The Honor Flight Veterans gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial – Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
Early in the morning, men were arriving at Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Wittman Regional Airport. They all had one thing in common; they were heading to Washington D.C. on a very special charter flight.
Each one had been selected by the Northeast Wisconsin Old Glory Honor Flight & Experimental Aviation Association due to their service during the Vietnam War. Â The four main armed services (Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines) were represented by the 110 veterans taking the flight.
I was invited to accompany them in order to experience the Honor Flight and to tell their story.
Last year, flying to Oshkosh AirAdventure with Southwest Airlines was on my list of my Top 5 experiences of 2010. Unfortunately I was not able to make the trip this year, but NYCAviation.com was and documented his adventure. Here is their story:
The Southwest Boeing 737 sits at OshKosh 2011.
39,000ft over the West: For some reason, I doubt that most of the folks reading this post will be anything but familiar with the week-long aviation festival from heaven known as Oshkosh. Iâ€™d be willing to bet, too, that a number of folks are not just familiar with but are seasoned veterans of the show, able to count off the years or even decades theyâ€™ve made the pilgrimage to Wisconsin. Being a pretty big aviation fan myself, I have for years dreamed of making the pilgrimage and attending my first AirVenture, as the show is officially called. For various reasons Iâ€™ve never been able to make it; most of the excuses having something to do with the lack of money and the rest with lack of time. But this year; this year, opportunity came a knockinâ€™.
A very yellow DC-3 at Oshkosh.
That knock came about a two weeks ago, when, due to a strange series of events, I ended up filling in for AirlineReporter for Southwestâ€™s second annual sponsorship of â€œSuper Saturdayâ€. In addition to other activities through the day, the airline sends one of their trademark 737-700 aircraft up from Chicago for the day bringing employees, contest winners, and a few media along for the ride.
After arriving to Chicago in the late afternoon and getting settled into my hotel, I took the opportunity to head downtown to the Loop. Taking in the sights of Chicago was fun, and I had planned to trek on foot from the Roosevelt area (old Meigs Field), up to nearly the Gold Coast. I quickly realized this was far too ambitious, and cut it short after coming across a free show put on in Millennium Park. Arriving back at the hotel pretty late I charged my batteries, cleared my cards, and packed my camera bag for the coming day.
EAA (which stands for Experimental Aircraft Association) hosts AirVenture.
Arriving back at Midway for the crisp hour of 6am, I checked in, got my ticket â€“ which listed our destination, oddly, as Vegas, and proceeded to the gate. Bright yellow Southwest shirts flooded the boarding area, and once on board, reflected a soft golden yellow hue throughout the plane. The flight departed on time and made a nice pass over downtown Chicago (of course I picked the wrong side to sit on), then trekked due north-ish.
A line of Trojans sits on the hot ramp, baking in the sun.
Ferry flights (having no revenue passengers) are always fun for a few reasons: first, thereâ€™s hardly anyone on the plane. Second, nearly everyone on it actually wants to be there. Third, youâ€™re flying a route that usually doesnâ€™t normally exist, which for a commercial airline nerd is just, well, awesome. The mood was good and the flight was short and smooth. Before we knew it, the farms of the Wisconsin country-side were taking up more and more of the window and then, in the distance, a runway.
It feels like you can almost reach out and touch the airplanes.
A gentle landing and quick taxi trip later we all deplaned, donned our wristbands, and headed out to see the show. If youâ€™ve never been there before it can be described as an enormous aviation wonderland, filled with more than you could ever possibly imagine. Aircraft ranged from Wright Replicaâ€™s to the newest in electric planes; TriMotorâ€™s to a 737; B29 to F/A-18s; Citations to the HondaJet. The flight line stretched for what felt like forever. It took nearly 20 minutes at a brisk pace to walk from the ultralights on one end to Warbird Alley on the other. I thought I knew my planes, but I regrettably had to admit I saw far too many things that I could not positively ID.
A view of the crowd and AirVenture from the flight deck of the B29 named FIFI.
And then there was the flying, oh yes, the flying. I could not believe the volume and frequency of traffic. I had heard about the legendary split runway action, and was thrilled to finally see it happening in front of me. Runway 27 was constantly alive with activity; there was never a dull a moment. 18 functioned as the main runway and was generally kept intact while 27 often bounced between single and split. P-51â€™s with their iconic sounding Merlinâ€™s buzzed the crowd while T-6s/ SNJs flew formations out into the North Central skies. L-39â€™s and T-45 Goshawks landed in between huge flying boats and tiny Bonanzaâ€™s. And this wasnâ€™t even the air show yet.
And there were the crowds. Being mainly a photographer, crowds are both one of my favorite and least favorite parts of every airshow I will ever go to. They are my least favorite because they prevent me from easily accessing the porta-potty or acquiring another burger in less than two hours time, but much more so because they get in the way of my static shots (can I hear an â€œamenâ€ photogs?). Nothing screams “ruined” more than someoneâ€™s head cutting off a nose cone, blocking an intake, or obscuring the entire right third of the photo. But at the same time, the crowds offer tons of unsuspecting targets to bring the story together.
US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet in digi-cam livery.
