EAA AIRVENTURE 2021 - Oshkosh / USA
Update: 2020/08/29 by Shawn Clish / CHK6
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration. In 2021, the event was back after organizers were forced to cancel the show in 2020 due to safety concerns. For 10 days, from Saturday July 24 to Monday August 2, Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) was once again transformed into the busiest airport in the world. The statistics are almost incomprehensible. More than 10 000 aircraft flew in to the area with 16 378 takeoffs and landings being conducted at KOSH. 5000 volunteers spent more than 250 000 hours preparing and maintaining the grounds to allow 608 000 visitors to enjoy the event, the third highest attendance in the show’s 51 year history. Weather conditions, including thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes, added to the already challenging set of circumstances organizers overcame to make the event a success.
I attended the show for three days, from Wednesday July 28 to Friday July 30. I had been to the event once before, flying in and out on the same day in 2019 on a C-47. That brief experience prepared me for the sensory overload that is AirVenture. The sight of thousands of aircraft on the ground and dozens of aircraft preparing to land on the coloured dots that partition the runways. The smell of different types of aviation fuel, from the common 100LL to the specially designed JP-7 which is unique to the Lockheed U-2 DRAGON LADY. The feel of the afterburners from modern military jets arriving and departing throughout the week or taking part in the daily air show. The distinct sound of the propellers of the North American HARVARD that can be heard throughout the day. And finally, the familiar taste of overpriced air show food. From sunrise until sunset, and even later during the two night shows, there is always something going on at AirVenture.
My first stop once inside the gates on Wednesday morning was Warbird Alley. There were plenty of MUSTANGS, MITCHELLS, CORSAIRS and WARHAWKS on display but I was most interested in other aircraft of which there were only individual examples. The SBD-5 DAUNTLESS is always a favourite of mine and it was wonderful to see the ‘Lady In Blue’ from the Commemorative Air Force for the second time this season. Fagen Fighters brought their P-38L LIGHTNING painted as ‘SCAT III’ in honour of Robin Olds, the first ace from the 479th Fighter Group and a legendary pilot in the Air Force for many decades. Finally, the two heroes of the Battle of Britain, the Hawker HURRICANE and the Supermarine SPITFIRE, were on hand thanks to the Dakota Territory Air Museum. But it wasn’t just the famous fighters that caught my attention in the warbird area. I paid extra attention this year to the trainers, like the STEARMAN, HARVARD and especially the Fairchild CORNELL, as I had just recently passed my check ride to the fly the PT-26 Cornell that belongs to the Edenvale Classic Aircraft Foundation located north of Toronto.
Just north of the Warbird Parking is Runway 09-27 and I was determined to spend some time photographing the exceptional number of aircraft movements that occur. Hanging out near the runway watching the constant parades of aircraft arriving, departing and going for scenic flights is an experience like no other in aviation. Regardless of the reason for the flight, each approach ends with a landing that is expected to have nearly flawless precision as pilots are expected to touchdown on one of the designated points represented by a 50 foot diameter coloured dot painted on the runway. During the late morning, the sun angle provides excellent photo opportunities of everything from Cessnas and Beechcraft to warbirds and business jets. A couple hours and thousands of images later it was time to head south to my preferred location for the air show. There was plenty to see on the long walk and one of my favourite stops was the Douglas C-47 SKYTRAIN ‘That’s All, Brother’. Although this unassuming aircraft looks like any other Skytrain or Dakota, it had the incredible distinction of being the lead airplane of the 800+ C-47s that took part in the main airborne invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. I also enjoyed seeing the two tri-motors that were in attendance. The Liberty Aviation Museum’s Ford 5-AT-B TRI-MOTOR is easy to see at it flies regularly each day taking passengers up for 15 minute rides. Slightly more hidden was the Stinson Model A TRI-MOTOR. Built in 1936, it’s the last of the 35 built and the oldest flying aircraft that was operated by American Airlines. Finally, I enjoyed seeing the Consolidated PBV-1A CANSO A. This aircraft not only served with the Royal Canadian Air Force but also as an airliner in Ontario and Winnipeg and probably operated from many of the runways and lakes that I learned to fly on.
