Friday, July 27, 2007

Oshkosh Diary - Multi-tasking

Every now and again at Oshkosh -- and it's usually about this time in the week -- I see or hear something that causes me to note, "I didn't expect that. Sure enough, right on schedule... an Oshkosh moment.

I walked into the showers in the campground today and immediately came face to face with a, um, naked old man toweling off. This caused the panic button in my brain to engage, thus interrupting the reflex cycle, keeping me from verbalizing my thoughts so that nobody actually heard the screaming that I heard in my head that said, "Wow...I didn't need to see that."

Now keep in mind, I come from the "eye's front, soldier!" school of etiquette in these situations, but as I was heading for the shower, I noticed another man -- this one with a short haircut, wearing dogtags, and, umm, naked, look at the old man I didn't need to see, and say... "it's Doug, right?"

"Huh?" the old man said.

"It's Doug, right?" he repeated.

"Why yes, Doug (I didn't catch the last name)."

"Do you remember, me?" he asked.

Now, let me just say that among the things a naked man should never say to another naked man, is "do you remember me?" First,it conjurs up images of two dogs meeting in the park and, second, well, you know.

"You look familiar," he said, which almost caused me to burst out laughing as I headed for cover.

"Do you remember when you (unintelligible verb) my Piper Cub in Lansing, Michigan?" he said.

"Why, sure I do," the old man said and as I showered I overheard the conversation, which sounded like a lot of other conversations in Oshkosh during AirVenture, but which I've never heard in the showers of Oshkosh before. (I pause here only to note that most of the conversations in the showers of Oshkosh start with, "Man, these showers are really creepy.") They were talking about how to do this or that to get this or that problem in a Piper Cub solved and they were discussing various idiosyncracies of the Piper Cub, without once stopping -- apparently -- to consider that maybe two naked men standing in the middle of a freakin' shower in Oshkosh talking about some type-specific aviation situation was, itself, a tad idiosyncratic.

And then the third man showed up.

Now, if you go into the vendor hangars at Oshkosh, you'll notice that a number of exhibitors have no one stopping to talk to them. As soon as someone does, however, a crowd soon develops.

This phenomenon -- or as someone might suggest... this "crime against nature" -- was now taking place in the showers of the campground, for apparently this third guy -- have I mentioned he was naked, too? -- was also a Piper Cub afficionado and wanted to get in on this discussion, ostensibly to learn the wisdom the naked old-timer was imparting.

Upon showering, I returned to the area -- double-checking that my towel was firmly secured around myself -- grabbed my clothes and headed for another part of the building -- stopping only long enough to note that three naked men, all facing each other in close proxmity, were in animated conversation about valve covers and leaky gaskets.

It was then and there I vowed to myself that I will never -- ever -- fly in a Piper Cub.


It rained most of yesterday evening, though the heavy storms that materialized never seemed to hit us, and a few things in the tent got a little soggy, but nothing we haven't experienced before, and nothing that caused any panic. The big tent we used for the RV BBQ on Wednesday evening was still in place as I returned from dinner last night, but one tent and one old, beat up truck that appeared to be home to someone, was now under it, as they sought shelter.

They were still there this morning -- sleeping, )they were up talking until about 3 a.m. I know that because even the rain, and thunder, and the air horns from every yahoo trucker who drives by during AirVenture, couldn't drown their voices as I tried to sleep) when the crew from Karl's Events came to take the "big top" down.
They said they'd come back later and as I peered into the truck to see who was in it, I saw the largest person I think I've ever seen. He looked like that guy you see in movies. He usually drives a motorcycle, has tattoos everywhere, has a shaved head, and looks like he'd kill you if it weren't for the fact -- it usually turns out -- that he's a big old softy with a fondness for ballet and fine arts.

I was pretty sure, though, that this guy was on the run from the law and ducked into Camp Scholler because it's the perfect place to hide. And there he was, under my tent, probably passed out after a night of heavy drinking; a tradition he started after the first time he'd spent a day robbing banks and killing puny men whose only crime was to ask him to move his motorycle and truck from underneath a tent.

So I did what any self-respecting man with a zest for life and desire to see tomorrow did. I wrote a note and duct-taped it to the shoes he'd left outside his truck asking him to move, and I left.

When he came back later, he was awake, and having accepted the idea that this would be my last day to live, I made peace with my God and went over to introduce myself. And just like in the movies, he turned out to be a nice guy from Oregon who had, in fact, been camping nearby and came to the RV BBQ (I invited all "neighbors" to come as our guests) and he just wanted to thank me for the hospitality, noting that the RV builders he met seemed like pretty nice people "for RV builders."

Supressing all other thoughts, I thanked him, offered him whatever beer was left over, while supressing the instinctive desire not to add "if you just let me live."

The fine arts never came up, however.


I was going to head down into the AirVenture grounds -- I hadn't really been there since Monday when I covered the Cirrus news conference -- to poke around a little and maybe take in a fiberglass workshop, when Glenn Brasch called to see if I wanted to join him, his son, Michael; and Roger Everson. As they are the heart and soul of AirVenture as far as I'm concerned, I jumped at the chance to head to a drive-in near Lake Winnebago -- you know, waitresses on roller skates, '50s music, and the whole thing.

