Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fly Girl in Training: A student pilot landing at Oshkosh

Huge thanks to my husband T and flight instructor, Stan, for spending so
much time over the last couple months preparing me to arrive and land at
Oshkosh. It's been a blast learning from such a supportive community.
“White Cessna, rock your wings.”
Wiggle waggle.
“Nice rock, sir.”
MA’AM! I wanted to say.
***
An hour outside of Oshkosh, we fueled up and Mr. T reviewed the NOTAM—Notice to Airmen—information with me for arriving at EAA AirVenture. That’s when the nerves kicked in.
So normally landing at a towered airport requires calling in over the radio, talking to the tower, getting a landing clearance and flying in, more or less like normal. Landing at the World’s Busiest Airport (at least for this week of the year) involves somewhat more.
Flying into Oshkosh over the beautiful Wisconsin farmland. I wish I could
have enjoyed the scenery more but I was concentrating really hard on not
messing up my Oshkosh landing!
The weirdest part? No talking.
Instead of calling into the tower, the tower talks to you. If everything goes smooth, your only communication back to the tower is a wing rock (literally rocking side to side) to acknowledge their directions.
In order to know what to do, pilots must thoroughly review the 32-page NOTAM which spells out arrival, landing, parking, and departure procedures. What sounds relatively simple involves a ton of potential outcomes that depend on the wind, which runway the tower assigns, and of course, the other folks in the pattern and how well they follow directions.

***
The nerves that bubbled up in our Platteville fuel stop started percolating something fierce outside of Ripon—the first of potential tower instruction points. By the railroad tracks on the way to Fisk—last stop before OSH!—I thought I might throw up. Okay, not really, but I was really damn nervous.
Immediately after landing, you must pull off the runway and follow the
directions of field marshals who offer hand signals to get you to the right
parking area. The "VAP" sign in our window designates "Vintage Area
Parking." There are abbreviations for Vintage, Homebuilts, Warbirds,
Biplanes, General Aviation, etc. The fun part? I got to taxi on grass for the
first time. In a word, bumpy!
By the end, I was fourth in line for runway 27 and busy maintaining an altitude of 1800 feet and a speed of 105 miles per hour. Right on the downwind—a track parallel to the runway—the tower told me to land on the green dot. Not the blue dot or the pink dot or the orange dot, the green one.
Unlike regular landings where one airplane has control of the runway at a time, arriving at Oshkosh requires several planes landing at once (on multiple runways, by the way!) in order to get all of the thousands of planes in. To do so, pilots must land on their assigned dot.

(To see pictures of what this looks like, check out Oshkosh B'gosh Part 1 from three years ago. I take much better photos when I'm not trying to land!)
The Cessna 182 all tied down at Oshkosh!
With my focus on the green dot, I had to make my base turn early. Normally, the “base” turn from the downwind happens just at the end of the runway abeam (across) from the runway numbers. At this juncture, it’s typical to decrease power in order to descend and slow down, then extend the wing flaps to descend more steeply and position the landing precisely.
Soooo, yours truly got a little discombobulated with the early base turn and forgot the flaps. I was late. Which meant I was also pretty high. Such that the tower almost gave me instructions which could have involved going around.
But T quickly applied all 40 degrees of flap (an advanced move on my student pilot learning trajectory) and we started barreling towards the green dot as required. After a quick descent and a hard left turn off the runway, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Read carefully and guess which part is my very favorite.
After five weeks of instructor-led flying lessons and with guidance from my dear husband, I LANDED AT OSHKOSH!!
(Already I want it to be next year so I can come back and do the landing 100% by myself.)
The feeling of arriving at Oshkosh along with thousands of other aviators? Nothing short of incredible. Not only is the set up and procedure intimidating, but I know there are literally thousands of people watching each landing and perhaps even taking pictures! (Although in an old Cessna, perhaps paparazzi are less of an issue.) Making it safely from California, negotiating (with help) a good landing, and getting settled in the Vintage parking area is something I will never ever forget.
And, that’s just the beginning of another week at Oshkosh! Stay tuned for more.
xoxo,
shawna

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