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Bubba Goes to Oshkosh

By Fred Quarnstrom, EAA 1082757

March 30, 2016 - If you have not flown to Oshkosh for EAA AirVenture, you should add it to your bucket list. This was my third year. My first adventure was made with some trepidation. Two of us, both pilots, went to our club's RedBird simulator and dialed in Oshkosh. We flew all the potential approaches hoping this would better prepare us; More than 10,000 aircraft arrive and depart from this airport during the week of the event. This brings to mind a beehive with all the little bees buzzing around. The difference is our bees are made of metal and do not like to go less than 70 mph. A booklet is published to describe the proper way to fit into this maelstrom of aircraft all going to the same airport. Our Oshkosh Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) booklet was highlighted and had tabs to quickly get us to the appropriate approach if we had questions.

Briefly, at 30 miles out you put the transponder on standby and turn on your landing and taxi lights. You are to approach and fly over the town of Ripon at 90 knots at 1,800 feet. Ripon is a small rural town of about a dozen blocks next to a lake. Without the lake you probably could not find it. However, there are 15 to 20 lakes in the vicinity. It takes a good eye and a map to recognize Ripon from the air unless you have a GPS.  

Once you arrive at Ripon, you will be told to go northeast up the railroad tracks to Fisk. The first year we were told to “rock your wings” at Ripon to identify our plane and cleared to Fisk another “rock your wings” and they cleared us to our runway and told us to tune the radio to the tower frequency for that runway. The tower then informed us when we were cleared to land. The runway has a number of dots spanning it each in a different color. Often you are requested to land on one of the dots. This allows several aircraft to land in rapid succession “Cleared to land 36L. Land on the yellow dot. Clear the runway onto the grass as soon as possible.”  All of this without us transmitting a check-in or any reply.

 This year there was no request to “rock your wings” at Ripon. Ripon has a GPS waypoint named RIPON while Fisk’s is called FISKE. Just dial in your GPS and you are there. There are several lakes that can be used for holding patterns if there is a lot of traffic. This has never happened to us, but we did practice flying around Green Lake in the simulator just in case.

This year I flew with a former Navy and airline pilot with 20,000 hours in his logbook to the 900 hours I have. However, he was not checked out in the club's Cessna 182 so I was the instructor pilot and he was the student. He flew and I gave advice and handled communications. I had by far the easier job since you do not respond to the ATC directions other than a rock of your wings. In fact, they do not want you to respond. There are so many aircraft in the vicinity that if all replied the frequencies would be unusable. My “student” did suggest we should contact the tower about 5 miles out. He had never landed at an airport without contacting the tower first. I reminded him the NOTAM said not to call the tower.

As we approached Ripon we heard the following exchange. The names and numbers have been changed to protect this poor fellow. In fact, I was laughing so hard I cannot remember them. He came through loud and clear with a strong Forrest Gump accent.

Pilot: “Oshkosh tower this is Cessna 172 N123AH with the weather for landing.”

ATC: “Cessna 3AH, sir, do you have the NOTAM booklet for landing at Oshkosh this week?”   

Pilot: “No, ma’am, I don’t know about no booklet. I just want to land and go to the air fair, 3AH.”

ATC: “Sir, please monitor this frequency and they will give you directions. Turn and fly to Ripon.”

At this point a controller responded, “Cessna 3AH where are you?"

Pilot: “Ma’am I don't rightly know. I can see a couple of small towns and some lakes. but no runways. One of the little towns is about three miles ahead of me, 3AH. By the way my name is Bubba.” He had described much of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

ATC: “3AH what is the color of your Cessna?”

Pilot: “It is a mostly white, ma'am, 3AH.”

ATC: “3AH, is your transponder on?”

Pilot: “Yes ma’am I always use a transponder. 3AH.”

ATC: “Please squawk 'ident' and put your transponder on standby.” A transponder causes the aircraft to show up on the controller’s radar screen with numbers indicating its altitude, speed and registration number and much brighter than a plane without a transponder would.

