Flying Into AirVenture Doesn?t Have to Be a Panic

First, Read the Notam. Second, Read It Again.

Any pilot who has heard the audio tapes of tower controllers during EAA AirVenture at Wittman Field remains astounded. But flying into the world's largest aviation event at Oshkosh, B'gosh, truthfully requires only modest skill -- and extensive planning. First, download and read the notam (available at eaa.org or faa.gov); then reread it the night before you leave. Use a highlighter to note all the pertinent frequencies and other key data that apply to your specific aircraft type. For flight planning, wherever you're coming from, I suggest stopping somewhere within striking range -- but outside the beehive -- to refuel and regroup. Whatever you do, don't stretch your fuel on the way into Oshkosh. Oh yes, before you take off, have another look at that notam.

The procedure itself is really not complicated, especially in today's GPS world. The town of Ripon is in your database, as is Fiske intersection, so you can preprogram your arrival and follow the magenta line. But once you get close to Ripon, get your eyeballs outside the cockpit and your head on a swivel. Traffic alerts aren't going to help you, because everyone will have their transponders turned off. Stick to the altitudes and airspeeds found in the notam, and try to fall gracefully into line behind the airplane ahead of you. Do be aware of those not as skilled as you. It should be easy to tell when you're close to Fisk and next in line for instruction from the ground observers. Look for the flashing strobe along the railroad tracks, and listen for the color and aircraft type ahead of you: "Blue and white Cessna taildragger, rock your wings." And when you hear them call you, rock 'em good. One year I heard the controller say to an Aeronca pilot, "Try rocking again. That was more like light jazz."

Once you've been directed to your pattern entry point and switch to tower frequency, look and listen, but try not to talk unless absolutely necessary. Besides the controller on the microphone, several other sets of eyes will be watching you closely and making sure you're well set up for your landing. While a lot is written about multiple simultaneous landings aimed at colored dots on the same runway, the reality is a lot less exciting than the imagination would lead you to believe. The runways are long, and most of the airplanes coming in are easily capable of operating within the shared runway space allowed. Take comfort in the excellent safety record at AirVenture. While they have their share of groundloops and bounces, serious damage is extremely rare.

Two last pieces of advice: As you set up on final, try not to think about the hundreds of thousands of pilots with their eagle eyes all looking for the slightest imperfection in your technique. (Take a tip from public speaking coaches; imagine them all naked.) And finally, watch out for a Matterhorn white V-tail Bonanza with orange trim. I'm planning to arrive sometime this Saturday.