It’s Oshkosh, b’gosh!

There’s more to Wis­con­sin city than an­nual mega air show

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - TRAVEL - By Nancy Benac

OSHKOSH, Wis. — You don’t have to be nuts about planes to make it worth your time to swing by Wis­con­sin this sum­mer and check out the an­nual mega air show that is much more than an air show. EAA Air­Ven­ture Oshkosh, the world’s largest avi­a­tion fly-in and an­nual con­ven­tion, runs from July 20-26.

Ev­ery sum­mer, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple con­verge on Oshkosh, pop­u­la­tion 66,000, for a week­long cel­e­bra­tion of all things avi­a­tion that at­tracts ev­ery­one from hard-core flight en­thu­si­asts to peo­ple just cu­ri­ous about things with wings. Count my fam­ily in the lat­ter cat­e­gory.

Sur­rounded by more than 2,600 show planes of all types — ul­tra­lights, home­builts, vintage planes, war­birds, aer­o­batic craft, hot air bal­loons, etc. — and with daily air shows, con­certs, movies, fo­rums and more, my hus­band, chil­dren and I quickly caught the fer­vour dur­ing a two-day visit.

We helped build a plane. OK, we each pulled one rivet as part of the “One Week Won­der” pro­ject. But by the end of the week, there was a small plane fly­ing around with our riv­ets in the left wing, which we’d au­to­graphed with a black Sharpie.

An Air­Ven­ture vol­un­teer took photos of each riv­eter, and quickly emailed the pic­tures to par­tic­i­pants — free of charge. Hear that, Dis­ney?

This year, vol­un­teers will be able to help build air­craft wings that will be shipped to Ex­per­i­men­tal Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion chap­ters around the coun­try, where planes will be as­sem­bled.

On a visit to “War­bird Al­ley,” we clam­bered through one of the last B-17s built for the Sec­ond World War. Nearby, a liv­ing history en­camp­ment fea­tured vintage tents, equip­ment and ve­hi­cles.

Ea­ger to get up in the air, my kids took a spin over the con­ven­tion grounds in a vintage Bell 47G he­li­copter ($49 each).

In the KidVen­ture hangar, kids can try flight sim­u­la­tors, and vol­un­teers lead young peo­ple through hands-on lessons in as­sem­bling en­gines, build­ing wings and more. Even my teenager got into it.

A shut­tle bus takes peo­ple the 6 miles to the Ex­per­i­men­tal Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion’s Sea­plane Base on Lake Win­nebago, where nearly 100 sea­planes gath­ered last year.

For hours ev­ery af­ter­noon, there is an air show that by it­self would be worth a visit. There are also two night­time air shows dur­ing the week, with fire­works. In 2014, the Air Force Thun­der­birds were the big­gest at­trac­tion. This year, the big draws will in­clude the F-22 Rap­tor and the F-35 Light­ning II, the first time the lat­ter fighter jet has been at a civil­ian air­show.

Also on the sched­ule: nightly out­door con­certs and avi­a­tion-themed movies. This year’s en­ter­tain­ment in­cludes con­certs by Dierks Bent­ley (an avid pi­lot) on open­ing night, and by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band as the fi­nale to the July 24 salute to vet­er­ans. Both con­certs are free with ad­mis­sion to the air­show.

What to do dur­ing af­ter­noon popup thun­der­storms? No prob­lem. We took refuge un­der the tail of an im­pos­ing C-17 cargo plane parked in the mid­dle of ev­ery­thing. This year, there will be a B-52 bomber on dis­play all week. Or you can check out the hangars filled with ex­hibitors cater­ing to an avi­a­tor’s ev­ery need. There’s also an EAA Mu­seum.

For true avi­a­tors, there are all sorts of guest speak­ers and fo­rums on top­ics like “rig­ging your own Cessna,” ”alu­minum gas weld­ing 101,“and ”dual en­gine loss in moun­tains.“That last one was a re­minder that fly­ing is se­ri­ous busi­ness.

So was the news that a small plane fly­ing in to last year’s con­ven­tion had crash-landed, killing the pi­lot.

How does lit­tle Oshkosh — per­haps best known as head­quar­ters for the OshKosh B’Gosh cloth­ing com­pany — ac­com­mo­date the half-mil­lion-or-so visi­tors who make the an­nual pil­grim­age to Air­Ven­ture? Thou­sands fly in and set up house­keep­ing in tents parked next to their planes. Wittman Re­gional Air­port, ad­ja­cent to the EAA grounds, be­comes the world’s busiest air­port for the week, with an es­ti­mated 20,000 take­offs and land­ings.

The fly-in campers turn the con­ven­tion scene into a kind of in­stant vil­lage. This is a gath­er­ing with morn­ing aer­o­bics, church ser­vices, a va­ri­ety of out­door restau­rants, even a daily news­pa­per.

One of our favourite mem­o­ries: Wel­com­ing a planeload of vet­er­ans who had taken a one-day “hon­our flight” to Washington D.C. When the vet­er­ans re­turned at sunset, the crowd that had gath­ered for the evening con­cert parted ways and cheered heartily as the vet­er­ans walked to seats up front.

EX­PER­I­MEN­TAL AIR­CRAFT AS­SO­CI­A­TION

The U.S. Air Force Thun­der­birds fly over an arch at EAA Air­Ven­ture Oshkosh in Oshkosh, Wis. The Air­Ven­ture air­show put on by the Ex­per­i­men­tal Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion calls it­self the world’s largest avi­a­tion fly-in and an­nual con­ven­tion. This year it takes

place July 20-26.

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