Planning for the Oshkosh 2021 trip began several months in advance. Greg reserved the Saratoga for the trip and Dan joined the crew early on.
So, the next challenge was finding a place to stay. Near-by hotels sell out long before the event at significantly inflated prices. Camping under the plane's wing is a part of the Oshkosh experience that appeals to many attendees. But, not to long-time Oshkosh veterans Greg and Dan. The weather in Oshkosh this time of year ranges from unbearably hot to torrential rain and thunderstorms, sometimes all in the same day! Flooded and blown-over tents are not uncommon. Add to that walking 100 yards or more to the bathroom and shower make the camping experience seem more like being a war refugee than being on vacation – that is to us anyway.
Fortunately, having attended Oshkosh more than a dozen times in the past 25 years, we were able to arrange a rental house from a local woman who we've known a long time and rented from often in past years. Three bedrooms, two baths, air conditioning, refrigerator, laundry, and WiFi situated on lake-front property about a mile from KOSH.
Having secured transportation, housing, and a rental car, we needed to round out the crew. There was some churn as people who wanted to go ended up being unable. But, we finally put together a great bunch: JAC members Dan and Greg, our friend Ted (who has traveled on several Oshkosh trips with us), and Oshkosh Newbie Jim (Greg's brother-in-law). Jim lives in Pittsburgh, so the plan was for Dan, Ted, and Greg to pick him up at Allegheny County Airport (KAGC) and then proceed to Appleton, WI (KATW).
We also settled on the final trip itinerary:
* Thursday - Depart N12 for KAGC. Pick up Jim and proceed to KATW. Eat. Drink.
* Friday - Attend EAA AirVenture (the official name for "Oshkosh"). Eat. Drink.
* Saturday - Attend EAA AirVenture. Eat. Drink.
* Sunday - Depart KATW for Mackinac Island MI (KMCD). Bike tour the island. Eat. Drink.
* Monday - More Island sightseeing. Eat. Drink.
* Tuesday - Depart for KAGC. Drop off Jim. Proceed home to N12.
About a week or so out, we started looking at long-range weather forecasts. The WX CHARTS and Pivotal Weather web sites feature the GFS numerical model that provides forecast information many days in advance. Of course, you can't depend entirely on a forecast for 7 days in the future. But, by running the model forwards / backwards and monitoring the forecast as your planned departure date nears (and the model is updated), you can get a pretty good idea of the trends.
The way things were looking, it appeared that the only significant weather we'd have to deal with for the entire trip would be on our planned departure day, 29 July. The WX for the N12 to KAGC leg was going to feature IMC, but no convective activity. The best shot for the KAGC to KATW leg looked to be a route that would pass north of Cleveland and Detroit before turning more westerly toward Appleton. This was an end-around play to miss the heavier WX moving east toward Pittsburgh from Central Ohio. Greg filed both IFR flight plans the night before (the required IFR arrival slot in Appleton had been secured a couple days previously).
Day 1 - Thursday, 29 July:
The NJ crew met at N12 and loaded up in the Saratoga. The routing provided by McGuire Clearance was pretty much what we had filed, and a fairly straight shot to Pittsburgh. We were wheels-up at 9AM as planned with Greg flying and Dan on comms. The flight went as expected with areas of both IMC and VMC. We got a few minor reroutes from ATC, but the flight was uneventful and we arrived at KAGC a little over two hours later. Jim was waiting for us in the FBO lounge.
We were planning a quick turn. So, after introductions, arranging to have the Saratoga fueled, and a bathroom stop, Greg called Allegheny Ground on the phone to arrange our outbound IFR clearance. It was almost an hour before our planned departure time, but the folks in the tower quickly retrieved and updated our flight plan. This helped us get on our way quickly, which was a good thing as the weather was already starting to move in from the west. So, we loaded up. Dan was going to fly this leg with Greg on comms. Ted and Jim manned the back seats. Dan did his usual outstanding job of hot-starting the Saratoga's fuel injected engine.
Our clearance was again "Cleared as Filed" and we were off. As expected, the flight featured IMC but no convection or significant turbulence. The only downside was the ferocious head wind. The 450+ nm trip took every bit of 4 hours with ground speeds sometimes hovering agonizingly close to 100 KTS.
