EAA Airventure at Oshkosh is an aviation wonderland. Every year during the last week-end in July more than half a million aviation enthusiasts gather in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and have the chance to witness around 10.000 aircraft flying in and out for this event. It is aviation enthusiast heaven!
Where? Oshkosh, WI, USA
During this week Oshkosh’s control tower is transformed into “The world’s busiest control tower”, and the remaining numbers also speak for themselves: 2016 saw approximately 563,000 attendees, 2,855 showplanes, amongst them 1,124 homebuilt aircraft, 371 warbirds and 101 seaplanes. EAA Chairman Jack Pelton commented that “it was a magical week at Oshkosh this year. You could sense the enthusiasm throughout the grounds no matter where you were. From the aviation anniversaries we celebrated, to the magnificent performances by the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, to the airplanes and aviators who were here, there was an energy that reinvigorated everyone involved in aviation.”
For the serious enthusiast only one week is not enough to capture the whole event, but on the other hand having more time would be to exhausting. Even if it hurts a bit, setting a focus on certain events and areas usually helps to make the best of it. The #OSH16 highlights were the Pearl Harbor 75th commemoration, two night air shows, the Canadian Snowbirds during the week-end airshows, Desert Storm 25th anniversary, a WWI aviation celebration and Boeing 100th anniversary. But one aircraft beat them all at the Oshkosh EAA Airventure 2016:
The mighty Martin Mars at the Seaplane Base
The main act of the 2016 EAA Airventure was for sure the mighty Martin Mars waterbomber. EAA worked hard and obviously convinced Coulson Flying Tankers to bring this unique aircraft to Oshkosh. The EAA Seaplane Base on nearby Lake Winnebago is an ideal location to present this mighty flying boat with a length of 120 feet, and a wingspan of 200 feet (approximately the wingspan of a Boeing 747) at Oshkosh.
Water drop demonstration of the Martin Mars were a highlight at the daily airshows, and not for nothing the seaplane base got more busy this year as this major attraction was also open for visits when it did not fly. Seeing the Hawaii Mars with an empty weight of 34t taking off and splashing down into the water was a sight to behold, let alone witnessing a water drop from up close. Lake Winnebago was the place to be, as the crew did not only drop for the crowd at nearby Oshkosh airfield, but scooped once again on the lake and did a water drop for the visitors there.
Seeing more than 27.000 liters of water – or 60.000 pound – dropping down within seconds is something you do not get to see every day. Oshkosh offered a unique possibility to see and experience this impressive aircraft, as not many other events have the possibility to host a flying boat of these dimensions. Furthermore it might have been one of the last opportunities to see the Hawaii Mars as operating costs are obviously rising and it should be replaced in the near future, though its capability to deliver 60.000 pounds of water every few minutes for several hours will remain unmatched.
World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration at EAA Airventure
The “World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration” featured many more highlights that were dispersed on the different aircraft areas around the airfield. The main area (Boeing Plaza) changed its layout not only every day, but also throughout the day and featured the main attractions. CAF’s B-29 FiFi was parked there for example as well as the special painted aircraft of the US Coast Guard celebrating this service’s 75th anniversary. The Vintage area offers a nice stroll along lines of beautifully restored propeller aircraft, whereas the homebuilds sections always features some rather weird constructions.
If you are into World War I-, II-, Korea- or Vietnam-era aircraft, Warbird Alley is the place to be. Even when being used to larger average airshows the line-up of a dozen of P-51 Mustangs will leave one speechless. And looking for other warbirds just goes like: “You name it… you get it…”
At the center of the Warbirds area is Warbird Alley, a large display area that profiles several of the rare and unique warbirds from the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War.” Along the flightline there was the chance to get up close and personal with numerous P-40 Warhawks, a P-39 Airacobra and P-63 Kingcobra, and further down the field several B-25 Mitchel were parked alongside an A-20 Invader or a C-123 Provider.
Representing the US Navy of course F4U Corsairs, Hellcats and Avengers flew to Oshkosh as well, and if you are more into the Vietnam or Korean era aircraft, a Fury and several Skyraiders were available for the viewing pleasure as well.
Amongst the jets the L-39 Albatross was the most represented type in that area, though F-86 Sabres and T-33 Shooting Stars also met.
Or, as EAA says about Warbird Alley: “See upwards to 1,000 assorted jets, fighters, bombers, trainers, and other historic airplanes that played key roles in the 20th century’s world conflicts. Many of the warbirds have been restored beyond their original glory and outfitted in the colorful paint schemes they proudly displayed in combat.
Seeing those planes in action and the air usually twice that week their owners have the chance to present them live during the warbirds part in the afternoon flying program. Things get busy when dozens of warbirds line-up for take-off: at first the trainers such as T-6, T-28 or T-34 take off and will circle over the aircraft. A little later more warbirds take to the air and there is continuous stream of aircraft with plenty of horsepower, which then start to circle around sorted by types.
A special merit earned once again the Texas Flying Legends Museum and their stunning choreography of a 6-ship warbird formation consisting of a B-25J, Spitfire, P-51D, TBM-3E, Wildcat and P-40K combined with pyrotechnics on the ground. They literally beat up the airfield and keep everybody silent during their presentation.
Modern military jets & QF-4E Phantom Pharewell
Oshkosh 2016 featured also quite a number of military jets in the air and on the ground. The USAF Heritage Flight brought the combo of an F-16 Fighting Falcon and P-51 Mustang to the EAA Airventure, the US Navy contributed the F/A-18F Super Hornet demo team and the fly-by of the U-2 spyplane could be celebrated as another highlight. Many other military aircraft and helicopters were arriving for the week-end, however most of them unfortunately parked on the opposite side of the airfield and were not accessible to visit.
These included a T-38 out of Barksdale to chase and train U-2 pilots, a US Navy EA-18G Growler, several more F/A-18 Hornet variants featuring an impressive number of mission markings of recent deployments, as well as a large number of helicopters. Standing on the runway and observing the incoming traffic was the thing to do to catch those.
Most remarkable was the pair of QF-4E Phantom II drones out of Holloman. Those two venerable Phantoms were amongst the USAF’s phinal Phantoms, which were finally retired from service in December 2016. It was thus their last visit to the world’s greatest airshow and the pilots too did celebrate their attendance upon departure with several fly-bys.
Those Phantoms will be missed for sure at Oshkosh, and it was a great treat to see them at Airventure for a last time. A future appearance of this charismatic aircraft type will lie in private hands as there is still one airworthy Phantom in the continental US with the Collings Foundation.
EAA Airventure Oshkosh
After Oshkosh is before Oshkosh, and for the next edition hotels are filled up usually quite quick, even though there are plenty of options such as using rooms of the local university, renting private houses or using the campsite located just around the corner of the aircraft displays. Thus if you are heading to EAA Airventure, plan early, and do not care too much about the type of accommodation. After those long and aviation-packed days you will be tired anyhow.