When I last left you, I was full of anticipation and optimism about flying into my first AirVenture. I know that the title and first sentence leads you to believe otherwise, so let me quell some of your initial trepidation: I did indeed make it into OSH, spent a wonderful week there and made it home safely. But that's not the whole picture. The whole picture is much larger; painted with broad strokes of joy, pride, grief and angst. Some very good things, and some very bad things. So sit down, fasten your seat belts, hang on for dear life and prepare yourself for a particularly wild ride.
The day before I departed, I loaded up the airplane as completely as possible and did some pattern work, practicing spot landings which were mostly spot-on. With that, I was as ready as I would ever be for departure. I made a video but didn't connect the com link, so I produced it as a time lapse video and didn't publish it. I'll share the packing photos and a couple screenshots of the video here.
After a fairly decent night's sleep, I headed to the airport at 6 a.m. and launched about an hour later. The flight was mostly smooth; passing over the Mackinac Straits was amazing and I had to trade some altitude for airspeed to do a southern end-run around a thunderstorm north of Manistique. I chose to land at Waupaca for fuel and to mentally gear up for the arrival procedure that I faced. The OSH ATIS was announcing Green Lake as the arrival transition point, so after departting Waupaca I headed for that point, leveling off at 1800' and 90 kts. The timing was good; I caught a big gap in the aircraft conga line and following the railroad tracks for the RIPON-FISKE approach went smoothly. I was expecting runway 27 but they were alternating inbound VFR traffic between runway 27 and 18R; I was assigned runway 18R, dialed in the correct tower frequency and followed the less-familiar procedure acceptably. I was cleared to land on runway 18R; they didn't bother to assign a dot since I had the runway to myself for the moment. After clearing the active runway, the long taxi to Homebuilt Camping included some pavement and grass, but the airplane seemed unfazed and before I knew it I was parked and shutting down in a very good location on the southwest corner of Homebuilt Camping adjacent to a pedestrian access gate. Wow. I had finally done it. I had flown my own aircraft to the BIG SHOW!
The marshallers instructed me to tie down my aircraft before heading to registration. I told them it would take me a while, which turned out to be a major understatement. While I was attempting to screw the tiedown eyelets into the anchor bosses in the wings, I figured out that the the anchor bosses had never been tapped or threaded. Umm... oops... another subtle plans "gotcha". I explained my situation to a marshaller; some radio calls were made and eventually I was given a ride to the Emergency Repair Station along the flightline near the Vintage Aircraft parking. They supplied the correct tap and handle; I was returned to the airplane and had the bosses tapped in short order. I walked back to registration and literally got the song and dance (featured in the video link above) along with camping pass, Showplane Participant Mug and Perseverance Plaque before hitching a ride on the Welcome Wagon to return the tools and get back to the airplane. I elected to hold off on setting my tent up in anticipation of a thunderstorm that was expected to hit Saturday. The plane was covered and gear sorted for the trek to find the campsite of my hosts, Mike and Richard Tippin. I knew they were in the vicinity of the SOS Brothers tent but I didn't know exactly where, and they were on a supply run to Appleton. The pedestrian gate by my airplane wouldn't be open until Sunday afternoon so once again I called upon the Welcome Wagon to get me over to the area behind the Fly-In Theater which was close to my destination. I settled down near the Sleepy Hollow Campground across from SOS Brothers and exchanged texts with Mike. As it turned out, their compound was in Sleepy Hollow which had a bar that would be open very soon. It turned out to be the ideal place to hang out in the shade, enjoy some water and a couple beers and do some bookkeeping while I waited for Mike and Richard to return.
Mike and Richard picked me up in about an hour and took me on the short drive to their compound. This was an annual event for them and they really did it up right, arranging a collection of RVs and a team of participants and guests each year. I was one of this year's honored guests. Mike, Richard and I had originally met at the Sport Air RV Fiberglass Workshop held in OSH (see my 2018 Year End Update blog) and stayed friends ever since. When my aircraft approached completion, Mike reached out and offered his hospitality if I was able to fly to OSH this year, which would include a bed, free meals and drinks and socializing with some of his favorite Captains of Industry. Well... who could turn that down? As the plan evolved, he shared that he would have a Red Carpet made in my honor, as well as a custom Goatflieg embroidered baseball cap. This was a true honor that amazes me to this day. When we arrived at the compound there was still a lot of setup to do; I helped when I could and got out of the way when I couldn't. We settled in for a great evening of great food (Friday's fare was barbecued chicken), drinks and comradery.