So there we sat, in the back of Glenn's pick-up, eating and sipping our root-beer floats, as plane after plane flew overhead on short final for the runway at Oshkosh.

There are times I feel guilty for having such a good life.


Among my few disappointments this week was not seeing the 35-ship formation of RVs that flew over Oshkosh several times. You can find the names of the RVers here ( ). Opening the AirVenture newspaper today, however, there was a terrific picture of the formation front and center on the gallery page.

I don't "get" formation flying, myself, because it's nothing a pilot like me should ever get close to, but I do know it well enough to know that flying wingtip to wingtip with another person requires more than knowing how to fly wingtip to wingtip with another person. It requires, it seems to me, some serious guts.

Lacking a plane, knowledge, and -- oh yeah -- guts, it's just not something to which I aspire, but it's not hard to appreciate, especially after I talk to fighter-jocks around here and I tell them that I'm building an RV airplane and they always -- always -- remark about these guys who fly formation at Oshkosh. If you've got the respect of fighter jocks for your ability to fly precision formation, man, there isn't much more to accomplish on Planet RV.

By the way, there are pictures all over the Internet of this. RV Builder's Hotline, Rob Riggen told me earlier this week, has some video of what the formation looked like from the cockpit of one RV.


The story goes -- although I'm taking some liberties with this -- that when God created the words "gentleman" and "courteous," he created Jerry Hansen, Chuck Busch, Paul Ross, and Sid Tolchin to help explain to the universe what the words mean.

The four, of Trio Avionics, invited me to dinner last evening. We stopped for happy hour at the house they're using this week on the shore of Lake Winnebago. To our left a C-5 (C-5A?) Galaxy was performing at the airshow, occasionally roaring by (below the tree line, of course) near us. To our right, seaplanes were landing at the AirVenture seaplane base. Ahead of us was a gorgeous lake, said to be miles and miles in length, and I believe it.

Then we headed to Kodiak Jack's steakhouse. The wait -- it's one of the more popular restaurants here -- was an hour and half, so we waited in the bar, and chatted about all the things people chat about. Put simply -- and, I'm sorry to say, far less eloquently than they deserve -- they are some of the nicest and warmest people I've met at an event that seems to have no shortage of nice and warm people.

I first met them at the '06 BBQ, the one where a downpour began about the same time the BBQ did. We were staring face-to-face with disaster, and disaster didn't appear to be ready to blink. As we tried to keep things from falling apart before they could start, the Trio folks showed up and offered nothing but support and patience and encouragement, when it would have been just as easy to roll your eyes and wonder who the guys from Hooterville were that thought they could put on a BBQ.

Sid, who for 40 years was a Navy flight surgeon, and Jerry, who was in the Army yet is still allowed to associate with the Navy guys, both took the opportunity to offer encouragement for my bout with Meniere's Disease. Keep in mind a year ago at this time, I was sitting here at the world's greatest aviation event, trying to reconcile it with the very real possibility that my flying days were over.

"It'll go away," Sid said. Words that I've remembered every day since. And he was right.

We sat and chatted for an hour-and-a-half, though to me it seemed like just a few minutes. I won't tell you all the fascinating stuff I learned because I didn't ask their permission, but their backgrounds are incredibly fascinating. They were all Cozy builders -- that's how they met each other.

I learned Sid led a Navy expedition to the South Pole, and even parachuted out of a plane at the South Pole. "What was that like?" I asked, exhausting my quota of stupid questions fairly early in the evening. "Cold," he said.

Paul has restored two Swifts, Chuck served on Trident submarines. Jerry is from Nebraska originally and says he never lost the "gee whiz" part of aviation. And this was a particularly interesting part of a splendid evening.

I asked how each got into aviation. Sid was 11 years old in Pennsylvania, where he delivered newspapers and he won a contest in which the winning prize was a ride in an airplane. When Chuck talked about this recurring dream in which he -- and I'm probably telling this wrong -- would run and fly...up over his house and neighborhood -- Jerry said, "I have the same dream." "So do I," said Sid.

Those words "gee whiz" are at the heart of aviation, and for me, at the heart of the frustration at my complete inability to explain to non-pilots what AirVenture is like. I had wanted this week to take a stab at it for my day job but finally gave up this morning for two reasons: (1) I can't objectively or fairly assess an event in which I'm so obviously involved but (2) I can't find the words to explain this. There is no way to explain the magnitude of this event in context of aviation. You can, perhaps, bite off a small morsel of it, but you can never adequately describe the dinner. Never.

Sure we try, Google search AirVenture and see for yourself. But, trust me, even those of us who at least think we can make words do tricks are pikers at this. And yet, what's fascinating about it is there were already two words available: "gee whiz."

Anyway, it was a wonderful evening spent with fine individuals for whom I have a new appreciation and affection. I can't wait to see them again, next year.

RV vs.T-6

I'm sure I'm telling this incorrectly, too, but Jerry (I'm pretty sure it was Jerry) told me about an incident here in which a T-6 was holding short of the runway before getting permission to taxi across it to get somewhere else. This was at the departure end of the runway. Having permission to taxi across it, the pilot instead turned and took off on the runway, into the path of the landing airplanes, including an RV-4, the pilot of which was quick-thinking enough to coax it back into the air, eluding the warbird (I think it was a T-6 but can't recall).

