Oshkosh 2006 Trip Report

August 5, 2006

Oshkosh, Wisconsin
July 24, 2006 - July 30, 2006

July 26, 2006: Denver to Oshkosh
Route of Flight: KAPA-KGRI-KALO-KOSH
Departed 1115Z, Arrived 1910Z, 7.1 hours on the Hobbs meter

July 30, 2006: Oshkosh to Denver
Route of Flight: KOSH-KFET-KAPA
Departed 1530Z, Arrived 2330Z, 7.4 hours on the Hobbs meter


Planning a 790nm trip generally requires a bit of preparation. But a trip to Oshkosh during the week of Airventure requires extra work. The first thing you need to do is get a copy of the 32 page NOTAM. 10,000 planes fly into Oshkosh during the week. No, that's not a typo. Ten-thousand planes. Needless to say, it's important to understand the arrival procedure before you arrive. It's not hard. You just have to be paying attention and listen - no talking. Of course there are always a few clueless pilots that try coming in unprepared. Check out this story for an example.

There were some events going on Thursday that I wanted to attend so the plan was to arrive Wednesday. My initial flight plan showed about 6 hours airtime. Since the plane can go about 4 hours with VFR reserves I would have to make at least one stop. From reading the NOTAM and hearing stories I knew it was possible that when we arrived at Oshkosh we could have to hold for more than an hour. With that in mind I planned two stops with the second only about 90 minutes out from Oshkosh. This would give us enough fuel to hold over two hours if needed. So with 6 hours of airtime and two stops the trip should take about 7.5 to 8 hours.

Oshkosh closes at 8pm every night and reopens at 6am. So I needed to arrive before 8pm. But, more importantly, Oshkosh closes from 2:30-6:30pm each day for the airshow and reopens at 7pm for an hour. Of course afternoon thunderstorms are always a possibility too so ideally I'd like to arrive before 2pm. So let's do some math. 2pm in Wisconsin is 1900Z. Substracting 8 hours gives us an 1100Z departure. That's 5am in Denver - ugh! No human should have to be up that early.

The airventure.org website has a Share-A-Ride page. I posted my empty seat hoping to get someone to help cover the costs of the flight. After a few responses I got a message from Steve from Boulder. He wanted to go and we agreed on the costs. Without having met we agreed to meet at Centennial at 4:30am (yikes). Steve has about 5500 hours as a commercial pilot. He was a CFII until last year. This should be fun. I can pick his brain and he gets to learn all about the G1000.

With just a few days before the trip I began watching the weather forecast. In general it was looking good. Afternoon storms were quite likely but we should get in before they hit. Now it's time to pack. We were going to camp next to the plane so I have all my car camping gear including tent, big air mattress, pillow, battery powered fan (it's hot and muggy in Oshkosh), etc. I packed everthing Monday night and loaded all my gear into the plane after work Tuesday. This way I just need to preflight and load Steve's gear in the morning.

Trip Out

Tuesday night I reviewed the flight plan, I filed three VFR flight plans via DUATS, double checked weather one more time and about 10pm I went to my room. The hardest thing I had to do was set my alarm clock for 3am. I didn't know my clock had a 3am. Actually I guess I did know but it's from staying up until then, not getting up that freakin' early. So here I am laying in bed trying to get some sleep. Tomorrow would be a long busy day. But I felt like a 10 year old on Christmas eve. I couldn't sleep. I kept running the NOTAM procedures through my head and I must have made the whole flight six times. Did I pack everything? Is my alarm turned on? I think I finally fell asleep around midnight.

Three hours later - BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Slam! Ugh. I crawled out of bed into the shower. Steve called a few minutes later to confirm all was on. "Yep - I'll be out the door in a few minutes. See you soon." I was out the door about 3:40 and headed to the airport. All I had to pack this morning was my computer and flight bag. One good thing about being up this early is there is virtually no one on the road. I-25 was down to one lane for the T-Rex construction but even with that I cruised right to the airport.