The next morning I walked over to Pioneer Airport, just across from the EAA Museum. I had seen the helicopter in the air and wondered if they were giving rides yet. As it turns out the flights were training missions; passenger flights would begin on Monday. From there, I went back to Homebuilder Registration to get the wristband that had been left out of my packet during the song and dance. Being only Saturday, there were no events scheduled and no trams running. I returned to Sleepy Hollow and the Tippin Compound to watch the approach of the day's thunderstorm which was building to the west. The storm looked to be a strong one and Mike had purchased some bubble wrap and tape to wrap my plane in case hail was anticipated. Riddled with anxiety, I waited and watched the storm for the next five hours until we finally made the decision that it would be wise to bubble-wrap Falsi-Fighter. Since the pedestrian gate was still locked, Richard dropped Mike, Ken Trout and me off at the Warbird gate. We walked back to the plane while Richard circled the van back around to toss the wrapping materials over the fence by the pedestrian gate. We got the plane wrapped just as storm warnings were announced over the airfield P.A. system and lightning was beginning to flash around us. The leftover material was tossed back over the fence to Richard and we scurried towards the Warbird gate with our thumbs outstretched to ring road traffic, hoping to get a ride. We ended up being assisted by none other than Charlie Becker, EAA Director of Chapters and familiar face and voice from the Chapter videos! Richard was waiting for us at the gate and we made it back to camp just before the storm broke. It was short and severe and a few planes were damaged but fortunately no hail fell. For the rest of the week I was greeted with thanks from other Homebuilt Campers. Our valiant efforts apparently assured that no hail fell and many expressed their gratitude. After a late steak dinner, more thunderstorms rumbled through around midnight and I finally got to sleep around 1:30.
Sunday morning I walked back to Homebuilt Camping (hereinafter referred to as HBC) to remove the bubble wrap from the airplane. A few planes had suffered rudder damage from wind gusts but my Ultimate Gust Lock did its job well and aside from some tape glue residue the plane was unharmed. I returned to the compound and took care of some photo editing, then went back to HBC to work on the plane a bit, setting it up for display. As I hung out by the plane with people coming by with questions and compliments, it finally began to sink in: I was at OSH with my own homebuilt flying aircraft. I was a fully-fledged insider now; a vested member of a very exclusive club. For the first time I could look around OSH and when another RV-8 caught my eye, I didn't have to dream about the future... now my first thought was "yep... I got one of those here too!" It was an amazing feeling and I allowed myself to bask in it for a few hours before covering the plane and heading back to the compound.
As I was preparing to head back I received a couple phone calls which I allowed to go to voicemail. One was from my daughter Naomi and one was from her mother-in-law Teresa. Neither one left a message and I suspected it was just more drama. Every time I took a trip some sort of drama usually hit the fan; there was usually nothing I could do for them except listen and they knew I'd get back to them when I could. After arriving at the compound I texted my wife Amy to get a synopsis. Instead of texting back, she called me. Uh oh... this wouldn't be good. It wasn't. In fact, in one phone call my life was about to change forever. Again.
My son-in-law Andrew was killed that afternoon in a motorcycle accident.
My daughter had lost her husband. My grandson had lost his father.
Leaving OSH AirVenture 2022
My son-in-law Andrew was killed that afternoon in a motorcycle accident.
My daughter had lost her husband. My grandson had lost his father.
I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. It had become a running joke that whenever I traveled, something bad happened; it happened more times than I care to recount here. As the plane approached airworthiness and first flight, I had lost two brothers-in-law in one week. Now this. I just could not believe it. I'm sitting in the middle of the greatest experience of my life and I have to face one of the most devastating events in my life. Shock doesn't even come close to describing it. I just couldn't wrap my head around the hows and whys of what had just happened. This just couldn't be real... but it was. I broke the news to my hosts and fellow campers and tried to get back into the moment somehow.