If that was your RV-4, I'd love to chat with you. I'm going to guess that, at least at that moment, the two words of prominence were not "gee whiz."


I will probably leave in the morning, and by Sunday I should be in full Oshkosh withdrawal, when -- if history is any guide -- I'm sitting on my beloved bench (, and realizing the cacophony of silence. No helicopter flying nonstop around the "pattern" of the campground, giving their first helicopter rides to --usually -- wide-eyed kids and family. No outboard-motor sound of the Goodyear blimp (did you know it doesn't fly in the rain because the weight of the raindrops would bring it down?). No crescendo of a fighter jet as it makes its low pass and then bombards you with the noise of the afterburners as it turns out over Lake Winnebago. No putt-putt noise from scooters going up and down Camp Scholler... now occupied by two (usually a young man and a young woman who didn't know each other a few days ago). No sound of the schoolbus as it drops another load of weary campers from the flight line after a day of trying to do the impossible -- take it all in. No slam of the Porta John door in the middle of the night. No rustling from the plastic tarp you put up to keep rain from coming in your tent, no nauseating hum of a generator from blocks away, and worst of all -- no voice of a someone you used to know as someone who builds airplanes but you now think of as family -- inviting you to sit down and visit for awhile.

In the next few days -- again if history is any guide at all -- there will be threads on most of the various bulletin boards. Some old-timer will talk about the old days, about how EAA is too commercial, or has lost touch with the average builder, or costs too much, or whatever whine of the moment happens to motivate one to waste precious time on such things.

Trust me. They're wrong. They're not intentionally wrong. They're not ignorantly wrong. They're just wrong.

Everything that aviation is, is still here, from the "gee whiz" of an 11 year old paperboy in Pennsylvania getting his first ride in an airplane, to the delight of a man from France camping in his car for a week in the middle of a field in eastern Wisconsin(ask Dana Overall), delighted that new rules -- LSA-like rules -- there are restoring the dream old rules took away. From waitresses on roller skates bringing root-beer floats to a bunch of aviators in the back of a pick-up truck, to the one-week love affairs of early teenagers, in the shade of a tree in the shade of a wing of a Ford TriMotor flying overhead. From the twinking eyes of an 85 year old war veteran, too old to fly, barely able to walk, but momentarily transformed when a B-17 passes overhead, to a 21 year old kid.

I haven't left the place yet... and I already miss it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Where fantasy and reality meet

There's a sameness to AirVenture that is quite often comforting. Most of the vendors are in the same place each year, we certainly see the same people, for the most part the airshow is the same, and if there's been any upgrade to Porta-Potty technology, it hasn't reached Eastern Wisconsin.

Here it is Thursday and I still haven't spent any just me walking around looking time here, and Thursday is the day I head to the laundromat (free wiFi) to both clean my laundry and take a giant step foward to improve the aroma of the tent after two days of occasional downpours. And this evening, the great folks at Trio Avionics have invited me to the home they're renting on Lake Winnebago for happy hour, so there won't be time to do any today either.

But that's OK (unless, of course, I really needed to buy an engine and a bunch of avionics I can't afford this week), because the show comes to you here. While we were "breaking down" the BBQ site this morning (more on that later), the F-22 Raptors arrived. They usually put on a show doing what they do, one over the runway, and another over Camp Scholler (the campground). Unfortunately it was low scud weather-wise, so they could only do flybys, but that was OK as one came out over my tent.

Right around then, coincidentally, standing under the "big top," (the tent we had for the BBQ) was Scott Fechtig, who works for the Navy and told me about the software that makes these jets (and the F-18s) do the things they do.

I told him my nephew is an F-18 driver and asked if what he was telling me that the software means that he has as much input into what his jet does as I have here, right now, with my laptop, in the Oshkosh Maytag Coin-Op laundry? No, he said, but the "pilot only gets one vote in the decisions," he said.

I took my campmate, Warren Starkebaum, down to his plane... wayyyy down in the South 40, past the end of the runway. Some big government jet (actually it was a little government jet making a big noise) was taking off, as a Cessna 172 was landing adjacent on the taxiway. I wondered about the wake turbulence of the jet.

I headed to the laundromat when two screaming jets (which I couldn't see at the time) passed low over my car as I drove on the road near the departure end of the runway. A minute later they filled my windshield -- two MIGs. Where else would you see that?

A minute later a screaming aerobatic biplane zipped by. I didn't even have to look (although, of course, I did), knowing it was Sean D. Tucker, my favorite airshow performer, going out for morning practice.

I often wonder why there aren't more rear-enders on the streets of Oshkosh, what with everyone looking up while they drive.

Well, then, let's talk about the BBQ. First, I don't have many pictures -- I have almost no pictures (and the ones I have aren't very good) -- as there's very little time for taking them. But everyone has said they'll send me CDs of theirs (hint) and I'll put them on the slideshow on the BBQ site when done.

