Flying to Oshkosh in less than two weeks is no different than any other trip—until you get close to the destination.
To have a chance of understanding the procedures and fitting into the traffic flow at Oshkosh you must study the official NOTAM carefully. The printed NOTAM booklet is 32 pages long. Much of it won’t pertain to your trip because the procedures cover other area airports in addition to Oshkosh Wittman Field. And there are special procedures for warbirds, seaplanes, ultralights, no radio aircraft, IFR flights and so on, but you need to fully understand and even memorize only the information specific to your plans.
Remember, the Fisk arrival procedure begins at Ripon. It’s called the “Fisk arrival” but you must fly over Ripon first. Ripon and Fisk waypoints are stored in nearly all aviation GPS data bases. But remember to add an “e” to Fisk. Airspace identifiers can contain two, three and five letters, but not four. So look for Fiske in your GPS.
The other general advice for arrival at Oshkosh is to have more, much more, than the normal amount of reserve fuel because there could be lengthy delays or even the requirement to divert to another airport. For example, if there were to be a minor runway mishap traffic delays would pile up quickly while the runway was being cleared. Or, if you plan to arrive during the week before the air show begins and are delayed and don’t arrive until after the show starts you will have to go to another airport and wait until the air show is over and Oshkosh reopens for arrivals.
The two target airspeeds for arrival at Oshkosh are 90 knots, but it you can’t fly that slowly, it’s 135 knots. Ninety knots translates into about 104 mph if that’s how your airspeed indicator is marked. If your airplane can’t indicate as fast a 90 knots (104 mph) the drill is to go max cruise until necessary to descend and land. It would be a good idea to go out and fly some practice arrivals holding the recommended airspeeds to see how you may, or may not, need to modify your normal traffic pattern and landing approach.
But the most important arrival technique I think you should practice is spot landing because if you arrive when it’s busy the controllers are going to assign you a touchdown spot on the runway.
There are brightly colored large dots painted on both Runways 9/27 and 18R/36L. During the show the north-south parallel taxiway is used as a runway and is labeled 18L/36R so make sure you know which runway you are assigned because one of them looks exactly like a taxiway, because it is the rest of the year. Tower controllers can tell you to land on the numbers, or one of the dots so that more than one airplane can be safely spaced on the pavement at the same time.
Landing on the numbers is easy and natural because that’s what we do in normal flying. But overflying lots of pavement to get to one of the dots is not something we do normally, and can create strange visual illusions. And the tower controllers may not assign your touchdown point until you are pretty close to the runway.
Despite the pressure of the situation nearly all pilots arriving at Oshkosh make pretty darn good landings. When I have seen things not go so well it was usually when a pilot was stretching to keep flying until reaching the assigned dot. On Runway 27—the most used arrival runway during the show—the green dot is about 2,600 feet beyond the threshold which is itself displaced. That’s a lot of pavement to hover over on your way to the green dot.
When the long landings don’t work out well it’s usually because the pilot gets too slow while holding the airplane in the air. The inevitable stall and drop leads to a big bounce which can be very demanding to handle, especially in taildraggers. The worst drop- in I have seen in several years was an A36 Bonanza that was hovering about 10 feet in the air on the way to a dot when the airplane stalled and fell hard enough to blow a main gear tire on impact.
So, before heading for Oshkosh I think it’s a good idea to fly to an airport with a long runway and practice landing on a designated spot halfway or more down the pavement. Then if you draw the long landing assignment from Oshkosh controllers you’re ready. You know what it looks and feels like to fly over thousands of feet of pavement before touchdown. And a good landing is the best way to start your trip to AirVenture.
Follow this link to see videos on arrival procedures at Oshksosh:
See you in Oshkosh.