The absolute overwhelm of Oshkosh, or “Airventure,” as it’s officially known among the non-aviation crowd, has kept Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Welcome Back, My Friends” humming through the back of my mind all week. I knew, going in, that there was no way I would be able to do it justice in words, any more than a rookie returning from their first trip to Burning Man could describe it to your average sheltered suburbanite. It’s too many things, all at once.
There are no hard numbers for this year, since things are still spinning up to the beyond-insane crowd of the weekend, but the early EAA estimates were upwards of 600,000 people surging and swarming over the airfield. Over 10,000 airplanes, averaging takeoffs and landings every 27 seconds (that assumes around the-clock-operation – at “rush hour” there are typically at least three planes landing at once).
It’s all your aviation friends from all over the world, coming together at once. It’s all the cool new aviation toys on display. It’s all the amazing antique, commercial, homebuilt, military and hotshot aircraft of, really, an entire century, converging in a week-long sun-drenched sweaty, windswept chaotic frenzy. It’s endless deep-fried county-fair-worthy deep-fried excitement, with not a green vegetable in sight. Yeah, it’s fine, really.
For me, sure, there were amazing airplanes, but the real draw was my old friends. For those of us who spent years on and off volunteering with the Collings Foundation, living out on the road together for a week or two at a time – most of us hadn’t seen each other since the 909 tragedy, and it was a chance to regroup, to share some sorrow and reminisce over the many good times. To raise a can of (to me, otherwise undrinkable) Bud Light Lime in memory of Mac, and Mike and Dave and all those who were no longer among us. And to marvel at where we all were now, to celebrate our new accomplishments.
There were the airshows, of course – some of the acts slow and elegant (the night-flying glider), but most either ear-splittingly loud (the jet Stearman?!?), shockingly fast (F-35) or both (MiG-17 on full afterburner).
But mostly it was just walking around, seeing old friends, looking at airplanes, talking about airplanes, looking at more airplanes, talking about…you get the idea.
Evenings, while talking about airplanes (obviously), there were also parties. Down in Row 100 at the south end of the field, Comanche Town (the group of folks who are fanatical about the plane I’ve just started to fly) had an authentic gumbo fest cooked up by Hunter, a genuine cajun chef. At the same time, the warbird gang held their annual “Swamp” party at the north end of the field with a pot of jambalaya big enough to fit the average teenager. To be clear: I mean big enough to fit the teenager inside the pot of jambalaya – anyone who’s raised kids to adulthood knows that the amount of jambalaya you can fit inside a willing teenager is approximately infinite. Clearly, east-central Wisconsin is determined to be a not-forgotten outpost of Louisiana’s finest cuisine.
But I know that all of you who know me and are regular readers of this blog and have looked at these pictures have been asking yourselves the same question: “What about that it’s-not-actually-over-yet pandemic that rhymes with “Ovid”?
As far as I could tell, 99.99% of the aviating population of Oshkosh this week was of the opinion, “Wasn’t that last year?” Wandering the fields, ducking into the trade show buildings, poking my head into overcrowded spaces, I’d say I saw on the average of half a dozen other masks a day. Mind you, I wasn’t being particularly safe myself – I was only wearing my mask indoors, or outdoors when I couldn’t keep distance or wind direction in my favor. And yeah, at some points, like the Collings reunion, I deliberately let my guard down to keep things from being awkward. I’m toting a stack of antigen tests and it’s too early yet (knock on aluminum) to say that I’ve dodged that bullet. I have a few friends who, like me, have been good/lucky enough to date who have just recently gotten sniped off.
I will, of course, keep you posted.