Day Zero: Resetting an AirVenture Attitude

By Scott Spangler on July 25th, 2021

After we all took a year off in 2020, I hit the road this morning for Wittman Regional Airport with a tick of trepidation nibbling at my soul. It’s Zero Day, the Sunday before the show starts and all the exhibitors are scurrying about trying to get set up for AirVenture official commencement on Monday.

If Mother Nature cooperates, Zero Day is when the first horde of airplanes descends on Oshkosh, and the ATC folks start issuing instructions like auctioneers on speed. There are usually a good number of cars as well, but with all the changes to the airborne and four-wheeled arrival paths, not to mention all of the site changes, especially to the parking lots, I didn’t know what to expect, which laid out a buffet of trepidations.

Just before noon, the traffic was essentially nonexistent. That’s because everyone, it seemed, has already arrived! Over the years, EAA has extended Camp Scholler to the organization’s southern property line, West Ripple Ave. Across the street is the new Alro Steel Warehouse. For most of the year, it is a green field dotted with signposts. This morning it was an RV lot jammed packed with land yachts of every sized and description. Rarely did I see an open spot.

Appropriately credentialed, I parked in my usually assigned lot, which this year has a new moniker. Warming up my feet, I avoided the “Do Not Stroll Zone” that encompasses the four exhibit buildings and center stage aircraft display plaza. This makes setup easier for the exhibitors, and for the first time for my eyes, florescent-vested volunteers were enforcing (finally) the no-stroll rule, politely turning people 180 degrees.

Turning into the showplane parking areas that extend westward from the Runway 18/36 flight line, the grass was still green and pretty much devoid of amateur-built experimental airplanes. And there didn’t seem to be that many airplanes making their arrivals. ATC was playing over the flight line speakers, and the controllers were talking conversationally, welcoming the arrivals to Oshkosh and complimenting them on their good work at putting their airplanes on the green dot or red square. Later in the afternoon, around 1400, the controllers were having two-way conversations with the arrivals, which I’ve never before heard.

Following homebuilt parking down to the taxiway that separates it from Warbirds, I turned left and swam through a neatly parked sea of RVs to reach the shoreline of homebuilt camping. There was barely an open spot, and the lines were filling up quickly. An elephant walk of maybe a dozen RVs buzzed down the taxiway as the parking crew marshaled them into line. Their props had barely stopped turning before their occupants popped out of the cockpits and started pitching their tents.

This scene was repeating itself in the Vintage camping area, and across the empty Warbird’s greensward, it was easy to see that the North 40 camping area was similarly congested with campers. The Warbird RV corral was a hive of land yachts with buzzing air conditioners, so I guessed that the airplanes were out rehearsing for next weekend’s show celebrating the end of World War II (plus one).

Clearly, AirVenture 2021 is resetting itself as the year of the camper. Thinking about it, we shouldn’t be surprised. How many stories have we seen and read during our solitary pandemic confinement about people escaping to parks (city, state, and national) and hiking trails. Still, the dense-packed spectrum of campers at OSH stunned me. But not as much as Mother Nature will when she welcomes the tent campers to late July in Wisconsin.

Making the grand tour on Zero Day, there really wasn’t anything different in the museum; they’ve moved some airplanes around. Outside, work is progressing well on the addition. If I have to complain about something, I vote for the new wristbands. They are twice as wide as the old ones, and the plastic is flimsier. Instead of the plastic button customizing the fit with a series of holes, the new fastener is adhesive, and if you aren’t careful, it’ll be too tight, a sweaty reminder that it is late summer in Wisconsin. Finally being able to remove it is the only reason I’m looking forward to the show’s conclusion. If not for that, it would be nice if it would run for two weeks, so we could make up for what we missed last year.

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