Saturday, August 1, 2009

Oshkosh, b'gosh

Wingwalking acts have thrilled airshow fans for decades. Yesterday Gene Soucy and his wingwalker performed for onlookers at the big Experimental Aircraft Association extravaganza at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Click for screensaver-sized version.

Oshkosh is not Obama country, but what the hell.

Last week I attended the Experimental Aircraft Association's "Airventure," the marketing guys' idea of what the organization should call the huge yearly fly-in of thousands of airplanes, homebuilt or not, warbirds ancient and not so ancient, new commercial aircraft and many hundreds of thousands of aviators and flying fans. Everybody still calls it "Oshkosh" for the Wisconsin city where the event has been held for decades.

It is overwhelmingly white. Finding African-American, Asian or Latino faces in that crowd -- much of it elderly -- is an exercise in "Where's Waldo?"

This should not be surprising. Aviation in America has always been largely Southern good-old-boy, deeply conservative, worshipful of the military, avidly nostalgic and patriotic almost to a fault -- much like the NASCAR crowd. In fact, pilots and plane fans are simply an upscale offshoot of the old Gasoline Alley culture.

These folks do change, but they change slowly -- it was not until 2002, for instance, that the Confederate Air Force, the world's largest warbird restoration club, finally changed its name (born as a joke, not a statement) to "Commemorative Air Force," a bit harder to say but more accurate about its mission.

Airmen may not be evangelistic about diversity, but, these days, neither are they exclusionary. If you have the money (it takes lots of that) and the desire, they'll welcome you into the fold. Except for a few clueless louts, I've always felt accepted as a pilot who happens to be deaf. So in the main have the other "no-radio" pilots who with me attended Oshkosh last week during our little fly-in at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

I had a splendid time talking tech stuff with kitplane builders, admiring the elephantine Airbus 380 and walking past and under big old military aircraft, including a World War II Avenger torpedo bomber like the one whose cockpit my naval officer father seated me in when I was all of three years old. That was when my yen to fly was born.

And, of course, rubbernecking at the air show -- an amateur photographer's dream. In days to come I'll be posting my best shots on the Whodunit Photographer.


  1. Manitowoc is one of my favorite food and fuel stops enroute to and from the UP (Four Seasons Restaurant on US151 off of I43). It also has a neat Maritime museum with a WWII submarine that was one of the boats built in the city during the war.

    I don't quite get it from your description: you flew into Manitowoc for your little "fly-in" and then commuted to Oshkosh? Sounds like fun!

    For these of us who are radio / scanner listeners, the airshow provides a wealth of radio traffic for the planes enroute. Apparently there is a corrider along the Lake Michigan shore where military planes (among others) travel to and from the show. Reports from the "ear" group says that there was a lot of traffic heard, even in the Chi Metro area.

    I have always been tempted to go to the Airshow but have never quite done it. Don't need the crowds.

  2. I noticed you weren't fedding your blog the last few days, so I figured you'd be up to something special, and that opening photo today says it all! Looking forward to some great shots on the photo side.

    I've spent some time doing my annual Circus Train Website for since the Red Unit is in So. Cal. now.

    The full story:

    The local Los Alamitos Air Station has a yearly Wings, Wheels, and Rotors show. Like you say, a photographer's paradise.

  3. Mike: I drove to Manitowoc, and the Deaf Pilots Association took a bus to Oshkosh. Way too much traffic in the air for me to fly into Oshkosh comfortably, and damn near too much on the ground, too!

    Manitowoc is a major pit stop for us on the way home from the Writer's Lair.

    Carl: Circus trains! Yay! Those are as colorful as air shows. Also county fairs are, too -- last month I attended one in Upper Michigan, and it had enormous steam tractors driving portable sawmills. Guess who neglected to take his camera?

  4. It should be mentioned that some of the black Tuskegee Airmen pilots of World War II were honored last week at Oshkosh. One of the "Red Tail" P-51 Mustangs they flew is being restored. Folks CAN change.

  5. Wow, what great photos! The wingwalker! Of course I checked the exif data...

    And there I was, whining over my lack of a 300mm (my longest is 28-200) when I come across your A380 takoff taken with a 17mm! Fantastic!