I won't be able to tell you all of the people I talked to, but I remember every conversation, and most of them couldn't last long enough, as I was usually trying to get something done.

It was a pleasure to meet James Clark of the Palmetto EAA chapter in South Carolina. He's another one of my RV heroes and recently was with a gaggle that flew to Yellowstone. He asked me if I was interested in freelance writing work, and of course those are the magic words -- as long as the subject is aviation -- and he said, "I want you to meet someone." But I was on my way to important duty -- I was bringing the required cooler of beer to the cooks, and I never got back to him.

So there go, kids. When faced with living a dream (maybe) or delivering a cooler of beer, drop the beer.

After the BBQ, I talked to Paul Merems quite a bit about canopy fitting tips and realized that getting your canopy just right on an RV is a matter of dumb luck. Usually after Oshkosh, I'm anxious to race home and work on the plane. Not this year.

The BBQ went great and we got lots of good comments. There were a couple of things that kept me up. We pitched a lot of food and I realized that while we came up with an ingenius idea of distributing the buns for whatever folks were eating -- thus limiting them to one on the first pass through the chow line (that kept the line moving and the lines small), I neglected to tell everyone that they could make a second, or third, or fourth pass through.

I also forgot to mention a couple of sponsors on my way-too-long speech -- which shouldn't have been too long since it was the same one I gave last year -- including Harmon Lange of LangAir, nor did I get a chance to talk to him, which is a shame since he was on my list.

Others can talk about the BBQ per se, but, as usual, I'd rather talk about wayward thoughts it creates. And here's mine today: politics stinks.

We don't realize how infected our lives are with politics, and I'm not here to argue that politics -- the good of the country and the people and all that -- isn't deep and important. It is. But it destroys us, bit by bit. We choose who to talk to, who to like, who to care about, based on politics, and that's not what families, including a family of 300 million, should do.

I talked to 500 friends last night and we don't talk politics at the RV BBQ (and many other places) for a good reason. Everyone knows what politics does.

These BBQs, for a lot of people, I think, are magical. In that tent last night, we no doubt had Republicans, Democrats and a few Socialists, we had electrical engineers, airline pilots, Air Force test pilots, the lead flight director of the space shuttle program, the guy who makes the software for fighter jets, an unusually high number of cops and ex-cops, news editors, professional photographers, aircraft designers and on and on and on.

At one point in these BBQs, the first question used to be, "what model of RV are you building." I don't hear that that much anymore. Instead I hear, "how's your father doing, I heard he was ailing," or "how old are your kids now," or -- in my case -- "how's your vertigo."

Somewhere along the line, these issues dominated and, as you may know, these are the issues that families talk about when they're not talking politics.

Now broaden that a bit. Imagine if we could stop polarizing ourselves with politics, and focus on something non-political, until we got to relate to each other as "family"? How different would the relationship we have with each other in this country -- on a broader scale, I mean -- be?

I come to Oshkosh for one week out of the year. And for one week, I don't know who the real me is. Is the real me the guy standing on the back of pickup truck in a field in Wisconsin, pouring my heart out to 500 people, not giving a rip whether the Indians won their game with the Red Sox (they did, 1-0, suck on that, Boston!), or that I've got lots of unfinished projects at home that I've got to do? Or is the real me the one for 51 weeks out of the year who walks into a room and sucks the air out of it?

Don't get me wrong. I like both of these guys just fine. But it's something I'll have to noodle over the next time I'm folding laundry and watching MIGs and biplanes out the window.

BBQ - They liked it

Too tired tonight to write anything. Doug Reeves took a bunch of pictures which you can find on his Web site (Please, Doug, feel free to write, tho' I know you're on your way home. You won't be stealing any of my thunder. I know Patti Spicer did too and we'll be looking for them on Rivetbangers. And I'll post some on the BBQ site, sometime.

Suffice it to say, it was great, great fun visiting with my RV family. Many of them are scattering to the wind tomorrow (err... today) and the campsite will be darned lonely (although the fine folks at Trio Avionics have invited me to the house they're renting on Lake Winnebago Thursday evening).

But I miss my friends already.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Oshkosh Diary - Tuesday July 24

I only got down inside the show today long enough to go to the FAA Safety Forum on surviving forced landings. A rash of RV deaths of late, a few folks I know making emergency landings, and the fact I haven't flown in a couple of years, pretty well has my attention, and I've never considered myself a particularly great pilot, so these forums to make me a better pilot -- a safer pilot -- tend to be more appealing to me than forums on how to make widgets fit together just right.

After that, it was time to turn our attention to the RVers Family Reunion BBQ

I made a trip to Appleton to pick up beer, soft drinks and assorted non-perishables -- two gallons of relish, for example. Total cost? $685, less than I thought, but I still haven't bought the actual food yet.

And while I was gone, they put up the tent.

How cool is that? The BBQ is probably up to 550 people right now although it's impossible to guess on the count since I'm getting various messages that some people who bought tickets can't come and others who didn't buy tickets want to come.

It makes it pretty impossible to buy enough food, without running into the danger of throwing hundreds of dollars of it away.

As last night, groups of RVers wandered over to the site and we talked well into the evening, with a nice campfire to boot.

