Like many of you, I’m spending my week preparing for my annual trip to Oshkosh for what is now known as AirVenture. Even though it’s been many years since they started calling it “AirVenture,” in my heart of hearts I still think of it as “Oshkosh.” I have, I admit, gotten so used to writing AirVenture that I don’t even pause on my merry qwerty way, as I once did.
The idea is that AirVenture is the event and Oshkosh is the place. I get it, but let’s face it. When I say “Talladega,” “Augusta,” or “Flushing Meadows,” you don’t think sleepy little towns; You think about racing, chipping and topspin, respectively. Like it or not, it’s the same with Oshkosh. While people live there, work there, go to school there and, yes, even sail boats there the rest of the year, when you say “Oshkosh” you’re saying airplanes. I like that.
Paradoxically, “Oshkosh,” at least in this sense, hasn’t always been held in Oshkosh nor put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association. Over the past 80-plus years the big summer airshow, America’s big summer airshow, used to be held in other places and put on by other people flying other kinds of airplanes for other kinds of crowds. Back in the 1930s, it was all about air racing. The National Air Races, held mostly in Cleveland, Ohio, drew hundreds of thousands of spectators, there to witness the thrill of racing and the latest in aviation technology. The show went on hiatus during the WWII years, and, after a series of mishaps, including a highly publicized crash in 1949, eventually morphed into the Reno air races. In the 1950s and 60's, the best and biggest participant airshow in the country was held in Reading, Pennsylvania. It was before my time, but former colleagues tell tales of what was once a great show that featured everyone in the aviation world from private pilots flying in in their new Comanches to the biggest aviation companies of the day, Cessna, Gulfstream, Bendix-King, showing off the latest hardware. The show ended in 1980, a victim of its lack of understanding of what the public was really looking for, a show that was all about the pilots.
The rise of Oshkosh to great prominence took place in the 1970s and mirrored the nation’s interest in aviation not just as a spectator sport but as a participant sport. The big EAA show was an excuse to fly somewhere and hang out with 100,000-plus like-minded people and while you were at it gawk at some of the greatest, most innovative and coolest sets of wings this side of Area 51. I’ve been going to Oshkosh each summer for 22 straight years now — a newbie by some people’s accounting — and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I “need” to go. It’s my big aviation fix, and the biggest regret I have each year is that I didn’t get to meet every pilot there or to see every airplane. I love Oshkosh to death.
I’m not alone in this love affair, and in this sense at least, Oshkosh, AirVenture, whatever you want call it, isn’t so much the EAA’s show as it is our show. The Experimental Aircraft Association is the caretaker, the organization that plans the party for the rest of us, and a spectacular job of party planning they do. Every year around this time we can fly to Oshkosh (flying in being the preferred method by far), pitch a tent or get an outrageously overpriced room, wake up every day and go to the airport to see the really amazing airplanes and talk to the really amazing pilots that the rest of the year are scattered around the country and around the globe. That’s the draw, and I can’t think of a nicer place to spend such a week in late July than Oshkosh, Wisconsin, or a better host than EAA for America's great annual summer air show.
Once again, I can hardly wait.
We welcome your comments on flyingmag.com. In order to maintain a respectful environment, we ask that all comments be on-topic, respectful and spam-free. All comments that do not comply with these guidelines will be removed.