|Oshkosh 2007 Musings|
|World's busiest tower for a week...|
Having been to Oshkosh with a friend in 2005, and a bro-in-law in 2006, this year my wife wanted to come along. What, with her being a typical airplane-builder-widow, I must admit I was concerned whether she would actually enjoy the experience. Her philosophy was ‘it gives us a chance to get away together’. It actually turned out to be the best trip yet!
Wednesday morning we left for the airport at 5 am. The ride to Chicago Midway from Austin went without a hitch. Even the rental car pickup from Alamo was a seamless experience. It did get interesting on the Chicago toll roads though. I am convinced my history teacher lied to me about Columbus or the Vikings discovering America; I think the Romans got here first, built roads in Chicago, and they’ve never been touched since! Even the frustrating 45/55 mph speed limit seemed to suit a chariot.
We had arranged to meet up with Randy, his wife and friends once we had registered and paid with blood for the entrance wrist bands. They had gotten there days earlier, and already had a tent set up for us! Very nice indeed. We were settled in by around 2.30 pm, and decided to go into the convention for the air show and to get familiarized with the grounds. As soon as we got in there, it rained! The rain lasted for about an hour, and we finally got to see Sean Tucker strut his stuff in his Oracle biplane. Awesome maneuvers’, although a little too low for my liking, but I suppose that is part of the appeal for some people.
The first night in the tent was akin to sleeping in a sauna: It seems with my camping inexperience, it didn’t occur to me to open the vents, so when I woke up, I was sure I could see a couple of guys in towels on a pine bench through the steam in the tent. Like last year, the shower block had not changed much, it still reminded me of a Stalag 17 scene, what with all those bodies clambering to get washed and ready for the day. I attended a metal working workshop Thursday morning, which was reasonably informative, except for a couple of irritating assumptions the speaker had. During his instruction, it seemed he thought we all were building RV’s, because he would make comments like “..and if you are building the Quick build kit…”.
I then made for the aerobatic display area to see how many Skybolts and other biplanes were there. There was a Hiperbipe there with an amazing paint job. The Model 12’s I saw were as usual, beautiful, and a pleasure to look at. I was pleased to see several Skybolts, ranging from a very old stalwart which looked like it had been flying since before the invention of sliced bread, to a pristine new white baby with astonishing attention to detail. The latter had to have won some sort of award at the end of the week. There was also an immaculate Firebolt, which some were saying may win the grand title for plans-built this year. I did meet most of the owners of these Skybolts, most had not heard of the Biplane Forum, so I of course kept pointing to my biplane forum cap telling them to come shower us all with some of their construction wisdom.
I then took a 65 mile walk to the Steen Aero Lab stand, so I could say hi and take some detailed pictures of the yellow bird. I got talking to Mike, their webmaster for their site for a while about Internet stuff, not surprising seeing as the web and computers float my boat. They had some cool Skybolt t-shirts there this year, so of course I had to have one.
It rained terribly Thursday evening and through the night, and we discovered the tent had a leak. We positioned the inflatable mattress in such a way that rain drops only fell upon it at a certain point, then finally settled down to sleep.
Friday morning turned out to be good weather. We attended a ‘buy your own strip’ seminar. We then took a walk around, absorbing the endless lines of planes and stands. I was constantly on the look out for impressive paint jobs to glean ideas from. I was also constantly sneaking around a building corner to take a couple of puffs on a cigarette, much to the annoyance of the wife. After eating an ice cream cone for lunch (it was so tall that it was a useless race against time to lick it to death before it covered your hands in goo) I attended a fabric covering workshop, this was a great hands-on experience, and I got to meet Eric, who is one of the biplane forum members [d8mech], and was one of the tech advisors at this workshop. It turned out that Eric was camped only 4 trucks down on our camp row! Maybe next year we should have a Forum camp area?
After arriving back at the tent, we realized that by 4 pm the air show still had not started, which usually commenced at 3.30 pm. Randy had been talking to someone at the showers: it seems 2 P-51’s had sadly collided on the runway and there was at least one fatality, hence the late start for the air show.
The Steen Aero cookout was a great success with what I reckon must have been at least hundred people coming and going during the cookout. It was a great experience to actually meet some Biplane Forum members who I only knew from experiences of the written word. To put faces to forum user-names was cool. Needless to say, talking activity went on for the whole evening incessantly. I even met a guy who is building a Pitts, and he lives not 15 miles from me in TX! I am personally on a burger-ban since Christmas, so all I could do was fondly look at the gorgeous looking cheeseburgers trying to beckon me as I tucked into some barbeque chicken.
I noticed some shoes in the partly closed display tent next to the barbeque. Steen now market some shoes called Piloti. I thought initially they were just a gimmick for pilots. After taking a closer look, I realized that they indeed seemed tailor made for pilots and drivers, they have a functional radiused heel for rudder pedals and car pedals. I decided to treat my wife Laurie to a pair. She loves them, so they must be comfortable.
On the web, we tend to build up a mental picture of members we have never met in the reality, often we get the picture wrong when actually meeting that person in the flesh! I had perceived John Burnett (a forum member) has a typical astute looking-pen in breast pocket-white collared shirt-gold rimmed spectacles-engineer-balding-stern looking type of guy. When he introduced himself to me, I was a facing someone with a big cheesy grin and a full head of hair. John was a very friendly and personable type of guy, and was a pleasure to talk to.
It didn’t rain Friday night, so we had a comfortable sleep, especially now as I knew of the sauna/vent option. Saturday morning, we had an uneventful drive to Chicago. We then got lost a little, and ended up in an area that looked like the equivalent of New York’s Bronx. The flight from Chicago to Austin was horrible. It seems Southwest now have an open seating policy. This means if you are with a partner, it is pot luck whether you get to sit with that partner. Only the first group boarding the plane get that guarantee. The rest have to hope there are two seats somewhere still vacant. We were separated initially, but I used my cheeky British charm and convinced a guy to change seats. In this day and age of computers and databases, it defies logic to take away such a rudimentary booking / checking-in function for the sake of saving a dime. During take-off prep, we then discovered that this plane was a darn greyhound bus – it seems we were not flying directly to Austin. The plane was to stop at St.Louis, then Dallas, then Austin, then Houston, then Phoenix! So we had to endure a couple of stops and pickups on a journey that should have taken 2.5 hours, but ended up taking the rest of the day.
To conclude, this years Airventure experience was splendid. I enjoyed it much more than my last two visits. I had to sit back and ask myself what was different this time?
- a blow up mattress is much better than hard ground and a sleeping bag
- a wife to cuddle up to in a tent is better than a bro-in-law
- attending some workshops and forums, and trying to make a daily plan really helped
- catching the free buses whenever we could, it saved our strength for the miles of walking
- a great cookout at Steen and meeting forum members
and finally, the great time we had would not have been possible without the company of Randy, Jane, Mike and Marge.