Sunday, July 22, 2007

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.

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