Today is the day. It had been two years since I put “the shirt” into the bottom dresser drawer. I knelt down, slid the drawer open, and peeled back a couple layers of t-shirts, and there it was. Waiting for me, untouched for these past two years. Today is the day.

Two nights ago, I checked weather. After all, I was heading to Oshkosh, WI in the morning for AirVenture 2011, and if weather cooperated, I would fly. The past week had been laden with a mixture of VFR and IFR conditions. There seemed to be a lot of convective activity each morning, so was prepared to drive if appropriate. Three hours in the car with fellow pilots was a fun trip, but to state the obvious, I wanted to fly. I had flown in to AirVenture before, but always in the right seat.

The TAF’s were for VFR, but visibility was projected to be below my 6-mile personal minimum. My IFR rating and advanced avionics would not help me fly into the world’s busiest airport. See and avoid was my only option for traffic separation. My passengers and I agreed to sync up in the morning and make the plane/car decision. Off to bed (2200) for a good night’s sleep.

I felt relaxed, but sleep would not come. I saw the clock pass midnight, and then 0100. I eventually fell asleep, but the 0515 wake up came quickly. Weather hadn’t changed much, with visibility below 3 miles. I estimated the improvement would be too slow, so opted for the car. We established a rendezvous point to make the drive. Another check of WX, showed some improvement (5 miles). Just before I left the house, I checked one more time. 7 MILES, with improving conditions! The call was made and everyone diverted to the airport.

Our departure airport (KPWK) had low butts coming in from the lake. The ceilings were dropping fast, as the tower cleared us for takeoff. Just as we departed, the tower announced it went IFR. We headed a short distance west to clearer skies. We were on our way.

As we approached Ripon, WI, Oshkosh stopped all arrivals as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was making its grand entrance. All planes were asked to “hold where they were”, until further notice. We did so some 10 miles south of Ripon, as the airspace started to fill with new arrivals. After the 30 minute hold, the announcement came to head to Ripon. There were a lot of airplanes at 1800 feet and 90 knots going to a very small town. With a lot of assistance from my passengers, we found our place in line and headed in. The adrenaline was really pumping as we completed the approach and a successful “greaser” on 36R.

After a great day at Airventure 2011, we watched the Dreamliner rotate off 36L, gave us a “Good Wing Rock”, which served to signal the start of arrivals and departures. We started our engine and once again found our way back in line and on to Runway 27 for the exciting multiple plane departure. With a 15-knot tailwind I was back in Chicago in less than an hour.

What a day. The show itself was almost anti-climatic compared to the arrival and departure. Flying into OSH (during AirVenture) was a rite of passage (or flight of passage) for me. I had waited so long to enter this into my logbook. What should I write down? Simple was best… OSH!

I woke up this morning still on a high. I was on Butt 10 (somehow Butt 9 seems like an understatement). I walked to the dresser drawer and pulled out “the shirt.” The words on the front simply said, “I Flew To Oshkosh”. I bought the shirt two years prior, but because I sat right seat, I didn’t feel I earned the right to wear the shirt, until now. I wore it all day.

Oshkosh is a special event, made so by the community of people that are drawn to our affliction we call aviation. Flying there makes it more special. I encourage everyone to fly to next year’s AirVenture. If unsure, do so in the right seat, and then the next year from the left. I guarantee the feeling will rival your first solo, or when you earned your ticket. I can’t describe it, but you know the feeling. It is a rite of passage, and an experience to cherish. I look forward to seeing many of you at Oshkosh ’12, and for us to hear those magic words, “Good Rock”.

 

M.E.

 

Marc Epner is an instrument rated private pilot who earned his rating in 1976. After a 25-year hiatus, Marc rekindled his love of aviation in 2004 and has become a part owner of a SR-22. Marc looks for opportunities to be an advocate for general aviation through presentations, writing and flying.