I’ve been a life-long aviation enthusiast from age 5, piloted sailplanes and motorgliders for 50 years, attending numerous air shows over the years. In August 2014 I spent a week with a friend at the largest air show in the world – AirVenture in Oshkosh Wisconsin. It started with a Disney connection; I donate my time to give personalized historic tours of Disneyland to fans who make donations to Walt’s Barn and Rymanarts. A donor, Shirley Schmidt of Wisconsin, was one of my tour winners. Shirley has the world’s largest Disney small item collection museum in her home. She offered us the chance to enjoy the AirVenture week. I also did a Disney presentation for her guests just prior to AirVenture’s opening day.
The Experimental Aircraft Association’s Fly-In Convention, now known as EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, has been in existence nearly as long as the association itself. The first gathering was in September 1953 as a small part of the Milwaukee (Wis.) Air Pageant. That original EAA fly-in at Wright-Curtiss (now Timmerman) Field was attended by a handful of airplanes, mostly homebuilt and modified aircraft. Fewer than 150 people registered as visitors. The larger Milwaukee Air Pageant has faded away but the EAA gathering has become the world’s premier aviation event.
EAA’s fly-in grew quickly in its first few years and by the late 1950s it had outgrown the area of the Milwaukee airport it was allowed to use. In 1959, the event moved to Rockford (Ill.) Municipal Airport, where it would stay for the next decade. The “Rockford Years” were where the EAA Fly-In Convention established both its prominence as a homebuilders’ event and its friendly feeling that is retained to this day. During these years, such diverse aviation interests as Warbirds, antiques and aerobatic performers became part of the EAA event.
AirVenture 2014 saw visitors from 69 nations in attendance for the week long event. Attendance was up over 500,000 visitors with over 10,000 aircraft arriving at the Oshkosh Wittman Regional Airport and other airports in the area.
Among those 10,000 aircraft were: 997 home-built aircraft, 1,050 vintage airplanes, 303 warbirds, 122 ultralights and light-sport aircraft, 91 seaplanes, 40 rotorcraft, 38 aerobatic aircraft, and 8 hot-air balloons. For 51 weeks a year, EAA is an international community of more than 180,000 members that nurtures the spirit of flight through a worldwide network of chapters, outreach programs, and other events.
But for one week each summer, EAA members and aviation enthusiasts attend EAA AirVenture at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where they rekindle friendships and celebrate the past, present, and future in the world of flight.
The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration has it all when it comes to aircraft. Warbirds. Vintage. Homebuilts. Ultralights. Some you would normally find in a hangar at your local airport, others so unique they are the only one of their kind.
You name it, there’s likely an example of it at Oshkosh. For many, arriving at Oshkosh is a rite of passage that can only be satisfied by being one of the more than 10,000 aircraft flying in, landing at what becomes the busiest airport in the world. Whether you’re an aviation enthusiast or an aviation novice, AirVenture has something for you. No matter what your age, you’ll be entertained, informed, and thrilled by the countless activities available that reflect “The Spirit of Aviation” all around. Daily air shows. Aerobatics and pyrotechnics. Nightly concerts. Feature films at the Fly-In Theater. Forums, workshops, and demonstrations. KidVenture. Special programming at Theater in the Woods. All of this, plus much, much more is included with the daily admission.
Add in the crowd-thrilling, show-stopping Night Air Show on Wednesday and Saturday night, and you have affordable fun for the entire family every day from sunup to well past sundown. There is uniqueness to each AirVenture that keeps lifelong attendees coming back for more. You need to experience it to understand. Luckily, Shirley was able to find us a motel right across the street from the airfield. Over 36,000 folks camped out, many with tents on the grass right next to their parked airplanes. Of course it rained several days, soaking the tent areas, but that’s the American Summer. A couple of sudden big thunderstorms added some drama too.
Every day we’d get to the airfield by 10 am to wander thru miles of aircraft on display. At 2 pm I’d find a spot to sit and watch the daily air show until near sundown. Several nights we’d return to see the wildly spectacular night show with pyrotechnically equipped planes – a sight we’ll never forget. Oshkosh Airventure is a great chance to meet the wonderful mid-America folks, so friendly and natural. Mom, apple pie, and AirVenture too. The best United States adventure I’ve ever experienced!