Upon arriving at Centennial I went up to the JEFA office and grabbed the DA40 binder and key. I walked out to the plane and did my preflight in the dark. There was 30 gallons in the tanks (by choice) and all looked great. As I was finishing up Steve called. He had just parked. I directed him down to the plane. I could just make out a human shape walking toward me. He had all his stuff. Pretty good - one trip. I needed two. So at 4:30am in the dark I first met a guy I would spend the next 8 hours with in the same little plane. I hope he's not psycho :)

We loaded Steve's stuff into the plane and we headed back to the office. I wanted to call the FSS for a weather update and make one last trip to the bathroom. The current forecast was calling for a thunderstorm around Oshkosh around 1:30pm. Hmmm. We'll have to keep an eye on that. There were already strong storms in Iowa but were forecast to be cleared out by the time we were to get there. The first leg was looking great.

As we walked back to the plane it was starting to get light - barely. We got all situated, I briefed Steve on some aspects of the plane and we started up. I chose to use 17L for departure as opposed to 10 because we were near gross. After taxi and runup we were cleared and we were wheels up about 5:15am. Not too many planes moving about yet. It was really calm and pleasant. I hate getting up early but moments like this make it worth it. The sun wasn't quite on the horizon yet so we were getting a real nice sunrise. After leaving Centennial's airspace I switched to Denver FSS and opened our fight plan. Next stop was Grand Island Nebraska - 2:20 away.

The course was set in the GPS so I just followed the magenta line. We had climbed to 7500 feet and stayed there for the trip. It was quite calm and just a few high clouds. Steve and I started to get to know each other a bit. Steve did most of the talking. He has lots of great stories from his flying career. I was focusing on flying but really enjoyed the stories.

Flying over Eastern Colorado and Nebraska isn't very exciting. Not much to look at except lots of round fields. But soon we were nearing KGRI. I began getting ready. I put in all the frequencies - ATIS, Tower, and Ground. I listended to ATIS, studied the airport map, and metally prepared for the approach I expected based on our location and landing runway. About 10 miles out I called the tower. It had been pretty quiet so far. The pattern entry they gave was just what I expected. A few minutes later I reported the requested two mile final, was cleared to land, and I then, well, landed. Big emtpy airport in the middle of no where.

I switched to the ground frequency and found my way to the FBO. I shut down and requested 10 gallons per tank for the next leg to Waterloo, Iowa. We went inside. I closed the flight plan, emptied the bladder, and got a weather update. As the briefer was telling me that all of Iowa had an Airmet for IFR and that VFR wasn't recommended, I was looking at some satellite and radar images that showed it to be pretty good. There were no clouds in sight looking out the window. Waterloo had some clouds and lower visibilties at the moment but still VFR and forecast to keep getting better.

We decided to press on and see what we saw. Steve was IFR current and I'm working on my rating. If needed we could always open an IFR flight plan enroute. My guess was it was just some fog that was in the process of breaking up and at our cruise altitude of 5500 feet there would be no clouds.

We got back to the plane and headed back into the sky. I climbed to 5500 feet and could see no clouds but Iowa was still almost an hour away. As we got closer to Iowa we started seeing some scattered clouds down low but nothing to worry about at all. You could still see the ground easily. Ahead there were some more scattered layers so I climbed back to 7500. We listened to some AWOS stations along the way. At no time were we headed for IFR conditions. We just stayed over some scattered layers. There were a few patches of broken layers below us but nothing bad. We gave a PIREP or two and listened to Flight Watch a bit. Everyone was reporting the same as us. No real IFR even though the Airmet was still in effect.

As we approached Waterloo the sky had completely cleared. No clouds anywhere. One thing we found interesting is that there are no round fields in Iowa. They are all rectangles. And quite green. I'd have to say they get more rain here than further west.

