Are You Good Enough to Fly into Oshkosh?

Are You Good Enough to Fly into Oshkosh?

Are You Good Enough to Fly into Oshkosh?

(Lead Photo Courtesy of PAUL BOWEN PHOTOGRAPHY)

An aerial view of the EAA AirVenture grounds. (Photo courtesy of Jim Raeder)

Flying into Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) for EAA AirVenture is an amazing experience. But it’s one that requires special expertise, and for you to be at the very top of your game. Come to think of it, we need to be at our very best every time we fly. Here are seven tasks you must master to be good enough to fly into Oshkosh.

Task 1: Know the NOTAM

It’s a big, busy, 30-page document…and you need to know it well to be safe flying into what becomes the world’s busiest airport. It provides rules for visual and instrument arrivals and departures. It gives instructions for making and displaying parking signs so ground handlers can send you in the right direction after you land. The NOTAM includes procedures for outlying airports that serve as alternates to Oshkosh arrivals. The NOTAM has changed in some details since last year, so prior experience may not translate directly to safety this year without further study (the 2018 AirVenture NOTAM can be found on EAA’s website, eaa.org). 

As you prepare to fly into AirVenture:

a) Download the NOTAM and begin studying the portions that apply to you. If you’re planning to arrive IFR you still need to be fully up to speed on the VFR arrival – controllers can terminate services and direct you onto the visual arrival at any time.

b) Keep a copy of the NOTAM in the cockpit. Review it at your last stop before Oshkosh, and when getting ready to depart the airshow.

c) Consider what you’ll do in the event of circumstances such as:

a. Electrical failure;

b. Radio failure;

c. Other systems failures;

d. Adverse weather at or near KOSH or the arrial corridors;

e. Sudden closure of the Oshkosh  Airport (aircraft emergency or other);

f. Arrival near or during air show times or other holds, such as mass arrival reservations;

g. Diversion to another airport with its own special NOTAM procedures;

h. Parking saturation – some years Wittman Field fills up and non-show airplanes are turned away;

Task 2: Fill ‘er Up

Do not plan to arrive at Oshkosh with minimum fuel. We all want to get there with as few stops as possible, and we all want to help the Oshkosh FBOs prosper during the event by buying their fuel. But for safety’s sake, fly to an airport within one hour of Wittman Field and top off the fuel tanks before flying the rest of the way in. It’s possible you may have to divert or hold. The last place you want to be declaring a fuel emergency is in the traffic pattern with a couple dozen other airplanes. Arrive at AirVenture with plenty of fuel if for any reason you can’t land immediately at Wittman Field.

Task 3: Airspeed Control

Now is the time to brush up on the special skills needed for a safe arrival. One is proper airspeed control. The AirVenture NOTAM calls for most aircraft to fly the visual arrival at 90 knots indicated
airspeed. You must know precisely what combination of power, pitch attitude, flaps and landing gear position (as appropriate) and trim setting results in level flight at 90 knots. Get comfortable with this configuration (and any visibility or engine temperature management considerations that coincide) so you can fly it while scanning outside for traffic inbound to Oshkosh. If you fly a faster airplane, the NOTAM gives you the option of a slightly higher altitude and 135 knots indicated. If you plan this entry, practice the configurations for both 135 and 90 knots. The “high-speed arrival” will eventually have to descend through the “normal” speed as you arrive in the traffic pattern. Practice precise airspeed and altitude control using NOTAM arrival speeds so you can fly them without thinking about it…freeing you up to handle the traffic and workload of your AirVenture arrival.

Task 4: Spot, er, Dot Landings

Getting so many airplanes into the same airport in such a short time calls for unusual procedures. One is that there are multiple touchdown zones – the normal end of the runway, and the “white,” “orange,” “pink” and “green” dots farther down (the specific color depends on the runway in use). You will be directed to land on a specific dot in your landing clearance. 

Be extremely proficient at “spot” landings before flying to Oshkosh. Hit your spot in a short-field technique to avoid rolling into the touchdown zone of an airplane aiming for the dot ahead of yours. Use a high-angle, constant-descent, obstacle clear–ing technique (not “driving level” then chopping power for the last 50 feet). You may be overflying another airplane on the ground or one ahead of you but aiming at a spot closer to the arrival threshold. Make your approach as tight (close to the airport) as safely possible. Nothing throws a wrench in the arrival works like an airplane that extends for a three-mile final. Practice short-field landings to a designated spot plus no more than 100 feet (commercial pilot short-field standards) so you can pull one off even with a crosswind or a quartering tailwind.

Task 5: Passenger Training

It makes your flight far safer, and a lot more fun, if you take along at least one observer to help you look outside the airplane. Train your passengers to be observers. The observer’s primary mission is traffic avoidance. Teach observers what to look for, and how to communicate with you. Before you take off for Oshkosh, review some basics such as:

  • The “o’clock” system of identifying an airplane’s position relative to your own (“12 o’clock high”, etc.);
  • What a typical general aviation airplane looks like at a distance of one mile and half a mile. You can do this by pointing out other airplanes in an airport traffic pattern on a pre-Oshkosh flight;
  • Descriptions like “high wing,” “low wing,” “biplane,” etc. Keep it very basic – the Oshkosh controllers will.
    Prepare your observer for what traffic advisories he/she should expect to hear;
  • How to help find charts, parts of the arrival NOTAM, etc., that you may need;
  • Landmarks inbound on the visual arrival path;
  • How to help you, with short, precise phrases like “I see the traffic, three o’clock level”, “you’re left of the arrival course”, “your landing gear is not down”, “you’re 10 knots slow” – whatever you can work out with your observer beforehand;

You might even make up a one-page “observer guide,” with pictures and phrases that apply to your flight, to take along for the arrival.

Task 6: Crosswinds and Tailwinds

Pressed to route as many arrivals as possible into Wittman Field, and with demands from flight demonstrations, air show acts, fly-bys and departures, the superb professionals that work Air Traffic procedures during the event are sometimes forced to route traffic to non-optimal runways, with light-to-moderate tailwind components. To be good enough for Oshkosh you must:

  • Assume you’ll have to go around unless things work out perfectly.
  • Practice your crosswind landings. Get really good at them…and more importantly, know your limitations and the limitations of the airplane.
  • Very cautiously try a few landings on a wide runway with a light tailwind component crosswind. Note that left-turning tendency of most propeller airplanes means it’ll be harder to maintain control with a wind from behind your left. Get familiar with whether you can land safely with any tailwind component at all, and if so, what tailwind you can safely handle. 
  • Develop and adhere to a personal crosswind and personal tailwind component limitation. This is an excellent exercise for hiring a CFI (who has experience and is current in your airplane type) to explore low-stress, controlled conditions before you’re faced with the test at Oshkosh.

Task 7: Accept or Decline

When given an ATC clearance, it is your responsibility to determine whether complying is safe. If you have any doubts, it is your responsibility as Pilot-in-Command to decline the clearance and request a revised clearance. Pilots don’t like to ask the tower for a runway change. You might not even get it at Oshkosh and have to divert to another airport. At the same time, it’s your safety and that of your passengers at risk. Do not delegate the decision to land to Air Traffic Control.

Master the seven tasks and see if you’re good enough for Oshkosh. If not, there’s still time to practice, or to find a different way to get there.

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