Jul 24, 2016 – Flying out to Oshkosh

You will find that I have inserted LiveATC clips in this blog covering key parts of our flight. I did this to add perspective for those of you who have not had the chance yet to fly into KOSH for the big event. I opted not to play with the GoPro for fear that it’d be too distracting when I needed to be hyper vigilant – and I was right.

Deciding to Go without Bev: This year’s journey to Oshkosh would most definitely be different. Beverly wasn’t going for health and scheduling reasons. We had just driven back from Florida – nine of us in two vans – after a wonderful vacation to Charleston and Orlando. Bev has parents to take care of that would make it tough for her to leave again, and I could tell she was tired from the drive anyway. Oshkosh can be a hot and tiring exercise as well, so we agreed that she’d sit this one out and focus on the home front.

As I was deciding wether or not to continue on my own, Bev thought taking my 12 year old grandson would be good for him and would help me out with the campsite. I was skeptical, and concerned that he’d be bored out of his mind as soon as we arrived. As it turned out – he was a fantastic co-pilot; fun to hang out with and low maintenance. Jake got to see some amazing aviation on the way there and back, and was a real trooper.

Strategy: Findlay, Ohio is a nice airport that I’ve used before on the way to Oshkosh. It takes about 3 hours to get there, and replaced Porter County (VPZ) Indiana as my preferred fuel stop as soon as I upgraded to 2 engines and started flying over the lakes. Jake would be able to stretch his legs, use the bathroom, and eat lunch while I reviewed the weather and loaded fuel.

Getting into Oshkosh fully under IFR was not an option for Sunday arrivals. There were no IFR reservation available in the STMP system before Monday, so it would be VFR or nothing for my planned Sunday arrival. It might have been possible to file simple IFR without using the STMP procedure, but I don’t think so. They want you in VFR if you can do it.

Our plan was then to depart KGED with full fuel on each side in the Aux (15 gal) and Main (30 gal) tanks, and only 4 gal in each nacelle tank. That represents 49 gal a side, or approximately a 6 hour range with no reserve. Call it 5 hour range with reserve, and I’d land with 2 hours fuel. Once at Findlay, I’d reload to 49 gal/side and land at Oshkosh with 3 hours of fuel. The potential for adverse weather was definitely there, and I may be holding VFR near Oshkosh, so I wanted to be fat with fuel.

Execution: Jake and I arrived at the airport and loaded the cooler and food. I had been over the previous night to load all the other equipment, and create an accurate weight and balance. We’d be departing about 60# under gross weight from Delaware Coastal Airport (KGED). I tucked the wheels in the wells at 7:58 am local time, and began the climb to 9000′.

I would be using the autopilot without the electric trim for this flight. I know this system as too much tension in it from two binding pulleys. Those pulleys will get replaced in October at annual. For now – the system works find if I provide the manual trim it requires, and routinely check to ensure that the airplane remains in trim as we fly along (disconnect autopilot and see if the nose flies up or down).

Jake was comfortable, but contemplating the full day in the airplane. He played a bit with his iPad and remained low maintenance on the way out. I 20160724l Oshkosh Leg01had told him it would be getting colder as we climbed up to cruise, and it definitely did. I began to close most of the air vents to keep us from freezing, and I know he appreciated that.

I had been watching XM weather from the start. Approaching Morgantown, WV (MGW), it became clear that continuing onto Findlay would be possible, but would position us for the second leg fairly close to building weather over Lakes Erie and Michigan. I decided to head that off by diverting almost due west across Ohio and into Indiana. That would keep me away from storms, and therefore, I was thinking, increase my chances of getting into Oshkosh VFR on the second leg.

Functional Diversion: The way I have my panel set up, programming a flight planned route into the 530WAAS causes that route to automatically upload to the Garmin 496 and the Aspen. The Garmin 496 is the only device currently displaying weather, and therefore the only place where both route and weather are shown on the same display. For planning purposes, I make sure I hold the current cleared route on paper and continue navigating correctly while I am planning. I then reference the iPad for routes, and begin experimenting by changing the route in the 530 around weather.

