Flying into Oshkosh is different from flying we do the rest of the year. The unique procedures of the Fisk arrival have been refined over decades and work very well to get something like 10,000 airplanes into Oshkosh during the convention and the days leading up to it.
Pilots who have never made the pilgrimage wonder what they need to know and practice to be ready for the show. The most important preparation is to read the official Oshkosh Notam very closely. No, not closely, study the Notam. In fact you need to memorize the details because you won’t have much time to be reading once you are about to begin the arrival.
There are also helpful videos on the EAA website at eaa.org that show the view from the cockpit of airplanes arriving at Oshkosh. Seeing the landmarks on the video is a very important addition to simply reading about them, and looking at chart symbols in the Notam.
As for the actual flying techniques required at Oshkosh there are the basics you need to master, and then one type of landing you may have never tried before.
The basics are airspeed, heading and altitude control. If you arrive during a busy period you will be following pilots flying at an airspeed that is likely different from your typical pattern and approach. The traffic ahead may be moving faster than you normally would, or more likely slower. You need to be able to maintain spacing in trail without slowing too much to give up stall margin for your airplane, and you must be able to split your scan of the airspeed and the airplane ahead.
An often overlooked prohibition in the Notam is that S-turns are not allowed. If you can’t keep spacing on the airplane ahead you must depart the stream of traffic and re-enter the procedure. I think you can understand why. If pilots start S-turning the airplane in trail won’t know for sure where the airplane ahead is going, and at what effective airspeed.
You should also practice both wide and close traffic pattern work. If traffic is heavy the right base leg for landing Runway 27 can stretch out pretty far to the east. But if you end up being cleared to land south on Runway 18R that will always be a close in left base to final turn. You won’t know for sure which runway you will be assigned because it all depends on wind and traffic density at the moment.
But the one really unusual procedure controllers may ask you to fly is to land long, very long. At Oshkosh we use the famous colored “dots” as touchdown targets so more than one landing airplane can be on the runway at once with sufficient spacing. And the second dot on either runway is almost certainly much farther down the pavement than you have landed in normal flying.
Let’s say you are landing on Runway 27 which typically handles the most arriving traffic. First, there is a displaced threshold 531 feet down from the actual end of the pavement. Another 1,000 feet down is the big orange dot. Then 1,500 feet farther down Runway 27 is the green dot. So, if the controller tells you–often on short notice–to “put it on the green dot” you will need to fly over about 3,129 feet of runway to get to the dot. That is more runway than the total runway length many pilots use. Even at the green dot there is 3,050 feet of runway left to get stopped putting the green dot just about smack in the center of the runway.
It’s an odd visual sensation to continue flying over so much pavement the first few times you do it. We reflexively aim for the touchdown zone even on long runways like the ones at Oshkosh, so to keep it flying past that spot feels really weird.
Of the arrival incidents I’ve seen at Oshkosh over many years pilots keeping it flying to the last assigned dot stick out in my memory. Sometimes they get too slow and drop it in. I remember a Bonanza that fell so hard as the pilot tried to keep it in the air that it blew a main gear tire and collapsed the gear. Taildragger pilots can have their hands full if they don’t maintain a proper airspeed and hit harder than they expect. It’s just something we don’t normally do.
So, in addition to the essential Notam study and polished skills on airspeed control I would go to a long runway and practice landing halfway down. If it’s a controlled airport be sure to let the tower know what you plan to do because without notice they expect you to land in the normal spot.
Personally I find it easier to drag the airplane down the runway about 20 to 40 feet in the air rather than trying to estimate a more or less steady glidepath to the long spot. It takes quite a bit of power to drag the airplane along and when you pull the throttle back, you’re going to drop quickly. But each airplane can respond differently, and you need to find out what works best for you and your airplane. It’s just important to know what it looks and feels like to land really long.
Of course, after your practice the Oshkosh controllers may tell you to put it on the numbers, but that’s something you have practiced your entire flying career. But if you draw the green dot on Runway 27, or the pink dot on Runway 18R, you’ll be ready to fly over a lot of pavement before touching down.
Welcome to Oshkosh.