Once within 20 miles of Waterloo I did all the usual prep work. I think I heard one other plane going in as we approached. I called the tower and reported in. Oddly I was given a squawk code. I'm in another middle of nowhere place (lot's of those in the midwest) with no traffic. OK, I entered the code and repeated back my approach. After a bit I was nearing the base leg when I got a call asking where I was. I told them I was entering the base leg and I was cleared to land. I guess they don't have radar. Then again, why a squawk code? We landed and headed over to the Livingston FBO. If any of you have read Richard Bach this should ring a bell. His famous book "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" is inspired by a real guy. This FBO has all kinds of historical information on Livingston and Bach's book. The FBO also gives a 50 cent per gallon discount if you tell them you are heading to Oshkosh.

After closing our flight plan and checking weather I realized I hadn't eaten anything yet and it was almost noon. Just then the FBO told us they had free hot dogs and brats. Perfect. We had a quick bite, I payed for the gas and we quickly headed back to the plane. We had about 90 minutes of flying time left and Oshkosh would be closing in just over 2 hours. From the weather check I was happy to see the thunder storms were now reported to hit about 3pm instead of 1:30. So all was looking good. It was just going to be a matter a dealing with an airplane storm instead of thunder storms.

Once again we got in the plane and called ground. Once again we were given a squawk code. As we were running up a biz jet was heading our way. We quickly called the tower to get out before the jet. On climb out the tower asked us to stay on runway heading so the jet could pass us. Great, we were heading 120 degrees off of the course we wanted and we couldn't turn. Clouds had also begun building. We neared cloudbase and leveled off. We finally got cleared to turn on course. The jet was long gone. These guys are messing us up for no good reason. Oh well. We climbed back up to our cruise altitude just above the building clouds. It was still a scattered layer but for the first time today they had some vertical development. It was pretty cool actually. We flew between a few of the build ups. It was nice and calm where we were. I only had to make one or two tiny course adjustments to stay legal with regard to cloud clearances. Waterloo departure called and let us go so we went back to 1200 and went on our merry way.

I had Steve read over the NOTAM. It was going to be quite nice having a second pair of eyes to watch for traffic and read ahead in the NOTAM as I flew the course and also watched for traffic. Our first waypoint was the RANDO intersection headed for RIPON. RIPON intersection is where the NOTAM really begins. I started at RANDO (to the southwest) to give us a good heading toward RIPON and to get down to altitude.

As we got to RANDO the clouds were getting tighter so I started looking for a hole. We needed to get down to 2500 feet from 7500. I found a hole and pulled the throttle back to idle. 1500fpm down. It was calm so being at the start of the yellow arc was OK. I had to turn around some clouds as we descended to stay legal. Again, it was pretty cool being around the clouds like that. Not much chance for that around Denver. As soon as we hit cloud base the visibility went from 30 miles to 10 miles and it got bumpy. Not bad, just some occasional light chop but the last 5.5 hours were like glass. We reached RANDO and headed for RIPON. Time to get busy. 2000 feet. Lots of looking outside. At RIPON you need to be at 1800 feet and 90 knots and getting in the traffic line. At this point I put the transponder on standby as directed in the NOTAM and picked up the Oshkosh ATIS. They appeared to be landing 18 and GA camping and parking were open - good, we could land.

As soon as we had ATIS we switched over to the FISK approach control. This is a listen-only frequency. The plan is to turn at RIPON and fly directly over some railroad tracks at 90 knots with 1/2 mile trail to the plane ahead. At FISK the controller will call you out by type and color and give you a landing runway. You are then asked to rock your wings to acknowledge and then switch to the tower frequency assigned to the runway you were given. The East/West runway has one frequency and the North/South has another. They land on both at the same time plus there are departures. Everything is much closer than normal. They even land two at a time on the same runway. There are large colored circles along the runway. As you come in the tower will tell one plane to land on one color while another plane it told to touch down on another. You just treat your color as the threshold and otherwise land normally.

