11 hours to Oshkosh: Flying to AirVenture
was a dream come true!
by Paul A. RosalesThis story was first published in EAA Chapter 1000's 'Leading Edge' newsletter and then in the April 2001 issue of EAA's SPORT magazine. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is an annual event that’s been going on a long time! Neither my wife, Victoria, nor I have ever attended it, but participating in this world-famous aviation event is what we looked forward to the five years and more than 3,000 hours we spent in the garage building our RV-6A.
Attending AirVenture 2000 was our goal, and friend and professional test pilot Norm Howell flew our RV-6A’s first flight on Father’s Day, June 18th, 2000. I flew the airplane for the first time on Independence Day. Taking a vacation from work, I flew everyday thereafter and completed the 40-hour flight test period in eight days, and then Victoria enjoyed her first RV flight! With 48 hours on the RV and 2 weeks to go until the start of AirVenture, we were 'legal' to make the flight but I wasn't so sure I was mentally prepared to make the trip. I’d logged most of my 380 hours of flying time in the skies around Lancaster, California, and we considered a 180-nautical-mile trip to Las Vegas, NV a big trip! With the exception of flying to the Copperstate Regional Fly-in near Phoenix a couple of years ago, I’d never flown much farther east than the Colorado River. Oshkosh was roughly 1,500 nautical miles away. Gary Sobek, a friend and fellow RV-6 flier, offered to lead the way to Oshkosh and educate me on the finer points of dealing with the weather.
Weather...all I've had to do to check the weather here in the Mojave Desert was look out the window. Living in the desert, with its roughly 360 VFR flying days a year can spoil a pilot! After accepting Gary’s offer, Victoria and I started planning and getting everything together for the big trip. 'Everything' ended up weighing about 112 pounds. We could have gotten away with less, but we’d heard that camping was the best way to get the full ‘Oshkosh experience.’ After dreaming about our trip for so many years, we wanted the full experience. So we loaded the tent, sleeping bags, lantern, and all our clothes. Even with the baggage compartment filled level to the top of the seat backs and the fuel tanks filled to the brim, the RV’s center of gravity was still well within its envelope. With the GPS programmed for Apple Valley, California, we took off at 7 a.m. on Monday, July 24th, just after 'Earth Rounder' Dick Rutan, who was hangared across from us at Mojave Airport. In 20 minutes, we were at Apple Valley where we met up with Gary and his passenger, my brother, Michael. After filling the tanks, we headed for Winslow, AZ, which was 2 hours distant. On the way, we flew over the 'USS Sedona', so nicknamed because it’s situated on a plateau that resembles an aircraft carrier, and Meteor Crater. After snacking, reviewing maps and filling up, we took off for Las Vegas, New Mexico flying over the Painted Desert, Gallup, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This ‘southern’ took us around, not over, the Rockies. (Gary had oxygen; I didn't, so around the Rockies we went!) At Las Vegas we turned left and headed northeast for La Junta, Colorado, arriving about three hours after leaving Winslow. There, we fueled, rested for an hour and reviewed weather maps on the FBO weather computer. Weather thus far had been clear with a high (15,000 foot) overcast toward Colorado.
With weather ahead still looking good, we flew two more hours to Hastings, Nebraska. After landing among some tall cornfields, we parked the planes inside a very old-looking hangar for $10 a night. Gary recommended parking inside whenever possible. You never know when a nasty storm might pop up. Sitting in the motel that first night, I was just amazed that after about seven flight hours out of California, we were in Nebraska! I couldn’t stop smiling, and the RV-grin was alive and well! Flying between 7,500 and 9,500 feet MSL, we averaged 160 KTAS, and everywhere we landed was a new record for the farthest I’d ever flown! After even flight hours, we were definitely happy that we used the temperature-sensitive foam in our seats because not once did we have to twist or turn to try and get comfortable. Great seating, along with my active noise-canceling headset, made my trip very comfortable trip. Thinking that the PIC should have the better headset, Victoria wore a 10-year-old head-squeezing headset (Thanks Dear! I’d heard they have lots of headset vendors at OSH!) After a great steak dinner and a good night's sleep, we aimed the GPS to Boscobel, Wisconsin, birthplace of the Gideon Bible (those bibles found in motel rooms) and the ‘Wild Turkey Hunting’ capital of Wisconsin. From Nebraska, the flight took us three hours, and that put us within an hour of Oshkosh.
