The Most Awesome Airshow: EAA AirVenture 2011

If you are into planes and airshows, you have got to see this. Every summer Oshkosh, Wisconsin becomes the biggest air attraction on earth. For a week flight enthusiasts flock here, camp out in the fields, park their campers and even their planes around the Wittman Regional Airport. This is home to EAA, the recreational aviators organization founded in Wisconsin in 1953 by a group of folks who wanted to build their own planes. (I have a great uncle who did that once. Used a kitchen colander for a prop cone and flew from Detroit to northern Wisconsin!) EAA annual airshow AirVenture is nothing short of a giant lovefest for all things related to flying. You have to love a festival that gives not only driving directions but flying directions. I managed to get up to Oshkosh for it this year, my first time ever I am ashamed to say. It lives up to its hype.

Thursday night George Lucas was on hand to give a preview of his latest film, Red Tails, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American combat pilots. Harrison Ford presented Clear and Present Danger for the movie of the night Wednesday. Just for Friday, looking at the schedule of events, I counted nearly 225 events throughout the day, from 7am to 8:30pm. Events included demos, workshops, movies, presentation, forums and talks, award ceremonies, and even a live performance from Gary Sinise and the Lieutenant Dan Band. The central event, however, is the airshow, which ran from 3:30-6pm. It had it all: war planes, performance flights, rocket-powered trucks, gliders, parachutists, and a bit of high explosives.

One of the craziest performances was that of Jeff Boerboon, the 2010 National Champion of performance pilots. He pulled some stunts that if you hadn’t known you were watching an airshow you would have thought, “Oh my god, I’m about to see someone die.” End-over-end stuff, upside down and backwards. Another pilot went straight up into a stall and “parked” there for a few moments. Needless to say these performance planes have some seriously powerful engines.

Of all the cool new technology I thought this one was the tops. ICON is almost like a jet ski with wings. The company is taking orders for its amphibious sports plane, with a reduced deposit of $2000. Expected price? $139,000. Go to the website to see a flight demo. Oh so cool.

The Harrier Jump Jet was one of the stars of the show. Capable of really short take offs, it can also fly lift off straight up (with some serious extra fuel expenditure of course).

We watched the Harrier make a few earsplitting passes along the flightline and then it came back and stopped — midair — right in front of us. Backed up a bit too.

Then it turned around in place, moved side to side a bit. Very impressive.

This is the B-29 Superfortress, the same class of plane as the Enola Gay, the bomber that carried the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima. The announcer shared a bit of history with us: they didn’t activate that bomb until they were well in the air. Reason? Four out of five of these planes crashed on take off. Yikes. That seems impossible and I remain wondering if I heard that correctly. (Takeoffs from Tinian (where the Enola Gay was based) maybe?) This is Fifi, the last flying B-29. The project to develop the plane that would ultimately deliver the Bomb, cost more than the Manhattan Project.

Plane crash??? No (though those do happen from time to time, sometimes fatally). As this was Veteran’s Day at the airshow, the war planes were featured. Along with flight displays, some troop vehicles with machine guns drove along the flightline with men dressed in combat gear in the 86-degree heat. Planes made passes and dynamite charges were set off to simulate bombs. Very loud, but not nearly as loud or potent as an actual bomb. So while most people were oohinh and aahing, I’ll be honest: I imagined what that would have been like to have the real deal blowing up all around you, endlessly, for a night, or a week, or months, years. It gave me chills despite the heat.

This was the grand finale: the Wall of Fire as the B-29 flew over. There was a famous photo of Mt Saint Helens erupting which was taken when a photographer carefully set up the camera and tripod… and then bumped it off center when he ran to it when the eruption finally took place, thus framing it perfectly as it blew out the side of the mountain. This is like the exact opposite of that shot. I failed to set up in time and shot over some guy’s shoulder on steps and captured the area to the side of where the Wall of Fire was laid out, missing the flames and much of the event. I’m grumpy again just thinking about it. Grrr. Be prepared.

These are not professionals. These are recreational pilots who showed up before the airshow and had some training in flying formation. Very difficult and these guys were outstanding.

Another formation flyover. With air raid sirens going in the background, it was a helluva a sight.

Yes, that plane is upside down. And falling. And spinning a bit. No big deal. (eyebrows raised)

Kids loved all this, but ear protection is recommended. Obviously a fly-in fan, this guy’s got his a kid a theme-appropriate stroller.

This is a glider of sorts with a small jet engine on top. Bob Carlton uses the jet to takeoff and to gain altitude, then shuts it off to do his sailing performance.

You could still hear the whistle of a jet, but it was only the wind rushing through them as Carlton made a spectacular show without an engine.

Here it is, the commercial jet we’ve all been waiting for: the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Folks lined up in the hot sun to see it and to have a simulated airport experience: standing uncomfortably in line for hours wondering why the hell it is taking so long. No patdowns at least.

After the airshow, the Boeing 787 lined up for takeoff.

As the Boeing 787 took to the air, the pilot gave a modest little tip of the wings. Not quite as dramatic as a barrel roll, but hey.

Kevin Revolinski

Author, travel writer/photographer, world traveler. Writes about travel, hiking, camping, paddling, and craft beer.

One thought on “The Most Awesome Airshow: EAA AirVenture 2011

  • This looks like sooo much fun! My husband is an airplane fanatic and we are secretly planning to do this next year for his birthday! The Harrier has been one of my favorites for years. It is amazing to see it take off vertically and hover 🙂

    So glad I ran into this post, I’m really excited now!


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