As we approached RIPON we saw one other plane ahead of us at least a mile out heading toward FISK. No other planes were in sight. Wow. I expected much more than this. It was now after 2pm. If figured there would be big rush to beat the closure at 2:30. As we turned toward FISK the controller announced that we all had 20 minutes to get to RIPON or you would be sent elsewhere. We made it with 20 minutes to spare. We heard a plane get cleared at FISK to head for 18. The plane ahead of us turned out to be a Cozy Mk IV. Perfect. I'm building one of these so that was cool. What are the odds of that? The only plane we could see. Plus I knew we were next. Shortly I heard the controller clear the EZ type and then I saw the Cozy rock his wings. OK, we're next. As we approached FISK the controller called us out. Not as a Diamond Star but as a Mooney. Oh well, close enough. I rocked my wings and he said, "great job, follow the EZ to 18, switch to tower". I did just that. I wish I had given Steve my camera at this point. What a view. The ground was COVERED in airplanes. We were flying east just north of 9/27. You're supposed to stay at 1500 as you cross 9/27 to land 18. It's a steep descent. We also had to do a jug handle turn around the east end of 9/27 to then get back in line for 18. The tower controller correctly called us a Diamond. We were cleared to land 18R (18L is actually a taxiway the other 51 weeks of the year). I was coming down perfect for the threshold when I notice lots of cones. Can't land there. I then finally heard the controller calling "Diamond, land on the blue dot. Diamond - blue dot". How many times did he say that already? I added power and extended my glide a 1000 feet to the blue dot. I touched down 20 feet past the big blue dot. Yeah. We made it. I turned off the runway and switched to ground. I put up the GAC sign (General Aviation Camping) in the window so all the ground controllers would know where to taxi me. We had a long taxi to get to camping. It took about 20 minutes. The last 5 were in soft ground/grass. I had to keep the RPMs at 1600 to keep moving. Camping had been full the day before but people started leaving this day and there were plenty of holes for us to park.

We pulled in our spot and shutdown. Cool. It was about 2:40pm. I had gotten up nearly 11 hours earlier. As I got out of the plane I felt worn out. We just did the entire arrival, landing, and taxi without ever talking on the radio even once. Too many planes. Only the controllers talk. On the ground you just follow all the people with flags. They look for the sign in your window and have you taxi to the correct place. Steve and I setup up our tents next to the plane. There were quite a few planes with Candian registries around us. There was a C182 right next to us from Canada. Two young guys flew down with their instructor. They were working on becoming commercial pilots. Nice guys. We talked with then a bit each evening during the week.

About 4pm Steve and I walked over to the Friar Tuck restaurant for dinner. We were quite hungry. It started raining just as we got there. After an hour we came out to discover a big storm blew through while we were eating. Everyone looked wet and the ground was saturated. We took the shuttle back toward the plane. Puddles everywhere. I opened my tent to discover everything inside was wet. I basically had some puddles in the bottom. Great. Luckily I hadn't layed out my sheets or pillow so they were still dry. The sun was coming back out so I set some things out to dry. One of the young Canadians showed me some video he took during the storm. My tent was getting all collapsed by the wind which allowed the sideways rain to get under the tarp.

The Week

Wednesday night was an early night. Thursday was going to be a long full day again but quite different from Wednesday. It turned out to be a bit cooler than I expected. It turns out the nice big air mattress I have lets too much of my body heat out. So much for needing a fan. I don't remember ordering a wake up call but I sure got one - at 6:10am. It was the sound of airplanes starting up and taking off. I now know why the airport is closed from 8pm to 6am - to let people sleep. So by 6:30 I was in the shower. The camping area has a fairly nice shower facility. One advantage of getting a shower at 6:30 is it gives you about 30 minutes of not being sticky. By 7am it's warm and humid enough that you are already sweaty and sticky. July in Wisconsin at its finest.

After getting back to the tent and collecting my stuff for the day Steve was just geting up. We decided to get some breakfast. There are several places on the field to eat. There are already a lot of people on the field at 7am. The main vendors and all the other booths don't open until 9am. However there are lots of planes out and plenty to look at. The forums start at 8:30 and run all day. The main event I wanted to attend today was the annual Cozy BBQ. A Cozy flier has his plane hangared at Oshkosh and he has a BBQ for all Cozy enthusiasts.

