visitors passing through on their way up and down from Oshkosh. She took our names, and a picture of us in front of our aircraft, which she would later print out and add to her records. She showed us her folders of Oshkosh visitors; one for each of (at least) the last five years. I flicked through this year's folder and found a couple of aircraft I recognized; one SARL air racer (Ken) and one Vans with a distinctive paint scheme I'd photographed at a fly-in last autumn.
Pit stop at Monroe City
I'd already offered to help Glenn fly if he wanted a respite, and here is where he took me up on it. He gave me the left seat, saying he was quite happy to fly from the right seat. The last time I sat in the left seat was probably 20 years ago, taking a trial lesson in a Cessna 150, so this was quite a big deal for me. Glenn took off and got us to about four thousand feet, at which point he handed me the controls. I continued up to 8500 feet and proceeded to fly south, while Glenn took the opportunity to relax his concentration...
Getting to know the panel very well
This leg was to be the longest; almost four hours. I flew the whole way until about two miles before touchdown; about three and a half hours. This is by far and away the longest I have ever flown; most of my 'stick time' comes in 10 or 15 minute bursts, if I am lucky. It was very cool to fly the left seat; I thought it would feel a bit strange but actually it's pretty natural; all the instruments are in front of you instead of having to squint over to the left all the time. I was following a combination of the heading bug on the compass, and the readout on the Garmin 430 which automatically calculates the wind-corrected heading to fly. Maintaining my altitude within +/-100 feet as best as I could - the bumps don't help - I flew straight and level at 8500 feet for a while, before Glenn looked at the winds and we decided to come down to 6500 feet. On and on we flew, with a good tailwind which was nice. It was pretty smooth at first until we reached a front, which had clouds at 8000 feet and lots of bumps underneath them. Nothing too major but enough to keep me on my toes. By the time we got near to the next airport, my eyes were tired from looking into the hazy brightness, and I could feel my accuracy wavering. We landed in at Paris, TX, just over the Red River border from Oklahoma.
Paris, however, was closed. So all we could do was refuel and go. Glenn took the left seat again and I went into the right, and closed my eyes for a while to relieve myself from the bright. Flying that long was pretty tiring. This was a shorter leg, at least, a mere two hours which went past pretty quickly, despite the GPS telling us it would be 1:30 remaining, for at least 20 minutes... the winds had turned around a bit and we didn't have that lovely tailwind any more. However, we got back to Georgetown, all in one piece, in the evening light and Texas heat.
Back in Georgetown
Glenn says we spent 18.7 hours in total flying up there and back, 913 nautical miles up there, 909 back, 1822 in total. Go to Skyvector.com, click on 'Flight Plan', then copy and paste this line into the box:
kgtu kinj keos kffl kosh k52 kprx kgtu
You should get a pink line describing our route. You can only see one chart at a time, but you can choose them from the chart selector at the top. Zoom in and out at the bottom right.
It was, all in all, pretty epic.