Letâ€™s be honest, who hasnâ€™t stood in line to get on board something cool, or spent time talking with a crew member? I did it multiple times throughout the day, and getting a chance to see and capture individuals interacting and experience aviation is sometimes better than watching the show itself. Speaking of getting on board, I checked out the B29 FIFI, a DHS Dash-8 (super, super cool interior plus the crewâ€™s titles were â€œAir Interdiction Agentâ€ â€“ how bad ass sounding is that??), Super Stallion, Piaggio Avanti-180, A-26 Invader, TriMotor, Breezi, P51D, and more. Some of the lines, particularly for the B29 and our Southwest 737, stretched quite long.
AirVenture is more than just seeing airplanes on the ground -- there are airshows through out the whole event.
The air show itself was a bit of a mixed bag. A Navy Heritage flight consisting of the only remaining HellDiver combined with one of the retro CoNA F/A 18â€™s flew a moving demo to open it up. By and large the rest of the show consisted of Warbirds. Everything from T6/SNJ/Harvards to P51â€™s, B25 Mitchell to Trojans, a Huey to the venerable C47 took the skies over the course of two hours. The show appeared to be cut short, however, by weather moving in. A strong wind storm wreaked havoc during a demo by Sean Tucker, eventually forcing the airport to close. For the folks on the Southwest ferry flight like myself it was just as well, as we had to be back to the plane for departure right around the time the storm hit anyways.
A crew member for a static talks with the crowd.
Boarding was smooth and straightforward, and once the field reopened we were towed up to the taxiway, helped along by folks waving us off from the crowd. The flight back to Chicago was again short and sweet, clocking just shy of half an hour. I was lucky enough to get a very nice window seat, with a view to die for.
The rest of the day was spent working up photos (over 1,000 of them) and getting some much needed sleep. The flight back to my home city on Southwest 762 the next day gave me some time to think over the show, and I came to the following conclusions:
First, itâ€™s huge. Yeah, I know, this one is obvious, but it deserves saying it again. There was just no way I, or anyone, could have seen it all in one day: not even close. The show was so large, the planes so numerous, the talks so intriguing â€“ one canâ€™t do it all. Iâ€™ve heard from folks who go for the week who canâ€™t even get around to see it all.
The ferry flight turns onto the active runway at Chicago's Midway.
Second, and much more importantly, itâ€™s about airplanes, yes, but much more-so it is about community. News reports since the show have quoted that as many as twelve thousand aircraft visited the show over week and hundreds of thousands flooded the grounds over the week. Letâ€™s be honest, maybe a few hundred, at most, of that 12,000 actually flew as a part of the official airshow; the rest were folks who were there to bask in the community that is aviation. At the end of the day, airplanes are really about people: the people who build them, the people who fly them, and the people who admire them. Friendships are made and strengthened, stories are shared, and new stories are made to tell at future AirVentures.
In the spirit of full & clear disclosure NYCAviation/AirlineReporter was offered and accepted round-trip tickets from Seattle to Chicago Midway and a two night accommodation at the Chicago Midway Marriot. We thank Southwest for the offer and their hospitality.
This story was a joint venture between NYCAviation and AirlineReporter.
The Southwest Boeing 737-700 was parked right next to some awesome planes.
This weekend was super busy, but beyond exciting. I was invited to join Southwest Airlines on their special flight from Midway Airport (MDW), in Chicago to the big AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI (OSH). How could I say no to that opportunity?
I got to meet so many awesome people that I have interacted with on Twitter, that I haven’t been able to meet in person. Some, who work for Southwest but many who also do not. Our flight leaving from MDW was leaving at 7am, so it was an early morning but worth it. The Boeing 737-700 was only about half full and it is always awesome to be on a flight with no “real” passengers but with airline employees, media and a few invited guests. The flight from MDW to OSH is the shortest flight I have been on with a Boeing 737 — only about 30 minutes. Enough time to take off, level out and back down again. Since there were no passengers, they were able to leave the cockpit door open, so we could go up and say “hi” while in mid-flight. When’s the last time anyone has been able to do that on scheduled service?
How many times can you see this view outside a Boeing 737 window?
The cloud level was low and we were able to come down below the clouds well before landing, skimming just over the water. We arrived to OSH to many people lined up and waving from the sidelines, it was very cool. Then we were towed from the taxi way, through the ground, feet from DC3’s and other amazing planes to the center of the Aeroshell Square, where a lot of cool planes are being displayed. Being pulled along with hundreds of people waving and stopping behind a C-5, next to a DC-7 and FA-18 is pretty surreal.
I felt like someone famous coming off the aircraft. I felt very lucky that a blog reader @IKluft was happy to show me and a few others around for the day. He was at AirVenture all week and was well versed with the best plane locations (thanks Ian!).
Talk about airplane nerd heaven. I don’t even know how to describe all the amazing airplanes, events and people that were at AirVenture. I guess a picture is worth a thousand words and I have quite a few pictures and a few videos to share:
* My photos I took during the day
* Time-lapse video landing at Oshkosh
* Time-lapse video of C-17 doors closing
* Photos from @ImperfectSense
* Photos from @bradc314
I will be adding more in the next few days as well…