The Hajj, aviation-style

One of the five pillars of Islam is the Hajj, the obligation that every able-bodied Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their life.

Any pilot will tell you that aviation has a tradition almost as strong, albeit not quite so hallowed by age: the annual EAA Convention and Fly-In. The last week in every July, approximately 15,000* aircraft, small and large, converge on Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin from all over the world. Antique Curtiss Jennies, F-22 Raptors, tube-and-wire ultralights, and an carbon-fiber experimental jets. Massive WWII bombers, and 747s on charter. Concord has visited.

The Chamber of Commerce estimates that between 200,000 and 300,000 distinct people attend. They rent out every available room for 50 miles around, fill the UWisconsin dorms, and just camp out under the wings of whatever they flew in on. It is more than a Fly-in, it truly is a pilgrimage. When pilots start talking, it’s never long before one will look up in the sky, out at the horizon, then ask “So, are y’going to OSH this year?”

I’ve been to OSH four times now; once in the Skyranger from Boston, twice from Pittsburgh, and once in the back of a United Airlines flight. The last time was almost a decade ago. Tomorrow moringing at dawn, Martin Michaud and I will load up the antique AT-6G we share and launch off on my fifth and longest pilgrimage. It’ll be about 18 hours of flying spread over three days in a hot, noisy, oily vibrating steel can, across some of the most beautiful scenery I know. I can hardly wait. But I shouldn’t be waiting – I’ve got way too much packing and prep before dawn hits, so I’m going to stop writing and start flight planning.

Check back here regularly – I’ve got my laptop and a brand-new Canon Elph camera, so I’ll try to post along the way.

[* This comes out to about 6% of all aircraft in the entire United States converging on Oshkosh.]

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