The last stop before reaching my seat just south of show centre in Vintage Showplane parking was Boeing Plaza. Since the displays in the Plaza rotate throughout the week it’s a good idea to visit daily. On Wednesday I paid extra attention to the German Air Force A400M ATLAS as I have always found the Luftwaffe crews to be very friendly and also because I have an affinity for Airbus aircraft. On Thursday I enjoyed the four-engine jet aircraft: the Samaritan’s Purse Douglas DC-8-72CF, the two week old UPS 747-800F and the Boeing C-17A GLOBEMASTER III from the 911th Airlift Wing. As nice as it was to explore these planes on the ground, it was a pleasure to watch all three depart ahead of the Thursday afternoon flying program. Friday there were plenty of new and exciting highlights in the Plaza. This year, EAA paid special tribute to the US Air Force Special Operations Command and many of their aircraft were on static display after their Thursday arrival. My favourite was the new AC-130J GHOSTRIDER, the fifth generation of the gunship, loaded with 30mm and 105mm cannons as well as AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. There were also two stunning black jets on display. ‘Venom’, the beautiful F-16CM from the Viper Demo Team was towed in after performing on Wednesday and Thursday and it was joined by ‘Blacksnake’, an A-10C WARTHOG celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Indiana Air National Guard.
The air space closes each day at 2pm ahead of the 2:30 show that combines civilian aerobatics, warbirds and modern military demonstrations. The north-south flightline offers close proximity to Taxiway Papa and Runway 18R-36L with a sun angle that continues to improve throughout the afternoon. The Wednesday show opened with a couple passes by the rare Lockheed TU-2S, including a very impressive low pass down the runway before it demonstrated the plane’s impressive climb rate to depart the area. Low light plagued the day, although it did make the afterburner stand out when the Viper Demo Team commenced their routine. Threats of severe thunderstorms accompanied by strong winds, hail and tornadoes forced and early termination to the afternoon show and the night display to be postponed. While a fair amount of rain fell, the aircraft and campers were spared as there was no hail and the four tornadoes that touched down were well south of Oshkosh.
Thursday’s much anticipated air show also started in cloudy conditions and low light, but it was the display by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) that was a bigger disappointment. While it was terrific to see their rare aircraft in flight, a dull commentary and very distant orbits did not highlight the capabilities of the SOCOM airmen or their aircraft. As the clouds started to clear, the sky remained obscured by heavy smoke from the various forest fires raging across North America. Once again ‘Venom’ took to the air for the Viper Demo and it was joined by a P-38 and a P-51 for the Heritage Flight. The conditions started to improve for the US Navy display. It was the first time I had witnessed the two-ship EA-18G GROWLER demo and was very impressed. A section departure and was followed by carrier breaks, a touch and go and high speed passes that produced exciting clouds of vapour. Following their routine they were joined by a pair of Corsairs for an extraordinary four-ship Legacy flight.
The Warbirds of America segment focused on jet aircraft and while I wish the L-39 and S-211 weren’t considered warbirds, I did appreciate many of the aircraft that were in the air. There were two CT-133 SILVER STARS flying in formation in Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) colours, including the famous 414 Squadron ‘Black Knight’ commemorating the 75th anniversary of the RCAF. The final two jets were my favourites. The first was the beautiful Douglas A-4B SKYHAWK from the Warbird Heritage Foundation and it was followed by a MiG-17F FRESCO with its trademark afterburner. Thursday also featured the night show that was supposed to have taken place on Wednesday. After watching the F-16 depart just to enjoy its afterburner at dusk, I decided to pass on the rest of the performances and fireworks and made the hour long trip back to Milwaukee where I was staying.
Friday was my final day at AirVenture and while I had enjoyed the previous two days, the clouds and smoke had affected a lot of images. Friday morning was spent along Runway 09-27 with a beautiful blue sky overhead but the day would again prove to be challenging for photography. The show started with an historic formation of an AC-47 SPOOKY and AC-130J GHOSTRIDER and was followed by two special ops CV-22 OSPREYS and an MC-130J COMMANDO II. The clouds thickened at the worst time as Friday would mark the first of two days celebrating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, plus one. Since AirVenture couldn’t commemorate this anniversary in 2020, a two hour portion of the Friday show featured the history of WWII in chronological order. The light was at its worst for the highlight of the day that featured individual displays by the HURRICANE and SPITFIRE and was followed by formation passes by the iconic aircraft. Fortunately, the sky cleared and beautiful sun shone on the final few participants of 75+1, including the irregular but impressive formation of the B-25J ‘Betty’s Dream’, P-51C ‘Lope’s Hope 3rd’, P-51D ‘Miss Kitty’ and a Hawker SEA FURY FB.11. The US Navy was the final act of the day and looked splendid once again, especially in the perfect evening light.
Verdict: Oshkosh made a strong comeback in 2021. The meticulous organization of this colossal event is truly remarkable and credit is definitely due to the organizers and volunteers for the work they did to make everything run smoothly. Even with all of the challenges that the show had to overcome and the unfortunate weather that offered very few opportunities, this was a wonderful event. I am already looking forward to July 25-31, 2022, when thousands of planes and hundreds of thousands of visitors will return to this otherwise quiet town and transform it into the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration.
Shawn Clish / CHK6