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How to Do Oshkosh

What to see, where to eat, who to talk to, and how to make the most of the great big airshow in the quiet little town.

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Along the northern perimeter of the airport, there are other non-sanctioned places to park, which will become apparent as you drive east down 20th Avenue (Highway 44) and look to the right. Even homeowners not officially selling lawn space can easily be persuaded to accommodate your vehicle for a few dollars and a smile.

GENERAL ADMISSION If you are inclined to join the EAA anyway, do so months before the show rather than at the show. EAA membership ($40 annually) earns a discount on the admission fee and access to Camp Scholler. For members, the daily adult admission fee is $19; non-members pay $29. The weekly fee is $94 for members, $203 for non-members. You can pay the admission fee with a credit card.

With the relocation of the show main gate several years ago, the arduous registration process became much faster, but you can avoid any remaining hassle by showing up on a non-weekend day or a day or two prior to the show.

DOING A QUICK RECON Buy a program, which contains a detailed map, grab a free copy of AirVenture Today, and read both before starting out. First-time visitors are almost always unprepared for the scale of the 1,400-acre show grounds.

“Originally, I walked myself to death,” says Ron Judy, who now stays close to the vintage aircraft area, which is his main focus at the show. For neophytes, the quickest way to get a feel of the place is to “walk the line” parallel to runway 18-36: warbirds to the north, homebuilts in the middle, vintage aircraft south of them, and ultralights way down at the south end with their own little ultralight runway. West of the “line” are specialized buildings and pavilions, most of which are occupied by vendors, the forum tents, and the static aircraft display areas. Food tents and kiosks selling programs are interspersed within this mosaic.

The grounds are incredibly clean, compared with other events of this size. People who attend don’t litter, and the EAA makes it a point to remind first-timers of the fact.

WATCHING THE AIRSHOW Oshkosh continues to attract the finest airshow pilot performers in the world. Unquestionably, the best place from which to watch them is just south of the performers’ tent, located at show center. From there, you can often see the performers “walk through” their pre-show routines; they fly their acts with their hands. You can also catch glimpses of the various celebrities and VIPs invited into the performers’ tent. Other good places from which to view the action are the International Aerobatic Club’s pavilion and on the hill in front of the control tower.

For those wanting a more exclusive venue, rent a boat and spend the day on Lake Butte des Morts and Lake Poygan (they are connected). The practice aerobatic box is directly overhead—and everyone practices.

SOCIALIZING More interesting than the airplanes themselves are some of the people you will meet at the show. Legendary test pilot and airshow performer Bob Hoover always makes an appearance, either at one of the forums or at a booth in the exhibitors’ pavilions. Ken Hyde, one of the most knowledgeable experts on the Wright brothers’ aircraft, will be on hand this year with his reproduction Flyer and simulator. Many airshow performers appear at various vendors’ exhibits throughout the show. Pilots standing next to their warbirds and vintage aircraft are generally approachable and almost always have interesting stories.

Then there are the more eccentric: Jerry Sleger’s homebuilt one-man band near the Theatre in the Woods and Steve Hay’s ornithopter, its asthmatic engine chugging down the flightline, his wife Joan clad in animal skin and Viking helmet, perched atop the flapping wings.

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