Today was the day. I barely slept last night because flying into Wittman Regional on Day 1 of Airventure isn't something you "just do". There's a 30-page NOTAM published with some pretty specific instructions on how arrivals should be conducted which includes mandatory instruction from ATC.
Supposedly ATC doesn't start operating until 7:00 a.m. so I had the perfect plan: be in the air by 6:30 a.m. and arrive at Fisk at 7:00 a.m. via the Green Lake Transition. I'll be ahead of the herd and should easily make my way into Oshkosh on the first try.
I arrived at the airport at 5:30 a.m. and meticulously loaded everything, taking extra care to have my NOTAM packet, two notepads, and three writing devices handy just in case I dropped one. The wheels lifted off at 6:25 a.m. and five minutes into the flight I learned that my grand plan was already in use by about a hundred other pilots! As soon a I switched over to Fisk Approach, ATC was making regular announcements telling people to fly a full lap around Green Lake for spacing before proceding to Ripon because they were already inundated with aircraft flying in. To make matters worse, the 1/2-mile of separation that arriving aircraft are normally allowed was now increased to 1-mile of separation. The reason for this is because upon landing at Oshkosh it is customary to exit the runway onto the grass as soon as practical. Since the grass had slowly become a swamp from all the rain in the previous two days, aircraft were not permitted to exit the runway and taxi across the grass at their leisure. There were specific exit points that had to be used which consequently reduced the amount of ground traffic the marshals could handle. Aircraft that failed to comply with the 1-mile of separation upon reaching Fisk were sent to the penalty box at Rush Lake.
The lap around Green Lake was unnerving to say the least. If there was ever a time to exercise extreme vigilance while scanning for traffic and adhering to the "see and avoid" rule, this was it. The traffic around the lake was already three aircraft wide, meaning I had someone flying off my left wing and my right wing. This was the only time ever as PIC where I can say I spent 99% of the time "outside the airplane" and rather than doing 180° horizon scans, it was more like 260° in addition to scanning vertically (directly above). The polycarbonate doors and skylight were definitely appreciated in this environment.
After completing the lap around Green Lake, I made my way toward Ripon, forming a single-file line with about five other aircraft in front of me. A veteran Oshkosh attendee and Tailwind pilot briefed me yesterday on how best to fly from Ripon to Fisk. He advised me to make sure I maintain 90 knots, but most importantly maintain a very generous distance behind the aircraft I was following. He also said to be prepared for someone to swoop in front and cut me off and if this happens, then slow down to get that distance back and then power back up to 90 knots. His words were prophetic as sure enough a Mooney came out of nowhere and cut me off. I never saw this Mooney once during the lap around Green Lake and it's very likely that this was one of the "cheaters" I had been warned about -- one of those pilots that doesn't follow any of the ATC advisories nor arrival procedures and flies direct to Fisk, cutting off whomever they can get away with. Basically the aviation equivalent of that jerk in traffic that everyone despises (but they don't care because the world revolves around them!)
I added a notch of flaps and slowed down to get distance from the Mooney and things were looking good for a few minutes until an RV swooped in and cut me off! Amid frustration and anger, I pull more power and apply four notches of flaps which is something I never do, but I was able to get my ground speed down to about 65 knots in a noticeable nose-high attitude for a Tailwind. The ATC checkpoint at Fisk was only moments away and I was certain that I would be sent to Rush Lake for following too close, but what ATC said over the frequency next was absolute joy...
"Blue/white high-wing, white/red high-wing, white/green high-wing, you are too close. Fly heading..." and he gave them a vector west.
"People, we need you to work with us. We need one mile -- REPEAT -- one mile of separation between all aircraft." he continued.
"White low-wing, blue low-wing", he called out referring to the Mooney and RV that cut me off. "Fly heading..." and he gave them a vector to the northwest.
"Yellow highwing, rock your wings."
That was me! I've never rocked my wings with as much authority as I did in that moment.
"Nice rock. Fly heading 090. Follow the east/west road. Expect runway 36 Left. Welcome to Oshkosh."
I did it! I'm in! I got through the Oshkosh gauntlet on my first try ever!
The next controller cleared me to land on the blue dot on runway 36L which I ended up overshooting by about 20 feet, but that was good enough. Touchdown was 7:20 a.m. and I was so relieved to be on the ground at Oshkosh. Mission accomplished.
Total flight time for this leg: 0.9 hours
Total flight time for this trip: 14.3 hours
As a member of the 1970 reunion group, I was given front-row, rockstar parking (and camping) on the grass at the historic Brown Arch.
About an hour after checking in, a group of judges stopped by my Tailwind to... well, judge it. Apparently there were awards for the best airplanes in attendance or something.
N11018 didn't win any awards, but certainly received admiration and praise from thousands of visitors throughout the week and I was quite proud of that.