After breakfast Steve and I walked around a bunch. Steve had only been to Oshkosh once before, 10 years ago. This was my fourth straight year. After wandering around a while it got to be time for the BBQ. I invited Steve along. We got there about 11am and there were already about 50 people. Steve left after a quick bite. I ended up staying until about 5pm. It's always fun to hook up with fellow Cozy folks each year. Lot's of hangar talk about flying and building.

The highlight of the day was the surprise appearance of two Air Force F-22 Raptors. These planes are amazing. They have vectored thrust and can turn in their own length. I saw one do a loop within its own length. Amazing. One did a bunch of fast passes while the other just "danced" around - truly remarkable what it could do. At the end one of them did a slow, low pass. At the end of the runway it pitched 90 degrees nose up and stopped. And I mean stopped, in mid-air. It just hung there pointing straight up. Then he kicked in the throttle and accelerated straight up. Obviously these craft have a thrust-to-weight ratio greater than 1. The rest of the week I kept hearing people ask - "Did you see the F-22's on Thursday? They were incredible."

After the BBQ I got a ride over to the Target to get a blanket I could put between me and the air matress. I slept much better all week. The rest of the week was spent doing what one does at Airventure. I looked at lots of airplanes, attended a few forums, watched some of the airshow, went to the seaplane base, ate a daily ice cream cone, sweat, drank lots of water, and walked a hundred miles. We didn't have any more rain after Wednesday's storm. Just lots of sun.

Return Home

Saturday evening rolled around and I made another check of the weather. A thunderstorm was supposed to hit us during the night and then it was to be clear flying all the way home. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of a big storm hitting us during the night but we just had 3 days and nights of no rain. Pretty good for Airventure actually. By nightfall there were just some scattered high clouds. Absolutely no sign of storm clouds.

As usual I got up before 6:30 and headed for the showers. The sky was solid clouds this morning but we never got any rain during the evening. The sky didn't look too bad. I was quite happy. By the time I got out of the shower the sky was getting ugly. Black clouds that told me it was soon to get nasty. Great. I want to be wheels up soon. I went back to the tent and started packing. Steve was doing the same. Steve had just finished putting his bags into the plane when it started to rain. I started handing him some of my bags. Most were packed but not all. We just put everything in the plane we could. Then the storm really hit. We spent the next hour in my tent trying to keep the tent from collapsing. The wind was howling. Lightning everywhere. We got soaked from head to toe. My one remaining bag was quite wet too.

After about an hour the rain let up enough and the wind had died down. People were milling about again. Puddles everywhere. Taxiing the plane was going to be fun. The nice dry, hard ground was now soft and wet. Steve and I decided to get some breakfast and get some updated weather. While eating we looked at radar and talked to FSS. There were scattered thunder storms over most of Wisconsin. It was clear the rest of the way to Denver. As we headed back to the plane in a light drizzle Steve and I talked about what we were going to do. From the radar and just looking West we knew there were decent sized holes to fly safely through. We only had to get 50 miles West to be clear of the mess. I was a bit hesitant but Steve was quite positive we would have no problem. Worse case we could return to Oshkosh or land elsewhere. So we packed our soaking wet tents into the plane, pushed the plane out a bit, and climbed in.

It was raining again but no thunderstorm was near Oshkosh at the moment. We called FSS one more time and determined there was a big clearing to the West that we could easily fly through. So with soaked shoes I started the plane and we began taxiing. We weren't alone. A few other planes were departing too. I'll admit if I was solo I would have waited but the storms were supposed to come and go for several more hours, clear a bit, and then kick back in again. I'd had gotten to know Steve a bit and trusted his experience and judgment. We weren't doing anything dangerous, just a bit beyond my current comfort level.

Listening to ATIS we learned they were departing on runway 09. A quick and short taxi from where we were parked. Of course as we got there they flagged us past the threshold. It appears the winds had switched and we were sent down to 27. At least it was all on a normal, paved taxiway. We were following one other plane but I saw a few others take off. It was still raining a bit. The canopy was fogged up some. I put the defroster on and it helped a lot. Our wet clothes and all the wet gear wasn't helping any. Though we now had a longer taxi it was actually good we switched to 27 since we were departing to the West and we could see a hole that way.

