Flying to Oshkosh in an airplane you built yourself is way up there on every homebuilder’s wish list. Although my husband Steve and I have driven to Oshkosh umpteen times in the last 30 years, and flown there twice in our Cessna 150, this year was the first time we considered making the trip to “mecca” in our GlaStar. We’ve only been flying our ‘Star since August 2010 (after 14 years of building) and perhaps this would be the year to go.
We’ve known about Dan Dudley’s mass GlaStar arrival at Oshkosh for many years now. This past spring, we talked to Dan while at the GSAI brat roast at Sun ’n’ Fun, and he pretty much shamed us into joining the group this year. Dan said, “so you’ve flown to California and back, but you can’t make the trip from Toronto to Oshkosh? What the heck?” So we decided we needed to join the gang this year, and are so glad we did.
This year was the 10th anniversary of the Mass GlaStar and Sportsman Arrival at Oshkosh. Organized by longtime GlaStar pilot and instructor Dan Dudley, who is based in Madison WI (KMSN, a 30-minute flight south of Oshkosh), it’s a great way to experience the fun of flying in to the world’s busiest airport, with somewhat less stress than if you’re going on your own.
So the preparation began! One of the best parts of owning a GlaStar or Sportsman is all the stuff you can take. No more worries about packing light! Steve and I were pretty excited about camping in style this year, and splurged on a bigger tent as well as cots and comfy mats to sleep on. We spent a few hours packing the plane with all our stuff; in total, we carried about 200 lbs of camping and other gear!
As departure day drew closer, I did the usual pre-flight border-crossing paperwork: submit an EAPIS arrival report, arrange for US Customs, and file a cross-border flight plan. We wanted to arrive in Madison in time to meet some other participants and enjoy the traditional steakhouse dinner on Saturday night, prior to the early morning launch on Sunday.
Toronto – Valparaiso – Madison
Due to some bad weather that was coming our way on Saturday, we departed our home airport (CNC3, just west of Toronto) on Friday July 26. As we headed west toward Detroit, Steve and I chatted about how much better it was to fly rather than drive. It’s a 12-hour trip by road to Oshkosh, but only 4 or 5 hours by GlaStar! Plus, we’ll arrive in a lot more comfort and style, and the view is so much better!
After clearing US Customs at Port Huron, MI (KPHN), we carried on to Porter County airport in Valparaiso, IN (KVPZ, just south of Chicago), where we planned to stay overnight while some showers passed through.
Coincidentally, Garth Hitchens of Annapolis MD, in his beautiful Sportsman, was just in front of us in the pattern at VPZ. He had also decided to stop there overnight. After fueling up at a good discount, we tied down for the night, then enjoyed the great hospitality and lunch fare offered by the local EAA chapter. VPZ is a traditional waypoint for pilots heading west to Oshkosh, and we can see why. Garth signed out the courtesy car, and the three of us had a pleasant evening sharing flying stories over dinner before retiring for the night.
By mid-morning Saturday, the low ceilings slowly rose to marginal VFR and we departed for KMSN. We had a low but uneventful flight over some lovely midwest farmland, and by early afternoon were tied down on the south ramp at Madison.
One Sportsman, a taildragger recently completed by Bob Lisbonne of Los Altos, CA, had already arrived. Bob was on a “father and son” trip – but with his dad Moses, rather than one of his sons. Jonathan Apfelbaum and his wife Julia Kirchenbauer, from Parker CO, had also arrived before us, but had flown off somewhere for the day. I was happy to learn that Julia is working on her private ticket; we need more women pilots in our GlaStar/Sportsman community!
Dan was busy for the afternoon with a family event (his daughter’s shower was underway) but his friends on the south ramp looked after us well. Sam Goodall, also based at MSN, showed us his GlaStar on amphibious floats. Sam is planning on installing a bigger engine, replacing the O-320 in his lovely plane which he acquired from Glenn Culver. We also checked out the Glasair project that Dan is building with a parter, then another of Dan’s friends gave us a ride to the motel.
The events on Saturday evening included a “meet and greet” followed by a group dinner. Other fly-out participants joining those who arrived earlier were: Jim Church (Park City, UT), John Eastabrooks (Leesburg, VA), Ken Summers (Edgewood, NM).
