Zero Day: Before EAA AirVenture Starts

By Scott Spangler on July 24th, 2016

Since 1970, when EAA moved its annual convention to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, it has tried starting the event on different days of the week. But finding a day that suits everyone’s schedules is an impossible task because there are really three different groups of participants. There are those who attend the first half of the show, others who arrive midweek for the second half, and the worker bees, the exhibitors and word merchants like me, who arrive early and leave after it is all over.

JW AV0-2For all three, EAA has achieved the perfect start date: Monday. That allows everyone to travel the weekend before AirVenture begins, and Sunday is Zero Day, when exhibitors make their last push to get everything unloaded and set up before the the show starts on Day 1, Monday, July 25.

Everyone has their own Zero Day Ritual, and mine is checking into Press Headquarters to take one last look at the press conference schedule board, but mostly it is to say hi to Livy Trabbold. who’s been at the Press HQ counter for nearly a quarter century. I’m not a superstitious guy, but the two three less then stellar conventions always happened when I didn’t stop by to say hi to Livy before I started work. It is her bright, big smile that sets the right mindset for the week to come.

In the proper frame of mind, I set out to explore the field, to see what’s changed and what interesting airplanes have arrived. Given Mother Nature’s hot and humid and thunderstormerous tantrum last night, there were few airplanes on the field. Homebuilt parking was almost empty, as was Warbirds. The World War II reenactors, who rode out the storms in their cotton canvas tents were still soggy. Vintage parking was better populated, but random questions to people sitting under their wings revealed that most of them arrived before the storms. At the south end of the airport the ultralight folks were unloading their trailers under an overcast sky.

JW AV0-3Working my way back to show center, I explored the outdoor exhibit areas. Unless you want to become one with a forklift, it’s good to keep your head on a swivel. And don’t stand in one place too long, or someone will give you a box to carry. And it may just be my imagination, but in watching everyone set up, it seems that the tie wrap (or zip tie) has replaced duck tape as the go-to fixit fastener. Most the the exhibitors have returned to their traditional AirVenture locations, but the two-story HAI tent that dominated Wittman Road, which parallels the flight line was gone. ONE Aviation, with its second-floor deck, occupied part of the space, and the NBAA tent was next door. And if anyone is looking for a long-term basket case, this Canadian Harvard was in the Fly Mart area.

Just after noon, the clouds started to thin and separate, and the airplanes started to arrive. I’ve been watching airplanes arrive for along time, and I always marvel at the steady efficiency of the flight paths. That seemed absent this afternoon. Maybe it was 36 hours of pent up eagerness caused by the weather, but the airplanes were all over the place. I don’t remember the last time I saw a go-around, but today I saw four in about 15 minutes. Standing next to some spectators with a radio listening to the tower, I had to walk away when I heard the tower controller’s voice go up an octave or two and the speed of his words increase by a factor of four. Order was restored several hours later, when the flight of 36 RVs came across in a neat formation and broke off in flights of four for their landing breaks with ordered precision.

JW AV0-4But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Zero Day is for working out the bugs. When Vickers Aircraft didn’t shop up for its scheduled lunch and press conference (and not many member of the media showed up either, which is unusual when lunch is being served), I opted for some ice cream. It was a quickly melting leaning tower of soft serve the demanded immediate lingual alignment. Given the line behind me, the soft server will certainly improve with practice.

And so will the aircraft marshaling crew in Warbirds. This HU-16 Albatross was taxiing under its own power, until it was clear that its wing would not clear the tail double tail of the PBJ (B-25) out of the frame to the left, and this Air Force Cessna 310 now in the shade of its right wing. Ultimately, they made the right decision. They shut it down and called for a tug. On this Zero Day, Oshkosh certainly lived up the adventure half of its name. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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