Here's Why You Need To Attend America's Best Air Show

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The annual EAA AirVenture air show begins a week from today in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Known as simply "Oshkosh" to aviation buffs, the week-long event is a mecca to anyone who loves aviation. This year, I'll be making my third pilgrimage, and here's why you should go too.

First, AirVenture is so big, that it's impossible to summarize it all on one post. I'm not even going to try. My other visits (in 2010 and 2012) were each only a day long, and I missed so many things. This time around, I'l be spending four days at the show and taking it all in for Flight Club.

Illustration for article titled Heres Why You Need To Attend Americas Best Air Show

Aerobatic pilot Sean Tucker at AirVenture

AirVenture is so much more than the typical weekend air show. It's a true convention. By the way, EAA stands for Experimental Aircraft Association. This is important because about 10,000 pilots fly into AirVenture in their own planes, many of which are home-built. Most of these pilots camp out for the week, right on the airport grounds.

Dozens of seminars are hosted each day, covering everything you could want to learn about as a pilot or plane builder. Here are just a few of the topics:

  • Powered parachutes
  • Form aluminum wing ribs
  • Passing your checkride
  • All about ADS-B
  • Alternative aviation fuels
  • Sheet metal
  • Welding (gas & TIG)
  • Metal shaping
  • Aircraft restoration

Does that seem like a lot of options? Those are just some of the seminars being held — before noon on Day One!

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The EAA's B17, "Yankee Lady"

Hundreds of beautiful vintage warbirds will be there - B-17s, P-51s, C-47s, F4 Corsair, Hawker Sea Fury, Messerschmitts, P-38 Lightning "Glacier Girl" and the only flying B-29, "Fifi." More modern military planes will also be in attendance, but I don't expect that we'll see the F-35 Lightning II. Dozens of private plane builders and outfitters will be there, such as Gulfstream, Textron, Piaggio, and Honeywell.

Illustration for article titled Heres Why You Need To Attend Americas Best Air Show

There's a separate area dedicated for float planes, a short shuttle ride away to the "Seaplane Base" at Lake Winnebago. Watch graceful planes come and go all day, or at least part of a day. It's worth the free side trip.


Here are some other major highlights expected at this year's AirVenture:

  • Next Sunday, I'll be there as a brand new plane will be unveiled for the first time. It's so secretive that I'm not even allowed to tell you anything about it yet.
  • Monday night, there's a Kenny Loggins concert! For those of you who have seen Top Gun, he wrote "Danger Zone."
  • Attendees can help build a plane throughout the week — a Zenith CH-750, called the "One Week Wonder." I'll definitely be participating in this one.
  • You can buy a flight in the EAA's B-17, Aluminum Overcast, a Ford Trimotor, or a Bell 47 helicopter - like the one on MASH.
  • Ford will be there, with their one-of-a kind 2015 F-35 Mustang. They'll also have a F-35 flight simulator and rides in a vintage Model T. There will be a collection of Mustangs, celebrating 50 years of the iconic sports car. A '65 Mustang was my first car, believe it or not.
  • Wednesday and Saturday, there are night air shows, with fireworks or sparklers or something. I've never seen it but I've heard it's awesome, so I'll be there.

Aside from those highlights, I plan to do plenty of walking around, meeting pilots and getting stories about their planes. Hopefully, I'll be able to score a few rides. I'm even borrowing a GoPro for the occasion.

Illustration for article titled Heres Why You Need To Attend Americas Best Air Show

That "World's Busiest Control Tower" banner on the ATC tower is no joke. Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) lands more planes during AirVenture than any other airport in the world. It gets so busy that controllers can have multiple planes land on the same runway at the same time! The runways have colored dots, and pilots are told to land on one of the dots. If you listen to the LiveATC feed during the show, you'll hear ATC say something like, "low-wing experimental, fly down to the gold dot on 3-6 left cleared to land." Because of the air traffic, most communication is one-way from ATC to pilots. Pilots acknowledge by slightly rocking their wings, as a nonverbal signal that they received their landing instructions. I'm hoping to score a tour or visit to the ATC tower while I'm there.

There will be plenty of other surprises throughout the week, so stay tuned in, because I'll be sharing everything I see. I've heard from some other Flight Club / Opposite Lock / Jalopnik readers who plan to be there, and we're working to set up a meet-up or at least a photo album where we all take selfie pics at the same place. If you'll be there and want to meet up, or show me your plane, contact me via email at


Tower photo by Eric O'Brien on Flickr (CC Commercial License). All other pics are by the author, Paul Thompson

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Nice post, Paul. Couldn't agree more about attending. If you're at all interested in any sort of aviation, this is THE thing to do.

One thing that Paul doesn't really go into is the people. Thousands and thousands of folks come to this thing during the week and it is remarkable how nice, open and friendly each and every one seems to be. I went for the first time in the summer between high school and college with a backpack and tent and knowing no one. (Went several other times in a work capacity.) Set up camp and hung out for several days. People welcomed me in to their cookouts, under their wings (literally), and into their airplanes. Also, as you make your way around the grounds, you'll also notice that despite the thousands of people eating meals, grabbing promotional information and other stuff, there isn't a bit of trash on the ground. Everyone just picks something up if it's on the ground, but that doesn't happen much because everyone is very careful about their trash. And, everyone is very careful around the planes, being careful not to get too close to delicate parts or touching without the owner's permission. Simply put, the attendee culture is fantastic and rarely seen at any other event.

The food is pricey, it can be hot and muggy, those midwest storms can pack a punch, and there's limited fixed plumbing, but it's all worth the opportunity to see multiple P-51s go by in formation, see aircraft you won't see anywhere else, watch ultralights and powered parachutes make their sunset flights, get up close to Piper Cubs, current military jets, and catch an amazing daily airshow. It's an incredible event that you just can't find anywhere else. Go. Just go.

(And want to be clear I have no affiliation with EAA or the event.)