Dan’s brother Jim Dudley also joined us. Jim provided fantastic support to all the fly-out participants, not only before we left, but throughout the entire time we camped at Oshkosh. Thanks Jim!
Several more GlaStar/Sportsman folks also attended the dinner. Hopefully I haven’t left anyone out: Ed McKenney (Eden, UT), Jack & Linda Woodford (Madison, WI), and Sune & Jean Ericson (Delafield, WI).
After we finished our excellent grill-it-yourself steak dinner, Dan briefed us on procedures for the flight to Oshkosh. He went over the important parts of the NOTAM, talked about our formation
departure, and gave everyone an “HBP” (homebuilt parking) sign to show upon arrival. Pretty exciting! He also handed out some “flying bling” generously provided by Glasair Aviation, Advanced Flight Systems, and Aerosport Power. And to cap it all off, my husband Steve let it be known that it was my birthday, so I got to hear my fellow aviators sing the traditional song.
Finally – better late than never – Will Crook and his daughter Emily (Waynesville, NC) arrived in time to say hi to the gang. They had other plans for Sunday, but would fly into Oshkosh later that day and camp with the rest of us.
Dan had scheduled our mass departure for 0700 on Sunday. We gathered at 6 a.m. for a quick breakfast in the lobby. Transportation to the airport was all arranged and went smoothly (except for the guy who locked his keys in the car on the ramp).
It was a beautiful morning to go flying, despite the cool temperatures and raggedy low ceiling. Nine aircraft, all GlaStars or Sportsmans (except for a Cherokee flown by Dan’s student, who was relegated to the rear of the line), were soon pre-flighted, loaded up, and ready to go.
Dan gave us a few final reminders: leave landing lights on, squawk standby on transponders, maintain 1800 ft MSL for the entire route (pattern altitude at OSH) and keep the spacing tight. He told us we would be flying at 90 knots or less, as this was the approach speed from Ripon right through arrival at OSH. We would depart as a flight of 9, with Dan talking to MSN Tower. When clear of the zone, we were all to monitor air-to-air while tuning in to MSN Departure, OSH Arrival ATIS, Fisk Approach and finally OSH tower as the flight proceeded.
At last, it was time to start our engines! It was my turn to fly left seat this year, and I must admit it felt pretty darned good to strap that plane to my bum and point the nose toward the Big Show.
With Dan at the lead, we lined up on runway 3, alternating left and right sides, and launched at 3-second intervals. This didn’t seem like much spacing, but it all worked out. Dan had assured us that it would be no problem forming a single line when we transitioned to final.
Well, I don’t think we ever did get above 1500 feet on the 45-minute flight. We were definitely scraping cloud bottoms while closely watching for towers below! Our route took us over a large windmill farm, and this had a few people divert to the left or right before getting back in line.
Formation flying was new to most of us, and we were not used to cruising at such a slow airspeed. However, it was good practice and an enjoyable challenge, despite the considerable pucker factor.
About 30 minutes after takeoff, we crossed over Ripon. Thanks to our early arrival time and the low ceiling, it looked like the sky was ours, with no other aircraft trying to butt in! At Fisk, ATC instructed us to turn right, follow Fisk Avenue, and monitor Tower. We got in line, and it was quite a thrill to finally see our destination – Wittman Regional – just ahead.
Arrival at Oshkosh
Our group was cleared to land on 36L, with instructions to touch down on or beyond the yellow dot on the runway. One by one we landed. After clearing the active, we simply followed the leader to row 363 (between the brown arch and
Homebuilder’s Headquarters) and parked our planes with the help of a few volunteer linesmen. What a thrill it was when I opened the door, to be greeted with a handshake and a hearty “Welcome to Oshkosh”!
Setting up camp
After unloading and tying down, we registered at the Homebuilt center, completed prop signs for our planes, and bought our AirVenture wristbands. Those of us planning to camp with Dan (Steve & myself, Garth, Bob and Moses) piled into the “welcome wagon” and off we went to the campground, where Dan had roped off a prime spot way back in June.
