Oshkosh Visit, by Dorothy Berthelet

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Have you ever listened to a tape of the Controllers at Oshkosh handling the onslaught of aircraft and pilots?! This tape leaves a lasting impression - a sense of awe that these numbers can actually be handled without damage to property and without anyone losing their sanity. In fact, while highly entertaining, this tape may actually discourage pilots from "running the gauntlet".

This year we decided to challenge ourselves by flying to Oshkosh ‘97. Research including searching the EAA’s Oshkosh website, and printing the extensive instructions, including pictures, about the approach procedures for radio-equipment aircraft. Names such as "Ripon", Rusk Lake, and Fisk became very familiar as they proved to be the key to successfully flying the approach.

We departed after work on Monday, July 28th, combating strong headwinds, but encountering superior visibility enroute than that offered earlier in the day. Just after 8 PM, we made our approach at Chippawa County Airport in the America Sault Ste Marie and glided to a stop on their long runway. Immigration was waiting for us, along with the fuel truck, and in no time we were walking over to the Eagle Inn, just behind the FBO. At just $60 US, we were amazed to discover it was actually an one-bedroom suite, and included continental breakfast for two - clearly not Canada!

After breakfast, we arrived back at the FBO in time to see Bob and Barbara Sterling check in with Immigration, having flown over from a nearby location in their "new" Cessna 182 "GXZ". Bob had the dubious distinction of buying his second US decal this year, having purchased one earlier for his ex-Cessna 172 VEK. After re-fueling and re-filing flight plans, we departed for Oshkosh. Enroute we decided to do a little aerial photography, capturing pictures of each other’s Cessna 182’s. The visibility was incredibly good and with the water/coastlines below, it made for good photo possibilities. Surprisingly, it was only when we got close to Oshkosh that we encountered any other traffic. 

We descended to 1800’, slowed down to 90 knots, and endeavoured to keep suitable spacing behind "GXZ", while watching for other traffic and monitoring ATC. Rush Lake and Ripon appeared, then finally we were approaching Fisk, waiting for our radio call. It finally came for a "Cardinal", but a quick wave of our wings confirmed the identification. Meanwhile an aircraft having mechanical difficulties declared an emergency. When a second aircraft with fuel problems declared an emergency, one runway was closed and 15 aircraft were sent in a loop around Rush Lake, starting with the aircraft in front of "GXZ". Another aircraft appeared out of nowhere, positioning itself in front of "GXZ, second from the front. Other aircraft were told to stay outside the loop, find a landmark, and circle around that point of land. Fortunately the emergencies were quickly dealt with, and the 16 aircraft cleared for the approach to runway 27. Just as we were nearing the end of the downwind, a Cherokee cut in from the lake, entering final behind "GXZ". Although it seemed tight, all three aircraft were able to safely land long on the green spot, and cleared the runway to the right. At that moment, ATC told a twin to go around since its gear was still up! Whew! We had made it!

Trying to communicate with the ground marshallers proved difficult, even with a sign saying "With GXZ". A marshaller, affectionally labelled "The Wicked Witch of the West", gave us a tongue lashing before letting us follow GXZ to the camping area. Another, from Calgary, welcomed us to Oshkosh. Camp was quickly setup including a tarp over the wing, and a tent under it. Time had arrived to set up the handheld radio, the chairs, and watch the aircraft arriving. Talk about entertaining! 

The next two days were spent shopping for aircraft products, visiting forums/seminars, socialising, watching the daily airshow, and drooling over the extensive selection of aircraft. Each morning, the roar of aircraft engines would start before 6 AM, resulting in an early morning start. "La Sure" proved to be a good breakfast place, and each morning we linked up with other pilots there, from Bonanza pilots to Cessna 172’s. 

