The Greatest Show On Earth
Each year, one lucky AvPlan crew member gets to join Bevan on a trip to Oshkosh, for a week of networking, catching up with customers and scouting out what’s new in general aviation. This year it was my turn, my first since 2018 (thanks, Covid!)
Having travelled over separately, Bevan and I met up in Chicago where he’d hired a car for the duration of the show. Our first stop was Ardy and Ed’s Drive In – an AvPlan staff favourite, where the roller-skated waitresses deliver burgers right to your car – possibly the most suitably American restaurant one can choose after a 14 hour flight.
We hit the ground running with the Cirrus VIP party that very night. AvPlan EFB and Cirrus have had an excellent synergy from day one and it was joyous to catch up with our Cirrus owner customers. The ever-dedicated Cirrus team from Australia had organised a tour of the factory for us, as well as VIP passes for the whole show, which turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, due to the muggy weather (and the fact that the VIP tent had air-con and an actual barista. I’ll leave my opinions of American coffee elsewhere).
As ever at an air show, we spent the first few days catching up with customers and colleagues but as we weren’t tied to a stand this year, Bevan gave us the afternoons off to catch the displays. It really is the greatest air show on earth – anything that’s flying is pretty much flying at Oshkosh: Mustangs, Trojans, the F-22, F-35 (ear-plug alert) and the most fabulous Constellation. The aerobatic teams were out in full force with Skip Stewart, Kirby Chambliss and Mike Goulian demonstrating some world class displays. The Wednesday night fireworks were the best yet.
This year’s attendance was approximately 677,000, up from the previous record of 650,000 last year. More than 10,000 aircraft arrived at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh and other airports in east-central Wisconsin. At Wittman alone, there were 21,883 aircraft operations in the 11-day period from July 20-30, which is an average of approximately 148 takeoffs/landings per hour when the airport is open. Each year, Australians make up the third most visited nationality, and this year was no different: I ran into an AvPlan customer on the aircraft on the way out and Bevan bumped into multiple AvPlan users in all sorts of unlikely places.
On Monday morning, we received the exciting news that our flight to the factory would be in a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet. Over to Bevan, who piloted the aircraft on the Oshkosh to Duluth leg, to tell you about the experience:
It is an amazing aircraft, with enough similarity with the SR series that a pilot with Cirrus SR22 time will be instantly familiar. Switches and controls fall easily at hand. The Garmin G3000 avionics shares enough of the components of the G1000 NXi and GTN to ensure you are not instantly overwhelmed; it is extremely capable. PFD symbology and layout is almost the same as the G1000.
We departed VFR off runway 27 at Oshkosh, maintaining 500ft AGL at 210kt with excellent visibility after a storm had just passed through. The aircraft was rock stable, zooming along like a magic carpet. Clear of the Class D zone we climbed VFR around some lower level stratus to 5500’ and picked up an IFR clearance to Duluth. It was great to fire off some good ole ICAO standard phraseology at the US controllers again. My instructor noticed we got a different level of service when they heard an unfamiliar accent on the radio.
We climbed and levelled off at 21000’ and we had time to get familiar with the systems before it was time to plan the descent into Duluth. Duluth ATIS was reporting broken cloud at 2500’ so we set up for the ILS to runway 09. Decent planning and the VNAV profile (apart from the 3 degree angle) was pretty much the same as doing it in the SR22. Down we went at 320kt ground speed and we started being vectored for the ILS. Abeam the runway we were visual at around 4000’ so I cancelled the ILS approach, disconnected the autopilot and auto throttle (which is an awesome piece of kit. Totally need an autothrottle in my life) and hand flew the approach.
In the circuit area the aircraft behaves like the SR22, with similar speeds and approach profile. Only thing to remember is there are folding rollers, and with a max speed of 210kt we can use them as an effective speed brake. This is really liked – most of my flying is in Beech Bonanzas, and using the gear to slow you down in the circuit is always a useful tool. Especially when mixing with faster traffic. Touchdown was super smooth – the trailing link landing gear made me look like a pro on my first touchdown. (Note here from Kreisha: it was an absolute greaser!)
Lunch, a factory tour and then I got to enjoy the space in the back in the return journey to Appleton. Overall an awesome day and a highlight of all my visits to AirVenture
While a flight in an SF50 and tour of the Cirrus factory is hard to beat, other highlights of the trip included a tour of the warbirds area, the night fireworks and (for me) spotting an absolutely mint Beechcraft Staggerwing and getting to talk to the owner.
After a tough few years for general aviation, it was an absolute delight to get back out there and see the joy, enthusiasm and sheer volume of pilots who remind us why we live to fly.