This year, “Oshkosh” had so many layers, some aeronautical, some metaphysical and some personal that the event is hard to describe. However, let’s get it straight right from the git-go: It may be EAA AirVenture to millennials and such, but to gray-dog fly-in tramps like me, it is and always will be Oshkosh. A lot of us have far too much history with Oshkosh (this was number 47 for me—three of them in Rockford) to let a new-age marketing moniker get in our way. Hrrumph!
When I say Oshkosh had so many layers, I’m talking about how every time you turned around, something new leaped up and snagged your attention or tugged at your heart. There were so many that there’s no possible way I can stuff them all into only a page or two. An entire book would be needed.
Having been there so many times, I found myself seeing the grounds much the same way I see my old hometown. There, as I walked the streets, I saw railroad tracks and buildings that no longer exist and remembered things that happened at this corner or that. One of the strongest memories for me at Oshkosh ’15 was a teeny, forlorn-looking, ragged biplane with the name El Chuparosa barely visible on its faded cowling. Back in the early days at Oshkosh, there was a nonstop fly-by pattern in which any pilot who wanted to could take off and roar around the pattern. Prop-maker Ray Hegy was always the first up, so we dubbed him and El Chuparosa, the “Oshkosh Alarm Clock.” He’d come screaming downhill and run down the runway, the super-high pitched sound of the prop making sure that every camper was wide awake. Now, El Chuparosa is just a tattered, largely ignored yard ornament that’s trotted out each year to decorate the grounds. Thousands walk by it never knowing the place it holds in EAA history.
The low metal buildings dead center in the middle of the complex, which now serve as pavilions of one kind or another, have special meaning only to me and other old-timers. Originally, they were the main exhibit buildings, and I can still see my two kids as youngsters, running around outside of them while my then-wife manned our photo booth, and I roamed the grounds tracking down articles. Those were good days.
The year 2015 was when tons of anniversaries intersected: The 70th of the Pitts Special was indeed special for lots of us, as was the 40th of Rutan’s VariEze—the airplane that turned homebuilding on its ear with its composite construction. However, Oshkosh 2015 also commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. These landmark dates may have anchored the most important theme of the week.
Rimowa makes corrugated aluminum luggage, so replicating the 450 hp corrugated 1919 Junkers F13 is only logical, right?
History is central to Oshkosh, both in the hardware and in the people. In a day where many 20-somethings think WWII happened sometime between the 1860s to the 1970s, it was refreshing to see so much history remembered on the grounds. Every year, not just on anniversaries, the air shows and the displays make it certain that no EAA kid will ever forget Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the veterans or where much of our freedom has its roots. Everywhere on the grounds, old-fashioned, totally unapologetic patriotism is always on display, and I love that. I absolutely hate the way the American flag is sometimes seen as a symbol with negative political overtones rather than standing as something rooted in pride. Oshkosh has always been hardcore red, white and blue, and it felt great to spend a week in that environment! It’s wonderful to look around and see nearly every single person standing at attention, hand on heart or saluting the skydivers carrying the American flag as they open the daily air show. Oshkosh is a little slice of Americana where love of country is expected and encouraged.
There were lots of hysterically funny personal moments, especially when old friends didn’t initially recognize me because I had grown a tightly shorn beard since the last time they saw me. Several times I heard, “Who is that doing Budd’s forum?” (I did six ranging from the fine art of welding to the sometimes-not-so-fine art of landing a Pitts.) I watched several old friends (Roy, I’m talking about you) visually track me from a distance, as I walked up, and I could clearly see the confusion: Is that Budd or not? Afraid to embarrass themselves, they withheld their greetings until I was right in their faces. Funny!
Every Oshkosh is full of friends we haven’t met yet. This year, I was flat-out amazed to find that several people I had known only as names on big magazine mastheads actually knew the convoluted path my “career” has taken. The super narrow aviation niches in which guys like us live our lives can be pretty esoteric and are generally of interest to only a few. So, its nice to find there are people out there in the “real” world who are actually interested in our experiences.
My Picks for Craziest, Neatest And Most Impressive Moments Of Oshkosh ’15
Neatest Moment. You can’t imagine how cool it is to spend 15 minutes in the cockpit of Jerry Yagen’s Mosquito while getting a personally guided tour courtesy of Warden Denholm, the restorer. What a massive project! What a fascinating airplane!
The Craziest. Actually, the airplane-building project that initially looked crazy crossed over into the “neat” category, as you got to know more about it. Rimowa is a German company specializing in corrugated aluminum luggage, and its CEO/President, Dieter Morszeck, plans to pick up where Junkers left off and continue producing the 1920s F13 Junkers. The F13 (an example of which was in their booth) is a corrugated, single-engine, low-wing transport that first flew in 1919 and was one of the first, if not the very first, all-aluminum, cantilever wing airplane. Rimowa’s version uses a 450 hp, P&W 985. He said, “I know it sounds crazy, but it is simply my dream,” which is a logical enough reason to do it. Nothing crazy about that!
Most Impressive. Bob DeFord from Prescott, Ariz., finally made it to Oshkosh with his full-scale Spitfire replica that’s powered by an Allison V-12. Tens of thousands of the Oshkosh faithful milled around it during the week, most thinking it was the real thing. Wood wings, steel tube and aluminum fuselage that are following a 1,400-hp V-12 around isn’t normally the image that the word “homebuilt” brings to mind. It was so real it had to be seen to be believed. It also sounds very real!
The weather was terrific, the airplane attendance the highest seen in years, and the airplane variety was unending, so it was a standout year all the way around. It was one to be remembered. And it will be! Count on it!