I was particularly pleased to see Alex Peterson, an RV-6A pilot who gave me a ride a few months ago, which I wrote about on the Letters from Flyover Country, RV Builder's Hotline Edition. Alex is one of my RV heroes and he introduced me to his mother and father (Phyllis and Wayne I believe, but don't quote me). His Dad was an Air Force pilot and I recounted how, when I was a kid, I wanted to be an Air Force pilot and I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy, until I had an eye exam and found out I was disqualified.

Heartbroken -- in a 15 year old kind of way -- I turned my attention to writing and all of that instead.

"Same as me," Alex said. Well, the Air Force wannabee part anyway. His mom noted that she had enjoyed the piece I wrote in Letters from Flyover Country, which is always nice to hear that stuff touches other folks. I have no clue if anyone is actually "out there."

Darwin Barrie, former ace detective now retired man of leisure and Little League World Series umpire, made it in from Arizona in his RV-7 today, pausing in Iowa long enough to await the end of the daily airshow.

I also met a man named Tom from the Fulton, New York area who had his grandson, Tom, also in tow, at his first AirVenture. Younger Tom and I chatted around the fire and he showed me his video he took today and I smiled at his excitement, because it reminded me of when my sons came with us for a week of camping at Oshkosh.

It always seemed we camped next to someone cool, and someone who my kids enjoyed talking to. I'm surely not cool, but I hope young Tom enjoyed talking, and will pass it on someday.

I wonder, though, how long this all can last. At the FAA forum today, a show of hands asked how many people are under 70. Many hands shot up. Under 60? A few less. 50? Significantly less. 40? Very few. 30? Hardly any at all. 20? Two.

Not exactly an inspiring thought for the future of general aviation in America.

The faces of Oshkosh

As a general rule -- in my day job -- I'm not a particularly well-liked individual. Let's just say that it's not in my DNA.

But for one week a year, I've got a ton of friends. Coming here each year, and having a natural vehicle like the BBQ, setting up a large get-together area for RV builders in Camp Scholler, the RV Builder's Hotline, or the Yahoogroup I created some years ago, or just occasional posting on Rivetbangers or VAF or any of a dozen other places talking airplanes, offers endless opportunities to meet interesting people, who have a habit of becoming friends.

For me, this is the face of Oshkosh:

This is Frank Zwart of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who whizzed by on his scooter Monday evening as Warren Starkebaum and I sat around ye olde campsite. I've never been happier to see someone not named my wife, children, or family. When my youngest son
and I were here in 2005, Frank happened to pull up in his bigger-than-the-Goodyear-blimp RV (the kind on wheels). "Are there RVers here?" he yelled out the window?
Oddly enough, there were.

Frank, as it turned out, is an RVer, and built an RV-6 many years ago, back when you didn't just match up holes and assemble a homebuilt plane. He was here with his brothers and they were very kind and generous to Patrick and I.

Then last year, as thunderstorm swept through our BBQ site minutes before it was to start, threatening to leave us with a several-thousand-dollars disaster, Frank showed up in his RV, pulled it around to our campsite, and unrolled the awning to
allow us to stay dry until it passed, basically saving the evening. Oh, also inside the RV was his new wife, Joyce.

I sent Frank an e-mail last week to see if he was coming this year, but it bounced back. And me being a Collins and all, I feared the worst. But, as it turned out, he just changed e-mail addresses.

There are dozens and dozens of people here like Frank Zwart, whom I've met and grown fond of. As great as all the planes and whizbang displays are here, it's better just to see old faces. At least for a week, not long enough for anyone to get to know
me enough to.... know me enough.

In other news...

On Monday I met Patti and John Spicer, who run Rivetbangers. Patti arranged for volunteer T-shirts to be printed, which I'm now giving out.

I tried to give one to John Porter of the Pacific Northwest (by way of Georgia). But apparently he already has one...

We sat around and had many laughs at the campsite last evening. Chris Stone of Oregon joined John. Bob Kelley of Indiana, who had his first flight in his RV-9A (I think it was a 9A) in February, stopped by to give me a DVD of a video he made of the entire construction process.

Howard Kaney, another one of my many Oshkosh favorites, also checked in. Howard does the brat cooking, and also co-chairs the AeroMart here, where people bring their old airplane parts and sell them on consignment.

and Dava Overall of Kentucky made the 9 hour drive and has camped right behind us.

Hopefully we've got enough RVers that when our BBQ spills over into a much larger area (and it will), nobody will be too offended.

As the sun set, a gentleman came by from San Jose and introduced himself. "Hi, I'm Bob Collins," he said.

It was, weatherwise, conversation-wise, and friend-wise, a perfect evening... and then the Goodyear blimp came by...

It's funny -- if not in a ha ha way -- how things are so relative. Here we are in this patch of field in the middle of Eastern Wisconsin enjoying everything about life, and at home, my wife is suffering as her best friend's mother, who's she has known since she was a little girl, passed away, the same day, she found, that our next-door-neighbor also passed away after a short battle with brain cancer.

