Thursday 13: Things you must know about EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh

Me, Hank Canterbury and Mr. T (aka “Tank”) at SOS, outside of
AirVenture. Many folks stop by for the cold beverages and roasted
corn after the show. (And, who am I kidding, the bikini bartenders. Ahem.)

“Why’d you go and marry a guy named Tank?” the gentleman across the bench asked, tipping his cold brew across the dry grass to where Mr. T moved in the distance.

“Well, he wasn’t called ‘Tank’ when I married him, that’s for sure!”

We both laughed as I explained to my new friend, Hank Canterbury, retired U.S. Air Force General and former Thunderbirds pilot, that T only recently procured the call sign/nickname* “Tank” during his forays into formation flying. I shared that my equivalent call sign is Tankerbelle.

I went on to explain that one of our first dates was to the Reno Air Races where I promptly fell in love with warbirds like the Bearcat and P-51 Mustang, and that as a result, I’m pretty sure my wedding vows included a promise to buy T his own warbird. At that, Hank busted up laughing and exclaimed, “You coulda had me for half price!” When T got to the table, Hank pulled out a cell phone and made his friend Ken, an L-39 pilot, snap our photo.

Just a friendly afternoon at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh!

As I pack up a few days later, ready to make the trek home, I’ve thought about everything I know about Oshkosh so far, having been twice now, and what new visitors should know. For this Thursday 13: Things you must know about EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh.

1. You will make new friends. Truly, if you leave Oshkosh without making new friends, you might be doing it wrong. Whether it’s on the bus, at the museum, wandering the rows and rows of planes, sharing a table over lunch or settling in at the SOS tent, the opportunities to meet and greet are endless. Plus, just about everyone arrives with a shared love of aviation, so there’s always something to talk about.

In the hangars at Pioneer Field.

2. AirVenture is aviation Disneyland. Prepare to be overwhelmed! When I first visited Oshkosh in 2010, I arrived a little cavalier about the whole thing. Surely it can’t be *that* cool. Oh, but it is! If you’re into aviation, the scale and scope of Oshkosh will blow your mind. Think: Every type of airplane you can imagine (practically) plus fantastic airshows plus engaging displays and forums plus vendors, and food, and entertainment. It’s a non-stop airplane party, truly. All that said, pace yourself and don’t try to see it all in one day, or three.


3. Flying in is its own experience. During AirVenture, the Oshkosh Air Traffic Control tower is the busiest in the world, fielding 10-12,000 visiting planes over the course of a week. Most are visitors, private pilots coming in, but many include airshow performers and special guests. If you’re planning to fly, read up on the strict protocols and take a deep breath before heading in. If you drive, ask someone around to explain what the “Rock your wings” t-shirts mean. (Later, I’ll tell you what it was like to arrive in a 40-ship formation this year!!)

4. Plan to walk. A lot. Spanning almost 1,400 acres, to call AirVenture “big” is something of an understatement. Wear comfy shoes, rest a bunch and catch the trams where you can. If you’re lucky, meet someone with a golf cart and hitch a ride when possible.

5. Nutrition is not A-#1. And by that I mean, you will have to try hard to find a vegetable that is not deep fried or covered in cheese, or deep fried and covered in cheese. Inside AirVenture proper, the dining options do include the occasional salad or yogurt cup, but by and large the vendors favor typical fair food like the venerable brat, burger or polish dog. Now, by all means embrace the mighty cheese curd** and enjoy a famous EAA donut every morning (like me!), but you may want to pack in a salad wherever possible.

Wendt’s is the place for a “pile of perch” overlooking Lake Winnebago.

6. The accommodations are rustic. Many, maybe most people camp at Kosh–quite a few under the wing of their airplanes–and enjoy some decent campground amenities and camaraderie. Some, like me, who end up at the U of Wisconsin, consider the dorms camping enough. Either way, unless you plan way in advance, get lucky or stay in neighboring towns, plan for a somewhat rustic sleeping spot that likely will not have air conditioning. (Many folks hop the bus to Target and buy a $15 window fan.)

7. Avoiding porta-potties is an artform. Five days into our Oshkosh adventure and I’ve darkened the doorstep of a porta-potty but one time. (Yes, I’m shining my nails on my shirt right now.) You, too, can follow my lead if you don’t mind walking extra for running water. The accessible permanent bathrooms live in the Exhibit Building A and the museum, with semi-permanent trailer-like commodes in the Vintage and Warbird areas, respectively. You are welcome!

T getting ready to listen to a presentation on aerobatics. Forums like
this happen all day long!

8. Bring sunscreen! This year, we “enjoyed” a couple scorching high-90s days with “lovely” 90% humidity, but even with cooler temps, the sun can be brutal. Bring a good sunscreen and reapply at least once to avoid burning. (Says she who always misses a spot and suffers.)

9. And a rain slicker. The weather gods of Wisconsin are capricious souls. A 85-degree morning (like today) might turn up with gale-force winds and torrential downpours for an hour in the afternoon before turning sunny and hot again in the evening. Be prepared! (Of course, the vendors will be more than willing to sell you an overpriced poncho if you don’t bring one.)

10. Slugging in snacks will save lots of dough. Do be warned that visiting AirVenture involves $3 bottles of water, $4.50 Dove Bars and $9 basic burgers. Yikes! But, visitors are allowed to truck in coolers and food which can help with the budget.

11. Don’t skip the Sea Plane Base! The round trip will take a few hours because of the 40-minute round-trip bus ride and 15-minute one-way walk, but the experience is worth the effort. The Sea Plane Base is peaceful and quiet by comparison, and there’s something strangely happy about planes landing and taking off on water. Plus, they give out free Sea Plane pins which are cute.


12. Enjoy the flight line. All day long you can enjoy airplane arrivals and departures, whether that be the P-51 Mustangs making passes in the morning (sigh), the T-6 team warming up or your soon-to-be-friends arriving for the show. One of my favorite views from the flight line is the showcase and airshow where aerobatic performers will demonstrate dizzying feats and the sky will be chock-full of warbirds. So long as you mind the volunteers who patrol the secure areas and don’t walk in front of any propellers, you can enjoy most every part of the show close-up!

13. Flying history is magical. For the last week I’ve been enamored with the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Super Fortress that have been taking turns crossing the skies. The rumbling engines (the details of which T has been quizzing me about!) harken up a bygone era and to see those bombers and other rare birds take flight is an absolute honor. I am grateful to the foundations and private citizens who maintain these beautiful pieces of history.


* More on call signs soon!
** I prefer cheese curds fried and melty, but do try them straight up and squeaky.

More Oshkosh posts:
– EAA Oshkosh 2012: The good, the airsick, the awesome
– Things I miss about EAA Oshkosh
– Oshkosh B’gosh! part 5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.