Oshkosh WI — In the world of airshows, there are some show sites that are already well established crowd pleasers and some that are rising gems awaiting their place as a “must see” event. Then there are some that transcend every other event and adorn the bucket lists of devoted aviation enthusiasts across the globe. One such event had been on my list since I was a small child. “I will make it here someday” is what I’d tell myself over and over. Now, some 25 years later, here I am in Wisconsin gazing at a sky dotted with aircraft of all shapes, sizes, and types. I had finally arrived at Wittman Regional Airport and EAA’s Airventure Oshkosh.
Now, I’m no stranger to large airshows, but nothing could have prepared me for a show of this magnitude. Rows upon rows of vendor tents and buildings representing the top brands in aircraft and aviation technology greeted me as I entered the gate. Boeing Plaza would be the central hub where most modern military and featured aircraft are displayed. A B-1B Lancer, P-8A Poseidon, KC-135 Stratotanker, and B-52H Stratofortress dominated the area. Among the large heavies towered New Shepherd, a reusable rocket booster from Blue Origin. To its right was the shimmering freshly restored B-29 Superfortress known as Doc. This B-29 along with the Commemorative Air Forces own B-29 FIFI were one of the most anticipated highlights of the show, as it would be the first time in over 50 years that two B-29s would share the sky together. Among the vintage aircraft was the C-47 Dakota That’s All Brother!. This particular aircraft led the allied forces D-day invasion into Normandy on June 6th 1944. This Dakota will be restored to flying condition in the next year.
The layout of the show was well organized. Boeing Plaza was show center for the most part. The flight line was divided into sections for each aircraft genre, ranging from ultralights to warbirds and everything in between. After a few minutes, I had stumbled on the fabled brown arch, the symbolic monument of EAA Airventure. Words cannot describe the feeling of finally seeing with my own eyes that which I had only seen in pictures and video to this point. Feeling my face go into an uncontrollable grin and tears welling up, I could finally say “I’m really here”.
The show grounds were so vast that over the course of my five days in attendance, I don’t even believe I saw half of the aircraft and exhibits there. In addition to the two main runways, the ultralight section included a small grass strip for the light aircraft to use. To say I was a little overwhelmed would be an understatement! This isn’t even counting the seaplane base to the south of the field.
The airshow portion would take place daily and run from 2:30pm to 6:00pm, with night shows taking place Wednesday and Saturday. Each day was filled with a selection of talented airshow performers showcasing their skill and mastery of their respective aircraft. Among the performers were Skip Stewart, Patty Wagstaff, Sean Tucker, Rob Holland, Jim Peitz, Matt Younkin, Kyle Franklin, the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, and John Klatt in the always awe inspiring Jet Waco known as the Screaming Sasquatch. If that wasn’t enough, several surprises appeared in the form of the research aircraft Proteus by Scaled Composites and even a cameo appearance by Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee. This gave truth to the saying “You never know what you’ll see at Oshkosh!”.
While the airshows were dominated by dazzling performers, each day would see a special warbird segment as well. Two days included a tribute to the 75th Anniversary of the Dolittle Raiders attack on Tokyo. During these tributes, thirteen B-25 Mitchell bomber variants took to the skies and swooped in from seemingly every direction in a mock attack on the airfield. The only two airworthy B-29 Superfortresses Doc and FIFI joined up for the first time in a moving formation flypast and as part of a bomber parade and in recognition of the 75th Anniversary of the 8th Air Force. The sight and sound of these two bombers in the sky together is a memory that will never be forgotten. Jet warbird fans were delighted to see three F-86 Sabre examples (including the ultra-rare F-86A) grace the sky with several formation flypasts as part of a jet warbird parade. The Sabre’s would be followed by a MiG-17, TA-4J Skyhawk, Alphajet, and two T-33s.
Modern military was well represented by a trifecta of bomber power from the United States Air Force Global Strike Command. On Saturday and in yet another first for me, a B-2, B-52, and B-1 joined in a formation flypast. Each one would then perform their own three pass profile. I don’t think I could have smiled any wider at this point if I tried. United States Air Force Heritage Flights were provided each by mix of A-10, P-51, and F-35 formations that varied from day to day. This year would mark the first ever Oshkosh performance of the United States Navy Blue Angels! This season, the team has been having some issues with jet readiness, but you’d never know if you saw their show on this weekend. The team was on point with all six pilots in their blue and gold F/A-18 Hornets showing why they’re the best of the best.
Besides the excitement and fun to be had at Airventure 2017, this year would also serve as a year of remembrance and reflection. Among the P-51 Mustangs parked wing to wing, stood a wreath and a sheet with wheel chocks, reserving a spot for long time heritage flight pilot Vlado Lenoch, who along with passenger Bethany Root had gone west in a tragic accident involving his P-51D Mustang Baby Duck a week prior. Vlado had been an Oshkosh regular, and it was humbling to see so many stopping by to pay respects to both Vlado and Bethany.
As quickly as it all began, it was soon time to head back home to reality. On the final morning of my time at Airventure Oshkosh, I stopped once more by the memorial to Vlado and Bethany to pay my last respects, then found myself at the legendary brown arch once more. It had truly been an exciting week, filled with many fond memories. Never had I been to a show like this before, filled with so many passionate aviators and aviation enthusiasts all gathered together to share in their love of flight and history. Oshkosh is so much more than just another airshow. This may have been my first time but I hadn’t even seen half of the attractions laid out across the vast grounds. As I slowly walked away to start the long trek home with memories for a lifetime engraved in my mind, I couldn’t help but look back over my shoulder at that brown arch shining in the morning light. Channeling my childhood self once more, I vowed once more “I will make it back next year”. Until next time, “That’s all, Brother!”.
You must be logged in to post a comment.