What to Practice Before Flying to Oshkosh

Controllers on the orange dot. Photo courtesy of Fred Stadler

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┬ápink dot on Runway 18R, you’ll be ready to fly over a lot of pavement before touching down.

Welcome to Oshkosh.

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16 Responses to What to Practice Before Flying to Oshkosh

  1. TedK says:

    Been practicing. More and more of my Time of Useful Consciousness is devoted to thinking about OSH. Can’t wait to see all of you there.

  2. Pingback: What to Practice Before Flying to Oshkosh | David A. Buser

  3. Eric7 says:

    To me, the landing is no big deal – it’s flying from Ripon to Fisk that’s the challenge. Anything can happen on this leg. One year, I was perfectly in line with good separation and a fleet of RV’s came in from the north, not bothering to fly over Ripon, and just cut in front of me. I peeled off to the right and flew back to Ripon to start over. I also find that speed control is a huge issue for many people. The Notam calls for 90 knots, not 95 or 85. With minimum separation, a small speed difference can screw things up quickly. Bottom line is I tell people there is a 50-50 chance of abandoning an approach on this leg. Not complaining here, I just think everyone needs to be prepared to bail out on this leg, if necessary.

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      Speed control. My ab initio instrucor was a stickler for this. He was a helluva nice guy but, one day when we were doing touch-and-goes, the atmosphere in the C150 went suddenly frigid. I aked him what was wrong.

      “The approach speed in this aircraft is 75 mph. You are now doing 74-1/2, and that is NOT good enough”!

      • Peter Francis says:

        Bill. I wonder who that was. I can remember getting a rap over the nuckles just for landing 3 minutes after official ??? DARK. Hell it was still broad daylight when we landed coming back from Ladysmith.

  4. Ken says:

    No. 1 problem – very few pilots can fly their aircraft slowly straight-and-level, and the procession into OSH is only 90kts. This causes all kinds of spacing havoc along the way. Add to that generally poor stick-and-rudder skills trying to “hit a dot” and you have a real circus out there. For entrainment, join “Vultures Row” and watch the show from the ground.

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      How the hell do people like this pass their PPL tests??

      • Bob says:

        It’s simply lack of practice. When they took their checkrides decades earlier, they had an instructor riding their butt and making them practice those things regularly. But who goes out at random just to do slow flight? Without a specific reason like a checkride or flight review, I’d bet the majority of pilots don’t–especially if they’re renting by the hour. It’s not ideal, but it’s what happens.

  5. To Mac. Please DO NOT tell folks to drag it in. That is the worst way you can make the approach. You should set up a normal approach angle with somewhere between three and six degree slope.

    I have flown the B2OSH flight twenty-four times. We find that nothing messes up the program as bad as someone flying level at twenty feet above the ground. The contollers can’t tell what you intend to do and neither can the other pilots. Fly your normal comfortable approach to the designated spot. It will work best for you and it helps the rest of us figure out your intentions.

    Have fun and enjoy, but fly safey and normally all the way to touchdown.

    Happy Skies,

    Old Bob

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      Reading the posts here, it is beginning to sound as though (most) pilots flying into OSH would do well to get a little refresher dual in slow flight and short/precision landings before doing so.

    • John Niemerg says:

      I think what Mac is refering too is when you get that last second instruction to “keep it in the air… land on the Green Dot…we have traffic following” is when it is best to simply add power and “drag it in” down to the green dot.

  6. Jackie says:

    As far as dragging it in, I see no problem with it because I ususally get the instruction to land on a certain dot on the base leg or after. My main problem with landing is people who nearly stop on the runway after landing. The controllers and the notam are very clear to taxi, even speed taxi, to the personnel on the ground who will guide the pilot. I see this happen every year and it has happened in front of me twice. Another problem are the pilots in a hurry for arrival passing a hundred feet or so beneath everyone and make their way to the airport without ATC approval. Happened to me for the first time last year. ATC should ground them, in my opinion.

  7. Cary Alburn says:

    There’s nothing tough about flying into OSH, but there are surely a lot of ways that are used, which aren’t in the NOTAM and not in the PTS for any certificate! The controllers must be half way to sainthood, considering the dumb pilot stunts that they witness each year. Some of their comments: “Nossir, that’s RIGHT downwind to 27!” “I said orange dot–it’s painted on the runway, sir.” “RV, please depart the runway. RV, please depart the runway NOW. Too late–red & white Cessna, go around, sorry about that sir.” “Low wing on base, slow to landing speed NOW.” “Bonanza on final–GO AROUND! On the next circuit, please lower your gear.”

    Then there are some pilot comments which are priceless: “What NOTAM is that?” “Oshkosh tower, request touch and go.” “Oshkosh tower, they told us to plan 18, but I’d really like to have 27.” “But 18 Left isn’t on the airport diagram!” “Tower, is there a restaurant on the field?”

    But it’s all in the game–but you really should be up for the game before you go. Practice adjusting your landings to accommodate a last moment change of “dots”, learn to fly specific airspeeds if you’ve forgotten how, remember the basics you were taught as a private pilot student, READ THE NOTAM, and mostly have fun!

    • Ken says:

      ” and mostly have fun!” Thanks Cary for that reminder. If you just relax a little and try having some fun (while being safe), you will be just fine.

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