Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Of Porta-Potties And Fields of Yellow

Oshkosh—the event never fails to amuse, confound and surprise

A couple of sobering thoughts: I don't know how many aircraft built before 1930 made the trip to the Wisconsin clambake, but there were lots. That makes those flying machines 82 years old. That's pretty amazing! However, when we talk about something being a half century old, 50 years, we all think of it as being, if not ancient, at least old. The shocker is when you put 50-year-old airplanes in context: That's 1962! The Piper Cherokee was two years old at that point; the Cessna Skyhawk, six years old. Walking around Oshkosh with the age of the Cherokee/Skyhawk in mind, it was easy to see that the vast majority of the thousands of flying machines on the grounds were at least that old.

Incidentally, we gray dogs don't recognize the title "AirVenture." That's a marketing department construct, and we're not comfortable with it. It's simply Oshkosh to us. And as far as that goes, "Oshkosh" no longer means a town, but a happening, a state of mind, an island of logic in an increasingly illogical world.

As with anything as huge as Oshkosh (the fly-in), there are faults to be found. And it's easy to focus too closely on the faults and miss what it is that makes this particular gathering of birds of a feather so special. And what it is that makes it so easy to overlook its shortcomings.

For one thing, when set against the background of the world in general, even though the fly-in/convention appears to be an island, its really not. It's actually an archipelago, a group of islands, bound together by a location and common interest—flight. However, "flight" as seen at Oshkosh has so many different distinct flavors that each exists on the grounds as its own little atoll, and it's entirely possible to spend the entire time there lounging around a given island and never venturing into another.

If you're a Bonanza freak, for instance, you could easily have spent your time in the Bonanza tie-down area in the North Forty and come away perfectly satisfied with your week.

If enamored of those aircraft that make lots of noise and used to carry guns, there was no real reason to leave Warbird Island and venture south into Homebuilt Land. Or Vintage Island. Or The Island of the Aged (antiques). Each community/island was a destination unto itself, and it was totally understood if someone never ventured outside of the boundaries each interest dictated.

And for those who complain the event has become too commercial with too many vendors and such, I covered the entire event, end to end, multiple times and never even noticed all of the exhibits and marketing sideshows. They were there, but they were just neon between all the airplanes. It's easy to ignore what you're not interested in. However, if your interest leans in that direction, it's there for the taking.

I really enjoyed the acres of Cubs, the warbirds parked out of sight, the never-ending array of vintage flivvers. But mostly, I enjoyed the people. I met a lot of folks for the first time, who I know will be friends for a lifetime. I spent time with even more who are close, meet-them-once-a-year friends, and have been for many decades. We've grown right along with the growth of the event. But, we, just like AirVenture, as they insist on calling it, have never grown old. And that may be the secret of Oshkosh: It makes us all feel like kids at Christmas, right to the end.


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