Living on the Edge of AirVenture Oshkosh

By Scott Spangler on July 29th, 2019

This year EAA AirVenture celebrated a half-century at Wittman Regional Airport. Many contributed to it with their first trip to Oshkosh, and to accommodate them EAA expanded the South 40 to the airport’s southern fence line. Having made my first visit in 1978, I wanted to celebrate with a new perspective, a new view of the event. Curious about the southland, I decided to walk the public perimeter and meet those living on the edge of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

To qualify as edge livers, they had to be camping with their airplane next to the airport fence. This chain link border exists in almost every community except Vintage; here, the fence separates Vintage camping from Camp Scholler. On different days, I wandered to a different cardinal compass point, except east. Runway 18/36 precludes a public area inside the fence in that direction. In the order I met them, let serendipity introduce you to…


West—Jim Piavis, Redmond, Washington

With the tail of his RV-7 backed up against the fence in homebuilt camping, Jim Piavis of Redmond, Washington, was working the wing with a spray bottle of cleaner and a large square of cloth. “It is the ninth year for this airplane,” starting in 2008. “I brought another one previously,” he said, and first came to Oshkosh in 1976 (maybe) with his dad. Overall, he’s made the pilgrimage to Oshkosh 27 times, but not consecutively.

Like so many others, he waited out the weather elsewhere. “We were at Portage, about 15 minutes from Ripon. It was a fun stop; we had a good time there. A bunch of us were on our way to get Mexican food when we got the text [that the airport was accepting arrivals], so we got here Sunday evening as soon as they opened it up.”

“Camping is pretty benign,” Jim said. His most memorable visit was 2010. “I was in Camp Scholler the last Slosh-kosh, and that was fun—a lot of mud. Homebuilt camping is pretty much a nonevent for the most part, but it is a lot of fun, though.” Sweeping his arm around this westernmost corner of the camping area, he said, “about half the airplanes around here were at Portage together.” And as they did there, they continued to hang out together in camp.


West—Chad Jennings, Tulsa Oklahoma

“I tried to fly up here Saturday morning,” said Todd Jennings of Tulsa, Oklahoma, “but the clouds looked bad, so I sat out the storm at Middleton, [Wisconsin]. I tried to come Saturday afternoon but, obviously, after the big storm, I had to wait until Sunday.”

Flying his 2016 Just Aircraft Super STOL, with its 19-inch bush tires and Rotax 912 with big-bore kit that turns the CATO climb prop with 115 horsepower, he could have safely made his way to this camping spot in the Ultralight area, but all the grass parking areas were closed until things dried out a bit.

Weather has also limited his backcountry riverbed landings at home. “Oklahoma, you’ve probably noticed [from the news], has had so much flooding this year that there’s nowhere to land.”

Without a doubt, his first trip to Oshkosh has been memorable. “I flew up solo and met some friends here,” he said, nodding at the tent on the other side of his airplane. Home is next to the fence that protects the ultralight runway, as far west as you can get in the area. To the other side of him was a trio of porta-potties. The camping area quiets down quickly after sunset, he said, and he’d not heard a lot of slamming plastic doors in the darkness.

A third-generation aviator, Chad soloed a glider at 14 and earned his private ticket four years ago. “My dad is a pilot; my grand-pop is a pilot, so I grew with it. I’ve been to a lot of air shows—my dad used to fly in them—but all the people, airplanes, and aviation products here, it’s overwhelming.”

When not flying, he pilots an 18-wheeler that delivers rebuilt propane tanks to all corners of the United States and Canada. Likewise, he’s not letting any area of Oshkosh go unexplored. “My friends and I are on our way to the seaplane base, and we’ll hit up the museum this afternoon.”


South—Jackie & Lee Clark, South Bend, Indiana

Arriving on a sunny Wednesday morning, Jackie and Lee Clark were setting up their tent in the South 40 on their second trip to Oshkosh. “We had an excellent spot in the North 40 last year,” but it was full, said Lee.

The couple usually spends the first half of the week in Milwaukee, and then come up to Oshkosh for the rest of the week, said Jackie, “and we’re here for the night air shows, and it’s wonderful.” It also “avoids all the craziness right at the beginning of the week,” added Lee.

