Fisk(e) and Oshkosh, Here We Come

With just the short hop between my new home airport at Muskegon, Michigan, and Oshkosh, I’ll be flying VFR to the big show this year. So it will be out to Ripon and the Fisk arrival for Stancie and me – and several thousand other pilots.

It’s been several years since I flew the Fisk arrival into AirVenture, but EAA Director of Aircraft Operations Sean Elliot and I flew the procedure a couple of weeks ago to make a video. You can watch and hear Sean and me fly and talk our way along the procedure from the initial entry point at Ripon to an approach to Runway 27.

Read the NOTAM

The absolute essential item for flying into Oshkosh is the official Oshkosh NOTAM, which you can download in PDF format from the EAA website. Even if you have flown to Oshkosh dozens of times, be sure to get the 2011 version of the NOTAM. And if you have never flown into Oshkosh you would not have a clue on how to arrive without it.

The VFR arrival procedure for most aircraft starts over Ripon, Wisconsin, where aircraft are asked to slow to certain speeds and altitudes. This will help in separation and sequencing as you proceed up the railroad tracks to Fisk. Consult the NOTAM for official arrival/departure information.

The VFR arrivals to all runways – except for turboprops, jets, and high-performance warbirds that fly the Warbird arrival – are called Fisk procedures. This is a little misleading because the procedure actually begins over the town of Ripon about 10 miles southwest of Fisk.

The good news is that Ripon and Fisk are stored as intersections in the database in most GPS navigators. Because an intersection requires five letters the FAA adds an “e” to Fisk, so you dial up Fiske in the navigator. If Ripon and Fisk are not in the database, the latitude/longitude coordinates to make a manual waypoint entry are in the NOTAM.

To begin the procedure you need to fly to a point a few miles west of Ripon so you can fly over the Ripon waypoint – actually Ripon is a small town – on target airspeed and altitude headed in the proper direction toward Fisk. Those targets are 90 knots indicated airspeed at 1,800 feet. If your airplane isn’t safe at 90 knots establish an altitude of 2,300 feet and maintain 135 knots. The essential tasks at Ripon are to be on speed and altitude, and to find an airplane to follow as you fly over a railroad track that leads to Fisk.

Once you have passed over Ripon, it’s up the railroad tracks to Fisk, or FISKE as it needs to be entered your GPS. For best success, keep your eyes outside for the key landmarks and other aircraft and stay on speed and altitude. Consult the NOTAM for official arrival/departure information.

A team of FAA controllers are on the ground at Fisk and are talking on frequency 120.7 MHz. Have the current ATIS, and be listening on 120.7 by the time you get to Ripon. Don’t transmit – just listen. Rock your wings vigorously to acknowledge controller instructions. The controllers at Fisk will call airplanes by type and color and instruct you to proceed and what airplane to follow. If the traffic pattern backs up, there is a lake, Rush Lake, just to the north of Fisk and controllers will send you into a VFR hold around the lake shoreline.

Shortly before reaching Fisk – which is a tiny town where the railroad tracks turn toward the east – the Fisk controllers will assign you a runway and tell you to monitor the tower. If you draw Runway 9 simply follow the railroad tracks to the east and line up with the runway. If you are assigned Runway 27 you will follow the tracks to enter a right downwind for the runway.

Our video on flying Fisk is here

The controllers can also tell you to follow Fisk Avenue running directly east from Fisk for a left base to Runway 36. Or they can send you on the same route to enter a left downwind for Runway 18. There is also a procedure to fly the right downwind for Runway 27 but then, at midfield, turn right to line up on final for Runway 18.

Upon reaching Wittman Field just follow the controllers instructions and stay in line. It’s best to remember the plane still flies the same as any other day, so don’t forget the basics in the pattern. Consult the NOTAM for official arrival/departure information.

Each procedure is fully diagramed and described in the NOTAM and the most likely winds allow for simultaneous approaches to runways 27 and 36. The Runway 9 approach is perhaps the most congested because there is little space between Fisk and the final to sort out traffic. On the right downwind to Runway 27 controllers can meter downwind to base turns to help spread airplanes out.