Pilot: "Squawking 'ident', 3AH.”

ATC: “3AH, you are three miles southwest of Ripon. Please put your transponder on standby.”

Pilot: “No ma'am, I always fly with it on. I want you to see me, 3AH.”

ATC: “We want you to shut it off. We have too many airplanes in the air. If they all had their transponders on, we would see nothing on our radar. Shut it off now.”

We were about six miles from Ripon and could see a white high-wing aircraft down about 500 feet above the ground, S turning on the way to Ripon. His speed was about right but he was way too close to the ground. He crossed over Ripon and continued a searching S pattern.

ATC: “3AH you just crossed Ripon please proceed northeast over the railroad tracks.”

Pilot: “Ma’am I don’t see no railroad tracks. There is a road. Can I follow the road?" 3AH?

ATC: "No you cannot follow the road it does not go to Fisk."

Pilot: "I still do not see no railroad tracks."

ATC: “3AH, we see you and you are heading the right direction you are over the tracks right now. Just look down.”

We watched him S turning below and in front of us, clearly still looking for the tracks at about 500 feet. He was approaching the little town of Fisk.

ATC: "3AH are you at Fisk?"

Pilot: “Ma'am, I don’t rightly know. I still haven’t found the tracks, 3AH.”

ATC: “White high-wing aircraft over Fisk, rock your wings.”  Nothing happened.

ATC: “White high-wing aircraft over Fisk, rock your wings.”  Nothing happened.

ATC: "3AH, Bubba! rock your wings now! Good, you are over Fisk. Turn right to 090, you will be on a left base to Runway 36L”

ATC: “3AH, turn right to 090 right now!”

ATC: “3AH, Bubba! Turn hard right to 090 now!”

Pilot: “Oh, you are talking to me, 3AH”

The controller had way more patience than I would have had. I probably would have said, “Bubba turn left to 270 and proceed west until your engine gets very quiet, glide to the nearest pasture, get out of the plane and hitchhike to Oshkosh.”

ATC: “3AH, tune to the tower 126.6 now, follow their instructions. Do not respond to them, just follow their instructions.”

We were still a mile behind in trail and were given the same instruction. We tuned in 126.6 and heard, “White high-wing aircraft on short base you are cleared to land on 36L. Land on the yellow dot. White high-wing aircraft two miles from final, land on the purple dot. When possible both of you exit the runway onto the grass and follow the handlers who will direct you to parking.

Pilot: “Oshkosh tower I don’t know about no yellow dots. I have never landed on a dot before, 3AH.”

ATC: “3AH, just land on runway 36L. When possible, turn onto the grass and follow the handlers who will direct you to parking.”

Pilot: “Ma’am I usually stay on taxiways at airports, 3AH.”

At this point the tower asked us to land on 36R. Bubba clearly was not going to land down the runway and it was doubtful that he would get off the runway so we could land. My "student" turned to me and said that the runway looked too narrow. They turn the taxiway into runway 36R for AirVenture. I turned to him and said, "It is plenty wide; remember we are flying a Cessna 182 not a Boeing 757.” He did a nice landing if you ignore the first flare at 55 feet, the height of the cockpit in his 757 and airbus. We landed on 36R and turned into the grass and were directed by the ground crew to parking.

The last I heard of Bubba was the controller telling him to add power to get to the north end of runway 36L as quickly as possible to get out of the way of a flight of biplanes who were arriving and needed the runway. “Yes, you will have to turn on to the grass to get to parking.”

The two controllers deserved a medal for patience and understanding. I bet Bubba will get the NOTAM booklet next year. I don't remember the pilot’s name or aircraft number, but I chuckle every time I think about this event.

A couple of days later I was riding one of the trams to get to the seaplane base and the fellow sitting next to me started telling this story. He was a few miles behind us and could not see Bubba's plane but enjoyed the interchange on the radio. We both had a good laugh and high praise for the controllers.

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