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Oshkosh 1998: Day 4
Wednesday, July 29

First Official Day

Giving up on oatmeal, my father and I decided to find some pre-made breakfast food. A search of the local area turned up only one restaurant serving breakfast: Hardees. Now I lived for over five years in the United States, most of the time in the Washington DC area, and there are lots of Hardees in that area. However, I have never before actually gone there to eat. I was better off before - my breakfast consisted of some greasy potato bits, a salty, greasy "sausage" patty, and some scrambled eggs. Disgusting. I won't make that mistake again. A quick visit to the bathroom at Hardees found it jammed with people washing, shaving, and more. Hardees obviously turns a blind eye to this during the convention.

We had decided to spend the morning touring through the EAA museum. Our admission allowed us to take a bus and get into the museum for no extra charge. The museum was very interesting, and while understandably skewed towards the homebuilt/experimenter type of aircraft, there were some excellent displays. They had replicas of the Wright Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis and Voyager, the originals of which I have seen many times in the great hall at the National Aviation Museum in Washington. They also had a large scale model of the Enterprise carrier, and had an older gentleman next to it who had served on the ship, who could answer questions and tell stories about it. One of the best exhibits was a hall of aviation related art. The realism and emotions conveyed in these pictures is beyond description.

We returned to the EAA grounds for lunch, and found a tent serving food. I was somewhat shocked to find myself shelling out $9.00 for a small hamburger, a small piece of pizza, and a Coke. Remember rule number one about Oshkosh: bring LOTS of money - everything is priced about two or three times what it should be.

Aero One BadgeAfter lunch, we got ready for the daily airshow. While we were walking out to the airshow line, we were accosted by some pretty girls from Texas, giving out badges and promoting their company, "Aero One", an aircraft insurance brokerage. Throughout the entire week, this is without question the best marketing idea I saw. Each badge had "Aero One", their logo, and a different number printed on it. You took your badge and pinned it on your shirt. While walking around the convention, if you found anyone else with the same badge number, you took both badges to their booth, and they would give both of you free GPS units. Of course, this caused some predictable results. At first, you would see people with two or three badges. Later on in the week, you would see people with ten or twelve badges, all over their shirts and their hats. Eventually, people had too many badges to wear, so they started carrying around pieces of paper with lists of all their badge numbers. By the end of Oshkosh, this had caused almost an underground economy in badges, with people posting huge lists of badge numbers in conspicuous areas, along with a message like "If you have any of these numbers, come to general aviation camping, row 23, the blue Cessna 172." I don't know if Aero One actually sold any insurance, but by the end of the convention, there were very few people left who didn't know who they were, and who didn't already have a badge.

While it was extremely hot, it soon clouded over, giving us a respite from the searing sun. The announcers were, for the most part, annoying. It seemed that 10% of their commentary was relevant information, and 90% of it was simple chatter and stories to fill up the spaces - they would not permit the speakers to fall silent for even a few seconds, it seemed. They really should set up an announcer-free zone for the airshows. That said, the airshow itself was quite good. Some of the performers were:

  • Patty WagstaffSean D. Tucker in his 1-800-Collect Pitts. Sean is an amazing showman, and his 16 year old son did the announcing for him. One of the best acts I saw while at Oshkosh. The things Sean does in his airplane seem to be beyond the laws of physics.
  • Patty Wagstaff. Patty has held the world championship in aerobatics numerious times, and is one of my favorite performers. She does one maneuver in which she rolls her Extra 300 continuously while flying in a circle at a constant altitude. Amazing.
  • Bobby Younkin in his Twin Beech. I never thought of a Twin Beech as an aerobatic aircraft, but Bobby has changed my mind. Some of the things he did with that airplane are just amazing.
  • The Northern LightsThe Northern Lights. There are normally five Northern Lights, all flying Extras, however at Oshkosh this year only four were in attendance. These pilots are former Canadian Snowbird pilots, and it shows - many of the moves and maneuvers they perform are trademark Snowbird moves. The extreme precision with which they perform them however, is something to see. Extremely regimented and strict, these pilots are real pros. In addition to performing daily, they would take off early every morning in order to go out and practice their maneuvers, something which I saw no other airshow performers do. This level of practice and dedication shows in their flying.

During the airshow, a huge number of T-6 "Texan" aircraft took off. Later on, they came overhead in a massed formation, spelling out "T6 60" in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the aircraft. The announcers made it sound like a perfectly coordinated, well-executed routine...however, we had our portable aircraft radio and were listening to the barely controlled chaos between the tower and the aircraft, so we knew differently. It was a complete disaster: they had airplanes going every which way, some came in early, some came in late, some were in the wrong place, some were on the wrong frequency, and didn't know where to go at all. Something caused the formation to break up, and instead of one large formation going the same way, there were multiple small formations, all on different frequencies, all going in different directions. To the audience on the ground, it looked like a well-coordinated ballet of airplanes going everywhere, but we knew what was really happening. I remember hearing a tower transmission something like this:

"Group of airplanes, T-6's or T-34's or whatever you are, going south, just east of the field, if you hear this, go to (radio frequency) 122.8 and remain clear of (runway) 18...does anyone hear me? What are those planes over there? Aircraft south of field, whatever you are, if you can hear me, climb to avoid the T-6s approaching from the north..."

This went on for about five minutes. Hilarious for those of us in the know.

After the airshow, we had dinner, and watched a group of P-51's taking off on the runway right next to us. A perfect way to end the day.

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