Upon crossing over Wisconsin's eastern coast, we passed directly over Goins field (according to the GPS anyway as there was an undercast cloud layer), a private grass strip near Manitowoc. Remember that name as there will be more about it later.
Fifteen minutes later, we were making a visual approach to Appleton. For those who have never been there, Appleton airport is a low-stress alternative to the hectic VFR arrival procedures at Oshkosh's Wittman Field. After landing, the expert professional and volunteer staff directed us to our parking spot. We shut down on the hard surface and pushed the plane back onto the grass. This was followed by a trip to the nearby bathroom (remember it had just been a 4-hour flight), tying down the plane, and loading our stuff into the shuttle for the trip to the FBO.
Ted restarted his Oshkosh trip tradition of shooting video to record the adventure. He promised that he'd edit and present us with the video soon after the trip. Of course, were still waiting to see his edited video footage from Oshkosh 1998.
At the FBO we picked up our rental car and were off to our first stop -- Woodman's Liquor Store to stock up on beer and other essentials. Then, we were on our way to Oshkosh and our lake house. The side door was unlocked (this is after all Oshkosh, WI) so we hauled in our stuff.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening relaxing on the back patio while enjoying the lake view. Aerobatic planes and warbirds from the still-ongoing activity at KOSH buzzed over our heads. Ted did some yoga while sitting in the tree swing. After several beers, we headed to dinner at a nearby restaurant. Then, back to the house for the night.
Day 2 - Friday, 30 July:
We got going fairly early and packed up to spend the day at the show -- backpacks, water, hats, sunscreen. Then, we headed to our traditional Oshkosh show parking spot -- the lot at the Hilton Garden hotel. We’ve been giving them our Free Parking business for many years and the staff was glad to see us back (well, they would have been glad if we hadn’t parked in the far corner of the lot behind a tree to avoid detection).
It's a short walk from the lot to the pickup point for the shuttle bus. This takes you around the west end of Runway 9 directly to one of the main show entrances. Along the way you get to see the hundreds of planes and refugees (err tent campers) occupying the northwest infield of Wittman airport. At the entrance we picked up our show wrist bands that we had purchased online. Then we were on our way.
For those who have never attended, the size and scope of the Oshkosh event is hugely impressive and somewhat daunting. You can forget about “seeing everything” in one day, or even three. We began by walking the Warbirds section at the field’s north end. These are more or less defined as WWII-era planes. The display of P51s, P40s, B25s, F4Us, SBDs, TBDs, T34s, T6s, and numerous others was magnificent. Especially when many of them later flew in the afternoon’s airshow.
We continued south through the Homebuilt section. Homebuilt planes are, of course, the original mission and inspiration for EAA and they still figure prominently in its activities. The shear variety is amazing. We spent 20 minutes talking to the owner of a 300+ KTS, turboprop Lancair. He even designed, built, and installed his own air conditioning system. There were gangly-looking Aircams, and various incarnations of Burt Rutan’s “EZ” concept. There was even a 1/3-Scale B17.
We then turned west towards Boeing Plaza where the big airplanes park. There were large military transport and fighter planes of every description. Orbis was there with their DC10 Converted into a Flying Eye Hospital. They fly it around the world doing eye surgery to prevent blindness in 3rd World countries. The Luftwaffe flew in with an Airbus A400M Atlas. This massive 4-engine turboprop looks like a C130 on steroids.
We then continued west to see many of the vendors and exhibits along Celebration Way … Cessna, Piper, Beach, Epic, Garmin, etc. There was a large variety of kit plane vendors too.
We ended the day’s visit by leaving the show grounds and spending some quality time at the nearby SOS Brothers Beer Tent. Then, dinner at a restaurant near the field and back to the house to enjoy the lake view.
Day 3 - Saturday, 31 July:
We started the day at the EAA museum. This is a worthwhile addition to any Oshkosh visit and a nice airconditioned break from the heat. There’s a huge variety of historic aircraft including many unique homebuilt ones that you won’t see anywhere else.
Jim and Greg then headed back to the show grounds to meet up with an old friend of Jim's - Greg Goins. He is a highly-experienced corporate pilot who has flown many types of aircraft all over the world. He also owns a J3 Cub which he had parked at Oshkosh earlier in the week. He bases the Cub at his own private strip -- the Goins Field that we overflew on Thursday. After lunch, we continued wandering south through the Vintage Aircraft parking.
