Oshkosh. You gotta’ be there!

Well where does the time go? I had intended to document every day of my visit to Oshkosh but that just never happened. We were either too busy or just plain too whooped to do anything when we got back. So now I’ll just give you a run down of this my 3rd and best trip to OSH yet.

Two things made my trip to Oshkosh this time around much more fun; one, I went with my buddies from our local EAA Chapter 90, and two, Skype. More on Skype later.

The trip to Oshkosh was a long one. We first drove from Modesto to San Jose. This was made more bearable by my not having to drive and sharing a car with 3 other guys who love airplanes and talking about aviation. The traveling buddies were Brian Braun, Keith Braun, Kevin Haslebacher, and myself. (Many thanks go to Brian Braun for driving us to and from all airports on our journey.) The first leg of our trip took us from San Jose to Salt Lake City where we had about a 4 hour layover. Again this was made bearable by having your buddies around. After the layover the second leg of the flight took us to Milwaukee. The first thing we did was to pick up the rental car. The friendly and courteous agent informed us that we were late, and after not being helpful assigned our mini-van. After a brief 45 minute search and going back to ask the friendly agent where the van was, the van was finally located and we were on the road to Oshkosh. But what the hey, you’re with your airplane buddies.

We finally arrived at the rental house at around 2am. Ah, home at last. Kevin BenZiger who arranged the rental house warned us ahead of time that the house may not be that clean. Well, he was right. When I got into my bedroom I pulled back the comforter to find… cat fur. So I pulled back the top sheet to find… cat fur. Okay, kitty fur is soft and fun to pet but I don’t want to sleep in it. Luckily I found a blanket and was able to sleep on top of the comforter where at least I couldn’t see the fur. But what they hey, you’re with your airplane buddies. All of Chapter 90’s Oshkosh contingent were finally together; Ken Scott, Kevin BenZiger, Kevin Haslebacher, Keith Braun, Brian Braun, and Scott VanArtsdalen.
When we finally got to the show on Tuesday morning, all was forgotten and all we could think about is the magic that lay before us. All airplane, all day. We spent part of the first day just walking the flight line looking at all the Van’s RV aircraft that were parked there. The number of RVs in attendance every year grows. There was even a 35 ship formation of Van’s RVs doing flyovers. 35 RVs flying together sound pretty spectacular. We checked out paint jobs, got some great building ideas, and just generally enjoyed seeing the variety of aircraft there. One of the star RVs in attendance was Trey Johnson’s amphibious RV-7. The workmanship was excellent and was somewhat reminiscent of the Schneider Cup racers of yesteryear.

Next we visited some of the kit aircraft and engine manufacturers. I can’t begin to remember all the booths we stopped at but among them were Eggenfelner, Van’s, Zenith, and Sonex. We also looked at several automotive and diesel conversions.

Then it was off to the exhibit halls. I’m not even going to try to name every vendor and manufacturer we saw. Just think of one and they had a booth there. One of the highlights of the show for me was the Vertical Power booth. Vertical Power is doing for electrical systems what the EFIS did for flight instruments. Their flagship product is something they have nicknamed the digital copilot. It’s basically an electrical system in a box that is wired to a computer. There are only three switches to the whole system. You punch in a security code and the computer starts your engine for you. Flaps are deployed, boost pump is turned on, lights come on all automatically at just the right times. A lot of people ask why you would want to do that but a lot of people ask why anyone would want to use an EFIS and those are becoming very popular. In fact anyone and everyone is coming out with an EFIS. Up and coming are the Czechs who had two separate companies displaying their avionics.

Another highlight of the exhibit halls for me was to meet an old internet friend who use to work for Control Vision on their Anywhere Map product and has since started working for Dynon. He told me some of the things you can expect to see from Dynon in the near future; a moving map and an auto pilot for starters.

Even though we were all pretty tired by the end of the first day I had arranged to meet some friends of mine ( http://www.rivetbangers.com ) for dinner. The rest of the Chapter 90 contingent (dubbed the 209 Posse) agreed to come along. As testament to what a wonderful hobby we engage in even though our Chapter 90 gang didn’t know anyone there, within minutes all were talking to complete strangers about homebuilt aircraft. The restaurant was called The Black Otter Dining Club and their specialty is prime rib. I ordered the little girly cut called the Queen Cut. It was a mere 32 oz of DELICIOUS prime rib. They also have what they call the King Cut which is 160 oz, yes that’s 10 pounds of prime rib. Two people have finished one and gotten their dinners for free. The staff would not tell me where those two people are buried. We then returned to our rental house tired, fed, and happy. And that was just the first day.

To write all the things we did each day would take a couple hours to read so I’ll just hit some of the highlights. Cessna previewed their new light sport aircraft called the 162 Sky Catcher. I’ve heard it called everything from Sky Chicken to Sky Scratcher. Call it what you want it was a slick little bird with an all glass panel designed exclusively for Cessna by Garmin and even had two cup holders. Long overdue Cessna. They were taking $5000 deposits and had a board showing the running total; close to 600 by the time we left Osh on Friday. This was making the other LSA manufacturers feel very good. When Cessna steps in you know there is money to be made. There were also a couple of very light jets which held the attention of several members of Chapter 90. Sonex announced their battery powered prototype airplane.

Also worth noting was the barbecue we attended on Wednesday evening. It is put on by Bob Collins who puts out a weekly RV newsletter and host a Yahoo group dedicated to RV-7 builders and entusiasts. It was a veritable who’s who in the world of Van’s RV. The only notable absence was Van’s Aircraft but I have a feeling that will change next year. Bob put on a GREAT spread for only $10 a head. Even the short downpour didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. Bob had some great door prizes to give away including t-shirts, hats, and some even better stuff including a free e-mag or p-mag, $5000 off on a Superior engine, and even a free empenage kit from Van’s Aircraft. Chapter 90 even had a winner when Kevin won an Angle of Attack display from Advanced Flight Systems worth $800. Again, we didn’t know most of the people there but you could start up a conversation with anyone simply by saying, “So, whatcha’ building?” Bob Collins has a winner in this BBQ and I can’t wait to attend it again.

That was two of the things that really made this Oshkosh one of the best I’ve ever attended. Having my friends with me, meeting friends I have made on the Internet and never met in person, was a fun experience. Skype also made the convention more fun for me. Skype is a software program that you can run on any PC and use like a telephone. If you have a video camera built into your PC then you can have video calls. This is exactly what I did each evening. It was easier being far away from my family if I could see them in full video on my computer every evening. Nothing like watching your kids make silly faces for 20 minutes or so. The best part about Skype is that it is completely free.

There were a few downsides to Oshkosh this year. One was that Kevin BenZiger was sick the whole time. Many thanks go to Kevin B for arranging our housing this year. Cats and all, thanks for setting that up for us Kevin and a BIG thank you from me personally. Also the landing accident between two P-51’s on Friday afternoon which left one man dead. You hate to hear about anyone getting hurt in aviation and when they take a historically significant aircraft with them it’s a double loss.

Happily for us we all made it back safe and sound to Oakdale each with his fill of Oshkosh for the year. I was pretty much done with Oshkosh and not eager to go back. I have a feeling though that next July I’ll be wishing I could go again. If you’ve never been to AirVenture please try to attend it just once. It does get tiring after several days but while you’re there it is just magical. Oshkosh: You gotta’ be there!

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