Once I find a general route that will position us well for the push into Oshkosh, I use Foreflight to review fuel prices along the route. The new destination I chose was I22 – Randolph County, Indiana. I called ATC and told them of my plans to divert west, and was promptly cleared direct.

I22 was an easy stop – long flat runway in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We touched down at 11:08 local time, just about 3 hours in the air for our first leg. The airport was a comfortable stop with clean restrooms, reasonable fuel; and nice people. The gentleman there is an instructor on the field, and came out to load our fuel even though he wasn’t working that day. We topped mains and auxes, and left the Nacelle tanks alone since they hadn’t been used.

Jake and I went inside to check the weather at Oshkosh, use the restroom, and to make a few phone calls letting everyone know how we were doing. Bev had packed us a light lunch, and we took a few minutes to enjoy that. The weather at Oshkosh had been too low to go in earlier, but was slowly improving. It was not a slam-dunk that we’d even get in today, but not for lack of trying. I decided to file IFR to a nearby airport (KUNU) in the Oshkosh area to stay in the system as long as I could. KUNU is Dodge County, where Jeff and I stopped a few years back on the way to KOSH.

Second Leg: Jake and I departed I22 at 12:37 EDT and arrived 1:21 CDT – 1 20160724 Oshkosh Leg2hr and 44 minutes in the air. It seems like an awful lot longer by the time I got on the ground. Follow on down and you’ll see why.

Our cleared routing would take us out over Lake Michigan, so I fitted Jake’s constant wear life vest snugly, and donned my own. Departure and climb out over the lake was mostly IFR through layers, which is typical out here in summer. Approaching KUNU we began a descent, and I wondered when we might get under the scattered clouds so I could evaluate a continued VFR attempt into Oshkosh. As we descended, I tried to get the Oshkosh ATIS to even see if the field was open or not. This didn’t work, but I was able to begin monitoring the Fisk VFR Arrival on 12o.7. I heard that the field was closed, but people were holding at both Green Lake and Rush Lake. I got the impression that the field might open some time soon.

Approaching KUNU we were below the clouds by approximately 2500′, but that wasn’t consistent. Further north looked lower still, but I thought it was worth a shot, particularly since there were obviously airplanes up as far as Rush Lake trying to get in.

I canceled IFR 15nm south of KUNU and continued to RIPON. The thought occurred to me that the staff at KUNU had to deal with feast or famine. Either everyone would be coming to them, or no one. I think tons of people did the same thing I was doing; filing KUNU as a destination just so we could keep going if it was possible.

Down to 2300′ now, I continued north toward RIPON and was pretty much in the clear, but just below a layer of scattered cumulous. I started slowing to 135 kts by setting 20″ MP. ATIS was still not readable, but 120.7 was loud and clear. I began to hear chatter from pilots that Green Lake was saturated.

Approaching 15 nm south of RIPON I was able to get ATIS and confirm the field was closed, and that holding was in effect. I briefly considered returning to KUNU to wait it out, but opted to put on my big girl panties and continue to RIPON for the hold.

Jake was quiet and I was on alert for traffic. I asked him to look outside and he started calling out airplanes. It took awhile to help him understand how to make effective calls, and that I didn’t need to hear about all of them. Green lake finally came into view, and I began to see significant numbers of airplanes at 1800′ – 500′ lower than me. The pilot chatter on the frequency was much more than I’d heard before, and certainly more than I expected.

With Green Lake off my left wing, I stayed just under the 2016 Oshkosh Holdsclouds at 2300′ as I entered the hold. Loose and unintentional formations of slower airplanes were plodding around the lake. In trail spacing wasn’t happening.

I was flying 2300′ and 135 kts; passing overhead the airplanes holding at 1800′ and 90 kts.I should have expected this, but it felt wrong. It did give me a bird’s eye view of just how packed this hold was.