Interested in aviation since he started flying computer simulators as a kid, Lee started his flying lessons when he graduated high school in 2005 and earned his private pilot certificate in July 2017. A member of the Wings Flying Club, he flew its Archer II north.

“We had a nice flight up,” said Lee. “We usually follow the Lake Michigan shoreline, but with a storm coming through, I got a bit worried, so I just shot right over the center of the lake.” Jackie is not a pilot but is an eager copilot and camper. “We enjoy it, but we don’t camp as often as we’d like,” she said.

AirVenture combines the activities in a unique way. “It’s something different,” said Jackie, “and if you love airplanes,” said Lee, “this is the place to come.”


North—Bradley Spatz, Gainesville, Florida

When I introduced myself to Bradley, he looked at me with a quizzical cast to his eyebrows and said, “Your name is familiar.” We quickly solved the riddle. At AirVenture 2017, his first trip to Oshkosh, he won an Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) drawing that awarded him $1,000 toward the installation of ADS-B in his 1982 Cessna 182S, and I wrote the story about the installation for Avionics News.

Bradley made his second arrival on Sunday afternoon, when the airport opened for arrivals after a roiling cloudy black beast (with a bulging red heart that throbbed red on radar) dumped nearly a half-foot of water on Wittman starting just after lunch on Saturday. “I hung out in Madison until I got the [AirVenture arrival] text message,” he said Thursday morning as he was packing up for his trip home.

Sunday’s arrival window was not open long, he said. “About 20 minutes after I got here I got another text saying that it was closed. I was just lucky that I got in. It must have been some storm, and I heard there was standing water. My friends [camping in the North 40 neighborhood on the south side of Runway 9/27] got here on Friday, and they said their tent was floating.”

When he arrived, the orange batons directed him to the north side of Runway 9/27. “You don’t get to pick,” Bradley said, but camping was his choice. “I don’t mind camping, and my friends told me the North 40 is kind of a thing, and if you stay in a hotel, it is not the same experience,” he said. On the other side of the fence from where we stood talking was the Oshkosh Hilton Garden Inn.

Bradley comes to AirVenture for the people, not the air show. Meeting up with friends is good, and chance encounters is what makes it great. Before Dick Rutan began his presentation about his unrefueled earth-rounding flight in the Voyager, Bradley listened to a B-17 pilot “tell the gentleman between us about some mission over Bremen in World War II. The guy between us asked how old he was; 20 said the B-17 pilot. You were an aircraft commander at 20? He asked. Actually, the man said, I was aircraft commander at 19, but by then I was 20. It was amazing to hear about this.” –Scott Spangler, Editor

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3 Responses to “Living on the Edge of AirVenture Oshkosh”

  1. Living on the Edge of AirVenture Oshkosh | Industry news Says:

    […] Source: FS – Aviation Living on the Edge of AirVenture Oshkosh […]

  2. Sandya Narayanswami Says:

    I just returned from AirVenture and what an amazing experience it was! I and three pilot friends flew in a private jet to Appleton, WI. I am Chairman of the Board of the General Aviation Awards. On arriving at Appleton airport, I and my 2 pilot buddies, all women of color, got a LYFT to our AirBnB while our heroic pilot put away the plane. On chatting with the driver, she revealed that she and her husband had been supporters of the John Birch Society for 40 years! Its HQ is in Appleton WI. I was horrified at how inappropriate she was. I think she assumed we didn’t know what the JBS is, but I certainly do. However I consoled myself with thinking we flew in via private jet and she drives a LYFT…… Needless to say, she didn’t get a tip. POC who come to AirVenture should know about this. I did not run into anything adverse at the show, but I was really disturbed by the LYFT driver. I grew up in the UK and experienced years of in your face racism. This took me back to those days. It would also be nice if you had interviewed a pilot of color or more women at the show. We do exist you know.

  3. Scott Spangler Says:

    Yes, I know that the aviation community reflects the diversity of our world, but in my peregrinations along the Wittman Regional Airport fence, I unfortunately did not meet many people at their campsites at the edge of Oshkosh. The aircraft camping communities were pretty empty when I wandered around them because everyone was enjoying the show, so my subjects were first-met, first reported.

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