OSH Tower Falls With Aviation’s Change

By Scott Spangler on April 21st, 2009

JetWhine_OSH-Tower-New Dawn Across the aviation arc on the Internet many have bemoaned the April 9 passing of the old control tower at the Wittman Regional Airport, better known to the world by its location–Oshkosh. Photographers from the organization that  calls OSH home–and made it famous worldwide with its annual summer fly-in convention, AirVenture–the Experimental Aircraft Association recorded the event in a photo gallery and video.

Like millions of others, I have a special memory of the the squat, angular cream brick edifice with its blue enameled medallions and a crystalline crown. Since we first met in 1978, it’s always provided some much needed shade and sense of place. Many mourn its passing, but I see it as a cautionary parable for the dawning of aviation’s next century.

JetWhine_OSH-Tower-TiltThe old tower was replaced for a number of reasons, but chief among them was a performance shortcoming, the ability to see all corners of Wittman Field. The much taller and svelte replacement meets this requirement, among others. With the old tower so goes the National Airspace System we all grew up with. Born into uncontrolled airspace we flew into the future of evolutionary growth and change, from pilotage and dead reckoning to ADFs, VORs, ILSs, DME, and RNAV. Our general aviation icons had clearly defined missions and names, like the Stick and Rudder mastery of Wolfgang Langewiesche and the GA pilot’s IFR proficiency of Richard Collins.The revolutionary transition to the Next Generation National Airspace system started in the early 1990s with the advent of satellite navigation: GPS. WAAS was the next step, and ADS-B follows. Aeronautical romance and adventure have been succeeded because reaching the destination has become more important that the journey. Technology is the icon we now worship, because it makes our flying lives easier.

JetWhine_OSH Tower-scratch But change, especially revolutionary change, is never painless. It is not a menu from which we can pick only the items we like. It’s all or nothing, because pain is the price of the pleasure that comes with progress. It’s going to be especially painful for aviation because what’s next cannot be built on what was, like RNAV grew out of VORs.

With the next generation of airspace, we’re starting from scratch. And it isn’t going to be cheap. Another painful part of progress is that our money, tax and otherwise, doesn’t buy what it used to, probably because much of it is siphoned off to support corporate, federal, state, and local bureaucracies that produce nothing but paperwork that justifies their existence.

But I digress. Aviation’s second century and its NextGen national airspace system is all about performance. If components, like the veteran tower at OSH can’t step up and meet the new requirements, their days are numbered. It is a lesson all pilots should take to heart. — Scott Spangler

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