The most demanding approach for a pilot to fly is the Fisk Avenue to Runway 18 because it requires a tight turn from downwind all the way around to final at a low altitude. And it’s important that you be on left base before flying north of the control tower, or the blue dot on the runway, to stay clear of traffic using Runway 9-27. This approach is typically used only for light airplanes flying at 90 knots. If you fly this approach, be sure to plan on landing far down Runway 18 because the north end threshold is displaced south.

It’s also important to know that the north-south taxiway parallel and to the east of Runway 18-36 is used as runways 18L and 36R during AirVenture. So don’t look for a true parallel runway if the controller assigns you Runway 36R or 18L – it’s the taxiway with temporary runway markings painted on it.

You have a good chance of being assigned a colored dot to aim for on landing. Treat it like it’s the end of the runway and make a normal landing - don’t try to be too fancy. Consult the NOTAM for official arrival/departure information.

You also need to be prepared to land on an assigned colored dot on the runways. Touching down on an assigned dot provides more space between airplanes ahead or behind. It may take a steep approach to hit the dot near the threshold, or you may need to overfly a bunch of runway to get to a dot farther down the pavement. If you don’t feel up to the flying task of adjusting your traffic pattern and final approach angle on fairly short notice, the best advice I can give is to stay away from the Fisk arrivals until your skills are up to par. Nothing at Oshkosh requires more flying skill than all pilots are supposed to have, but if you are not confident and comfortable in your abilities, AirVenture is not the time to practice.

Listen to EAA Radio’s 2009 visit to Fisk Approach

After landing all light airplanes are instructed to turn off the runway onto the grass as speed permits. EAA flagmen will direct you to parking, but you need a large, readable sign to show those people where you want to go. It’s all described in the NOTAM, but be certain to have a workable sign to hold in the window before you take off for Oshkosh.

Flying into Oshkosh for AirVenture intimidates some pilots I know, or scares them with so many airplanes around the airport at once, and they just won’t do it. I understand. But Fisk arrival procedures have been developed and perfected over decades and they do work. I think the reason for the success is that we pilots start thinking about and reading up on the procedures weeks in advance. We’re on high alert, ready to do our best flying. And that’s what the Fisk procedures require – our best. I’m looking forward to it. See you at Oshkosh.

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7 Responses to Fisk(e) and Oshkosh, Here We Come

  1. Harvey Swift says:

    I’ll be flying my own airplane to OSH for the first time. A Spacewalker I. I can’t wait, see you there!

  2. Joe Ramotowski says:

    Very helpful! Thanks for the effort!



  3. Cary Alburn says:

    The anticipation of flying in is much more “adrenalin producing” than the flight itself, which actually is pretty easy—as long as the NOTAM is followed and the procedures are adhered to. Every year, there are a number of pilots who don’t read the NOTAM, who don’t follow the procedures of listening, not talking, who can’t maintain the required speed or altitude. Fortunately the vast majority is ready, and they find that it’s a lot harder to think about it than to do it. Being ready means some practice at spot landing and consistent slow flight (not all that slow—but for most of us, something less than cruise speed), and being able to maintain altitude while looking out for other airplanes who are undoubtedly a bit closer than most pilots are accustomed to flying. And of course, it means being ready for other pilots who aren’t following the procedures correctly, and being able to make a last minute change to an approach is helpful.

    My recommendation to anyone prepping for OSH is to spend some time practicing, and if your skill levels aren’t quite what they should be, do it with an instructor who will call for changed approaches at the last minute, by picking a different spot than you’re already planning, or telling you to go around on short final, etc., typical events at OSH. One year I was just turning base for 18R when the controller asked if I could make a short approach to 18L (the converted taxiway) and land on the first dot—warbird on long final for 18R. By being able to comply, I was able to take the first exit, cross behind the landing warbird, and it saved me a long taxi, and nobody had to go around. There’s a lot of gratification in then hearing, “Good job, Cessna—welcome to Oshkosh!”

  4. Marc Maylor says:

    I have read the NOTAM from cover to cover the last three years just waiting for a chance to fly my Luscombe to ‘OSH’ from York, South Carolina. I’ll make it there one of these days!

  5. Jeff says:

    I attended Mac’s forum today and enjoyed it a great deal. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the question and answer part of it. It was great seeing him

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