How do you explain to the uninitiated what Oshkosh means to you? Do you lead them on over ten miles of wandering between the wings of the hundreds upon hundreds of flying machines that make their annual pilgrimage to the place the Poberezny’s built? Do you share with them the tales of these machines, each designed to wage war against our grounded nature in varying levels of class and sophistication? Do you buy the first round of brats and cheese curds flexing that EAA Membership discount?
AirVenture, EAA, Oshkosh…whatever you call it, is hard to describe. And due to it’s vast size, it’s even harder to see. Years of dreaming as a kid to get to walk these hallowed grounds only add to the sheer emotional overload that can empower a Disciple of Flight to cram as much of Oshkosh into ten hours running only on one ice cream cone and the requisite cheese curds and bratwurst. Having served in varying capacities in this sacred space over the course of many years, I have yet to come to the logical conclusion of the event, and, honestly, I don’t think I ever will. And I’m fine with that.
A week has passed and I’m still sporting a Monday, July 26th yellow wristband. Weeks prior, I was invited to join a group of fellow coworkers who would hitch a ride on N411DX, an Airbus A-330-900neo featuring the TEAM USA livery to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes. From what I can gather, this was the first time this model of aircraft has been on display at Oshkosh, and the first time that I can remember Delta bringing some heavy metal to catch the eyes of millions of aviation nerds like myself. I had the idea a while back that our small group of leaders who support our Propel Program and a few of our Propel Pilots attend the event and share our culture with the attendees of Oshkosh, and thankfully I wasn’t the only one. Many departments and leaders across Delta had the same idea, and last Monday, those ideas came to fruition with a smooth landing and an even smoother arrival to Boeing Plaza.
Through the small portholes across the sides, dozens of us gazed across Lake Winnebago and sat in awe of the sheer numbers of airplanes already parked and camped at Wittman Regional. Cheers echoed through the spacious cabin, and soon, crowds lined up to view likely the cleanest airplane in our inventory. Before deplaning, a quick review of our volunteer shifts reminded me of the time pinch I was in. Officially, there was maybe an hour of unassigned time for me to cram in a year’s worth of longing to be here. Thankfully, my wife came up with a plan to extend that hour into a few, and two ubers and an empty recliner turned one hour into ten.
Amidst one hopeless aviation romantic, his best friend, and three Oshkosh first-timers, we crossed off a few necessities on our lengthy to-do list. Brats and cheese curds…check. Wipaire fun meter buttons…check. Ice cream cones…check. Walk from warbirds to ultralights…check. The many tall tales of the flying machines interlaced and intermingled with facts and figures…check. Sitting alongside the runway at the end of the air show and welcoming the late arrivals with the signature Elliot Seguin fist-pump…check. One could ascertain in those limited hours available to us we made the most, and many would say we’ve Oshkoshed their hearts out.
But let’s be honest. Oshkosh isn’t about the airplanes. Man spent the better part of our existence trying to imitate birds, and since those early pioneers braved their untamed machines in unfamiliar skies, they’ve continued to capture the eyes of many. Last year, over 600,000 came to feast their eyes on these over 1,000 machines. The sounds these machines make turn our ears towards the skies, as a flight of four T-6 Texans and their distinctive roar of 600 horsepower engines turn propellers that thrust them thunderingly through their majestic routine. And the roar of the F-35s shaking the ground…that sound you can still feel to this day. The unforgettable scent of smoke systems and engine starts. The softness of ceconite as it’s stretched through compound curves. The airplanes appeal to all the senses (well, maybe not taste, but we’ll leave that to the cheese curds).
It’s not about the airplanes. They may draw us to this place, but it’s the people that keep those smiles smiling while your heart overfills with love and joy. The faint calls from a fellow backcountry pilot across the tails parked near the vintage hangar. The sights of the two nicest people you’ve ever met. And the kindness of those who were instrumental in showing you the real Oshkosh. That’s what my heart and my mind long for every year. The brief, random moments that the universe allows you to peer deep into your soul, and find that the airplane geek that once checked out all the books about airplanes at the school library, that devoted his life to anything that takes to the skies, that found love under the wings of a Piper Seminole, that airplane geek has found his home, and for one week (or this time, for ten hours) of the year, Heaven is a place on earth.