There was nothing I could do about what happened. I knew it would be very difficult to return before next Friday; my daughter and wife had tremendous support networks that kicked into gear and did what was necessary to get them through the next few days. Amy didn't ask me to return; she knew what this trip meant to me. We made the mutual decision that I would carry on and they would too. I would leap headfirst into the fray the minute I returned. For the rest of that evening I did my best to stay in the moment, which included two incredible batches of chili. One was considered the normal hot chili; the other batch was considered the "p***y" batch for those that didn't like spicy food. That designation led to some predictably ribald banter that had me laughing out loud. The food and the banter were just what the doctor ordered. Whatever gets you through the night... all right, all right.
The next morning I woke up dumb and numb and it took a couple cups of coffee to make me acknowledge existence. I caught a ride from the Sleepy Hollow shuttle service to the gate and ambled toward Aeroshell Square. I was hoping to catch the reveal of the CAM/FlightChops RV-14 in its fresh Yellowbirds paint at the Lycoming tent but it wasn't there. I ran across Elliot Seguin and talked to him briefly; he gave me a Wasabi Flight Test patch. I forgot to get a selfie with him so I caught him walking away. Eventually I found the RV-14 in Show Center with Dave Carrick and Steve Thorne already greeting fans. I saw Doug Reeve's RV there too, but didn't see Doug yet. I wandered around some more, waiting for the chance to meet up with Mike Patey at his plane Scrappy at 10:30 in front of the Garmin tent. He made an appearance early and it was pretty cool to show him a photo of Falsi-Fighter in HBC and thank him in person for all the inspiration he's given me.
From there I went to the Van's tent where they were preparing to reveal the long-awaited RV-15. That aircraft would be surrounded by deep crowds all week and I never did get a close look at it. I caught a ride from the Welcome Wagon back to my airplane and set up my tent. Dave Carrick came by with crewmember Thaddeus to visit the airplane; Thaddeus was trying to decide which airplane kit to buy and wanted to check out the RV-8 cockpit. I hung out by the airplane for a while, but I was already starting to feel a bit fried and wanted to head back to the compound to relax. Before I did, I waited for the day's airshow to begin by the west end of the Section D parking lot so I could capture some photos of the Van's 50th Anniversary formation fly-by. It was a pretty spectacular sight of some excellent formation work and I also caught them coming in to land on runway 27 in four-ship formations. After returning to the compound and relaxing with friends and beers, I feasted on a sumptuous low country boil, the likes of which I'd never experienced before. I asked Richard to help transport my gear to the HBC pedestrian gate and I tried to settle in for my first night in the new tent. To be honest, it was rough. I'm getting too old to deal with the logistics of a low tent and spent a lot of time squirming around on my back, sides and knees trying to get settled in. The evening's soundtrack was a rocking band entertaining a huge and enthusiastic crowd at the SOS Brothers tent, with side notes supplied from the Fly-In Theater. It took a long time for sleep to come that night.
I greeted the dawn at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning and took a long overdue shower. I hung out at the plane for a while before heading off to the vendor hangars to greet Rhonda at Barrett and Jason at Aerotronics. I stopped by the Cloud Ahoy booth and discussed using their software to disseminate my G3X flight data logs. I made it over to the EAA Merchandise building just in time to see Kermit Weeks in his book-signing corner. It was good to catch up with him and show him the photos of the plane in HBC. Had a brief visit with Steve and Dave at the Lycoming tent where the RV-14 had been relocated and discussed meeting up at the airplane sometime before my departure. Then I returned to HBC to meet/greet friends and followers and watch the day's airshow. I found Jason Seavolt's rebuilt RV-8 in HBC and sent him a note; he came by my location later. I hung out with David Clinthorne whose RV-4 had won its class in the AirVenture Cup Race on Sunday. There were many others that stopped by to say hello and it was a pleasure talking with all of them. As the day wound down I made my way back to the compound for another excellent dinner and socializing, making sure I made it back to the plane and tent before the pedestrian gate was locked up. As I strolled by the SOS Brothers tent they were gearing up for another banging party night. It seemed odd that I wasn't tempted to check it out as I had in previous years. But there wasn't anything normal about this year's AirVenture for me. The evening ended with some bookkeeping in the Homebuilt Camping Pavilion before crawling into my tent and trying my best to get some sleep.