After topping the tanks, we sat down and seriously studied the Oshkosh NOTAM and briefed our arrival procedures into OSH. Once 'mentally' ready (I was excited and nervous at the same time), we programmed our GPS for the famous RIPON intersection and took off. We arrived to RIPON before noon, ready for the crowd of planes. I recall counting/seeing 4 airplanes 'entering' the flow pattern then moving on to FISK intersection. Going 90 KTAS at 1800' MSL, we entered the arrival pattern, and I hoped that nobody else was entering over RIPON at the same time as me! Once in line, I found myself behind a yellow Cub that was NOT doing the requisite 90 knots.... no, the Cub pilot was happy at 70 knots (probably because it was as fast as he could go). Thanking my instructor, Howard Long, for the slow flight training he’d given me, I applied full flaps, and thought, "I'm in line at OSH, and I'm not getting out!" Unbeknownst to me, Gary had turned out of the line and went back around to get in line (he was too close to me thanks to the slow Cub). Victoria and I muddled along at 70 knots listening to controllers at FISK spurting rapid-fire instructions. The train tracks were easy to follow, and I actually did see the strobe lights at FISK (I did NOT follow the strobes but stayed over the tracks as the NOTAM directed). All planes ahead of me received instructions to continue ahead, and then it was my turn to 'wag my wings'. I’m guessing the controller could see that I was having a heck of a time 'floating' at 70 knots, and he instructed me to turn right heading 090. This came as a surprise to me because everyone else was going straight, but I turned as the controller said. One thing that I did not do was tune to the proper radio frequency, but, thankfully, Victoria was on top of that! I pushed the throttle, returned to 90 knots and noticed the radio was silent. I was getting a little worried because I wasn't sure what to do now, and I was heading for the lake. Hey, everyone else was going the other way! About that time when I was thinking something was wrong, a Mooney came racing overhead in the higher pattern, which was 2300 feet MSL at 135 knots. The radio came alive as the controller started talking a mile-a-minute telling him to wag his wings, among other things. I saw the Mooney come around for a left teardrop entry to Runway 18, as did a Lancair IV following it. Now I was starting to see what's going on here. I could do this! Our turn came, and the next thing we knew, we were on the ground at OSH, with a compliment from the controllers on our 'fancy' paint scheme! We taxied the entire length of the taxiway from the south end to the north end right past the crowds at OSH that assemble daily to watch the arrivals. Here we were, about 11 flight hours from California, taxing the plane we built at the Mecca of aviation and EAA, Oshkosh, waving at the crowds!
I can't put into words the feelings of pride and accomplishment we were enjoying having arrived at OSH! Every homebuilder needs to take his or her plane to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh at least once! You have to experience it! After checking in and filling out our very first prop card, we received a nice welcome package given to all fly-in attendees, and a yellow ribbon: A Perseverance Award for attending our first AirVenture after our plane’s first flight. We were there 21 days after our first flight, and we met one guy who flew in 14 days after his first flight!
Flagmen directed us to the RV parking area, which was near the Warbirds. It turned out that Gary and I were the last two RVs allowed in the RV parking space before they put out the 'full' sign. We heard estimates that 140 to 160 RVs attended AirVenture for the week. We camped near The Theater in the Woods, and after having shore-camped on the Colorado River for the last 20 years with absolutely no amenities, camping at OSH felt like staying at a motel. Camping with electricity, running water, showers, and restroom facilities? I was more than we were used to! We awoke each day to the sounds of the infamous ‘Oshkosh Yodeler’. (If you’ve ever camped at Oshkosh or arrived there really early, you know whom I’m talking about.) Imagine yourself sound asleep when you hear this on the loudspeaker at 0700 sharp: GOOD MORNING EVERYONE! RISE AND SHINE!! IT’S A BEEEEAUTIFUL DAY!!! After an extended aria of yodeling that’ll make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, the yodeler finishes with LET’S GO GET ‘EM! When you camp on the airport, you don’t need to pack an alarm clock. We spent the next five days enjoying AirVenture’s sights and sounds of (a story in itself). I’d heard that it was big. I didn't believe it, but it’s true: you can't see it all, even if you stay all week, and I tried my best.
Victoria and I had a great time sitting with our plane talking with fellow builders and fliers. I kidded Victoria that we were actually saving money by staying with the plane because we weren’t spending it at the exhibit buildings. (I did visit the exhibit buildings to buy Victoria her own noise-canceling headset for the trip home.) We made so many new friends (you know who you are). I now see how those lifelong friendships that I’ve read about begin! Rick Gray: We’ll see you soon at the ‘Buffalo Farm’ in Ohio! We also enjoyed visiting with some Edwards AFB (Muroc, CA) EAA Chapter 1000 members of the PROJECT POLICE including Russ 'Erbman' Erb, his father Lee and Gary Aldrich who'd flown in from California after picking up Lee in Texas. We also saw friends Gary & Connie Trippensee, Mark Collard, and Ron Wilcox from our home EAA Chapter 49 of Lancaster, California. At AirVenture 2000, we’d heard that weather (temperature-wise) was the best it'd been for as many years as anyone could remember. But instrument conditions kept many from the East Coast from making a VFR arrival. By Saturday night, after returning from the Van's Aircraft Banquet, we had pretty much decided that we would start heading for home on Sunday morning. Sunday morning’s weather was, at best, marginal VFR, but the onsite Flight Service Station briefer said it improved greatly about 60 miles from Oshkosh (a 20-minute RV flight). After taking a picture of the dead grass outline of our RV, we said our goodbye to our neighbors Bill Bishop and Al Paulsen and got in the mile-long line of aircraft taxiing to Runway 36 for departure. The crowds watching departures were as big as the day we arrived!