I needed to be home more than I needed to be here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Oshkosh Diary - Monday July 23

With the RV BBQ requiring a tremendous amount of shopping and set-up -- I usually start in earnest on Tuesday -- Monday was the only day I really will have for the first half of this week to get around and see what's at AirVenture this year. Turns out the most impressive thing is this huge brat grille I found on the back of a trailer truck. I could use that!

For the most part, Oshkosh doesn't change from year to year. What makes it such a fascinating experience -- aside from the social gatherings -- is the range of aviation.

While covering the Cirrus news conference this morning -- they announced a new "light" airplane -- a couple of F-somethings screamed by for 10 or so passes. A little later I saw a couple of flyboys walking around in their Navy -- or was it Air Force -- flight suits. Kids. They're just kids. Not far removed probably, from calling mom and dad late at night to announce they wrecked the car on the way to the malt shop.

This afternoon I was helping Rob Riggen at a forum presentation on using online resources. As usual, I had my spiel prepared on the meaning of community and the habits of online resources and those who use them. Fortunately I was done before turning it back over to Rob, but when I did, the Harrier arrived.

This is the jet that hovers and can land like a helicopter. To do it, it has huge jets that can rotate. And they make lots of noise, a fact that has been known to anger all of the 10 gazillion people here who are trying to sell things to 10 gazillion other people.

And selling they are...

That's one of the big hangars where exhibitors have all set up. Here's the gang from PMag. They've donated a Pmag and harness as a door prize at the BBQ.

And here's Rob Hickman and if you click on the image, you'll see Advanced Flight System's fine product. I want one. Memo to self: buy lottery ticket.

Unfortunately, at the same time as our forum, there was a hands-on forum next door on working with fiberglass. I've put off doing any fiberglass work on the plane, because I really don't know anything about fiberglass work. Oh, and I also hate sanding.

I visited one of the exhibit halls today. One of my favorite things here at Oshkosh -- and remember, I'm a simpleton capable of excitement over cheap thrills -- is the Shell Aerospace posters they give away every year, based on a "cow" theme.

Here's this year's version featuring Amoolia Earhart.

I also ran some BBQ tickets to the folks at P-Mag, and found fellow RV builder John Tierney instructing at a sheet metal workshop.

When I first started coming here -- 1999, I believe -- I took one of these workshops and decided that a sheet metal airplane is for me. You have to give credit to guys like John, who are so willing to share their knowledge. Oshkosh is full of thousands of people like this. As much money as the EAA makes on this place, 99% of it is run by people doing it for nothing.

While filing my ... excuse me I had to pause while a pair of F-18s just did a low-deck flyby... story for MPR on the Cirrus announcement today, I met Corey Emberson of Kitplanes Magazine, who told me about their arrival at Oshkosh on Sunday. Now, keep in mind there are thousands and thousands of planes flying into this airport (this week it's the world's busiest airport). All was well on short final when a Lancair came screaming out of nowhwere went across their nose, circled around under them and cut them off in the line of incoming plane.

The more stories I hear like this, the less I feel compelled to fly my plane (should it ever actually, you know, fly) here. If I were to, however, I'd be sure to have a passenger. I can't imagine doing it by yourself, as my camping partner, Warren Starkebaum, did when arriving on Sunday.

I mentioned the other day that the Goodyear blimp, errrr... airship, arrived last night. Today, Rob Riggen told me he got a chance to sit in the pilot's seat. I think flying an airship would be plenty of fun. I'd probably try to ram a Harrier, though, so I'm best left groundbound.

One other photo. I'm beginning to like the idea of a nice motorcycle to tour the country with. What's more, my wife, Carolie, has also expressed an interest in riding around the country on the motorcycle if she gets her own.

Wrap up two of these, please.

Oshkosh Diary - Sunday July 22

Most of Sunday, like most of my time so far, has been taken up with socializing, although I visited the homebuilt camping area and was startled by the number RVs that had filled it in the previous 24 hours.

The highlight was meeting Doug Reeves of Van's Air Force. I stole the picture above of him taking a picture of me taking a picture of him.

I took many more pictures and have added them to the slideshow, which you can find here. I'm also adding separate campsite shots of the BBQ festivities (of which they're none so far on the BBQ page at

I have more stories to write than time to write them. I met a couple from Tennessee (they're on the slideshow) with his-and-her RVs; not the only people who have his/her RVs (the Velvicks come to mind. Oh, memo to self: go meet the Velvicks), but I have a feeling there's a good story here. Reporters know these things.

Kelly Patterson of Phoenix had a valve problem and had to put down at an airport in Kansas, so he and his girlfriend are a scratch for this year. I had them down for some BBQ duty so we'll see.

At this point, I'm tempted to dump the BBQ ticket table at the "door" as there are now people coming out of the woodwork asking to come. So we may just throw open the "doors" (easily done since there are no doors) and put out a donation bin.

At the EAA briefing this morning (Monday), Dick Knapinski said a T-6 made an emergency landing on Highway 41 (that's the main north-south drag in these parts) last night in Fond du Lac. No injuries although there was leading-edge damage.

About a half-dozen helicopters were to arrive from France but about 3 of them had to turn back because of mechanical difficulty.