Wednesday morning is a bit fuzzy. I'd been awash in a maelstrom of mixed emotions ever since I got the horrible news on Saturday; I'd stopped taking daily notes and it was difficult for me to make decisions on what to do next. My camp chair had broken the day before and I'd waffled about getting a replacement. I knew I could probably find one at the Fly Market but thought it might be a bit of a hassle; did I really want to bother? Yeah, I did; I needed something to sit on at my campsite. As it turned out, finding a camp chair at the Fly Market was very easy and the price was reasonable. As I walked back toward HBC I realized with a start that I'd left my phone in a nearby port-a-potty. I was lucky to find it right where I left it. Phew, or pyew... whatever. It was gonna be one of those brain-hazy days. Good thing I didn't need to fly, or drive. I took the camp chair back to the plane and pondered what to do next as formations of RVs flew celebratory passes overhead. I rode the tram around HBC and by the Warbirds, stopping by the Forums area. I had texted Budd Davisson about the possibility of him getting a chance of seeing the airplane. He asked me to remind him as the week progressed as his schedule at OSH is nonstop. My arrival at the Forums was well-timed and I stopped by one of his presentations which had just started. The place was packed. I knew I couldn't stick around to talk to him afterward because I'd been invited to attend the airshow pilot briefing at 11:30 and had to make sure I made it there early so my host could get me in. It was close but I made it just in time to stand in back and observe a part of OSH that very few people get to see. It was fascinating, educational and fun; a great mix of joviality and serious life-and-death planning. I took a few unobtrusive cell phone photos of the meeting. I was in the company of some very famous aviation photographers and nobody seemed to object, but in retrospect I hoped I hadn't violated some unknown confidentiality agreement. I checked with my host and he said it shouldn't be a problem, so I'll share just one photo. If I disappear after the publication of this blog, all I can say is I must have gotten it wrong. After the briefing I went by the Van's tent and was glad to find Doug Reeves there. It was good to finally meet the owner and head administrator of the Van's Air Force website; he and VAF have been such an important part of my aircraft building life. Another virtual friend for life that I was finally able to thank in person. It was a short walk over to the Homebuilt Registration; Danny King's RV-8 was parked there and I saw his canopy was open but he wasn't by the plane. I asked around but nobody knew where he was; I waited for awhile before catching a Welcome Wagon back to HBC. I waffled about the next move and ended up catching a tram ride to nowhere. They parked for ten minutes for tram spacing before taking me right back to where I started. I brought the computer to the Pavilion to process more photos before watching the afternoon airshow from the plane.
I attempted to make a tram journey to the south side of the field since I had yet to do any exploring past airshow center. But as luck would have it, they stopped running the trams just as I got to the middle exchange point. Go figure. I walked back to HBC and checked the weather; some unexpected rain showers were going to move through the area just before the start of the night airshow. I stashed my stuff and prepared for them as much as I could. I didn't have an umbrella and didn't want to dig into my clothes pack for a poncho, so I just hid in a port-a-potty when the cloudburst hit... because I'm actually a wicked witch and getting rained on would make me melt as I howl "What a world; what a world..." (just so you know). The timing was actually very good; the first couple of acts may have had to fly through some rain but visibility was acceptable and the clouds made for a great backdrop. I had to defer a call from my distraught daughter during the fireworks because the booms made it hard to hear her, but I called her back when the cacophony subsided. Such is life. I think I slept that night but I don't really remember. I know for certain I did wake up the next day and that's a good thing.
