Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oshkosh

The following is something that I wrote a while back but wasn't satisfied with the end result.  I saw it in my "drafts" folder and thought that I'd take another crack at it.  Also, several staff and students from PSMA went down again this year and I wasn't able to go for the first time in 3 years.  The two videos at the bottom are a couple of really well  done highlite videos from the event in 2009 and 2010 that I found on You Tube.  If you like airplanes or just want to get a sense of how big this event is, have a look.

Airplanes parked in double rows
So... What is Oshkosh?  I've been asked this question many times in the past couple of years, but of all the times that I've been asked it, I've never had to explain it to a pilot.  They know.  Oshkosh itself is a small city in Wisconsin,  sitting just on the western shore of lake Winnebago, about 40 miles southwest of Green Bay.  To much of the world Oshkosh is just another city, or possibly the place that makes those OshKosh B'gosh kids clothes.  To a pilot however, Oshkosh is the promised land.  For one week every summer this small, unobtrusive little airport becomes the busiest airport in the world, with over 500,000 people from more than 60 countries and over 10,000 aircraft coming to be a part of what has been called "The World's greatest aviation celebration".

What all this has to do with me is that in both 2009 and 2010 I had the privilege of taking students from Prairie School of Mission Aviation down in several of our aircraft to take in this event.  2010 was a lot of fun.  Myself and Daniel (another instructor) took 4 students and 2 airplanes down to check it all out.  I flew down to Oshkosh with two students, Dan and Kevin, in our retractable gear Cessna 182 aircraft.  It's a slick airplane and a lot of fun to fly, trueing out at 145kts.  (Sorry for the pilot talk.  Sometimes I can't keep it in.)  On the trip home I was in one of our venerable Cessna 172 aircraft with Liz and Jesslyn, 2 more students who, as of this posting, have just completed the program at PSMA.  At only 105kts the trip home took quite a bit longer than the trip down but it was still just as much fun.

The trip down went great.  We left on July 24th and we had great weather the whole way down.  Eastbound we had a nice tailwind the whole way across the continent, which is always a bonus.  We flew from Three Hills down to Great Falls, Montana where we cleared customs.  Leaving Great Falls we flew east to Bismark, North Dakota where we over-nighted.  The next day we flew to Rice Lake, Wisconsin and from there to Appleton, Wisconsin.  Due to torrential rains the previous week they weren't taking any general aviation aircraft into the Oshkosh airport because of a lack of hard surface parking and so we parked our planes in Appleton for the week.

The Way Home (1,218 nm or 2,256 km)
Our flight home was much more interesting.  We left Appleton on August 2nd in weather that was less than ideal, heading west towards Rice Lake.  Only a little way into the flight the weather deteriorated even further and forced us to land at Cornell, Wisconsin.  The weather improved slightly a few hours later, and we were able to continue westward, going south around Minneapolis before turning west again.  You can see the jog in our flight path in the picture to the right.  We stopped for fuel in Montevideo, Minnesota and then finally made it to Bismark for the night.  The next day the weather was much better and we cruised onwards with stops at Glasgow, MT and Lethbridge, AB before getting back to Three Hills.  Round trip we covered 2,455 nautical miles (4,546 km).

One of the highlights of this trip is always interacting with the people who are there.  In the past couple of years there has been a large mission aviation presence there, and being able to visit with all the mission aviators there is always a blessing.  Another great experience has been our billets there both in 2009 and 2010.  Valley Baptist Church in Appleton has opened up their doors to us both years and let us bunk in the basement of their church.  Equipped with shower facilities and a place to do our laundry, we really appreciated having this place to go and cool our sunburned faces after long days in the bright sun.  The meals that they provided for us and the kindness and hospitality that they showed us were a real blessing to all of us.

Trips like these will be something that I miss as I move on into mission flying.  Being able to spend so much time with the students getting to know them and learning who they are was something that I really enjoyed.  I only hope that they will continue to follow God and serve Him, being a witness for Him no matter where they are or what they are doing.

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