Shortly the plane ahead of us was cleared to take-off. We actually had to wait for an arrival. We moved into position. I noticed several planes behind us waiting to take-off too. We got the all clear and I pushed the throttle forward. Despite full fuel and wet gear which put us right at max gross weight we were off with plenty of runway. Being so close to sea level helps. The NOTAM states to stay at 1300 feet until clear of the airspace. We stayed low for 5 miles and then began climbing. We passed the plane that took off ahead of us. That's always fun. Despite the weather the ceilings were about 2500 AGL so we had no trouble climbing a bit. I leveled off at 3500 feet as we flew in a big clearing. It was raining hard a few miles to the south and north of us but we could see lots of day light straight ahead. It was smooth air. After 15 miles the ceiling started to lift and I climbed to 4500 then eventually 6500 for the duration of the first leg.

About 100 miles out we were is clear skies. A few high scattered clouds but smooth sailing. We gave a PIREP so people knew it was OK out here. I was glad we left when we did. Like I said, I probably would have waited if solo but with Steve's experience I was able to safely expand my comfort level another notch. This was a good experience for me.

The trip home was much more adhoc than the trip in. No flight plan and no decision on where to stop. I knew we would only need one stop to make it home. We just entered a direct course to Centennial and planned to stop along the route when fuel was getting low. We had full tanks so that gave us 4 hours with 30 minute reserve. The only issue was that we were getting a strong head wind. It varied from 30 to 40 knots. Not a direct cross-wind but it was slowing us down. It was also getting hot. At 6500 the OAT was 21 degress celcius. We didn't want to climb much because the winds would probably be stronger and we'd waste fuel getting there.

The flight was quiet and uneventful. I put on the autopilot and just relaxed for a few hours. Steve had taken off his shoes and socks and I decided I should do the same. So there we were flying along barefoot with the autopilot on. Steve was dosing off and I was feeling a bit tired too. Don't fall asleep now. Not a good idea. So I woke up Steve and got him talking. He told me quite a few more stories. I guess when you have 5500 hours versus my 270 you have more "war" stories to tell.

After 3.5 hours we picked an airport that was on the edge of the fuel range ring shown on the G1000. Freemont, Nebraska. As we got closer we listened to AWOS. Ugh. It is 38C. That's 100F. As we approached we called in. No one was around. We just did a typical approach and landed. We had a bit of a taxi. Boy was it hot. Did I mention I just landed the plane barefoot. Rudder pedals aren't all that comfortable with bare feet. I just have to remember to put my shoes back on before I jump onto the boiling hot pavement. We pulled up to the FBO and filled the tanks. I relaxed a bit and we ate some snacks.

After some time we headed back out and departed. It was hot but it was much drier at least. We pointed the nose of the plane toward Denver and climbed up to 8500 feet. I figured it would be cooler and as it turned out the winds were a little lighter up there. Once at cruise the fuel computer showed we'd land at Centennial right at our reserve. But as we get closer the winds got better and we made better headway. Wonderful. Just about the time we crossed into Colorado the winds were almost gone. We even had a 4 knot tailwind for a brief time. As we got close we couldn't see the mountains at all. A huge cell was building over the foot hills but it wasn't going to be an issue for us today.

I flew this whole leg on auto pilot and barefoot again. About 15 miles out I put my shoes on and turned off the autopilot. We got ATIS and called tower and was told to enter a right downwind for 35R. There were very few planes out. We were soon cleared to land and I made a really nice landing. Of course we then had a long taxi down the runway. We turned off and taxied down toward parking. We then had the bright idea to park the plane closer to the gate so we didn't have to carry all of our stuff so far.

After unloading the plane we used to the tow bar and pulled the plane down to its parking spot. Steve and I said goodbye and he went off back to Boulder and his family. I went up to the office and filled out the log book and put four new pins in the map. What a great trip. Over 13 hours on the hobbs. I made a new friend and I got to raise my comfort level a notch. Not to mention spending four days at the greatest aviation event in the world.