Airport Survey: AirVenture Edition

By Scott Spangler on July 20th, 2019

When the buzz of airplanes heading east to Oshkosh overpowered the humming air conditioner, it seemed a good time to wade into the humid heat for an airport survey. For decades, I’ve wondered how the small town airports fared just before and during EAA AirVenture, and this year I promised myself to find out.

AV-Survey-6Piper Cherokees of all vintages covered the ramp and upper reaches at Waupaca Municipal Airport (PCZ), a 42-mile drive northwest of OSH. A decade ago, Terry Hawking and his wife, Karen, decided that they would like to fly 50 Cherokees to the 50th Oshkosh, said Dwayne “Ferg” Ferguson, director of air operations for Cherokees to Oshkosh, also known as C2O. The group got close. “We had 50 signed up, and we have 41 making the flight tomorrow. Every year, about 25 percent of those who sign up can’t make it for one reason or another and this year it was just 20 percent.”

There are four other mass arrival groups, said Ferg, and they all muster at and depart from airports south of OSH. There wasn’t a lot of choices for the Cherokees, so they started looking to the north and Waupaca’s airport manager at the time, the late Pete Anderson, “always took care of us like family; we are a family, and Waupaca is home.”

AV-Survey-3Pete’s daughter, Beth, continues as airport manager, and the Cherokees are not the airport’s only AirVenture activity. “Later in the week, the Red Star warbird group will be here for an activity with the residents of the Wisconsin Veterans Home in nearby King,” she said. Until then, C2O fills almost every corner of the airport, including the conference room where the leaders are briefing the final details of mass arrival on Saturday, July 20.

Waupaca actually works better for us, said Ferg, because we are arriving from the north. “Groups coming from the south affect the individuals flying the Fisk arrival path. We can fly along the east side of Oshkosh and enter a right downwind to land on either end of the Runways 18/36 or 9/27. That’s what the three-ship elements were practicing today.”

AV-Survey-15Cherokee pilots need about 500 hours and must attend a formation clinic, which Cherokees to Oshkosh holds across the nation during AirVenture’s interstitial months. But that’s not set in stone, said Ferg, an ATP, CFII, A&P-IA with 22 years flying C-130s for the US Air Force, followed by some airline work. What matters more is currency.

“I’ve had pilots with 200 hours, but they logged it all in the last year, so they are very proficient. I’ve also had 1,500-hour pilots, but they logged it over 20 years. They were not very proficient, and it showed,” said Ferg. “Most people are trainable. If your objective is to get into Oshkosh, this is the safest way to do it. You know who you’re flying with; you know exactly when you’re going in; and the sky is clear for all 41 of us.”

And they have to be on the ground at 1000 on Saturday, July 20.

AV-Survey-17Wautoma Municipal Airport (Y50) is a 43-mile drive due west of OSH, and it is a popular waypoint for those heading to AirVenture, said Richard Jorgensen, co-airport manager, who was talking to Jeff, a Cessna 180 pilot from North Dakota who stops for fuel and a break before getting in line for the Fisk arrival. Sean Curry, the other co-airport manager, explains that it is an unpaid position, and that the two have been sharing the responsibilities for a decade.

How much activity Wautoma sees depends on the weather. Last year, when ATC closed the door to arrivals on Saturday and Sunday, “we had 85 airplanes here,” said Richard, tucked between all the hangars and herringboned on the ramp so they’d all fit. “We opened some hangars, hauled people here and there in a 12-passenger van, and the pizza place in town was making constant deliveries.”

AV-Survey-20The airport’s EAA Chapter 1331 puts on breakfast the Sunday before AirVenture officially starts. “We tried having breakfast every morning, but we just didn’t have enough people camping here,” he said, adding that the campers really fell off when EAA increased it airplane camping acreage a few years ago.

And then there are the regulars. Some stay here in town and drive in. “We get rental cars for them, and a number of airplanes fly in, spend the night, and then go to OSH.” One of them landed and taxied in as we were talking, a pristine 1934 Waco YKC in the livery of the Ohio National Guard. I followed Sean to the ramp, where he greeted the pilot and his wife by name, and pointed at the hangar that would be the airplane’s overnight home.

AV-Survey-1Brennand Airport (79C), in Neenah, Wisconsin, is, depending on your mode of transportation, 10 nautical miles direct, or a 15-mile drive from OSH. When I dropped in on Friday afternoon, there was an older Cessna 210 tied down on the grass, and the airport facility was dark, empty, and locked. While I was looking for someone to talk with, a Van’s RV-6 landed, but it taxied past me and stopped at the far end of hangar row. With the heat index in triple digits, it wasn’t worth the walk.

Thanks goodness for the Internet. Brennand’s website offers EAAers a place to park, refuel, and camp. It welcomes ultralights, LSAs, single and multiengine pistons, and helicopters to its paved, lighted 2,450-by-30-foot VFR runway. “There is an ‘unofficial’ parallel grass runway.

The large air-conditioned building offers restrooms, showers, laundry, and kitchen facilities. Guests have access to a computer and Wi-Fi. “If the building is locked, just call the phone number and we can give you an access code.”

Transient and overnight aircraft can park on the grass, and visitors are welcome to pitch a tent under their wing. Brennand charges nothing for parking or camping. It does ask that pilots bring their own tie downs and stakes. There are five permanent tie downs on the west side of the airport south of the 100LL fuel area. There are no reservations; it’s all first-come, first-served. For more information, contact Brennand’s owner/manager, Keith Mustain.

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3 Responses to “Airport Survey: AirVenture Edition”

  1. Airport Survey: AirVenture Edition | Industry news Says:

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  2. Neva Says:

    Great post. I’m going through many of these issues as well..

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