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Winging It! With Dr. Paul

Oshkosh Bound

Andrew flies from the left front seat. Though his feet miss the rudder pedals by inches, he appears every bit the pilot. At the age of nine, he's taking his Dad to their first Oshkosh Fly-in. It is to be a trip they will both long remember.

Andrew reads the charts intently. Below, the ribbon of interstate highway stretches across the limitless plane that is America's Midwest. Behind, the Rockies, their cumulo- bumpus buildups the challenge of the prior day, now a distant memory. Ahead, the rolling hills of western Wisconsin. Along the shores of Lake Winnebago, the Greatest Of All Possible Airshows beckons. Ten thousand aircraft will converge on Wittman Field for a week of displays and flybys and aerobatics and antiques and warbirds and homebuilts and seminars and awards and crowds and rain and heat and utter euphoria. Ahead lies Andrew's future.

Between stands a squall line. A classic summer stationary front has interposed itself between our travelers and their destination. It shows no signs of dissipating.

Andrew keeps his eyes on the interstate, his finger on the sectional chart tracing their position, as his Dad descends below a ragged ceiling. It is drizzling. The terrain undulates gently; the aircraft lurches violently. Turbulence does not alarm Andrew. He has been flying since infancy. But the visibility is diminishing ahead. Even a nine year old knows when it is time to land.

At a thousand feet above the ground, you can see forty miles ahead. That's on a clear day. This one isn't. Still, Andrew has noted a magenta circle on the sectional, abeam their present position. He spots the field first, points. His Dad nods. Fly over to check the windsock, then a close in left pattern, and they're down.

Friendship, Wisconsin, population about a thousand. The field is deserted. They taxi clear and tie down. The drizzle is now a deluge. They take refuge in the abandoned trailer which serves as the airport office. A coffee pot rests on an electric hotplate. The coffee is hot, and fresh. Andrew learns to ingest caffeine. So this is what it is to become a pilot, he muses.

A pickup truck rumbles out of the rain, down the taxiway and to a stop in front of the trailer. Its driver waves the travelers aboard. "Heard you fly over my farm," he explains. "Thought you could use a ride to the motel." Friendship, Wisconsin is aptly named.

Next morning the same farmer shows up at the motel. It's six AM. Time to be winging it. The front has dissipated; the sky sparkles. Oshkosh lies an hour ahead.

Andrew is the first to spot Ripon; he calls out twelve targets in the pattern. A week of adventure awaits their landing. But Andrew is in no hurry, asks his Dad if they can do one low approach.

A new pilot has been born.

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this page last updated 14 June 2007
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