AirVenture 2020: It’s Not Here

The magic's not here this year—it's with you.

Wisconsin’s summer sky has ushered magic to Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh for decades. This year, July’s sky guided stifling blue afternoons, and furious purple thunderstorms; hot, damp nights and brisk, dewy mornings—but not the magic that floats from the sky on taut fabric wings or streaks through the air like lightning, visible briefly before vanishing in a chorus of thunder. This year, that magic remained scattered around the country and the world, where it is born and nurtured. It remained in the individual hangars, minds, hearts, and dreams of pilots, aircraft builders and restorers, and those who long to be counted among their ranks.

When EAA’s AirVenture was canceled, some talked of descending on Oshkosh anyway. They wouldn’t have found what they were looking for. I know this because I live in Oshkosh. Wittman Regional Airport doesn’t embody AirVenture any more than an empty stadium embodies the World Series. There is no magic inherent in being in Oshkosh in late July. The magic does not reside in the acres of grass, empty exhibit buildings, skeletal tent frames, and sun-soaked concrete. It’s not in the colored dots painted on the runways. It can’t be conjured with a twist cone. The smells of damp earth, hot blacktop, decaying grass and, yes, manure, still float across the airport on caressing breezes but they do not possess the magic. The magic I speak of doesn’t belong to this spot on a map. Not even this spot labeled KOSH.

People bring the magic to Oshkosh. One small bit is carried here in each airplane, car, camper, and vendor’s trailer. The magic multiplies exponentially with each arrival. The magic happens when fingers reach into a damp cardboard box under a canvass tent and come out with a rare part for a Waco restoration. The magic is reflected in 100,000 pair of sunglasses aimed at air clawed and marked by an angry radial engine spewing white smoke. The magic happens when a young girl meets a female astronaut, and an aging veteran touches the skin of a machine he once trusted with his life. The magic isn’t in the Brown Arch, it is in friends meeting at the arch for the second, fifth, or twentieth year in a row. The magic manifests when temporary neighborhoods of campers appear and their residents celebrate a bond stronger than the brick-based communities from which they came. I know of no other event—in any field of interest—where the attendees are also the show. AirVenture is a fly-in, an airshow, a trade show, a history lesson, a social event, and an educational opportunity. Every aspect of aviation is on display and accessible.

We aviators who call Oshkosh home year-round can land on a colored dot each time we fly, but that doesn’t conjure the magic. Perhaps AirVenture’s absence was easier for us because we are used to an empty airport. Each year we remain behind and watch everyone depart. We watch the site get dismantled. We marvel at how quickly aviation’s version of James Hilton’s mythical Shangri La vanishes back into the air from which it came. The magic is gone in a day, carried back home as it arrived; one small bit in each airplane, car, camper, and vendor’s trailer. The magic isn’t in this place. It comes to this place for one week each year when our individual aviation accomplishments, dreams, histories and memories gather under the banner of EAA’s AirVenture.

ADVERTISEMENT