As this is being written, it’s 7:45 p.m. on the night that the happenings in Oshkosh have ended. I’m sitting in an Arby’s across the street from the airport. I’ve just driven the empty field and, to be honest, I’m feeling pretty melancholy. In fact, I’m a little lonely and depressed. I think that after the high-profile week, my adrenaline meter has just dropped past the big “E.”
I know I’ve talked about this post-Oshkosh let-down thing before, but, in the 42 years I’ve been coming here (including the Rockford, Ill., era), I don’t think I’ve ever felt it quite so strongly, and I’m not sure why. But, I’m willing to make some guesses.
For one thing, I miss having Marlene, the Arizona redhead, at my side. We’ve had a lot of really good years at OSH, whizzing around the field prospecting for stories (she’d be doing the paperwork, while I’d be conducting interviews or shooting pictures). We’re a wildly efficient team and love every minute of it. Unfortunately, the fact that I’m not doing as many articles as I used to because of other commitments, coupled with the Bearhawk exhibit booth that has been taking over my life, means that there hasn’t been as much “us” time at Oshkosh. Because she’d have nothing to do, she hasn’t come with me for the last couple of years, and the Oshkosh experience has been just a little flat because of that.
I may also be a little down because I know it’ll be another year before I see a few of my longtime friends, like Eric, my guitar buddy. And David from Oz. And Roy Boy. And Kent the Tin Man. We’ve had some truly memorable evenings this week, and I’m sad that we’ll have to wait another 51 weeks to do it again. When we do, we’ll all be a year older, and a year of each of our lives will have passed without us having shared it with one another.
Of course, I don’t have to think too hard to come up with pleasant memories of the last week. Let’s take the way a creaky old B-52 stole the thunder from that high-tech young upstart, the F-22 Raptor. It was the last show on the last day, and we’d had a full week of the F-22’s sizzling zoom-and-boom air show performance—she’d come screaming down the runway, pitch vertically, hit burner and disappear from sight. Again and again. And again. But the old B-52 took exactly one pass to set things right; it’s truly awesome when something as immense as a B-52 absolutely smokes the runway at something like 200 feet (may have been higher, but it looked that low), then gracefully pulls up and claws its way upward. She may be well over half a century old, but the 52 still personifies the term “bomber” and has done us proud in every conflict in the last five decades. The Raptor and B-1’s may be stealthy and hyper-high-tech, but the old Buff is pure blood-and-guts testosterone. That one pass made the trip up to Aeromecca worth it.
My personal favorites on the flight line were the 1929 Boeing 40A transport and, parked next to it, the Zenith, a huge, single-engine, round-motored biplane with an enclosed passenger compartment snuggled into the fuselage ahead of the open cockpit flight deck. Airplanes like that represent such an unbelievably big investment of time, money and energy that those of us who haven’t actually been involved in such massive projects can’t comprehend what it takes to pull them off.
Another pleasant memory is that the event wasn’t a financial disaster, which some predicted and most of us expected. With gas bumping up to seven bucks, an unknown political future and all sorts of bogeymen, real and financial, leaping out of every closet at us, the entire aviation community held its breath as the flag went down on the first day of Oshkosh. But, we were worried for nothing. The crowds were huge, and airplanes flowed over the hill to the south, filling the parking area as far as I’ve ever seen it filled. It looks as though the spirit of flight will endure regardless of what DC political bozos do to us.
Still, as I was driving around in the dying light, the sight of the empty field saddened me. Here and there, a forlorn RV-6 or Cessna sitting alone in the grass reminded me that, only a few hours earlier, they had been surrounded by acres of kindred mechanical souls. The wind played with the flaps of a vacant exhibit tent that, for seven days, had been my home-away-from-home as I talked to the interested and the curious about the Bearhawk. For a week, the outside world had been held at bay while many hundreds of thousands of us indulged in a passion that’s obviously more durable than any of us would have guessed.
There’s a high probability that my mood is nothing more than my adrenal glands starting to shut down. Still, I miss my lady. I miss my dog. I miss my airplane. So, as is always the case, getting home is going to be good. But, I’m already looking forward to AirVenture 2009.
Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & CFIA, aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Check out his website at www.airbum.com.