Plane & Pilot
Monday, November 1, 2004

Recovering From The EAA AirVenture

The countdown to next year’s show begins the minute you return home

We had just returned from Oshkosh, Wis., late last night, which is another way of saying that today, I’m going to be nearly useless. There are lots of things to be done, but I don’t have enough energy in order to cope, so screw ’em. That stuff will get done tomorrow.

Today, I’m going to do my best to survive the adrenaline drop and make believe I really care about what’s happening around me, when I really don’t. Part of my semi-conscious brain is still up north, stomping through lines of airplanes and people, and wading through a kaleidoscope of emotions and thoughts.

When your brain is hyperactive, as mine is right now, but there’s no adrenaline left in the support system, odd things cross your mind. For instance, as I sit here, I marvel at the monstrous amount of time and effort that’s represented by the EAA AirVenture. Forgetting the D-day-like orgy of organization that makes the event run so smoothly, I just look at the airplanes. To make it easier on an EAA AirVenture-numbed brain, let’s say there are 3,000 show airplanes (plus 12,000 Spam cans that carried spectators in to look at them). The average show airplane consumes about 3,000 man-hours during its gestation period, regardless of whether it’s a kick-butt antique or homebuilt. Do the math: There were about nine million man-hours sitting out there. Yikes!

If you figure a working lifetime is about 45 years, at 250 working days a year and eight hours a day, then we each have about 90,000 working hours allotted to our lifetime (I’m not sure whether that’s depressing or uplifting). So, it would take about 100 craftspeople working their entire lives to restore, refurbish or create all those airplanes. Impressive!

Equally impressive is the event itself. For example, the official count of chemical toilets is 1,100, but I’m suspicious of that—even numbers don’t seem natural, especially when counting toilets. The equally official count on the number of sheets of toilet tissue used is 14,874,000. Honest! I didn’t make that up. It does make you wonder who is keeping track of this kind of thing, however. I visited a few of the surprisingly clean fiberglass odor booths and I don’t remember hearing a clicking sound as the roller counted the sheets. If you overstepped your welcome and went too many clicks, would it refuse to give you more? Like I said, weird thoughts enter your mind while trying to recuperate from The Event.

And we certainly had our share of weird this year. Actually, we had super-weird. My nomination for the W.I.A. (Wonderfully Insane Award) would be two gentlemen from Salt Lake City and their, shall we say, modified Helio Courier. You have to picture this: A normal taildragger airplane was converted to a nosewheel, which is no big deal. But this thing stood two stories tall to clear a huge prop, the nosewheel was the double-tired nosegear strut from an F-101, and the main gear wore off-road tires from a monster truck, complete with knobby tread and brightly painted rims. The 300-hp flat motor was replaced with a tiny, round engine—a 750-hp Garrett turbine. Hanging under the engine were two tractor-trailer air horns and a discordant horn off a train. As they departed, they honked their way down the runway, sounding like the four o’clock Union Pacific rounding the bend from Santa Fe.

A problem with returning from the EAA AirVenture is the aforementioned adrenaline letdown. This is a little strange, because while you’re navigating your way through waves of people, airplanes and exhibits, you’re unaware of being excited. You’re just there, trying to survive the heat, the crowds and the toilets as best as you can. The most pronounced feeling is one of fatigue. What you don’t realize while you’re there, however, is that you’ve become an activity junkie. There’s always something happening, someone’s face you haven’t seen since last year, a new airplane, a new gadget. Everything is crowding around you, vying for your attention.

Then it’s over and you wake up back home. Your body is geared to early rising by a week of nonstop razzle-dazzle. But then you focus on familiar surroundings. Oh, it’s only your own bedroom. There isn’t a small city of excitement crowded around an airport just down the road. It’s just home, and it’s just your life. And the adrenaline pumps abruptly shut off, taking your enthusiasm with them for a day or so. In truth, you’ve had such a great vacation from reality that when you return, you really need to take a couple of days off to recover from your days off.

I’ll spend today wading through thousands of e-mails that taunt me about how they can give me more hair, bigger organs, lower mortgages and endless physical pleasure. But I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I can do anything productive. I’ll just e-veg out and deal with life tomorrow. I’ll also start making preparations for next year.

While you’re in the middle of the EAA AirVenture letdown and you begin working on next year, it will soften the adrenaline drain. It’s a “hair of the dog that bit you” sort of thing. Besides, when it comes to the EAA AirVenture, there’s no such thing as starting too early.

Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & A, 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


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