The RV formation folks arrived on Sunday, but were denied permission to fly in as a group (like the Bonanza folks). They will be performing their close-formation 35-ship roles everyday this week, I believe).

Had a very nice BBQ last night at Michael Sausen's house up near Appleton. Michael is building an RV-10.

I'm covering a Cirrus news conference for the day job this morning and will write a story (I presume on VLJs) later.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Goodyear blimp

Is big...

And here's some pictures my camping mate, Warren Starkebaum took...

Oshkosh - Saturday July 21, 2007

Oshkosh has become more of a social visit for me over the last few years. I rarely watch the air show anymore, except if I'm sitting at the campsite, and I only make about one pass through the exhibit halls. Sure, I know I'm supposed to put an engine
at the front of my airplane. And I guess there's supposed to be some instruments in the panel, and who can't always use a drill bit that can drill through a brick and stay sharp.

And yet, I'd rather walk around and meet people.

Saturday, in particular, is a good walking-around day. I visited the RV corral in the morning where about 30 RVs were already in place (see slideshow here), and Jeff Point and his gang were directing one about every 4 minutes it seemed. They've expanded the RV parking area, but I don't think it's going to hold everybody. Last year there were more than 400 RVs at Oshkosh; I'd expect more this year.

Many had "judge me" signs on them, which means the pilots also write down their names on the cards, that are then stuck on the props. Many of the names I recognized; many I didn't, which is always a good reminder that no matter how often we hang around the forums and get used to seeing the same names, there are probably 10-15 RVers out there for every one who posts on forums.

I met Jim Dickson(photo), tying down his plane after a trip, he said, from northeast Colorado. He's been flying for two years, he said, and has about 175 hours on his plane so far. Jim reported no problems on his trip to Wisconsin. The weather was great, he said, except for a layer around the Omaha area. "I was alongside a couple of Bonanzas," he said, "and I lost them around there."

A few minutes later I was eyeing a lovely yellow (is there any other color for RVs?) in the homebuilt camping area (still somewhat sparse at that time). "How ya doing?" I heard from the back of the plane... somewhere. Strolling around to spy the brand new Target-inspired screenhouse ($29), I met Bob and Karen Brown of Independence, Oregon (photo below). Fantastic, putting faces to names of people I've read about (Bob is the president of the EAA chapter in Independence; Karen is also a pilot, and both are coming to the RV BBQ on Wednesday night).

Their first stop was the Goodwill store near the airport to pick up a couple of bikes, required for getting around a place as massive as AirVenture.

This is their first visit in their RV, though they've flown in to Oshkosh before. They made fuel stops in -- if I recall correctly -- Caldwell, Idaho; Thermopolis, Wyoming; Mitchell, South Dakota, and Portage, Wisconsin. As Bob rattled off the
names, Karen recited the identifiers, immediately revealing her role as a professional navigator and expert aviator.

We chatted about the plane's paint job, hundreds of hours of preparation, they said. "Sanding the fiberglass was the worst," Karen said. "You think you've got it in good shape and then you put some paint on it and you see pinholes everywhere."
Bob was kind enough to offer complements about the RV Builder's Hotline, as we talked about the difficulty of getting people to understand how interesting they actually are, regardless of whether their story is a short flight that might seem routine, or a difficult (or not difficult) part of construction that they tackled.

Back at the campsite after struggling with a failed DreamWeaver program, I created a Flash slideshow of some of the RVs I saw (I'll be adding more during the week) and then wrestled with a balky FTP program to upload it.

Terry Frazier and his wife, Linda, stopped by from Nevada. Terry and Linda pitched in to help cook at last year's BBQ and it was great to see them again. Larry Frey came by on his scooter, noting he's taken Wednesday off from his duties on the
flightline to help mastermind the BBQ setup.

I was particularly honored to meet Joke and Rens Verhoeven from Veghel, The Netherlands. We had communicated by e-mail with Rens for tickets to the BBQ and I had been holding them for pickup. They're building an RV-9A. "I need to give you some money," Joke said.

"If you came ALL this way, JUST to come to the BBQ, then we can provide you with free food and beer," I said, knowing full well that the lure of Oshkosh was something more. Still, driving 4 1/2 hours from St. Paul often seems like a struggle. How much committment does it take to get here from The Netherlands?

Rob Riggen of Expercraft, my partner on the RV Builder's Hotline has arrived and rode his bike through the moundy field of Camp Scholler to find me, armed with a bucketload of new ideas and stories, but severely lacking in plans to help me find the time to do it (g).

As I had my morning coffee on Sunday, a perfect story came to me, as I was leafing through the AirVenture official program -- find a homebuilt judge and accompany him or her on the judging process of an RV. I'll bet we can all get some good instruction, even if we're not building showplanes. Another story for me to do... when I find the time. The show hasn't even opened, and I already feel the deadline pressures of getting stuff done.

In the evening, I found Stein Bruch's (SteinAir) compound. They've rented a couple of RVs (the kind on wheels) and even have a refrigerated beer dispenser. They're camping with the folks from TruTrak, which reminds me I saw Jim Younkin flying in
yesterday in his RV-10. I've never met Jim, but he remains one of my RV -- and aviation -- heroes. Covering politics for a living, I've been around senators and vice presidents and presidents and never thought much of it, but I still get excited to meet a "famous" RVer.

