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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“Kitfox that just landed, turn into the grass, I’ve got a twin Comanche following you close.”

Controllers are nominated by their supervisors to work at AirVenture and are considered the best, from some of the busiest towers in the country.

“The fly-in procedures are not for the faint of heart,” says Shade, “but it’s amazing how well it works.”

It is not, however, without risk. The National Transportation Safety Board Web site contains 11 pages of Oshkosh-related accidents and incidents, including 30 fatalities. Given the traffic volume over the years, these are statistically insignificant, and the majority fall into the “pilot error” category.

Staying There

PACKING Pack heavy. As evidenced by the overlapping stickers on the merchandise in Oshkosh stores, prices on everything from batteries, film, and snacks to gasoline can shoot up 10 to 30 percent during the week of the event. If at all possible, bring along whatever you will need. Among the essentials: sunglasses, sunscreen, bottled water, batteries, camera and film, cargo shorts, back pack, fanny pack, cell phone, hiking boots, bug spray, compact rain poncho, straw hat, long-sleeve pullover, and lots of cash. You will need these things because Wisconsin’s mid-summer weather is highly changeable: boiling during the day, cold at night, and spirited, soaking thunderstorms at a moment’s notice.

LODGING During the show, hotel rooms go for three to five times the normal rate. If you’re used to staying in New York City, the rates won’t faze you. Several hotels have been built in recent years, but the added rooms still don’t handle anywhere near the demand. Fortunately, thousands of residents choose to escape the cacophony, leaving behind empty houses for rent at $60 to $100 (or more) per night per bedroom. The wooded subdivision adjacent to the south end of the airport’s Runway 09-27 is a particularly choice location; it allows you to walk to the show and mingle with those in the General Aviation Camping area, not altogether fondly referred to as “the North 40” for its pasture-like appearance and absence of shade trees. Many residents have been renting to the same conventioneers for years. For those wishing to rent private homes, the EAA maintains a private-housing hotline—(920) 235-3007.

In the midst of all this capitalism, there are a few deals to be had:

The University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh, Lawrence University (Appleton), and several other area schools open their dormitories during EAA week. The rooms aren’t air-conditioned and the showers are communal. Still, for an average $40 a night, the dorm spares one the indignity of greeting the day in an overly ripe porta-potty and sloughing through mud in flip-flops to brave the long lines for the camping areas’ outdoor shower houses.

The Jesuit Retreat House, south of the airport and next to the EAA’s Vette Seaplane Base, along the shore of Lake Winnebago, has been a well-kept secret (until now). Although monopolized by members of World War II’s Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) and students from Parks College, the retreat house usually has a few vacancies, although the Jesuits prefer that guests be recommended by someone from the WASPs or Parks. The dormitory-style rooms are single occupancy, and morning Mass is at seven. “This is definitely the best place to stay at EAA,” says 82-year-old WASP Ethel Finley of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Buses run from the adjacent seaplane base to the showgrounds at regular intervals and are very reliable.

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