The Dudley brothers spread out the huge circus tent they had rented for the week, and we all helped set it up. Jim’s experience as a Boy Scout leader, as well as Garth’s sailing background, came in handy as we wrestled with the huge tent. We then set up our own tents, and Steve & I accompanied Dan and Jim on a trip into town for groceries and ice. Later, Will and Emily Crook arrived and joined us at the campground. Emily, age 15, has already accompanied her dad on a trip to Smiley Creek; rumor has it she’s going to be learning to fly in the near future!
In a major contrast with last year’s heat (or another year when the event was dubbed “SloshKosh” due to all the rain), the weather this year was exceptionally cold. Steve and I wished we’d been smart enough to bring warmer jackets, but at least we had good sleeping bags and a tent which was the envy of many.
The weather soon warmed up, and we enjoyed everything Oshkosh has to offer, from the 7 a.m. yodeling broadcast over the entire EAA campground (followed by Dan’s rusty Reveille for our campsite), to the hours spent wandering the huge grounds before returning to the big tent to enjoy the afternoon airshow while chatting with friends over a cold beverage. The evenings were great too, whether listening to live music, at the Theatre in the Woods, attending the “Beer Church,” or watching the night airshow and fireworks.
For those who have been to Oshkosh once or more, you know how great it is to peruse the displays, meet up with friends, attend forums and workshops, and enjoy everything AirVenture has to offer. For those of you yet to make the pilgrimage, know that it just gets better every year, and it will all be waiting for you once you make the trip. It’s worth it!
GAOA brat roast
The 10th Annual GSAI Brat Roast, hosted by Dan and Jim Dudley, was held under the big tent on Wednesday evening. Dan and Jim did all the shopping, and manned the grill with help from Sam Goodall. The other campers still there (Garth, Kathy, Steve & Will) helped with setup and food prep.
There was no head count, but I think about 50 members of the GSAI community
showed up. There were people from all over the US and Canada, many of whom were camping with their GlaStar or Sportsman in the Homebuilt Camping area. Several of the Glasair factory reps joined the gang as well.
It was a great evening of socializing with old friends and new, and planning our next flying adventures with members of our great organization.
Thursday morning dawned bright and sunny, and for many of us, it was time to head home.
After striking camp and having our last breakfast under the big tent, we called the Welcome Wagon for transport to our aircraft, and were soon loaded up and ready for departure. Garth and Will were headed east as well, so the three of us decided to stick together and fly the same route until Porter Co., where we would stop for lunch and fuel.
We all wanted to fly the Chicago skyline, so planned our route accordingly.
After a final review of the VFR departure procedures for 36L, we cranked our engines and joined the long lineup. Progress was slow down the crowded taxiway, but pretty entertaining. The controller had to talk really fast as she worked in numerous arrivals including a group of P51 Mustangs – while lining up then clearing aircraft for takeoff about every 30 seconds. Finally it was our turn to depart, and we got a “C – CG alphabet soup, cleared for takeoff”! Off we went, turning to a 150 degree heading and staying below 1300 ft MSL until clear of the zone. We then checked in with Will and Garth on the air-to-air and climbed to a more comfortable altitude to cross over Waukesha Co. then Kenosha Regional airports.
There could not have been a better day for enjoying the Chicago lakeshore. What a view! Will (in the lead) managed to get advisories from Chicago Approach, but the controller was apparently too busy to talk to me (or Garth, flying behind us). Anyway, conditions were perfect, so we carried on just outside the Class B airspace and enjoyed a fantastic view of the city while watching for traffic in both directions along this busy corridor. An hour and 20 minutes after departing OSH, we landed at VPZ and once again enjoyed lunch put on by the local EAA chapter.
Our next leg was direct to our home airport in Canada, so Steve and I made the usual calls and emails required for the border crossing. We said our goodbyes to Will and Emily, then Garth, and all agreed we’d had an absolutely amazing time at Oshkosh.
Our flight home would be less than three hours, unless we ran into one of the isolated thundershowers forecasted for the area.
Thanks to our Stratus ADSB receiver, we were able to observe and avoid a small cell to the north of our route. After that, it was clear sailing, and we had our GlaStar back in the hangar by 4 pm. What a trip! Already looking forward to next year!