The Malone Col­umn

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Pat has worked as a jour­nal­ist on three con­ti­nents and is a fixed-wing pi­lot and for­mer he­li­copter in­struc­tor with 1,500 hours TT Pat­malone

A long-held de­sire to visit Oshkosh is spec­tac­u­larly fulfilled

There are air­shows and there are air­shows, and then there’s Oshkosh. Like ev­ery other pi­lot on planet Earth I’ve been mean­ing to go for years, but life got in the way. So I de­cided to stop wait­ing−the op­por­tu­nity to fly in was never go­ing to co­in­cide with a clear week in the diary−and just do it. Sched­uled to Chicago, hire a car, and never mind the fan­tasy.

I won­dered whether my ex­pec­ta­tions were im­prac­ti­cally high, but by mid­morn­ing on the first day I was sit­ting in a 1929 Ford Tri­mo­tor as it tax­ied out in the sun­shine along a row of a hun­dred war­birds, any one of which would have at­tracted a crowd. A Cor­sair edged out of the line, massive prop de­scrib­ing a great arc over our heads, spread its wings and fell in be­hind just as an F-22 Rap­tor tax­ied off the run­way to the left. Above us an F-86 and an L-39 were do­ing some sort of aer­o­batic dou­ble-act, over my shoul­der three Bell 47s were giv­ing low-and-slow tours of the field, and across the top a B-17 ploughed by on a sight­see­ing sor­tie. My eyes were stick­ing out of my head. I was, shall we say, not dis­ap­pointed.

Driv­ing in, stuck in traf­fic, I’d tried to fig­ure out where all the cir­cuits were and failed. He­li­copters were com­ing straight at me, and mi­cro­lights over­head from be­hind, both turn­ing in a cou­ple of wing­spans apart. A sec­ond cir­cuit was op­er­at­ing to­wards the south side, and in the dis­tance a stream of air­craft com­ing from the west was be­ing vec­tored onto an­other run­way. Tun­ing in to just one fre­quency at ‘the world’s busiest con­trol tower’ was a joy in it­self. “Air­craft on fi­nal; clear land on the green spot, va­cate right or left onto the grass as soon as it’s safe, high-wing on base; turn fi­nal, you’re for the or­ange spot, Bonanza down­wind; start your de­scent, wheelspats turn­ing base; gimme plenty of bank, there’s one right be­hind you…”

Through the gate and you’re into a won­drous hy­brid of Magic King­dom, Glas­ton­bury and the Hajj. Imag­ine Aero Expo stretch­ing from Booker to White Waltham, and ev­ery al­ley and ev­ery tent filled with stuff you des­per­ately want to see. I felt like a coun­try hick at the cir­cus, ready and will­ing to fall vic­tim to ev­ery

medicine man with a patent cure, buy ev­ery magic box, learn to tig weld, ap­ply Ora­cover, hear about fly­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in China, make money with drones, un­der­stand li-ion bat­ter­ies and see the bearded lady. One of my favourites was the God Mo­bile−take a test to see whether you’re go­ing to heaven, answer guar­an­teed. Why bother ask­ing? All pi­lots go to heaven, it’s a well-known fact.

I’d ar­ranged to meet Les Brodie, who flies a Tiger Moth from White Waltham and used to be Con­corde train­ing cap­tain: he was with two other Con­corde crew, Richard Owen and Trevor Nor­cott. Con­corde made five ap­pear­ances at Oshkosh, and on the first oc­ca­sion John Cook did a touc­hand-go with eighty char­ter pun­ters in the back, set­ting off ev­ery alarm in the car park. Where else could you get away with

I felt like a coun­try hick at the cir­cus, ready to fall vic­tim to ev­ery medicine man

that? He didn’t, in fact−he got an of­fi­cial rep­ri­mand from BA, but those who were there will never for­get it. Les, Richard and Trevor were mak­ing their first trip to Oshkosh−trevor had been due to bring Con­corde as flight en­gi­neer when the Paris crash put a stop to the trip. We went in search of the car­a­van where you paid for a ride in a B-17, through row upon row of war­birds−t-28s, Cor­sairs, a B-29 for heaven’s sake, Mus­tangs−fif­teen of them, plus the ex­traor­di­nary XP-82 Twin Mus­tang, Daks recog­nised from Dux­ford, a for­ma­tion of 24 Tex­ans (Har­vards to us) go­ing over low, the ground vi­brat­ing.

Trag­i­cally, B-17 rides were sold out un­til the Satur­day, by which time we’d be back in Lon­don. But you have to see Oshkosh from the air, so I bought a seat on the Tin Goose, which turned out to be ut­terly mag­i­cal. Later that day I took a tour of the air­field in the Bell 47, with a pi­lot wear­ing a peaked cap just like Chuck in Whirly­birds, and from that Per­spex bub­ble at fifty knots and 400 feet you see the whole vast fair­ground en­camp­ment that is Air­ven­ture spread out to the hori­zon, an oh-so-fa­mil­iar pic­ture of end­less lines of air­craft and tents, seething masses of peo­ple, and the com­ings and go­ings of what some­times looks like a cloud of bats−all for $49.

In the ab­sence of Con­corde I went in search of some­thing Bri­tish and didn’t find much. A Spit­fire, a Mos­quito re­built in New Zealand, and a Shorts 330−alias the C-23 Sherpa, built in Belfast for the US Army and now in ser­vice with the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture. I im­pressed the crew by say­ing I was a friend of the test pi­lot, which was stretch­ing things… I pro­filed Gra­ham An­drews in the Spring is­sue of Pi­lot, so I wasn’t com­pletely mak­ing it up. They told me this was the last of the A models, although they’d just ac­quired six­teen of the B model−based on the 360−and it would fly for decades yet. The Mos­quito lives in Texas: its pi­lot told me sin­gleengine con­trol speed is 190 mph but it flies off at 105, so you’ve got 85mph to find be­fore you know you’re not go­ing to die to­day. Gor­geous look­ing air­craft, though, beau­ti­fully re­stored.

And of course, this be­ing gen­eral avi­a­tion, you’re go­ing to run into some­one you know−in my case Adam Spink, who is that un­com­mon crea­ture, a se­nior air traf­fic con­troller (he works the Tower at Heathrow) who is pas­sion­ate about air­craft. He’d had the good sense to book his B-17 flight on­line months ago, but just five min­utes be­fore we met he’d had to switch his flight from Thurs­day to Satur­day. So that meant there must be a spare seat go­ing for Thurs­day! We dashed back to the B-17 car­a­van, only to see a smug-look­ing woman walk­ing away with Adam’s ticket.

So there’s noth­ing for it−i shall have to go again. Next time, as a vet­eran, I shall do things dif­fer­ently. Try to fly in. Book war­bird flights months ahead. Wear shorts, and a floppy hat, not a base­ball cap. Take blis­ter pads. Camp on-site−they’re bril­liant at han­dling air­craft, not so hot with cars. Take my own food; I’m an un­de­mand­ing om­ni­vore, but you wouldn’t be­lieve just how bad the con­ces­sion stand food is.

But go. Don’t put it off, go. You’ll kick yourself if you die first.

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