It started to rain some, so the entire crew decided to head back to the house. The rain ended quickly and we again hung out on the back patio for Happy Hour. Then the 5 of us Ubered into town to hit Herbie's Acee Deucee for drinks and The Roxy for dinner. After a quick stop at Mabel Murphy's, we finally ended up a Fletch's which had a good craft beer selection, a band, and an outdoor fire pit. It was a great ended for our last night in Oshkosh. Greg G spent the night with us at the lake.
Day 4 - Sunday, 1 August:
We got up, said goodbye to Greg G, and headed to the Appleton airport for our flight to Mackinac Island. Greg flew this hour and a half leg in great VFR weather. Mackinac is an absolutely beautiful island situated in Lake Huron between Michigan's Lower and Upper peninsulas. Boats and small airplanes are the only way to get there. The view during a visual approach is spectacular.
Upon arrival, we called for a taxi to our hotel. When it arrived, it was (as expected) a horse-drawn carriage. There are no motorized vehicles on the island save for emergency use. The main transportation modes are horse, bikes, walking, and golf carts. The last of these are a recent and somewhat controversial addition.
After checking in, we rented bikes and rode around the perimeter of the island. This only takes about an hour, but provides fantastic views of Lake Huron, both peninsulas of the Michigan mainland, and the famous Mackinac Bridge.
Later we wandered through some of the numerous local stores and enjoyed water-front drinks and dinning.
Day 5 - Monday, 2 August:
On Monday we were joined by another of Jim's old friends (he has them all over the country), Todd, who came over on a ferry from the mainland. Todd has insider's knowledge of Mackinac as his father used to run the state park that comprises most of the island. He took us on an extensive biking tour covering historic Fort Mackinac, vacation homes of industrialists and other wealthy folks from the 19th and early 20th century, the famous Grand Hotel, and numerous other points of interest.
Todd took a late-afternoon ferry out and the rest of the crew went on to the usual drinks and dinner.
Day 5 - Tuesday, 3 August:
After breakfast, we took a horse-drawn taxi to the airport, loaded up the Saratoga, and departed. Dan was doing a fine job of aviating us back to Allegheny County when the only unpleasant incident of the trip occurred. Greg noticed oil streaming back on the engine cowling's right side. Figuring that wasn't a good thing, we decided that an immediate landing was in order. Fortunately, we had pass over Beaver County Airport (KBVI) a couple minutes earlier. Dan did a U-turn and Greg informed ATC of the situation. Keeping a wary eye on oil pressure and engine temperatures, we came in for an uneventful landing on Runway 10. We never lost oil pressure and engine operation was normal the entire time.
It turned out the KBVI was a fortunate place to go following this unfortunate incident. We taxied over to AirQuest Aviation and shut down. The crew at AirQuest was on it immediately. Within an hour or so they determined that the right-side oil cooler had sprung a leak. They got a new one on order for delivery the next day. They also offered us a crew car and directed us to a nearby hotel.
With the day's flying done, we jumped in the crew car and headed to a Pittsburgh icon for lunch; Primanti Bros in the historic Strip District. Here is where we said goodbye to Jim who caught an Uber home. After lunch Dan, Ted, and Greg wandered around Point State Park, situated in Downtown Pittsburgh where the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers form the Ohio River.
After returning to Beaver County, we relaxed in the hotel and later headed out to dinner.
Day 6 - Wednesdy, 4 August:
After breakfast we fueled up the crew car and headed back to the airport. The new oil cooler had just been delivered and the mechanics we beginning to install it. So, we relaxed, and wandered around the hangars looking at airplanes.
After the installation was complete, we ran the up engine on the ground for about 25 minutes while the AirQuest crew did a thorough leak check. All was well, so we were good-to-go. John, the maintenance supervisor at AirQuest, prepared the logbook sticker while his crew fueled the plane and we loaded it up. I can't say enough good things about our experience at AirQuest. They got us going on our way in a little over 24 hours after landing with a significant oil leak. And, the prices were quite reasonable.
Greg flew the last VFR leg back to N12 without incident.
It was a fantastic trip with a great crew. It's experiences like this that are one of the greatest joys of General Aviation.