The plan for Thursday was to prepare for the departure on Friday: Study the OSH NOTAM (yeah I know they have to call it a NOTICE now but you all know what I mean); pack up the HBC camp and get the aircraft as ready for departure as possible. I was up before the sun and caught a beautiful dawn before heading to the Pavilion for some more photo collating. It was a long process made longer by my own numerical mistakes. Just by chance I was finally able to meet Dan Horton (VAF/RV savant) at the Pavilion that morning. I got Danny King's contact info from him, but in my own momentary distraction I didn't save it correctly. When I was finished with my computer I stowed it and went to Homebuilt Registration to inquire about checkout. I got a chance to meet up with Danny King at his airplane and shared my usual "I made it to HBC!" photo along with some other stories. It was only after I had boarded the Welcome Wagon that I realized I'd forgotten to get a selfie with him so I caught a quick shot as I departed. EAA photographer and B-29 Doc crewmember Nick Moore finally got a chance to stop by the airplane. Nick and I originally met at Stearman Field during my trip to Wichita (see Sherwin-Williams Training Trip blog entry, September 2016) and being fellow photographers and Doc fans, we've stayed in touch over the years. It was definitely good to meet up again, however briefly, and I look forward to my return to Stearman Field in the RV-8 for some photo sorties. I did some additional departure planning at the Pavilion and hung out at the airplane with more VAF friends. I have your names written down on my phone notes and I'm pretty sure I know who I saw and who I missed. Forgive me if I haven't mentioned you in person, especially if you see your photo in this post. I wish I could have caught up with all of my friends that were in attendance, especially the gangs from Chapters 113 and 194. There just wasn't enough time (and available transportation) to make it possible. Steve and Dave made one last stop by the airplane along with fellow CAM pilot Andrei Tineghe to catch a few more video clips. Steve made an appearance at the Pavilion as I prepared to head back to the Sleepy Hollow compound. I wanted to pack the plane as completely as possible Thursday and Mike was able to accommodate my request for one last overnight stay. The evening's fare was brats and fixings, and they were wonderful, as was the company. I drank only water that night (and the night before) to keep what's left of my mind ready for flight, but I did allow myself one tiny but emotionally significant exception. After dinner, I poured myself about 1/3 shot of Woodford Reserve and sipped it gently as I pondered all the incredible highs and devastating lows that were part of this trip; all the friendship, support, encouragement, acknowledgement, congratulations, condolences and comradery that made this one of the most important weeks in my life. I'm so grateful for it all, and all those that were part of it will be my friends forever.
I know I went to bed around 10:00 p.m. but actual sleep only came in small doses that night. I finally got up at about 4:15 a.m. and got ready to depart. I knew the pedestrian gate wouldn't open until about 6:15 at the earliest; the wisest course would have been to just lay back down and wait, but I just couldn't do that. I stalled as much as I could before eventually heading down the campground road to exit Sleepy Hollow. As dawn crept across Wisconsin I walked slowly and deliberately along the pedestrian paths, pausing when I could and even sitting inside a port-a-potty (without using it) just to meditate and kill time. I watched the sunrise from outside the fence, watching other flying campers pack up for their own journeys back home. Eventually the gate was opened; I went to the plane and began the final preparations for departure. I took my time; there was no rush. The tie downs, ropes and rings were all detached and stowed. The packing was finalized, the aircraft preflighted and cockpit prepared. While this was going on, four RV aircraft were pulled out of their parking spots, lined up in a row and prepared to leave together as a flight. Beginning with the tail aircraft, one by one they all started their aircraft... except for the lead RV-8, which would not start even after numerous attempts. That aircraft was pulled out of line and parked in the empty spot next to me. The other aircraft taxiied around the reluctant RV-8 and started heading down the rows... but one took a slightly different route, didn't see the traffic cone marking the end of a row and munched on it with the prop. Two gone, two down. This was an ominous way to start the day. The prop apparently suffered no damage and the third aircraft departed, but the former lead RV-8 just wouldn't start. Marshallers called for assistance and eventually the emergency aircraft repair crew showed up. They applied jumper cables to the battery that had been depleted by all the attempted starts. More attempts were made; occasionally the engine would pop once or twice like it wanted to start but never succeeded. The cowl was pulled; fuel sumps drained and spark plugs pulled. The plugs were wet with what appeared to be fuel, but some water was found in the sumps. After the plugs were dried, cleaned and reinstalled more attempts were made. One attempt came very close; the engine tried its best to clear itself and run and then just gave up again. I would sometimes stop my work to assist or make suggestions as they were requested. Eventually I was ready to go, but didn't want to expose the disabled and disassembled aircraft to the prop blast of my own startup. The crew helped me pull my aircraft out and well down the line to minimize the effect of the propwash. I watched one more failed attempt before wishing them eventual success and climbing into the cockpit. I said a silent prayer as I began my own startup; fortunately my aircraft wasn't jinxed and it started immediately. It occurred to me that we had never introduced ourselves, but it was too late now. It turned out we would meet in the near future; now it was time for me to head home.