Stein showed me a picture that he took with his cellphone of an RV-9A whose nosegear collapsed while parking. He apparently hit a chuckhole and, well, you know how these things go by now. It's now parked in the emergency repairs area of Oshkosh, another notch in the holster of the "there's something wrong with the nosegear" brigade. I don't know if I'll get down to any of the forums Van's does every year, but I'm pretty sure that THIS year, the admonishment to just be a better pilot, isn't going to work when the nosegear question comes up -- which it will.

And my evening was finished the way most of my best evenings at Oshkosh are, sitting with Glenn Brasch (Tucson), his son, Michael; and Roger Evinson (I've got to get the spelling right). Three of my favorite people on Planet RV. As you may know,
Roger's RV-9A was destroyed a few weeks ago when he lost his engine, made an emergency landing and the plane flipped, destroying it. "When I think of all the work I put into it," he told me, not needing to finish the sentence, and me not
knowing how to other than to tell him, again, how good it is to see him here.

Roger spent, if memory serves, about 5 years building the plane. We talked about the committment it takes to build an RV. He worked his "day job," and just about every night, he says, he worked on the plane.

I didn't have the heart to ask if he's going to build again, for I imagine everyone else is. Suffice it to say, we all feel his pain.

Back at the campsite, I bundled up for another "cold" evening, temperatures in the 50s, by firing up the laptop as I made my comfortable bed in the tent, and watching my beloved Cleveland Indians on Ah, this is camping the way it was
supposed to be! If only they could win a game.

By the way, the deal on the free wiFi here is EAA was worried about its failed experiment at Sun n'Fun with wifi so they aren't charging this year. This year is a "proof of concept" to see if reliable servince can be provided. If so, next year
they charge. Next year, I'll pay.

On the docket for Sunday, I'm heading back down to the homebuilt camping area to take some more photos to add to the slideshow, and then delivering some BBQ credentials to David Lowy of Vancouver, who arrived on Saturday. I want to get a
blow-by-blow of what it's like to fly into Oshkosh. I'm pretty sure he's camping near Doug Reeves (see note on "famous" RVers above). This evening, Michael Sausen, who lives near here, is hosting a BBQ at his house nearby, and I've invited myself and my RV building pal, Warren Starkebaum (flying in today in his Cessna 170 and camping with me).

I need to do more BBQ shopping. For one week a year, I'm WalMart's best friend.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Back home to Oshkosh

Another year, another week at Oshkosh for the grounded pilot.

I love Oshkosh -- or at least the week when there's the big air festival here known as AirVenture. I've been coming long enough now that there are a lot of friends I want to catch up with. A handful stopped by the campsite (a big campsite this year because I'm holding a big barbecue for everyone on Wednesday night).

But the nest never seems so empty to me as the first day I arrive. Oshkosh is one of those things I've kicked myself for not coming to earlier. We've lived in the Midwest since 1992, and I think 1999 was the first year the whole family came over; and we had a great time. The kids were mesmorized by the air show. A year or so later, they were mesmorized by the girls.

By a few years ago, the "magic" disappeared for them. They didn't reconnect with people they had met the year before, and the last time they were here, they were at the age when kids can be real jerks to each other.

But, still, as I sit -- with wireless this year -- in the tent here, I'm hoping that someday, we can all do a few days over here one more time.

I'm here on a media pass this year. I'll be writing stuff for the RV Builder's Hotline and also trying to scrounge some stories from Minnesota folks who are here so I can do a Web piece for Minnesota Public Radio.

I'm covering a news conference on Monday when I think Cirrus is going to unveil their VLJ -- very light jet. This is the big thing in aviation now and, I guess, there's a market for this. Imagine taking all those little piston airplanes out of the sky, and giving everyone a jet instead. That's where the world is going.

On Thursday, I hope to meet Morgan Freeman and also Apollo 13 pilot Jim Lovell. They've both got news conferences scheduled.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Slow down

I took last summer off from work, cashing in my banked 6-8 weeks of vacation time. It was one of the best things I ever did.

This summer, I'm working every day in a business that slows considerably in the summer, and yet it's zipping by at record speed.

Time is moving at the same speed it always has, but it has never felt faster.

I want it to slow down.

Next Friday, I'll leave for a week at Oshkosh, which is usually the highlight of my summer and I suspect it will be again, especially since the rest of the summer has been -- so far -- completely routine and without highlights; certainly without the highlights of a year ago.

I usually try to go back to New England in the summer, but it's beginning to look like there won't be time. But why? I'm not doing anything special, it's boring at work, and yet as I look ahead to August, it feels as though it's spoken for.

I thought when my kids left home, that I'd have a lot more time to do things and go places. But I don't. In fact, we seem to have less time now, or -- more accurately -- less motivation.

When we had the kids at home, we had to do things -- or thought we did -- with them, including heading back to New England for two weeks, which had to include time at the beach. Now, the kids are gone, and, man, do I ever miss the beach.

It's the part of the empty nest I had no idea existed -- the part that if you're not careful, you'll slip into a pattern of frenzied boredom.