AirVenture Bound? Remember the Sunscreen

A few pointers on making the most of Oshkosh.

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Mark Phelps

It's easy to get overwhelmed. The sensory overload of EAA AirVenture can take over and cause first-time visitors to scurry around in all directions like a drug-sniffing dog let loose at Woodstock. Even veteran AirVenture-goers can lose focus in the face of so much to see and do. And let's not get all anxious about that, either. What can be bad about having so much to capture your imagination in one place, at one time?

But the downside would be missing out on something you really came to see, hear or find out more about. Of course, it's not the big stuff. If you're seriously in the market for a panel upgrade or a set of vortex generators for your airplane, you'll have those vendors in the front of your brain. But it's the less vital things that sometimes fall through the cracks. Maybe you have a friend who wanted you to check out a kitplane manufacturer he was interested in. Or a rare warbird you'd always wanted to see up close. When the thought comes to mind at a random time during the other 51 weeks of the year, it can easily be lost in the eye-candy tsunami that is AirVenture.

There are a few tips on how to avoid that, "Oh, dang it!" feeling that sometimes hits halfway back on the trip home. It starts with keeping a list of possibilities. If you use a smart phone to keep notes, set up a file of key words that will jog your memory — as in "portable collision avoidance" followed by the name of a manufacturer or two. If you're low-tech, write them down on a pad of paper. You should also include events, seminars, air-show performances or personal appearances by some of your heroes, specific aircraft you know you'd like to see, and so on.

Browse around the AirVenture website (www.airventure.org) for features that catch your eye, recognizing that some of the best stuff to see and do never surfaces online. This might be the time to go over the list of exhibitors and flag the ones of interest. I sometimes assign a priority system with an A-list of gotta-goes; followed up by the Bs and Cs. (Naturaly, the huge red-and-white Flying merchandise tent near the control tower is on everyone's A-list) Once you have the targets selected, the next move is to use a highlighter to mark the areas on the AirVenture map. You might have to wait until you arrive and receive your program to do this, but it's well worth the time. With that God's-eye view, you can move easily from target to target without having to backtrack a half mile to hit one you missed. Sometimes the booth you're looking for is four-deep in customers and the wait for some personal attention can be frustrating. It's good to know where the other nearby booths are to use some of the time productively until the crowd thins.

Use a calendar to rough out the times you'll be spending in different areas. It's a long way from the antiques and ultralights on the south end of Wittman Field to the Warbirds to the north — with lots in between. You might consider spending one day looking at airplanes followed by a day or two to check out the vendor buildings or the how-to seminars, etc. If there's a particular airshow performer or group of aircraft you want to see, check the schedule for when they are in the daily lineup.

One thing that's tough to predict are the chance meetings with friends, new and old. Waiting in line for a brat and a coke, the couple standing next to you might have just finished redoing the interior of the same model airplane you fly — and you can spend some quality time learning from their experience. While you can never know when and where these kinds of meetings will happen, it's best to anticipate that your detailed maps and schedules can get derailed without notice. Just try to maintain a sense of priorities as you move along.

AirVenture Oshkosh is Disney World for airplane fanatics. You need to pace yourself and attend to your physical comfort, too. Drink lots of water; and sunscreen really is important. If you take some time ahead to set your priorities, you're sure to leave tired but happy.

Call to action: If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, or have any questions about flying technique you'd like answered, send me a note at enewsletter@flyingmagazine.com. We'd love to hear from you.