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 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.
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.
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 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.