Enhance Your Oshkosh Experience-Volunteer!
Cherokees to Oshkosh Arrivals - AirVenture 2012
The North 40 during AirVenture
By Terry Hocking - EAA # 234464
It seems as aviators we are perpetually searching for unexplored destinations to seek out. For the vast majority of us, navigating to and landing at the big show in Wisconsin is prominent on our aviation bucket list. In our "Cherokees to Oshkosh" group, flying your Piper, regardless of the model, to Oshkosh is something that every pilot should make a priority at least once in their lives. There are very few memories that compare to flying the Fisk Arrival and hearing, "Red and white Cherokee land on the Green Dot and expedite it off of the runway!"
AirVenture 2012 marked the 35th anniversary of Karen, my wife, and I attending our first Oshkosh together. It still seems like only yesterday we packed camping gear into a rented Grumman Cheetah to make a trip to a place in Wisconsin that we had no idea would become such a part of our lives. Every trip is a unique experience for us on many levels. We enhanced our Oshkosh trips by trying new things. Without exception, nothing has enhanced our Oshkosh visits as much as volunteering at AirVenture. The rewards of these efforts are immeasurable.
Each year the phenomenon of aviation excellence, referred to affectionately as Oshkosh, appears to magically sprout life at Wittman Regional Airport almost overnight. AirVenture is truly a Herculean effort for all involved, and an example of the vision and forward thinking of EAA. I am very fortunate to interact with many wonderful people within EAA as I represent Cherokees to Oshkosh. EAA staffers all possess the highest level of enthusiasm and passion for EAA and their stakeholders, as well as for all of aviation. They will be the first to proclaim AirVenture could not happen without the spirit of volunteerism. EAAers have always incorporated that ideology. Reduced to its simplest form - helping others build an airplane is the foundation of EAA.
It takes 4,800 volunteers to make AirVenture happen each year. These volunteers allow roughly 500,000 aviation enthusiasts to pass through the gates and have an unforgettable aviation experience. Many of the volunteers have been coming for years and cannot fathom being anywhere but Oshkosh at the end of July. Each summer, EAA opens the gates of Camp Scholler 30 days in advance of the opening of the convention. Friendly competition surfaces to be the first camper at the gate when EAA raises it.
After camp is set up, the volunteers are ready to work. Flowers and grass need to be tended. Picnic tables are placed in preparation for the thousands of appreciative attendees. The volunteers are the definition of poetry in motion, moving this all into place in time for opening day.
Karen and I had always wanted to volunteer for the North 40 aircraft camping. This area of Wittman Field provided us with a sense of serenity and peacefulness each evening. With the idea of giving something back, in 2011 we made the decision to volunteer as Aircraft Greeters in the North 40.
For those who are unfamiliar with the nuances of flying into Oshkosh and camping with your aircraft, here is a brief idea of what to expect: Upon landing, you will be given the instructions by FAA's Gypsy Controllers to exit onto the grass and "Follow the flagmen to parking!" The term Gypsy Controller stems from the fact these controllers request temporary duty in Oshkosh, and they come from towers all over the Midwest for one reason: they want to work traffic in Oshkosh.
The flagmen the controllers are referencing are all volunteers in orange vests with the official title of Flight Line Operations. As Aircraft Greeters, we interacted very closely with Flight Line Operations. These are some of the most dedicated individuals I have ever met. Many of the pilots flying into Oshkosh want their aircraft parked on small plywood pads they have included in their camping equipment checklist. As you may surmise, even a humble Cherokee when loaded with camping gear can provide a challenge to physically move into place over grass while trying to negotiate these 12x12 plywood pads. Flight Line Operations was always there to help. 30 minutes into their shift these volunteers were all showing signs of perspiration darkening their shirts under the bright orange vests. The hard-working flagmen have no compensation in mind other than high-fives, ham and cheese sandwiches, and lemonade provided by volunteers at lunch time.
Once you are parked, you will be approached by Aircraft Greeters with a warm, "Welcome to Oshkosh!" Aircraft Greeters are seasoned EAAers with an extensive knowledge base and will help answer any questions you may have.
Karen and I find volunteering fulfilling for a plethora of reasons. We share a kindred spirit with all those that make the pilgrimage to Oshkosh to spend a week with their airplanes. More importantly, we can help newcomers to Oshkosh and get joy from the fast-paced AirVenture experience.
Karen and I will be greeting airplanes again this year as they arrive in the North 40. We met many wonderful people and had way too much fun to deny ourselves the pleasure once again. We will be proudly sporting our sky blue "Cherokees to Oshkosh" shirts. Volunteering at Oshkosh mirrors many life lessons, including the benefits of self-giving. If you hang around AirVenture long enough, the infectious spirit of volunteerism will move you to help. We have tried our hand at a couple of different volunteer positions. Each time we joined the army of volunteers, it made that Oshkosh visit all the more memorable.
EAA has the much appreciated transportation system in place as early as Friday prior to the official opening of the gates. Volunteers operate the buses as well as the trams. If you have not yet experienced the trams, they truly are a blessing for those of us that can still recall the miles we would walk before they came into being.
In my own case, the entire Cherokees to Oshkosh flight understands formation flying is not for everyone; however, you may still want to seek out the company of Cherokee aficionados. We enjoy a welcoming, wonderful group of people that are an extended family in every sense of the definition. Once you meet us, you will understand why so many EAAers proclaim the three greatest words in the English language are, "Welcome to Oshkosh!"