My First Oshkosh
Air Facts Journal

Editor’s note: We’re pleased to present this article was awarded second prize in the sixth annual Richard Collins Writing Prize for Young Pilots. Our panel of judges selected Joseph Cummins of Minneapolis, Minnesota as the $2,500 runner-up award. We hope you’ll agree that Joseph’s description of his first trip to AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI is a fine tribute to a great writer and pilot.

As suburban Minnesota remained silent in the tranquility of pre-dawn stillness, the shriek of my 4:15 am alarm clock shattered my peacefulness and forced me awake.  “Why am I up so early?” I groggily asked myself as I slowly opened my shades.  The calendar on my phone showed the date was July 27, 2023.  My friends texted, “Today’s the day!” and then it all came back to me.  We were going to our very first Oshkosh!

While I was scarfing down my breakfast and checking the weather, my legs uncontrollably bounced with excitement.  Everybody had always talked about the magical community that gathered in east Wisconsin every year in late July.  After brushing my teeth in record time, I grabbed my flight bag and my keys, and I was off to the airport.

We pulled out the airplane from the pitch-black hangar and packed everything we needed into the small but mighty Piper Archer.  A successful preflight and a tank topoff meant the three of us were ready to set off into the crisp Midwest summer air.  I had never seen my home airport so calm, but boy would that contrast with our final destination.

As the sun rose, the Wisconsin hills glistened from the night’s dew.  Everything was simply magical.  As we continued along, I couldn’t help but notice this strange aroma that filled the cabin.  “What is that?”, I remembered thinking to myself, but as I looked to my right, there was the culprit.  My copilot! She was grinning to herself as she indulged in her 6:00 am bologna sandwich.  Nothing could combat that smell.  We opened the window and turned the fan on high, but nothing worked.

After two hours sitting in that hot bologna-scented cabin, we were almost ready for the grand arrival.  “Monitor the ATIS”, we read dozens of times in the NOTAMs, so we did just that.  The ATIS stated that the arrivals were starting at Puckaway Lake and that we should plan on runway 36.  “Puckaway Lake!”, I mumbled to myself.  I heard that name over and over again, and now here we were, joining the actual Oshkosh arrival!

Oshkosh overhead

After much anticipation, we were joining the Oshkosh arrival to attend AirVenture.

Before we knew it, the traffic alterts started: “Traffic one o’clock, same altitude”. All six eyes in the cockpit suddenly became laser focused.  “The guy behind is going to overpass us”, “That guy just cut us off!” and “Why would he do that!”, were just some of the things yelled in the cockpit that day.  We were able to barely fit in between the traffic with just enough separation, so we continued our approach.  “White low wing, rock your wings”.  When I realized, the controller was talking to us, I gave the best rock of my life.  “Good rock”, they said, and my face instantly lit up with excitement.  “We’re finally doing it!” I said in my head, as we followed the railroad tracks up the approach.

As we neared the final point of the approach, the controller said my worst nightmare.  “The Oshkosh Airport is closed due to departures”.  All three of us had the same look on our faces.  We were so close, but so far from landing.  We completed the published holding procedure four times.  Each time around we were hopeful that the airport would reopen for arrivals.  As we rocked our wings for the fifth time and prepared to hold for a sixth time, our prayers were answered.  The airport was reopened!

final approach

After 5 laps around the hold, we were cleared to land on the yellow dot.

We were the first airplane to be cleared to land after holding for well over an hour.  The controller had given us directions to land on the yellow dot.  After floating well beyond the dot, we were officially on the ground!  I realized just after we turned onto the grass that I had landed at the world’s busiest airport, with only 60 hours of flight time and a Private Pilot certificate.  It was such an unforgettable feeling!

As we taxied down the well-trampled grass taxiway, I couldn’t help but notice the thousands upon thousands of aircraft parked and the huge crowd.  It was incredible.  It seemed like the whole world fled to Oshkosh for AirVenture.  After we parked and were getting out of our hot and stuffy airplane, this friendly man with a straw hat, approached us.  “Welcome to Oshkosh!”, he said with a huge smile on his face.  “Wow, is everybody this cool?” I asked my friends as we walked to the ticket booth.  As it turns out, yes, everyone was amazing.

After spending three hours meeting incredible people, and appreciating some engineering marvels, it was time to head home.  Looking down at my phone, I remembered seeing that the time was 2:00 pm, and we had planned on getting out before the 3:00 pm airshow.  There was only one thing we could do…RUN!  Looking like three uncoordinated madmen, we sprinted down the road, attempting to get back to the airplane.  Many breaks later, we made it and quickly realized that we were not going to get out in time.  This ended up being an incredible blessing.  The three of us sat under the wing of our Archer for some shade and prepared for the show.

The airshow was amazing.  Formations, acrobatics, pretty much anything you could think of happened at that show. The show ended with a spectacular grand finale, and before we knew it, the airport was reopened.  It was officially time to head home.  We got in the airplane and began our taxi.  Everybody waved as we passed, and all three of us made sure to give them a wave back.  It was a magical community of people.  It was our turn to take off on the right side of runway 18, and we officially said goodbye to the most amazing airshow of my life.


Enroute back to Minnesota after we officially said goodbye to the most amazing airshow of my life.

Thunderstorms began to build as the sun started to set in rural Minnesota.  The contrast between the light and the dark was striking.  The ominous setting, and the craziest turbulence that I have ever encountered in my life, was sure to keep me awake, even after such an exhausting and exciting day.  Before we knew it, there we were, back where we had started that morning.

What a day, my first Oshkosh.  It was the most rewarding and inspiring experience of my entire life.  There is just nothing quite like it.  I was able to not only sharpen my aviation skills, but I was also able to meet so many incredible people.  Aviation has such a wonderful community, and that was radiated throughout AirVenture.  It might have been my first Oshkosh, but it will certainly not be my last.

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