My AirVenture 2022
by Greg Kochersperger
I write this as an encouragement to all of you that haven’t been to AirVenture to go. Just go. I think a lot of us spend so much time thinking about how things could go wrong that we talk ourselves out of going. “Is the Fisk arrival really as crazy as it seems?”, “what if there is no parking?”, “where will I stay?”, “what if I have a maintenance issue?” There are reasonable answers to all of these questions and with good planning and a little luck they should not be an obstacle to going.
I’ve been planning my AirVenture 2022 ever since my last trip in 2019. That year we flew up on Sunday, but because of the extreme rain on Saturday, we diverted and camped at Appleton. It was great but didn’t quite check off the bucket list item of landing on the green dot. After COVID cancelled 2020, and a family obligation in 2021, this would finally be the year to rock my wings and land on the dot. This year I headed up with a good friend and my 7-year-old son. As we pushed out the plane for departure, I told my friend in all seriousness “from this point forward money is no object”. And what I really meant was there no problem we would encounter that a little extra money couldn’t fix. Nobody said this was a cheap hobby, and I wanted to be sure he understood that we wouldn’t make bad decisions to try to save a buck. We’ll add up the damage when we get home and not let anything ruin our trip.
We considered flying on Saturday but with the mass arrivals and a forecast evening thunderstorm, I didn’t want to get stuck between them. So, we departed Friday and had a stress-free flight up. Even had time to stop for lunch at a surprisingly good Mexican place in Iowa. I finally picked up the ATIS about 50 miles out and was surprised to hear they were already starting out at Puckaway Lake; I was afraid it was already getting busy. I’d been following somebody out of Iowa about three miles out and just continued to follow him to the Puckaway translation. I kept looking for other traffic joining the arrival, but never saw any. Three miles in trail? Is this it? We could see on ADSB a target that was on a vector to cut between us around Green Lake and he did. Not a problem; I expected some yayhoos to cut in line, and now my three mile trail was about two miles to my new line leader.
Got to Fisk, rock the wings, Runway 27, Green dot. Just like I had practiced in my head so many times. Pulled off the runway and got directed to an awesome spot in the North 40 right between the Red One Market and the North 40 Cafe. Easy access to showers and restrooms, and most importantly – trams. Settled in for a quiet Friday night and then had time to hit the EAA museum on Saturday. Then as predicted, the storms rolled in. My new tent held up as we stood inside it holding back the wind while my son mopped up the little bit of water we were getting. When the storm passed, we had done well but some of our neighbors weren’t so lucky. A mass of campers headed to the nearby Target to restock on sleeping bags, towels, and sometimes even whole tents that had been flattened by the 40-50 mph gusts. Again, nothing money can’t fix.
Sunday morning was beautiful, if not a little chilly even and we found ourselves on the flight line watching arrivals all morning. Sunday arrivals were very busy as I think people delayed their Saturday arrival due to the storms. Even with the constant flow of landing traffic it was all very organized and flowed smoothly. I was happy we’d come in Friday though as they were already starting to fill up the backside of the North 40. Monday and Tuesday, we had a great AirVenture, and I accomplished everything that I came to do. The only reason to stay through Wednesday would be for the night air show which I’ve never seen, but by Tuesday I think we were all beat and ready to go home. We all decided we’d leave Wednesday morning.
Wednesday, we started up no problem and taxied out toward the runway. I was already wondering in the back of my head when and where I’d have a chance for a run up and mag check. When we finally got into a hard surface and were about number six for departure, I seized the opportunity to turn about 90 degrees on the taxiway and run up the motor. 1700 rpm, right mag good, back to both, left mag…dead. Try again, right mag good, left mag dead. Each time I caught it back to both before the prop stopped but something was obviously wrong. Now I don’t know what to do. I’m probably number four for departure now and obviously I can’t go. You don’t talk to anyone at Oshkosh, they talk to you. So, I finally had to break in on frequency and say “Departure, Bonanza number four at runway 27, I have a problem and need to taxi to the ramp.” No response, they just keep clearing planes for takeoff. Now I’m number two for departure and not sure what I’m about to do. Finally, “Bonanza that needs assistance is that you number two?”, “Affirm”, “taxi forward into the grass and follow the orange shirt.” Thank goodness. A bit of a panic moment, but everything was handled well by the busy controllers.
Messed with it a little more on the ramp, but not much I could do. This wasn’t just a fouled plug I could burn off; it was dead. Taxied to the FBO and got the number for an on-field A&P who came right out. Confirmed bad mag. Got a new mag overnighted to us, and we taxied over to the mechanic’s shop and tied it down again. Well, what do we do now? Stuck in Oshkosh another night. We’d already packed up camp and given up our spot. Hotels were a fortune, if even available. Someone suggesting calling the UW dorms which I had heard about but also knew them to be sold out a year in advance. We called and sure enough they had rooms, even air-conditioned ones. Took an Uber to the dorm with just our essentials and settled in just in time for a nap before to catching the shuttle down for the night air show. The silver lining on the day was the firework show that I would have otherwise missed. I hadn’t seen a show like that in many years, and it was definitely the best I’ve ever seen.
I tracked my FedEx package all night and by morning was happy to see it made it to Wisconsin and was out for delivery. We had a nice breakfast at the dorms and then headed to the mechanic once I got the notice it had been delivered. Should only be an hour to change a mag so I was optimistic that we’d still make it out before the afternoon air show TFR closed departures. Well, nothing works out as planned. The old mag had completely seized and failed the coupling between the mag and the accessory drive gear (it did its job I suppose and prevented more damage). While they tried to locally source a replacement coupling, the more senior A&P was coming toward me with the bad mag in his hand, and I could tell by his face this can’t be good. He pointed out the stop pin that was supposed to be in the back of the mag housing that was missing. And by missing, he meant had sheared off and/or backed out and was now somewhere in the engine. Next step would be to pull the oil pan, followed by tearing down the engine until they found it. That was it for me. I’m tired and I want to go home. I have plenty of American points, and within five minutes I had three “free” seats out of Madison booked. A $160 Uber ride later and we were boarding a flight for home. We’ll figure out a way to get the plane back once it’s fixed.
It was a challenging trip, but sort of perfect in its own way. I feel like I squeezed three Oshkosh trips into one in six days, and I’m much better prepared for future trips. Things I learned:
• Get there early and get a great parking spot. It makes a huge difference.
• Take your extra day to do things you might not normally do, like visit the EAA museum, or go to the seaplane base.
• Never refuse a free ride, even if you’re only going a few hundred yards.
• The UW dorms say sold out, but they do have spots for walk-ins. It may be a gamble, but it really was nice.
• The Wednesday night show is worth it, if not just for the fireworks.
• There is on-field maintenance and if you have an issue people are very willing to help.
• Worst case scenario, you can bail out with little effort and come home commercial out of either Appleton or Madison.