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Flying In to AirVenture with Sean

This morning I had the privilege of flying into Oshkosh in the back seat of the Sky Arrow with Sean. We took off around 8 a.m. under a low ceiling in winds that were already gusting to 20 knots. Matt and Jessica flew alongside us in the Peregrine.

In order to prevent mass chaos, during EAA week pilots have to follow certain procedures that are different from usual. Oshkosh becomes the busiest airport in the world during this week. The multi-page Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) keeps things running pretty smoothly. Even though Brennand Airport is just 10 miles north of Oshkosh, we would have to fly out of our way to get in. What normally takes me about five minutes lasted about half an hour today.

The majority of aircraft fly to Ripon, get in a single-file line, and fly up the railroad tracks to Fisk. Controllers on the ground at Fisk identify aircraft over the radio and give them instructions on which runway to fly to. Depending on which runway pilots are assigned, they then monitor a certain tower frequency. As they get close to the airport, the tower clears them to land. Often pilots are cleared to land on a particular colored dot on the runway. This way more than one plane can be on the runway at the same time. The NOTAM talks about what to do in contingencies such as traffic saturation. The whole thing works out pretty well except when people don’t read or follow the rules. Each year there are a handful of pilots who don’t. But overall it’s amazing how well the procedures work and how well pilots and controllers cooperate.

This was only the second or third time I have experienced the Oshkosh arrival. The last time was in a Cessna 182 in almost dead-quiet conditions, not the weekend before the show. It could have been a lot more hectic this morning, but I think the weather kept a lot of people grounded. When we approached Ripon we only saw one other airplane, a Stearman biplane. Matt and Jessica in the Peregrine followed it and we followed them. We all flew at 90 knots as outlined in the procedure.

Between Ripon and Fisk, the biplane slowed down so much that the Peregrine had to drop out of line and start over. Sean and I putted along at something like 75 knots. We weren’t quite sure why the Stearman was suddenly going so slow. If our airplane wouldn’t have been so capable of slow flight we would have had to start over as well.

When the Stearman flew over Fisk, its pilot was late to acknowledge the controllers. “Stearman, rock your wings.” When he finally did so, the controllers assigned him to runway 36 Left. He turned east as outlined in the procedure. Sean and I weren’t far behind. The controllers said “Sky Arrow, rock your wings.” Before they even finished the sentence Sean was tipping the plane. We were thrilled that we were recognized as a Sky Arrow… Big progress since the days where no one on earth seemed to know what kind of airplane it was! We were also assigned 36 Left and followed the Stearman.

The Stearman seemed to slow down even further and I remember us flying at what must have been 65 to 70 knots. We were practically going to run the Stearman over and started hoping we would get assigned a different runway. The tower told the Stearman to land on 36 Left and he did not acknowledge. He continued flying east until he was actually past the final approach for the runway. Sean flew us along at about as slow as we could go. We wondered how the pilot couldn’t seem to find the massive airport. Finally the Stearman flew back towards the runway and there was just enough space between us that we could both land. It landed far down the runway and we landed at the beginning. Sean and I were both a little baffled. It wasn’t till later that I learned Stearmans really can’t fly as fast as I assumed. But the pilot still seemed out-of-it. Oh well, we were down! And Sean had made a great landing in at least 20 knots of wind that was angled to the runway. The controllers reminded us to exit the runway ASAP because we had a low-wing behind us — the Peregrine. Apparently they were able to get back in line behind us without having to follow anyone else.

When we taxied to the west ramp (oops, AeroShell Square) and shut down, I was surprised to be greeted by someone I knew, “Doc.” I didn’t know he was a volunteer here and was happy for the welcome. Volunteers hooked a tug up to the Sky Arrow. Unfortunately the Peregrine wouldn’t work with a tug so Matt pulled it by hand.

This year the Light Sport aircraft were in a totally different spot due to EAA redesigning the site. We found out too late that we shouldn’t have turned into the west ramp. We had a long, arduous journey to the Hansen’s display. At one point we had to go through a gate that the Peregrine would not fit through without rotating it 90 degrees. Lesson learned! I guess the bonus was that I got a sneak peak at what seemed like half the show grounds!

When it was all said and done the airplanes were ready for display. I had an exciting time flying in with Sean and was glad to ride in one of my favorite airplanes again.