EAA AirVenture: An Aviation Pilgrimage

by HPA · August 25, 2016

EAA AirVenture: An Aviation Pilgrimage

John Hollingshead, Commercial Pilot, CFI, CFII, MEI

I’ve always liked Wisconsin. From the bustling old-big-city feel of Milwaukee to the relaxed countryside, Wisconsin almost immediately conjures thoughts of bratwurst, grilled corn, and really nice folks. Great cheese, good German food, and excellent beer aside, Wisconsin is home to EAA AirVenture, an annual pilgrimage of aviation enthusiasts of all flavors. This year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to accompany a customer to AirVenture in, appropriately, a home-built Vans RV-10.

We made our way to Oshkosh (a.k.a. the busiest airport in the world) via Hot Springs, AR and Champaign, IL. The arrival was interesting, to say the least. A detailed NOTAM is published each year explaining VFR and IFR arrival procedures. As the field was VFR, we canceled IFR approximately 60nm out from Oshkosh and flew to Ripon, WI where we joined the VFR arrival route, following railroad tracks to Fisk, WI. We monitored the advisory frequency waiting to hear the controller, whose level of motivation on the radio rivaled even the most vociferous of my drill instructors. Exactly on time, we received instructions to join the pattern from Runway 27 at Oshkosh and to monitor the control tower frequency. With a little difficulty we were ultimately “Cleared to Land Runway 27, on the Orange Dot,” while sharing the pattern with everything from a Challenger Jet and P-47 Mustang to a Cessna 150. A short approach later, we found ourselves turning off of the runway into the grass, to be directed by a dizzying number of volunteers along our long (but impressively organized) taxi to our camping spot.EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

My initial walk around was a bit longer than I planned (probably made so by getting a little lost in the maze of aircraft, static displays, and exhibits), and revealed a dizzying array of aircraft, many of which I had never known existed. It is, after all, the Experimental Aircraft Association. What surprised me, though, is the number of classic aircraft I was able to see. I love airplanes like kids love ice cream and candy, and seeing classic aircraft is akin to going to an old-school confectionary for hand stretched taffy and ice cream sodas. Every time I see an oil cap with a capacity listed in gallons, I smile.

From warbirds to mail planes, I saw it at Oshkosh. The apparent concept is to take everything that has to do with aviation and put it all on one airport.EAA AirVenture OshkoshEAA AirVenture OshkoshEAA AirVenture Oshkosh 02EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 09

The exhibits included major names like Garmin, Bose, Textron, Cirrus, ForeFlight, and Diamond, as well as new to certified aircraft companies like Epic. Lancair was displaying their high-end kit plane selection in the form of the Lancair Evolution (an airplane that I really need to fly before I die), and there was a myriad of vendors selling everything from pilot supplies to parts for experimental aircraft. Airlines were there recruiting, as was the federal government, and universities recruited for their aviation programs.

About the biggest news on the general aviation side of things was the full scale cabin mockup of the Epic E1000 (a six-place turboprop single engine kit-plane turned certified aircraft) and Cessna’s unveiling of the Denali, a cabin class turboprop single to compete with the likes of the Pilatus PC-12 and the TBM.

Aerobatic demonstrations aren’t always my thing, but it was impressive to watch maneuvers demonstrated in the Vans RV-6. The AeroShell Flight Team was there, and there was an impressive demonstration of a Martin Mars firefighting airplane. There were flybys of an awe-inspiring array of warbirds ranging from the antique to the modern. There was the constant drone of helicopters supporting the “Helicopter Flight Experience,” along with droves of people lined up for rides in one of the Ford Tri-Motor airplanes.EAA AirVenture OshkoshEAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Food was easily accessible, and vendors included national chains as well as local favorites. Of course, being in Wisconsin, I had to get my fill of grilled bratwurst and fried cheese curds, and I also discovered one local favorite called “Corn Nuggets” that I will have to try to replicate for my wife, who, being a Midwestern girl, loves all things corn.

I had planned for an IFR departure, just in case, obtaining one of the IFR departure slots through the Special Traffic Management Program. Early on our day of departure we taxied out past a line of T28s getting ready for a formation flight. Our departure process was smooth and orderly, and I was again impressed with the workload that the controllers were handling.

I found the Oshkosh experience very enlightening. AirVenture is the largest cross sectional view of general aviation one can imagine. There’s something there for pilots and aviation enthusiasts of all ages and walks of life. If you are thinking about going, however, I recommend planning in advance, becoming intimately familiar with the NOTAM, and if you are intimidated by busy airspace and high workload, take an experienced pilot along for safety.EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Sunset

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/


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