Oshkosh AirVenture 2019 – A Bit Different

August 5, 2019

By Andy Werback

We almost made it to Air Venture 2019 – well, we did, but the airplane didn’t. Not the airplane’s fault!

The trip started off on Friday morning, trying to beat the heat in Nevada. A quick stop at KBAM for fuel (they have a newly-installed self-serve) and press on to Rapid City, South Dakota. This is a repeat of the trip we did last year which was cut short due to incoming weather. This year we had great weather on Friday and Saturday, so lots of time to explore.

After talking to Ellsworth Approach and landing at KRAP as planned, we had plenty of time to visit the South Dakota Air Museum. They are now located adjacent to the air base, so no security checks. It’s a free museum, run by a great group of volunteers, and open from 8AM to 6PM daily. Outside, the aircraft are in great shape, with actively involved crews – they were fixing up the insignia on the Beech 18 while we were there, painting away. For larger jobs, they have access to a complete hangar on the nearby air base (wish we could do that here!). The indoor displays are in old F-89 Scorpion “alert” hangars – perfect for the job.

For a little deeper dive (literally), we went on the tour of the Minute Man II training silo, which is located on the base. It was an interesting contrast to the Titan II missile setup that we saw in Tucson, AZ. The Ellsworth area used to host 3 wings of the Minuteman II (150 missiles), spread over 13,500 square miles (that’s a fair amount of territory, it turns out).

The next day we drove about 85 miles east to the actual Minuteman II Visitor’s Center. This takes you through the town of Wall, so named because the nearby Badlands formed pretty much a physical wall. The town was built in 1907 for the railroad. Wall is famous for its all-encompassing drug store, which is now a tourist attraction in a town of about 800. From there, we had a nice visit to the Badlands National Park – complete with steeply eroded formations, hiking trails, and prairie dogs. We had flown over this area on a 1976 trip to Chicago, so it was nice to get a ground-level view.

Returning to Rapid City, we intended to tour Wind Caves, but they were closed due to an elevator issue. It would have been nice to visit one of the largest/longest caves on earth, with almost 150 miles of passages and rooms having been explored so far. According to their survey map, it has fissure after fissure after fissure… this would be a good place to have lots of bread crumbs or string for marking your way back out.

But, finally, we had to depart for Oshkosh. The good weather had evaporated, we had thunderstorms and flash flood rainfall moving in, so we spent about an hour in light rain before breaking out in the sunshine for the rest of the trip to Madison. We normally stop to pick up the rental car in Madison, so I fly up and Sam drives to Oshkosh. Not so this time. ATC conversations revealed that KOSH was closed for the time – they had 5” of rain on Saturday (plus 4 tornadoes north of Appleton) and the grass parking was soaked. Tundra tires only. Oh well, would have been the best day in years to do an easy arrival via Fisk. Instead, we just drove up and left the Lancair at Wisconsin Aviation for the week. And as dozens of other people did the same thing, the ramp was packed. Plus we had the additional confusion of the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29 “FiFi” on display, and helicopter rides landing on the ramp too.

The rest of the week was spent judging, judging, and more judging. Even though it was relatively quiet on Monday due to the rain, we still kept pretty busy. Interesting what you see. Duct tape on an airplane – don’t know what was underneath. Broken rib on top of a wingtip, torn fabric underneath. Stuff like that, but fortunately not too much.

Close-up photo of a Van's RV homebuilt airplane parked at an airshow.
A very nicely rebuilt Van’s RV.

One nice RV had been in a crash, and was purchased for the engine. But after further analysis, it was rebuilt, and very nicely. Where many RV’s show some difficulty with getting the fiberglass fairings to fit properly, or wing tips and trailing edges don’t line up, this RV was really nice. The fairings fit perfectly, nice and tight, clean all around. Very nice to see that sort of attention to detail.

1944 Fairey Firefly carrier aircraft sitting on the ramp at an air show
1944 Fairey Firefly British carrier aircraft, on display at Oshkosh AirVenture 2019.

Another highlight was the restoration of a 1944 Fairey Firefly, a British carrier-based fighter/reconnaissance aircraft with a crew of 2. It cost millions to rebuild (some types of nuts cost about $5 each, and it required buckets of them…) Very rare, only at Oshkosh! It actually won Oshkosh Grand Champion in 2002, so this was a repeat visit. Capt. Eddie Kurdziel gave a forum talk about this project – Learn More.

We also spent a few minutes in the electric aircraft innovation and technology showcase hangar. There were lots of VTOL and related electric designs – Learn More.

Hoverbike by Assen on display at an airshow
Assen A1 VTOL Hoverbike at the EAA Innovation Hangar. It’s a little hard to make out because it is so different, but it consists of three vertically oriented ducted fans and a seat like a motorcycle.

Many times it’s important to figure out exactly who did the work – but sometimes not so easy. And it’s really nice to talk to the builder who did it all – beginning to end, and got it right, lots of attention to detail. Then you look at an airplane that’s partly or mostly professionally built, lots invested, but it’s hard to credit the owner with “building”. For the most part, though, I think it worked out OK. But just to note, if you don’t win this year, come back next year – the competition will be different.

Close-up photo of small aircraft cowl near the propeller, showing damage to two fasteners
As a judge, you look for things like these cowl fasteners that have pulled through the fiberglass.

We didn’t spend a lot of time watching the airshow part of Air Venture – by that time of the day, we’re pretty much beat, and don’t need the noise. And the other part about judging is that you don’t get much time for the forums, or vendor displays. Sam, on the other hand, got to the WomenVenture (an organization that promotes women in business) lunch with Col. Kim Campbell as the featured speaker. She talked about her A-10 mission over Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom – where she was almost shot down but managed to make it back to base with a crippled ship. A great motivational talk. She is the daughter of Chuck Reed, former mayor of San Jose, so that was our connection. By the way, both she and her dad graduated #1 in their class at the Air Force Academy. Pretty awesome.

We did spend an enjoyable evening at the Lancair Owners and Builders meeting/dinner. This club has done some very notable work in the area of the Additional Pilot Program (AC 109-116), as well as transition training and flight test standardization. In a similar vein, I sat in a meeting of Falco pilots who were interested in forming their own Type Club in the interests of improving safety, training, and reducing insurance costs (or just improving the availability of insurance for qualified pilots). So lots of progress in improving the Experimental Amateur Built environment.

Returning from Oshkosh, we got an early start driving back to Madison, checked the weather, fueled up, and departed west. This was a day or so after learning about the tragic accident in Chadron, where we lost Damon and Sarah Brown, and their son Duncan. Sort of close to home, as I was acquainted with Damon and Sam knew Sarah, and plenty of other people knew them.

We made a quick stop at Casper, WY. Again, fuel for Oshkosh was available at $1 off the usual price ($5 instead of $6, full serve), plus complimentary popcorn and lemonade. We just missed visiting with Tim Delany (PCAM) who taxied in as we were departing. But then it was nice to get home after 8 hours of flying in mostly decent weather. A quick nap, then early to bed! We’ll clean the dirt and bugs tomorrow.


There’s always something great going on at the Pacific Coast Air Museum. We have Open Cockpit weekends once a month,  special events throughout the year, and regular hot dog lunches. We host school field trips, special group tours, birthday parties, and family get-togethers, all among our collection of historic aircraft and educational exhibits.