Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Some of my earliest memories are of airplanes. I think I've been hard-wired to be in awe of things that fly. And I've never lost that interest. I had my first airplane ride when I was 5 and when I had a little spare money as a young adult, I took flying lessons and earned a private pilots license.
We lived most of our lives in the upper Midwest and during the 70's and 80's and we'd often make the easy trek to Oshkosh for a day or two to join in this crazy celebration of flight. The EAA organization is built around the idea that flying can be for everybody... not just the rich. A lot of members... tenacious, diligent, passionate souls all... have built their own planes from ideas in their heads, or from plans they purchased, or from kits. They've spent thousands of hours carefully putting these flying machines together and a fairly high percentage actually make it into the air. What a day that is when a couple man/years of labor and a not inconsiderable sum of money come together with that first flight. That must be quite a feeling... a real sense of success.
On Sunday we made the drive from Colwell Lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Oshkosh. Reversing the route north to the UP on the previous Monday, we arrived in Oshkosh about 4pm and got in the check-in line for the campground. The check-in process was fairly efficient, especially considering the mass of campers trying to get in at that time. The campground is a series of large, marked off, grass fields. There are no hookups of any kind so before we could find a place to park we had to take on enough freshwater for the week. That took a good half hour before we drove out to the "back 40", the campground "suburbs"... out near US-41, almost a mile from the flight line of the show. It appears most campers arrived on Saturday or earlier on Sunday. Grassy fields are great as long as it doesn't rain much -- lurking just below the sod is dirt, and dirt turns to mud if it get too wet. For that reason I wanted a spot that was relatively close to a real road and one that was relatively high. We found an acceptable site and set up.
Monday was the official day of the show. We walked down about 11a.m. and proceeded to go through some vendor displays. Everything aviation is here as well as a lot that doesn't seem to have much to do with flying. There's a large area called the "Fly Market" -- a play on words as it's really a flea market. We looked over the current crop of expensive flying machines from the major manufacturers like Cessna, Piper, and Beech -- all nice stuff but my interest is more to the lower end of the $$ scale. Ultralight craft are available from a lot of companies and, while still somewhat expensive, make flying a possibility for almost anyone with the passion.
About 2pm we found a spot near the flightline to watch the airshow. The highlight of the day was the arrival of WhiteKnightTwo from the private space venture of Burt Rutan and Richard Branson called Virgin Galactic. WhiteKnightTwo will carry SpaceShipTwo to high altitude -- something above 50,000 feet. The SpaceShip will be released and, with it's own rocket engines, power it's way into space. It won't go into orbit, so after a short flight it returns to earth, landing as any airplane does. Dozens of people have already lined up and paid a deposit to take a ride into space. For the measly sum of $200,000 you, too, can be a space traveler. [link to VirginGalactic web site]
We also watched the arrival of Elvis, the heavy lift helicopter built by Sikorsky and improved by Erickson Air-Crane. On arrival it dumped 2400 gallons of water as it flew down the runway as a demonstration of it's fire-fighting capabilities.
All day there were things flying around. Old things like a WWII 4 engined Lancaster Bomber and the EAA's own Ford Trimotor giving rides. And new things like an F-16 from the Thunderbirds doing a high performance take off and vertical climb that's guaranteed to put a grin on your wide-eyed face.
About 3:30pm or so the show had to stop due to a heavy rainshower that passed through. The performers that hadn't yet had their chance will fly later in the week. We hoofed it back to the bus-house, dried off, had some dinner, and then headed back down to the flightline (yes, another mile walk) for the Doobie Brothers concert.
For some reason, as we lingered near the back of the crowd at the concert, a security guy came up and asked us if we'd like to move to the VIP section front and center. He probably thought people of our advanced age needed to be closer just to see something. Let's see... is this a test?... hmmm. Dar grabbed the VIP wrist band so quickly she almost burnt the poor guys fingers, and before long we were down front enjoying some great old music from the 70's and 80's. The Doobie Brothers may be growing old, like the rest of us, but they still put on a heck of a show.