My 2017 Pilgrimage
To some it is called AirVenture, others refer to it as EAA, for a few it is just plain Oshkosh. No matter what you refer to it as, to the Aviation Enthusiast it can be summed up in one word, “home”. Oshkosh Wisconsin is located in the Fox Valley and is 89 miles Northwest of Milwaukee or 56 miles Southwest of Green Bay. Oshkosh is a college town with the University of Wisconsin maintaining a huge campus here. In 2016 a little under 67,000 people were permanent residents. Oshkosh’s airport, Wittman Field or Wittman Regional Airport is typical for a city of this size, but looks are deceiving. Wittman has 4 runways, the longest being Runway 18-36 is 8,002 feet long. This allows aircraft as large as the A380, 747-8F, B-52, and C-5 to operate in and out.
Wittman Regional Airport is named after the late Pioneer Air Racer, Aircraft Designer, and Aircraft Builder Steve Wittman. Wittman opened in 1927, with commercial airline service starting in 1928 when Northwest Airlines started Airmail service. Wittman was served by airlines such as North Central, Republic, Air Wisconsin, Skyway Airlines (Midwest Connect), Northwest Airlink, and Midway Connection. In 2003 scheduled airline service ended when Great Lakes Airlines ended Beech-1900 service under the EAS (Essential Air Service) subsidy. Today Paccair/ Pro Aire Express offers Scheduled Cargo service with its fleet of Beech’s, Cessna’s, and Piper’s. Freight Runners Express also calls on Oshkosh operating Beech 99’s on behalf of UPS. Basler Turbo Conversions has its base of operations located at Wittman. Basler converts Piston powered DC-3’s into Turbo Prop powered BT-67’s.
In 1953 Paul Poberezny founded the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) in my hometown of Franklin WI. The first fly-in was held at Timmerman Field on the North Side of Milwaukee also in 1953. In 1959 the event was moved to Rockford IL, having outgrown Timmerman Field. Rockford would host until 1970, when the fly-in moved to Oshkosh. It is because of Paul Poberezny we can fast forward to the AirVenture of present day. AirVenture 2017 was held from July 24 to the 30th, its 6-day run brought in some staggering statistics. Almost 600,000 people from 80 Nations attended this year. Air Traffic Control handled an amazing 17,273 aircraft operations, which breaks down to 123 an hour! This gives Oshkosh the title of the Busiest Airport in the World, with the controllers handpicked from the busiest towers and enroute centers in the country. The traffic mix is like no other airport in the world. Only at Oshkosh will you find the pattern shared by Mooney’s, RV’s, B-29’s, F-22’s and 767’s.
AirVenture 2017 could easily be called the “Year of the Bomber”. 2017 is the 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Japan, no less than 11 different B-25 Mitchells attended, with many flying in the daily airshows. 2017 was also the 75th Anniversary of the 8th Air Force, this historic milestone was highlighted on Saturday which was dubbed “Bomber Day”. Vintage Bombers included both flyable B-29’s, “Fifi” and “Doc”, EAA’s B-17 Aluminum Overcast, and the only flyable A-20 Havoc. Current bombers were extremely well represented, with Global Strike Command providing both static display and flying support. Examples of the B-1B (Serial 86-0126) and B-52H (Serial 60-0015) were on display at Boeing Plaza all week. The B-1B flew an incredible display during the Wednesday night Airshow right after the Doolittle Tribute. On Saturday, all three of the current Strategic Bombers of Global Strike Command performed a formation fly-over with B-2 Spirit (Serial 82-1067), B-1B Lancer (Serial 85-0059) and B-52H (Serial 61-007). Each aircraft made several subsequent passes.
Several other unique formation flights were to be seen over the six days as well. Three F-86 Sabres, including the Warbird Heritage Foundation’s F-86D NX188RL, Sabrejet LLC’s F-86E N50CJ, and Dr. John Swartz’s F-86A N48178 joined up. N48178 is also the world’s oldest flying jet, having rolled off the production line in February, 1948. No less than three P-63 Kingcobras took to the skies on Friday. These aircraft included the American Air Power Heritage Flying Museum’s P-63F N6763, The Commemorative Air Force’s P-63A NX191H, and John Bagly’s P-63C NL163FS. The United States Air Force brought the Heritage Flight to AirVenture this year with both the F-35A Lightning II and A-10C Thunderbolt II flying with the P-51 Mustang. The F-35’s and A-10’s both wore special titles to remember P-51 pilot, airshow legend and Heritage Flight pilot Mr. Vlado Lenoch, who tragically lost is life last month in the Warbird Heritage Foundation’s P-51 Baby Duck.
The United States Navy Blue Angels and their Boeing FA-18 Hornets took to the skies on the weekend. This was the first time the Blue Angels have visited Oshkosh since the team was formed in 1946. Sadly, Fat Albert their KC-130T Hercules support aircraft did not make the trip. The United States Marine Corps grounded all of their KC-130Ts for safety reasons right before AirVenture. The Blues flew a flawless routine each day, weather allowed for full shows on Friday and Saturday and a flat show on Sunday.
UPS brought 767-3A4F N308UP in for static display on Wednesday and it departed shortly before the Night Airshow. Scaled Composites brought Proteus for display this year as well. Proteus is a multi-mission, tandem wing, long endurance aircraft designed by Burt Rutan. The Proteus has a fourteen hour endurance and a service ceiling of 61,000 feet. The U.S. Army brought a Beechcraft MC-12S Liberty (serial number FL-646) for static display the entire week. The primary mission of the MC-12 is to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support directly to ground forces. This highly modified airframe is based on the civilian Beechcraft Super King Air 350ER. The U.S. Army also displayed a Boeing MH-47G Chinook 03-03734 all week. The MH-47G is a Special Operations Aircraft assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, better known as the Nightstalkers. Warbirds were plentiful as always with a few special highlights which included Air Heritage Incorporated’s C-123K Provider “Thunderpig”. Manufactured in May, 1956 by the Fairchild Aircraft Corporation, serial number 54-664 served with the U.S. Air Force until 1981. The aircraft was acquired in 1994 by Air Heritage INC. and has been totally restored and is flown in dedication to all those who served during the Vietnam War. First time visitor to AirVenture was Richard Sugden’s TA-4J Skyhawk N234LT. This Skyhawk was manufactured in 1972 and served with the U.S. Navy until 2008. Airshow greats such as Sean D. Tucker, Rob Holland, Matt Younkin, and many more rounded out another memorable AirVenture.
The skies over Oshkosh are mostly empty now, but looks are deceiving. In less than a year it will be time for AirVenture 2018, with another Pilgrimage anew. Until Next time, “Blue Skies to All!”