Airventure 2013 - Oshkosh, WI

The end of July means time for the annual trek to Oshkosh, WI for Airventure, the largest aviation gathering in the world. My trip to the 2012 Airventure was plagued by ignition problems in my little airplane, but this year I was confident that my new electronic ignition system would make the trip uneventful. Everything was packed and ready for a sunrise departure on Friday, but the beautiful clear skies at my house were replaced by thick fog at the airport. I had the airplane fueled and ready to go on the ramp at 6:30, but the fog persisted. If I could get just a mile to the west it would be clear, but all I could do was wait.
Finally a hole appeared at 8:30 and I was off. Looking back you could see that the only place where there was fog was right at the airport, but at least I was finally airborne and heading west.

The weather on the first leg was fantastic with smooth air and clear skies all the way to Tri-City airport near Akron, OH. A quick refuel and it was back in the air and on to Auburn, IN. During this leg the mid-day thermals started forming along with scattered cumulous clouds. The little Tornado handled the bumps very well and there was lots of things to see as Ohio drifted by 2000 feet below.

At Auburn it was more fuel, and a check of the weather. I knew that I was going to run into a front and rain at some point during the day and it looked questionable whether I would make it all the way to my next planned stop at Joliet, IL. Back in the air again I could already see the difference in the sky. It was more hazy and I could see darker areas to the south. One very nice aid that I had was the weather radar app on my smart phone which shows local weather that's only a few minutes old. From this I could see that the rain was actually splitting and going both north and south of my flight path. I kept watching the weather out the window and on the phone and flew airport to airport across Indiana and Illinois until finally it looked like Joliet was makable. But just makable! As I was turning onto my base leg in the landing pattern the wall of rain arrived. I landed in a downpour and taxied around looking for a spot that had tiedown ropes. As I was hunched over under the right wing wrestling with the tiedown rope I looked at the left wing where much to my delight was good friend Bob Hyduke securing that wing. Bob and his wife Tina were flying their Cessna Cardinal to Airventure also and like me were forced th wait out the rain. The three of us borrowed an airport car to go out to eat and watch the weather, hoping that we would not need a hotel for the night. After about four hours the rain had passed and it was flyable to the north and west, though with low ceilings. Bob and Tina headed for Oshkosh and I headed for Brodhead, WI. Brodhead is the site of the Pietenpol gathering each year on the weekend before Airventure. I've been building a Pietenpol Aircamper for several years and I love to stop in at this gathering.

It was early evening when Brodhead came into view. This was the first time that I had flown into this lovely grass strip, my other trips were in a camper. Once on the ground I taxied looking for a good camping sport when much to my surprise I spotted another Titan Tornado. I parked and set up camp next to the other Tornado and set off in search of food. They have a wonderful fish fry Friday night at the airport and I was able to acquire a plate of left-overs. Friday night was cold, crazy cold, and windy. My tent blew over and had to be re-staked but I was tired and still managed to get some sleep.
In the morning I met Hugh Sontag, the other Tornado flyer and we spent Saturday touring the open hangars at Brodhead. This airport is such a special place. There are around 50 hangars and each one has some type of unique aircraft or project. The folks at Brodhead all have a love for vintage aircraft and it would be hard to imagine a better or more diverse collection of antiques, classics, and biplanes.
Some of the hangars are rough looking with dirt floors, while others are new, big structures with carpeted concrete floors and are decorated with all sorts of aviation art and collectables. The airplanes are beautifully restored works of art in themselves. There were about a dozen Pietenpol Aircampers that made the trip and flew off and on throughout the day. Mid-afternoon I packed up the camping gear and headed for Oshkosh.
This would be the first time that I had flown into Airventure solo. My previous experience was as a passenger/navigator. During Airventure, Oshkosh is the busiest airport in the world, and there are a strict set of procedures that must be followed. I was a little nervous about flying the approach, finding the landmarks, listening to the controllers, and watching for other aircraft, all while maintaining the required airspeed which is about as fast as the Tornado will go. As it turned out the approach and landing went smoothly and soon I was directed to a spot in the Homebuilt camping area. After getting registered and setting up the tent, I called Bob and Tina and we all headed out for dinner. The temperature on Saturday night dropped to a record low of 40 degrees. Oshkosh is typically quite hot at the end of July so I had not packed enough warm clothes. The next morning I bought a nice souvenir hooded sweatshirt that I wear for a few days until it warmed up. Throughout the week I toured around the show grounds with other friends that had come to the event, including Hugh Sontag who flew up from Brodhead and camped two rows behind me.

Another first for me at this year's Airventure was presenting a forum on using latex house paint on airplanes. Airventure features about two dozen forums, every hour and a half, every day for the week-long event. The forums cover every topic imaginable related to airplanes and flying. I had no idea if anyone would show up to my presentation, but I was delighted to watch the pavilion fill up to about 100 interested individuals. The presentation was well received and I had a blast.

After a few very cold days to start the week, the weather turned out to be great. The week was filled with daily airshows, airplane watching, walking, eating, and hanging out with friends. We even took the short bus ride to the seaplane base for breakfast one morning. The seaplane base is a lovely little lagoon off of Lake Winnebago. It's a very laid back environment that is a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Airventure.

Airventure is truly a must see destination for aviation enthusiasts. Where else could you see the only remaining B-29 Super Fortress flanked by two B-25 Mitchells flying over my little Titan Tornado. Every night at Airventure they show a movie on a large inflatable screen, drive-in style. This year Airventure was chosen to premier Disney's Planes and more than 15,000 people scurried to find a spot to watch.

All too soon it was time to pack up and head home. As soon as the sun was up I wiped off the morning dew, packed the tent and gear, and fired up the airplane. It was a long taxi to the takeoff position but there were volunteers to help direct my to the right area.
The first part of the flight took me along the western shore of Lake Winnebago, south to Joliet. Then Defiance, OH, Akron, OH, and on home to Bellefonte, PA. The trip home was uneventful with good weather and the little Rotax engine performed great. Airventure 2013 was a wonderful trip and I'm already planning for next year.