The chatter on the frequency continued to escalate as I came around for the third circuit. Reports were coming in that some aircraft were going the wrong way in the hold! One pilot kept instructing everyone down there to fly 90 knots – not 90 miles per hour!, and tied the frequency up quite a bit. Another guy kept asking the controllers if the hold was being cleared, or when it would be. He wanted to hear from them, and decided to keep calling until they answered (they didn’t). All that chatter made everyone’s job more difficult by tying up the frequency. Don’t do it – it doesn’t help anyone.

On the west side of the Green Lake hold, heading south again, I was startled to see a Cirrus descend out of the clouds right in front of me. He was heading the wrong way and must have seen my lights. The danger quickly passed as he did an immediate climbing left turn right back up into the same IFR where he’d come out of. I flew through his wake and considered reading Fate is the Hunter again..

Most of the traffic was below Jake and I, so I think our situation could have been worse. You can bet I’ll stay high and fast in this airplane, and not find myself wallowing around lower and slower with all those guys.

The frequency continued to be tied up by one guy asking if the Green Lake hold was being emptied yet. He complained loud and often about everything, it seemed. Arriving traffic started ignoring the controller’s request to do a lap around the Green Lake hold before coming in, and bypassed all of us in the hold. I couldn’t figure out what was happening with Green Lake from all the chatter, I had tons of fuel remaining, so I decided to go around a fourth time.

The one pilot creating most the chatter was now getting himself really wound up. He demanded a response from a controller that wasn’t forthcoming; and was complaining loudly that he’d been holding for an hour. As it happened, Green Lake had opened, and neither he nor I were aware. Fortunately, the bulk of the light airplanes below me had started up the railroad tracks, and that would make it easier for me. Coming around the hold I continued to RIPON to begin my approach. I left the hold with the chatty pilot still bitching on the radio – not shutting up long enough to figure anything out. Jackass.

RIPON to FISK now, I remained at 2300′ and 135kts, with my gear tucked up. It was odd passing over formations of slower airplanes down below, but I do believe that was appropriate. I’d plan to slow down later in the process.

All this activity comes at the end of a long day of flying in hot and humid weather once we were down low. Plan for that. One has to be prepared for the compressed intensity of Oshkosh, and react accordingly. Shut up unless called upon. Your talking doesn’t help, and you must read the NOTAM and have it ready.

The audio clip below is from LiveATC, and was recorded as I was flying toward RIPON to begin my approach. Listen to the MAYDAY call as an airplane at my 1:00 O’Clock low loses his engine, and then gets it back 21 seconds later.  At 3:45 seconds you will hear him call me (twin over Fisk) and send me east to 18R.  Things are hopping.  My gear is still up and I’m at 135kts and 2300′.

No wing rocking was requested because I was above a formation of RVs and I think hard for him to see until I was already there. I recall following a Bonanza up high who was tracking an RV down low – down Fisk Avenue for 18R. I was told to slow down and get the gear out, and I completed both of those requests without descending. Couldn’t see a spot I could snuggle down into.

Further along now I found a long string of RVs mushing along together. I watched the RV 2 airplanes ahead go out over the water and the bonanza I was following turn right about 15 degrees and wallow a bit. If I followed him I’d be going further south and have to deal with traffic behind me bunching up further.

I slowed further and tried to figure out what was going on. Since I didn’t see anyone turn downwind like I expected, and only saw these two directly in front, I decided to be the one doing what should be done. I turned downwind along the shoreline and didn’t follow those two over the water.

Just as I completed my downwind turn it became evident that I’d made a mistake. Out over the water I see a long line of RVs on a WIDE left downwind. What the hell do I do now? I announced on the radio – Twin Comanche doing a left 180. What I meant to say and should have said was a left 360.  I banked left and rejoined the line heading out over the water. I made another call at 25 seconds saying the same thing.

The south tower controller sees what is going on and announced that we should be following the shoreline and not going out over the water. Too late buddy. Shoreline doesn’t work when you already have a busload following the first guy who went wide.  I ignored him and stayed high while following the gaggle out over the lake.

The next thing I notice is that the RVs ahead are turning base a bit long. Each subsequent base turn gets a little wider and closer to RW27 approach path. I turn base right where I should and stay high. There are 3 airplanes underneath of me – from 11 to 1 O’clock, and I can’t turn final until the 1 O’Clock guy is clear.

