An Oshkosh To Remember II - the trip home

The sequel begins with 14 Fox Valley Flying Club members arriving at Oshkosh in grand style (i.e. alive). Our trip schedule is to arrive Friday afternoon, spend Friday afternoon and Saturday at the field, and depart Sunday a.m. at about 07:00. The excitement of our arrival is amplified by the drone of the WWII fighter planes starting the airshow. After recounting our flight, each pilot ties down their plane and begins to set up camp. Some of us have tents which fit conveniently under our wing - which helps keep off the dew and/or rain. After we're set up, our first stop is the ultralight area, then the fly-market, then the manufacturers demonstrator area. Our browsing is interrupted by the fighter jet segment of the airshow. This is when all in attendance turn their heads to the sky - awesome. Friday afternoon goes well - we were able to get through most of the ultralight booths and watch the airshow. We all congregate before dinner and drive into town in the ground crew van - this is usually like packing 10 pounds of you-know-what in a 5 pound bag. The town of Oshkosh is alive with airshow visitors from around the world - all with one common interest, FLYING. After making fools of ourselves in one of the local eating establishments, we head back to the tent area for some much needed rest. Saturdays' weather is a bit warm and humid, but we all endure as we make our way through the fly-market and some of the other displays. We usually split into groups of 2 or 3 during the day, and congregate in the evening to go to dinner. After another sardine ride to town, we refuel ourselves and begin to plan our departure the next morning.

One thing about northern Wisconsin is that the weather is a bit tempermental. The forecast calls for showers and thunderstorms during the night and a chance of more rain Sunday morning. Whittman field closes down when the weather is below VFR minimums - so when they give you the ok to go, you have to go NOW. The plan was for everyone to be ready to take off by 07:00, regardless of the weather.

The next morning was overcast, warm, and humid, with reports of scattered showers in the area. All the pilots were gathered around the weather radio listening to the up-to-the-minute conditions. We all decided to ready our planes, pack our camping gear, and leave when the tower gave us the go ahead. We all waited anxiously as we watched for the go ahead from the flight line volunteer. They finally gave us a 15 minute window in which to leave, so we all scrambled to our planes and lined up for take off. In a situation like this, it has come down to every man for himself as we take off one by one. My fortunes take a turn for the worse as I attempt my take off - my engine loads up and wont rev above 4 thousand rpm. As I pulled off the to the side of the runway and watched everyone else take off, I realized that I had made one of the worst mistakes you can make on a cross country - I depended on following the rest of the group to get home. This is a Bozo no-no. (a bad thing). My plan was now to diagnose the problem quickly enough that I would not lose the rest of the group. This plan was fading fast. Finally, I realized that I had had a similar problem on a humid day last year, and the fix was to remove the air cleaners! I quickly removed the air cleaners and re-started the engine - I got full rpm! The rest of the group was now 20 minutes ahead of me, and all I knew was to head south. Wisconsin was not familiar terrain, so I felt a knot in my stomach as I pondered my current predicament. At the last minute before take off, one of the members that drove up handed me a sectional - I grabbed it and took off. I now found myself depending on a sectional for the first time. Looking ahead, I saw unfamiliar terrain, grey clouds, haze, and all around poor visibility. I knew that Fon-Du-Lac airport (a big airport) would be directly in my path if I headed due south, so I veered off to the west. Reading a sectional for the first time while flying an open cockpit plane is a feat in itself - add to that 1 mile visibility and falling and you've got a tense situation. As I flew south at about 300 feet AGL, I looked ahead and saw the grey clouds getting greyer, the ceiling dropping, and the cars coming from the south all had their headlights on - not a good sign. So now I'm pretty much lost (the sectional isn't much good with a half mile visibility), the weather is getting worse, and I think to myself that the only other thing that could go wrong would be to run out of gas. I check my fuel supply, I don't know if its enough since I don't know where I am. It starts to rain. Rain hitting your face at 50 mph kinda hurts, so I cover my face with my throttle hand and look for a spot to put down. The thought of landing on a road in the rain and doing possible damage to the plane convinces me to keep going south. I endured the on-and-off rain showers for about 20 minutes and it began to lighten up. At this point I'm beginning to worry about fuel, but my first priority is to figure out where I am. I finally correlate a bend in the main road (Rt 41, my only landmark) with the sectional, and I begin to head south west - with my only known landmark fading into the distance. After about 5 minutes, I recognize a town on the sectional and determine that my fuel supply should be enough, I hope. As I drew to within 5 miles of Hartford, I began to look for the airport and I saw some dots in the sky. I caught up to the rest of the group! Needless to say, a huge sign of relief was in order. After landing, I found out that 3 or 4 of the other guys had not arrived yet - we later found out that they had landed on a road and waited for the rain to pass. The weather cleared, and the rest of the trip went well.

We all made it back in one piece - but for me, this will always be the Oshkosh to remember!

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