By Lauren Scott, DFC CFI
The Experimental Aircraft Association is a non-profit organization made up of a large group of aviation enthusiasts. It is a diverse organization with many local chapters around the world. Local chapters gather regularly for meetings for camaraderie, education, youth programs such as Young Eagles, scholarship opportunities, and aircraft building workshops. One of EAA’s greatest attractions is their annual weeklong fly-in convention held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, called AirVenture. It started in 1953 as a small gathering of less than 150 people, and has grown to attract 10,000 planes and over 500,000 attendees each year. As the largest fly-in worldwide, many aviation enthusiasts make it a goal to attend AirVenture at least once, and thousands of people make a point of attending every year.
Oshkosh AirVenture (shortened to “Osh” by regulars) really does have something for everyone interested in any facet of aviation. History, military, corporate, flight schools, aviation supply shops, universities, professional associations, and air traffic control are all represented. A week may sound like a long airshow, but even a week is not really long enough to see everything. I have visited 3 times, and the following are some observations and highlights I have experienced from my visits. More detailed information can be found at https://www.eaa.org/airventure.
Attendance: Approximately 608,000 – Only the third time attendance has surpassed 600,000 and within 5 percent of 2019’s record total.
Total aircraft: More than 10,000 aircraft arrived at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh and other airports in east-central Wisconsin. At Wittman alone, there were 16,378 aircraft operations in the 10-day period from July 22-31, which is an average of approximately 116 takeoffs/landings per hour when the airport is open.
Total showplanes: 3,176 included: A record 1,420 vintage aircraft registered, plus 1,089 homebuilt aircraft, 354 warbirds, 148 aerobatic aircraft, 112 seaplanes, 33 ultralights, and 27 rotorcraft.
Camping: More than 12,000 sites in aircraft and drive-in camping accounted for an estimated 40,000 visitors.
Volunteers: More than 5,000 contributing in excess of 250,000 hours.
Commercial exhibitors: 747.
Forums, Workshops, and Presentations: A total of 1,055 sessions hosted throughout the week.
AirVenture has an abundance of activities from which to choose. There are dozens of aircraft manufacturers and sales representatives present with their aircraft on display, including gliders, helicopters, electric vehicles, jets, turbines, and seaplanes. It is a great opportunity to check out the latest aircraft being manufactured just for fun, or for those in the market to purchase a new aircraft. There are also aircraft parts, avionics, and accessory manufacturers and suppliers. In addition, there are presentations by prominent aviators, FAA and industry leaders, historical presentations, museums, and tours, scholarship awards, airline recruiters, and safety presentations for pilots, mechanics, ATC and experimental/homebuilt aircraft builders. One of the most popular attractions is the daily airshow, operating from runways 18/36 at 2:30-5:00 pm. It includes demonstrations and performances by drones, military, general aviation, and aerobatic aircraft. Spectators bring lawn chairs or blankets and relax on the grassy area west of the runway to watch the many amazing performances. Do not miss the night airshow, held a couple of times during the week after sunset, with illuminated aircraft performing stunts and igniting fireworks.
Highlights for me this year included attending a safety seminar for CFIs, taking a warbirds tram tour, meeting up with Desert Flying Club members and women pilot organizations, taking a tour of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, seeing the Short Field Takeoff and Landing (STOL) competition, flying a Boeing 787 simulator, watching the hot air balloon glow and night airshow after dark, and visiting the seaplane base.
Admission to AirVenture can be purchase by daily pass, weekly pass, weekend pass, or a 2-day pass. Children 18 and under receive free admission, and active-duty, reservist, and veteran military receive a discount. Free admission may be provided to exhibitors and volunteers. It takes more than 5000 volunteers to put on the fly-in each year, so there are many opportunities to help out and earn free admission. For EAA members, daily admission is around $50 per day and weekly admission is around $130 per person.
Plan early! If you plan on flying a plane into the KOSH airport, research the arrival and departure procedures carefully, and consider flying in with an experienced pilot. For the week of AirVenture, the air traffic control tower becomes the busiest in the world. Visitors may also fly commercially into several airports in the vicinity, including Appleton, Wisconsin (KATW, 20 sm), Green Bay, Wisconsin, (KGRB, 55 sm), Milwaukee, Wisconsin (75 sm), Chicago (KORD, 150 sm), and Minneapolis, Minnesota (KMSP, 240 sm). Rental cars and shuttles to KOSH will be available, however, rental cars frequently book up early in these cities, so book your reservations well in advance. Many people drive rented or owned campers/RV’s into the park, and camp right on the airfield at one of the areas set aside for camping.
There are basically 4 options available for lodging at AirVenture: hotels, private rental homes on VRBO/AirBnB, camping, and staying in a dorm at a nearby university. We booked our reservations late this year and were still able to find a motel 20 minutes away for around $100 per night for a double bed with a sleeper sofa and kitchenette. There were a few hotel rooms still available in Oshkosh, but most started at $250 and up per night. Some visitors travel together and share expenses on a private rental together, while many attendees camp right on the grassy areas under their plane wings in tents, or drive campers/RVs in.
There are a wide variety of dining options all around the AirVenture campus. Some offer healthier options like fruit cups, fresh corn on the cob, and salads, while others have the traditional hamburgers, brats, Wisconsin cheese curds, pizza, and beverages. There are typical fast food and chain restaurants available off the campus. We brought snacks and water bottles in with us, and stayed on the campus to eat our meals more conveniently.
This year, attendees could purchase short rides onboard a Ford Tri-Motor for $77, a Bell Helicopter for $55, and a B-25 ride for $360+. We did not participate this year, but it sure looked like a fun opportunity that I would love to try in the future. These rides are very popular, so it is suggested to show up at the appropriate booths early each morning for the best chance of reserving a spot.
The summer weather in the upper Midwest can be cool and very pleasant with blue, sunny skies, or hot, muggy weather with poor visibility, wind and thunderstorms. We experienced all of these conditions while there this year. One night there was even a severe thunderstorm warning with tornadoes possible, so that many tent campers had to find rooms with friends or seek shelter until the storms passed. Watch the weather forecasts and pack accordingly. Umbrellas are very helpful for possible rain and for sun protection on the hotter days.
As you can see, AirVenture is an exciting fly-in experience, attracting enthusiasts from all over the world. The airshows, attractions and camaraderie, all about celebrating and sharing in the exciting world of aviation, are amazing to experience. For more information, please visit www.eaa.org/airventure. Many DFC club members have also visited AirVenture and would be happy to help with any questions or planning issues you may have. Reach out to Jan Greenburg, Lauren Scott, Gabi Thorp, Tim Miller, and Alan Zwick for more details. Hope to see you there next year!