The biggest highlight for me in 2015 was flying to EAA’s AirVenture in July. The trip was even more special because my son, Ryan joined me. The plan was to tent camp for the week next to the EZ. This year Burt Rutan was honored. He spoke at a few venues in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of one of his designs, the VariEZ. Several EZ’s of various types attended. I also wanted to get some ideas for engine cooling as my #3 cylinder had been running hot. I also looked forward to seeing my EZ friends and meeting new ones.
So, we loaded our family cabin tent and gear. It wasn’t any heavier than our much smaller dome tent that only sleeps two. A fellow pilot and friend, Jamie Hicks would later name my tent the “Taj Mahall”. We also loaded chairs, camp stove, two twin air mattresses, sleeping bags, ice cooler, and of course luggage. So the Stagger EZ left for Wisconsin with me, Ryan and 222 lbs of camping gear with full fuel. We were packed to the gills, let me tell you.
Ryan and I loaded, preflighted, and were wheels up about 8:30 am. Our first leg was to meet Jamie at Ponca City, Kansas. He left his airport in Midland, Texas about the same time we did. He was flying in his VariEZ. His EZ has a Continental engine running about 100 HP and will seat two in tandem. My Stagger EZ will seat three and has a 200 HP Lycoming engine.
What was so amazing is that we arrived at the Ponca City airport literally at the same time. Jamie entered the downwind just 20 seconds after we did. We had agreed to fly up to AirVenture as a flight of two and ultimately did just that. It was a great trip. When you agree to meet another airplane at a distant city you expect to wait an hour or more for them just to show up. What 20 seconds apart?!! It just doesn’t happen. That would not be the last timely coincidence however!
So, we looked at the weather radar on our phones and could see a very large thunderstorm complex right in our path to Wisconsin. We decided to take our time having lunch, fill up our fuel tanks and hopefully allow time for that storm to dissipate and move East. The plan worked pretty well, as we did not encounter any bad weather for the flight up to AirVenture 2015. We only had a slight deviation from our flight plan to stay VFR.
The next leg proved to be a long one. Both planes landed safely at Clinton, IA. KCWI is called Clinton Muni. Jamie landed first. I had to do a “go around” but landed safely and shut down. As we headed to the FBO’s restroom, Jamie comes out and says, “There is a guy inside that says he knows you!” Ryan and I look to our left and see Jeff Bowen’s Cherokee 160 on the ramp! I was just astonished to see my friends Jeff Bowen and Jed Shoaf. They were also flying to AirVenture 2015. They had flown up but had not waited out the weather. Apparently, they had flown into rain a couple of times and had to land three times to wait out bad weather. They were resting a bit after having encountered some very rainy bumpy weather. The last leg of our flight was Whitman Field Oshkosh, WI home of EAA’s AirVenture each year.
I’ll describe our arrival into Oshkosh: We were well briefed on arrival procedures. ATC (Air Traffic Control) picked up our arrival into FISK and requested us to “wag your wings!”, which means to bank your wings left and right quickly. They instructed our flight to follow the railroad tracks toward OSH. I was lead plane. Soon, I spotted an airplane up ahead on our heading. ATC informed me that it was a Republic Seabee. I slowed up, thinking we would be able to maintain a safe distance behind the flying boat. It didn’t last long. The Seabee slowed up even more unexpectedly, as we got closer to the airport. I informed ATC that I have a problem, and that I’m closing on the Seabee but cannot slow my plane any further. They advised me to move left and allow the Seabee to pass on my right. They then informed the Seabee that our flight would be passing them on their left. ATC didn’t miss a beat. They were so professional! They had the Seabee turn in tight for runway 27 and extended our flight of EZ’s long on the downwind. ATC intended our flight to execute a very tight 180 degree right turn for the same runway. (This was not clear to me, however.) At this point I turned 90 degrees right but just didn’t comprehend the instructions for the tight 180 for runway 27. Jamie did and was cleared as number 1 of a flight of 2 for the runway. Once the controller cleared his plane as number 1 of a flight of 2, I understood my error and quickly caught up and settled in behind Jamie’s EZ. I too was then cleared as #2, and was quickly on final approach for runway 27. A smooth landing found us in a long line of planes, on the ground, that were taxing in to OSH. Both of our EZ’s were taxied to the home built camping area. It was just a great feeling to be there seeing so many airplanes in all directions and people waving and smiling.
The EAA ground crew decides for you where you park your plane. For 2015, we ended up being parked at the very back row of the home built camping area as it was almost full. Ryan and I set up our tent after unloading our plane. We didn’t know it at the time but the white gravel road a hundred yards behind us would over time put over an inch of white dust over our tent, airplane, and every thing else! It was awful. The only thing that was nice was that the showers and home built camping head quarters were very close. They provided free hot coffee each morning. There was a phone charging system there. It was like a long shelf with outlets along the length. Trouble was, it was always full. It was very hard to find an open outlet to plug in our cell phone into an outlet for charging. We learned to charge up our cell phones in the middle of the night so by in the morning it was fully charged for the day. It was unnerving to trust that no one would steal your phone.
On Monday we starting walking. First stop was the war bird section. Two airplanes arrived from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Suddenly I was in front of a DeHavilland Mosquito and the British WWII bomber called the Lancaster. These WWII aircraft are so rare they are hardly ever seen by the public. We also got to see “FiFi” the only flying B29 bomber here in the US. (Side note: A 2nd B29 is to take to the air soon. It’s name is “Doc”.) I finally got to attend a lecture by Burt Rutan. It was epic. He is quite the character. I got to see the renowned aircraft designer in person! Although I tried, it was too crowded to personally speak to him.
On Tuesday Ryan and I made it all the way out to the Sea Plane Base. Flying a demo flight was the famous ICON A5! It’s a two place flying boat. It could turn on a dime. The water was very smooth. I wondered if the plane would perform in rough water conditions. Still, it was a most impressive demo flight. Another impressive seaplane was the Super Petrel LS. That afternoon was time to make our way out to the forest where the RV’s park. The Cozy Girls host a Sangria Spaghetti dinner for all the canard pilots each year. It’s just great seeing old friends and meeting new ones each year. Yummy! I ended up trying out a version of the Segway. It’s a strange but fun mode of transportation. I want one! The one I tried out was made by a company called “INMOTION”. The hit of Tuesday’s air show was the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Falcon II. The Air Force has a great talent to turn jet fuel into noise! Those jets were so loud!! That night, Ryan and I enjoyed a massive night time air show follow by an unbelievable fireworks show ending with a massive runway long fire bomb! The heat from that explosion hit me in the chest with a thump! Wow. We averaged 5 or more miles of walking each day. Plenty of food choices, great weather and airplanes to check out. AirVenture is an experience like no other. This one was blessed with good weather except for a large thunderstorm that showed up Friday morning as it headed for our airport. Ryan and I agreed that we were ready to head home. So we departed Friday morning. That thunderstorm chased us for a hundred miles as Ryan and I flew safely back home to Texas in the Stagger EZ.