Gary was in front of us, and at one point on the taxiway he stopped, so we stopped. And then he took our picture, and he’d posed us for a perfect photo, putting the Oshkosh AirVenture 2000 sign, an American flag, and world's busiest control tower in the background.
This picture captures the true feelings of attending EAA AirVenture as can be seen in our smiles. Friend and Chapter 1000 member Ed Dutreaux was also on the flight line, and he shot two memorable photos of our taxi for departure. Many thanks to Gary and Ed for taking these wonderful photos! Departure was much less hectic than our arrival. At 500 feet MSL, we made a right turnout over the lake and flew straight for 5 miles. After that, we were on our own. We made a teardrop turn back around, south toward Fond Du Lac, and then headed west between broken cloud layers, at 2500 feet MSL. Gary asked if I wanted to go higher but I said, "I'd like to stay right here where I can see the ground!" After 30 minutes or so, the weather started opening up to some impressive, scattered, cumulus clouds, and we had a beautiful three-hour flight to Mitchell, South Dakota. We filled the tanks then lounged a bit in the nicest FBO I've ever seen. Then we took off on a three-hour flight to Newcastle, Wyoming, where we watched for deer on the runway. At home in the desert, we always look for coyotes, rabbits and turtles on the runway! The flight continued west mostly along Interstate 90, and the route took us flying by Mount Rushmore, near Rapid City, South Dakota. After a few orbits for pictures, we landed 15 minutes later at Newcastle, where we topped the tanks and decided to stay the night. This gave us the opportunity to drive the airport car to Mount Rushmore to see it up close the next morning. It took us more than an hour to drive the distance the RV covered in 15 minutes, but if you ever get the chance to see Mount Rushmore, by all means, DO!!!! It is quite impressive and really makes you feel proud to be an American!
We headed back to the airport and departed for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This three-hour leg turned out to be the worst weather leg of the trip: The sky was mostly obscured by smoke from all the fires they'd been having in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. With not much of a horizon in sight, this made for some interesting flying. Visual reference was mostly looking to the ground below and the panel’s artificial horizon. After landing at Jackson Hole, we had the honor of parking next to a (I believe) Gulfstream G-IV and paid $3 a gallon for 100LL avgas (ouch). The G-IV pilot introduced himself and said that he was building an RV-4. He also mentioned that his uncle lived in Fillmore, California so I asked that he call me if he was ever visiting the area. I gave him my address card, and he gave me his: Robert L. Clark, Chief Pilot, Dillard's Department Stores. You sure do meet some nice people along the way! Fully loaded with fuel and baggage and with a density altitude of 9200 feet, departing from Jackson Hole was interesting. Takeoff seemed to take longer, and the ground passing under our wheels moved faster than usual, but once we broke we climbed out at 700 feet per minute (180-hp RV performance at its best!). We pointed our planes toward Pocatello, Idaho for a two-hour flight enroute to Boise, Idaho to visit some RV friends, Rob Acker and Ed Bundy. After parking the planes in Rob's hangar, we had a great barbecue dinner and spent the night at Rob & Fay’s beautiful Sunrise Skypark home. From left to right: Gary, Victoria, Ed, Fay & Rob.
On Tuesday morning, my last full day of vacation, we topped the tanks at nearby Caldwell Airport and took off for Columbia, California, arriving about three hours later. The weather was nice all the way and crossing the Nevada desert leading to Lake Tahoe made us feel right at home. I’d heard a lot about Columbia from Chapter 49er Doug Triplat, so it seemed like a fun place to stop, to visit the gold rush town and camp overnight next to our plane (and it was fun!). We left early Wednesday morning for a one-hour flight to the Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant, where we had a great breakfast, and then we flew another hour to Mojave near Edwards AFB. Our total trip took somewhere around 27 hours flying time and covered 3400 nautical miles (average speed, 126 knots true airspeed). After unpacking the plane and putting it away, we drove home to Lancaster and arrived well before noon. Victoria asked me to check the award winners because she was curious to see if the planes she saw (and liked) had won any awards. With time to spare before I had to return to the real world and work later that afternoon, I visited the AirVenture website. While scrolling down the award list, I saw the Lindy winners first, then the category for Outstanding Workmanship Award-Kitbuilt, and...there was my name! I couldn't believe it! ‘HEY, WE WON AN AWARD’, I yelled! Victoria and I just stared at the computer! WOW! Not once, in all the time we were building the RV did we think we were building an ‘award-winning’ plane. We were first-time builders with no previous building experience, not even RC model airplanes. I was an airport kid, and my Dad taught me how to ‘wrench’ on cars. There were SO MANY beautiful planes at AirVenture that to be honored with such an award is beyond words for this homebuilder... Looking back on 5 years of (slow) building: IT WAS ALL WORTH IT! If you’re building, as Ed Bundy always told me, 'Keep poundin’ them rivets!'
Our trip to AirVenture Oshkosh 2000, flying there in the plane we built, was a dream-come-true with memories that will last a lifetime! We look forward to many years of memorable flights and meeting new friends along the way! Paul & Victoria PS: Perseverance, more important than skill, is required to finish your plane!
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