My mental preparation held me in good stead as I double-checked the ATIS and planned a departure from runway 27. I monitored the appropriate ground frequency as I taxiied out of HBC and toward the runway. Of course as I approached the appropriate intersection I was instead marshalled toward runway 36R. Change ground frequency; reset brain. One small issue with departing AirVenture is that there's no guarantee you'll get a chance for a runup. The departure traffic in front of me was light so I knew I wouldn't be stopping during taxi. The Whirl Wind prop hub takes a few seconds to fill during the first prop cycle; I knew I wouldn't get the normal opportunity to stop and runup the engine at 2000 rpm so I attempted to do a "soft cycle" during taxi at about 1400 rpm. It didn't work out as planned. The engine was leaned for taxi and as I pulled the prop lever back I caught the mixture lever just enough to cause the engine to sputter. I slammed the mixture forward but I was too late; the engine died and the prop stopped. I cursed out loud as I tried a quick restart and was lucky that the engine responded right away. I continued with a burst of speed that alarmed one flagman; I acknowledged his indications to slow down immediately and gave a sheepish wave as he gave me a "WTF" shrug. Oh well, can't let that distract me. The tower controller complimented my paint job as he directed me onto the runway and cleared me for immediate takeoff. I launched quickly and immediately turned right to the desired heading of 150° as the tower reminded all pilots to stay at or below 1300' until clear of the Class D airspace. Apparently other pilots had been forgetting this morning but I wasn't one of them. Once I was clear I turned toward Manitowoc and started a gradual climb. As I approached the shoreline I turned northward and eventually levelled off at 9500'. I picked up flight following over Sturgeon bay and let them know my plan was to follow the shoreline up the Green Bay Peninsula up to Manistique, then hop across the northern tip of Lake Michigan via Beaver Island and Harbor Springs. There were some broken cloud layers ahead that altered that plan somewhat; to remain VFR I cut over to Beaver Island a bit early, descended to 7500 feet and angled toward Charlevoix. Once I was over land I did some dodging around the broken cloud buildups that were getting taller than anticipated. The bottoms were about 4000' and the tops above 8000'. I went down to 3500' and was getting knocked around a bit. After a while I tried to get above the tops into smooth air but as I climbed through 8000' I saw that the tops were still above me. I descended again and resigned myself to a low and bumpy ride for the rest of the way home. I had planned to stop for fuel along the way but as it turns out I had enough to make it all the way home with a healthy reserve so I made it a nonstop flight. PTK was quite busy as I approached but I got in ok and was happy with my landing. As I taxiied toward my hangar I took a deep breath, thinking of all I'd been through and all that awaited me. I had done it. I made it safely to OSH and back in my own homebuilt aircraft.
Leaving OSH AirVenture 2022
Since I've returned, I've been through a lot. Much of it has been absolutely unbearable but I had to bear it anyway, so I did and I am. Aside from one momentary visit to the hangar I haven't touched the airplane since it was unloaded and put away eleven days ago. I noticed a couple drops of oil had dripped from the aft edge of the bottom cowling; the cowling should be removed and the engine given a thorough inspection. The airplane needs a good bath and a shine and it needs to happen sometime this week because I'll have it on display with other Chapter 194 aircraft at the PTK Open House/Airshow next Sunday, August 14. I'm not sure when I'll get a chance to fly again; I expect it will be awhile from now but hopefully not too long. I apologize for not yet sharing the story of my trip to Windsor for the CAM/FlightChops RV-14 unveiling and the fun flying that followed; those stories will have to wait for yet another day. I have no idea when the next blog entry will be; it may be a long time from now but I'll almost certainly continue. Who know what the future holds... when I find out and have experienced a bit more of it, I'll keep you posted.
Oh, and that unstartable RV-8? The pilot was Grant Haymore and the main mechanic was James Thomas. I ended up seeing their posts about the morning's events on Facebook and we're now friends. The culprit was water in the tanks; Grant and his wife were on their way again later that morning and made it safely home. Gotta love the EAA and Van's communities.
All's Well That Flies Well!