During the first few seconds of this next audio clip I had just turned downwind and found all this traffic out over the water. Admonitions from the controller for the RVs in front to stop flying past the blue dot came at 2:25. They were infringing on the approach to RW27 that was in use. I’d been watching them do that for some time. At 3:08 I had an RV coming right to left and slowing. I start thinking this will not work well. I go around, and soon after a Bonanza followed me on the upwind. Finally you will hear a controller change and the new guy is necessarily more aggressive, in my opinion.

I keep the gear down and the fuel pumps on, turning crosswind behind my RV guy. He starts heading out over the lake again on crosswind. The new controller gets on the air and is calling for me to turn downwind now and not go over the water. No way I could do that though, flying a parallel downwind to the fresh string of RVs out over the water isn’t going to work. I think the controller figured that out when I ignored him and followed the line out over the water to keep them in sight. I stayed off the radio.

If the first guy does it wrong, the rest of us are constrained to follow or safely modify.  There was no way I fix this on my own by going inside all those aircraft.

Now on downwind over the water, the new controller is getting more of them in by aggressively badgering them to do it right. We are instructed via the NOTAM and on air commands to turn BEFORE the BLUE DOT on 18R.  The RVs in front of me continue to fly beyond it. It was my second attempt to land and commands to land long for the fast guy behind came at the 2 or 3 aircraft doing slow flight in front of me. FLY ALL THE WAY DOWN THE RUNWAY NOW!! commanded the controller.

This aggressive tactic works and the line in front clears out immediately. His attention is on me and he tells me to descend now!  Again I defer without communicating. Only one person is flying this thing and I have an RV low and right of me. He is beyond the blue dot and has to eventually turn left in front of me. I don’t want to be lower and slower and be forced to maneuver. That leaves me very high on left base with the blue dot directly in front of me.

The controller continues to badger me to get down and land. I get on the radio for the second time and tell him I will not descend until the RV to my right and lower is cleared. Some of that communication is blocked, but the controller realizes my concern and hustles that last RV down the runway. The blue dot comes under the nose and he says something like, come on Twin Comanche, get it down as close the blue dot as you can.

All my practice in this machine paid off and I did a landing from 1000′ agl that I am very proud of. I did a descending left turn all the way to the runway and landed not very far from the blue dot at all. I was turning and descending to limits, and had to ensure I kept the left wing from dragging. I needed everything to do this safely and it all came together. Listen in to get a feel for what it was like.

After I was finally down, I got off at the end of the runway – right at the vintage aircraft camping area. I was directed all the way to the south 40 again, not very far from where I ended up last year. I barked a bit, and was disappointed at not finding a better location. I am beginning to understand how big a challenge they have getting all these aircraft in place. These volunteers are busting their butts to get this done, and I appreciate it. Albeit – I appreciate it more after relaxing a bit and shutting the engines down than I did at the heat of the moment.

The consensus of opinion is that I arrived during a significant crunch time. There was a few accidents and low weather that had backed everything up, and I ended up arriving in the middle of that. By the time Jake and I secured the airplane and set up camp – my butt was dragging.

I should note that services on the south 40 have improved considerably over last year.  Bus service was added not 300′ from my camp site; showers and portable bathrooms were 200′ in the other direction; and the view of show center was close enough for me. There is a new registration shack at the bus stop, 300′ away, where Ice could be had in the morning to refill your cooler. Water is nearby, but we found it consistently nasty and stuck with water we brought with us, or purchased for 2$ a bottle at show center.

We did all of our paperwork to register our aircraft, and went up to show center to eat dinner. When we returned – fire and emergency trucks were at the approach end of 36L where a Lancair had spun in not 1000′ from our site.  The pilot was alone and alive, but I don’t think his prospects are good. There is definitely risk to what we do, but we manage that risk as pilots and controllers.

Fly safe. I’m already looking forward to next year. Look for a few more posts to cover the show experience with Jake, and the trip home.

Frank