J Kirkbride gives us an insider’s look at the EAA AirVenture. This year’s AirVenture happens from July 24-31.

EAA AirVenture. Oshkosh. Aviation Heaven. It goes by a few different names, and things have changed over the years, but it is THE aviation pilgrimage for anyone that considers themselves an aviation buff. It’s been held annually in Oshkosh, Wisconsin by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) for over 60 years and is continuing to grow, despite the multiple challenges facing general aviation over the past 20 years.

I’ve attended several times over the past two decades. Each trip has been a pinnacle moment in whatever phase of life I was in at the time.

A Lifetime Journey to Oshkosh

I first attended in 1994. As a 7-year old kid, I was fascinated by anything that took flight. I don’t remember a whole lot from this time in my life, but I distinctly remember flying with my dad and his college friend into Whittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in my old man’s Bonanza.

The hazards and challenges of the arrival into KOSH were lost on me at the time, but I remember seeing literally thousands of aircraft, ranging from experimental homebuilts to fighter jets lined up neatly on two open, grassy areas in between perpendicular runways. The act of camping underneath an airplane wing was the coolest thing since sliced bread and it was the first airshow that I can remember attending.

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The North 40 campgrounds. Taken by Rob Whittaker of Blackhawk Paramotors.

Fast forward to my high school years. As a newly-minted private pilot, I was again flying up in my dad’s Bonanza. But this time with a family friend who was incessantly trying to get my dad to buy into a Piper Cub with him. Our friend eventually convinced my dad, and I’m grateful for that to this day.

Some of my fondest memories involve a 65-horsepower J-3 Cub. This was our family friend’s first trip to Oshkosh, and I think he was as excited as I was when I was 7. On arrival, I was awestruck how the Air Traffic Controllers got thousands on aircraft on the ground safely every year with a ridiculously low accident rate.

The following year, I tagged along with another friend of my father’s (he has a lot of them) in his Bonanza. I distinctly remember him being rightfully upset when I dropped a few Reese’s Pieces in between the seats in his brand-new interior. However, he wasn’t upset enough to not introduce me to all of his friends in the Warbirds area, which sparked another passion of mine.

During my freshman year in college, I got an offer to fly into Oshkosh in a genuine SNJ-5 (the Navy version of the WWII-era classic T-6 Texan) with the same gentleman that didn’t end my life the previous trip with the Reese’s Pieces incident. He had forgiven me, and all was well until I spilled Coca-Cola on the SNJ-5’s rear-cockpit floorboard somewhere over Iowa. Nonetheless, he allowed me to sit in the backseat during the massive T-6 Texan arrival flyover that year. I’ll never forget it. I felt I was a part of the Oshkosh ‘in’ crowd as in the world’s largest aviation event.

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The author’s daughter enjoying AirVenture 2015.

In recent years, I’ve had the privilege of attending two additional times. As a newly-minted Air Force pilot, I thought it would be hard to be humbled, but I was.

What humbled me was the sheer amount of people who shared in my passion of flight. I brought my then 5-year old daughter along on my most recent trip (once again in the family’s trusty Bonanza). I thought it would provide a great opportunity for some father-daughter time amongst some of the things I love most. However, I didn’t plan on being the third wheel in between my dad and his granddaughter, but that’s how it turned out! At least I had some airplanes to keep me busy.

When you finally make it there…

For those that haven’t been…go! It’s a week-long aviation celebration that consists of a daily (sometimes nightly) airshow and a near 24-7 tradeshow. Any attendee has an opportunity to view any type of helicopter, homebuilt, ultra-light, warbird, sea plane (you get the idea)…anyone can think of. I have been a half-dozen times and still haven’t seen everything. Maybe one day I’ll see it all.

The event continues to keep pace with modern aviation developments. A visitor can meet the creators of great products like ForeFlightTM and SkyVectorTM to get inside info on future developments, then go hear aviation greats like Bob Hoover or Bud Anderson speak at the Pavilion. In the evening, you can end your night with a concert or a few drinks with some close friends surrounded by thousands of aircraft.

Unfortunately, I won’t be there this year. I’ll miss out on alot of things. A life-long friend will be there supporting the F-16 Demo Team. The pure-soul who didn’t kill me for the Reese’s Pieces and Coca-Cola incidents will be piloting the last flyable SB2C Helldiver for anyone that is willing to pay for a flight. My old man is making the trip, too.

Life got in the way this summer for me, but you should go. Trust me.  

Top Photo: Entrance into EAA AirVenture Photo credit: www.aaasdc.org

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