The Meaning of Airshow Life and Other Mysteries Solved
There’s that old story about a group of blindfolded guys standing around an elephant describing it aloud. The point to the story is that every one of them has a different description of the elephant based on where exactly they are in relation to said pachyderm. AirVenture is just like that.
For me, the show has several meanings. As a journalist, I’m interested in the stories to be found there, the unusual airplanes, the cool new products (ADS-B), the memorable old ones (Hooray for the J-3!), the crazy ones that don’t stand a snowball’s chance of succeeding (to remain nameless here), and the ones that continue to succeed year after year (David Clark’s indestructible 13.4 headset in the most beautiful shade of green ever invented). I adore aviation technology, and Oshkosh has that in spades. There’s even technology for finding where all the technology is! Thanks, Sporty’s, for a first-class AirVenture app.
As those who know me understand, I love the sights and sounds of the show, the particular smiles on the faces of the volunteers, the way the fog hugs the ground in the antique section if you get your tail out of bed early enough to appreciate it, the tails of the big transports at airshow center sticking up in the distance calling my name, the sound of the warbirds roaring past, some flying fast, others flying way too fast. It’s all about the sensory input. At Oshkosh, too much is just enough.
I understand that AirVenture has other meanings to other folks, depending on why they’re there. For the guy in the booth pinching and zooming his company's dreamy iPad app, it's all about getting word out. For the airshow performers, a great Oshkosh means carving out a tight routine in the blue and puffy white above Wittman Regional; for volunteers it means helping make a show they love dearly run smoothly. For the locals, it's the cool airplanes, the entertainment (Steve Miller and Asleep at the Wheel? Thumbs up on that) and food on a stick.
The one thing we all have in common, though, are our friends, many of whom we see but once or twice a year, and Oshkosh is one of those times and one of those places. That’s true for the folks camping in the North 40 Campground, for the airshow pilots debriefing with broad smiles after a furious flight, for the volunteers shaking hands after a long often thankless day of directing traffic or parking airplanes, for the air traffic controllers who keep us pilots safe, for the guys behind the booths and even for the guys who write the stories. For all of us, Oshkosh is about spending time in or around airplanes with people we love and while we're creating new stories to tell the next time around.
For many years I came to Oshkosh to write and photograph the show with friend and pilot Ron Caraway. Ron, who was a first-rate homebuilder and natural born aviator, was one of the best formation pilots I’ve ever had the pleasure of flying with. Many years ago when I was shooting a lot of air to air photography for a sport aviation magazine, as many as two dozen airplanes a year, Ron flew the subject airplane for me more often than not. He was so good, I got spoiled. If I wanted the airplane a foot higher, all I’d have to do is wiggle my finger and the airplane was as good as there. And he flew some weird and wonderful planes back then too. He was thrilled to do it. If it flew, he wanted the stick.
One year 20 years ago or so after I’d had a too-long day with press conferences, photo shoots, interviews, and lots of other things I can’t even remember, I was ready for dinner, a beer and an early bedtime. Instead of letting me get away that easy, Ron cajoled me into going to the Theater in the Woods to listen to Bob Hoover talk about his flying. It was a talk I'll always remember. I was spellbound. Still am, in fact.
When Ron passed away earlier this year of natural causes at the age of 74, I immediately thought back to those days, to the camaraderie, the great photo shoots, the airplane stories of good luck and bad, and so many of them revolved around Oshkosh.
That’s something we all need to remember. At heart, Oshkosh isn’t a business. It’s life, and how we live it makes all the difference. My advice. An early bedtime is overrated. Grab a friend and go listen to Hoover.