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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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Buses also link the overflow airports of Fond du Lac (15 miles south, aircraft camping permitted) and Appleton (20 miles north, no camping). Aircraft parking spaces at Oshkosh are filled after the first day of the show.

CAMPING For many, there is no other way to see the show. “Listening to hangar stories by the campfires” is Paul Poberezny’s favorite thing to do at AirVenture.

“If you don’t camp, you miss half the activity,” according to Ron Judy, who flies his Navion up from Oklahoma a couple of days early to get a good parking spot. “If you get there the day the show starts, you’ll be parked all the way down in Rockford,” Judy warns.

On Thursdays of the event week, Senator Jim Inhofe departs Washington, D.C., and flies himself to Oshkosh, where his two sons already have pitched camp. Inhofe is a commercially rated pilot and owns a stable of aircraft, including an RV-8 kitplane and a Cessna Crusader. “We eat very well when we’re there,” says Inhofe. “I enjoy the fellowship. We talk about nothing but airplanes.”

While most fly-in campers prize spots near the Theatre in the Woods, a large, covered, open-air pavilion adjacent to the vintage aircraft area, Mike Shade prefers the North 40 for its relative quiet. On-site camping runs $17 per night with a three-night minimum. The nightly fee is refundable for early departees, but securing the refund is often more trouble than it is worth (by design, some attendees cynically believe). To use Camp Scholler, which caters to the drive-in crowd—some 40,000 campers—one must be an EAA member.

Near the campground are stores for things like ice, with the markup one would expect from vendors selling to a captive audience. EAA campsites have a prohibition on alcohol that is universally ignored, but you can’t buy it on the grounds. There are many private camping and parking areas near the show grounds. Indeed, adjacent property owners make a small fortune peddling everything from bratwurst to bottled water.

Parking is the Achilles’ heel of the event. If you arrive later than mid-morning or try to leave immediately at the conclusion of the day’s performances, you will be stuck in traffic for a long time. General parking is herded into a handful of color-coded fields that can be lengthy and dusty (or muddy) walks from the main show grounds. (Sweet-talking volunteers directing vehicles will not gain you more proximate parking; they’ve heard it all.) During times of peak load, the police reroute the streets into a one-way racetrack, easing but not dissipating the traffic jams. However, there are a couple of things you can do: Show up really early, or…

Take a shuttle bus. First, park at the Appleton or Fond du Lac airport, the seaplane base, the shopping mall on the west side of the freeway, or the University of Wisconsin dormitories, then take the bus. Some buses are free; others charge a nominal fee. The bus won’t get you to the show any faster than a car would, but you won’t have to walk as far to the main gate or endure the aggravation. Using the lots at UW-Oshkosh also allows you to bypass the traffic jam that forms at the main freeway show exit (Highway 44).

Park in Camp Scholler. This is tricky; it requires knowing a camper with a pass. But it allows you to exit Highway 26 to the south instead of the “cattle gate” at the Highway 44 exit. Usually, campers don’t use all the vehicle spaces allotted to them and someone has an extra pass.

Park at the EAA Museum. There are shuttle buses available from the museum to the show grounds.

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