I spent two hours working the 99’s tent on Thursday morning, permitting me to meet other women pilots from around the world. The highlight of this was renewing my acquaintance with Joanne, from Botswana, along with many American 99’s. We had spent our last evening at Oshkosh ‘96 with Joanne and her friend who told hilarious stories about flying in Africa. Joanne’s friend is now busy constructing a composition aircraft in a factory in Florida, with the intention of flying it home via the Azores! Last year, he flew a Cessna 150 home! Until that moment, we had thought flying to Oshkosh was an adventure!

Another highlight was Linda Finch’s talk about her World Flight, the recreation of Amelia Earhard’s last flight. Linda is very passionate about her project, especially the concept about teaching children that they can dream and make their dreams reality. The World Flight project’s mission included educating children world-wide, centering around the webpage set up to provide a constant update of the flight’s progress. Millions of children, through school networks, and adults logged on to the Webpage, as history came to life. 

Linda described the work involved in acquiring the skeleton of an Electra 10E (costing $ 330,000) and completely rebuilding it. 

Pratt& Whitney sponsored a grand total of $ 4 million to cover the educational aspect and the acquisition and restoration of the Electra. A nose section and new engine parts had to be constructed. A problem with the engine parts lacking serial #’s was incredibly resolved within 2 days, with the same serial #’s being assigned as used with Amelia’s Electra. Talk about having friends in high places! On July 24th, 1996, the Electra took to the air for its first flight, on what would have been Amelia’s 99th birthday, and 50 years after the Amelia’s Electra had been delivered to her.

Linda’s piloting experience includes extensive flying of W.W.II aircraft, including the T-6 and P-47. Looking for experience flying earlier aircraft, the idea of purchasing the Electra first evolved. It proved to be a difficult aircraft to fly, as were most of the earlier aircraft. Peripheral vision could not be used to land as there was only a very small opening to permit forward viewing. The engine noise and vibration were incredible - the portable computer’s hard drive was unable to boot up due to the massive vibrations. A special heavy duty computer had to be located, to permit Linda to airfile her "news".

Linda identified differences from Amelia’s flight - avionics (Linda had "everything"), route (detours around certain trouble spots in the Middle East/Africa), and of course the successful return home. Jeppeson provided 5 navigators, each who flew part of the route. An Albatross followed with film crew and mechanic, permitting 4 full annual inspections enroute. Linda was also very fortunate to fly the entire route in sunshine.

Linda was asked whether she believed the rumour about Amelia’s poor piloting skills. She responded that Amelia was unceasingly offered the opportunity to fly a wide range of aircraft, often with no prior exposure to that type. She almost always accepted, and always did a reasonable job. Based upon the lack of amenities in these aircraft, Linda felt the rumour was false.

Linda will be traveling around North America speaking about her trip. Don’t miss an opportunity to hear this entertaining speaker!

During our last evening, we attended the "Theatre in the Woods"’s David Hartman’s Chuck Yeager interview. As part of the 50th year celebration of Yeager’s breaking the sound barrier, this interview was recorded for airing on TV. A packed house attended, carefully listening to every word. Frequent chuckles resulted from Yeager’s comments e.g. he almost was selected for this program as management felt he didn’t speak english (he was born in West Virginia, you know!). Breaking the sound barrier hadn’t been planned for that day, and he wasn’t immediately aware that he’d accomplished it, just that the measuring instruments seemed to be malfunctioning! 

We woke at 5 AM Friday, to the sound of rain, followed by many departing aircraft. "GXZ" headed off south for a romantic escape. Barbara hadn’t considered Oshkosh romantic - hard to understand with nights under the stars, wine-tasting at the camp, and the chance to step back in time with the flight of aircraft we’ve only read about! Barbara judged Oshkosh to be worth a future visit so all was not lost!

Flying home proved a breeze, with ground speeds on 150-160 knots. Customs was cleared "remotely", through a phone call in London, and we were home in less than 5 elapsed hours!

(Note:  This trip took place in 1997, but remains a subject that is of interest to anyone thinking about flying to Oshkosh.)

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