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Weather Delays AirVenture Mass Arrivals
By Barbara A. Schmitz
July 21, 2019 - So much for best-laid plans. Rain and storms kept most of the mass arrival groups from arriving Saturday.
Only the Cherokees made it to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019 on schedule at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Depending on weather and ground conditions, three of the four groups are now scheduled to arrive today — the Cessnas at 6 a.m., the Cirruses at 8 a.m., and the Mooneys at 9 a.m. The Bonanzas decided to cancel their formation flight this year, citing weather and ground concerns.
Cherokees to Oshkosh
Cherokees to Oshkosh became the first and only group to arrive en masse on the AirVenture grounds on Saturday. Departing from Waupaca, Wisconsin, the 39 planes became their largest mass arrival since they started flying into Oshkosh together to celebrate the Cherokees' 50th anniversary in 2010, said Doane Bailey, the group's registrar.
Doane said their formation flight went without problems, although a few planes had to go around because they got "jammed up." 2019 marked their 10th mass arrival flight and included people from more than 20 states, he said.
Doane said flying in formation to Oshkosh makes for safer flying. "I can look out my window and I know the people on each side," he said. "They're prepared and they follow the rules."
They provide formation training clinics across the nation, and Doane said he likes to tell people that they are flying to an air show, not performing an air show. "Our goal is to get a group of airplanes safely to the show so we can camp together and spend a week together. We're not flying Blue Angels type of stuff, but the biggest thing is that that we have a set of procedures, we follow them and we practice them."
Ed and Dori LeBlanc, of Austin, Texas, flew lead this year, and will be taking over director of flight operations next year. "It's a lot of mental work trying to make sure we've thought of everything and that all our little chicks are safe," Ed said. "The low ceiling meant we had to stay lower than we like to on departure."
The LeBlancs have flown in all 10 of the Cherokees' mass arrivals in Oshkosh. "It's a lot of fun to be with your friends; it's like a family reunion," Ed said. "AirVenture is really Disneyland for pilots."
Cessnas to Oshkosh
Departing from Juneau, Wisconsin, 94 Cessnas are expected to land here about 6 a.m. today, depending on weather and ground conditions. The planes and pilots represent about 34 different states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces.
Rodney Swanson, director of training and operations, said Cessnas to Oshkosh started flying in as a mass arrival in 2006. 2019 is their group's 14th annual trek to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and is their biggest turnout.
Having fun while parking and camping together is what first brought the pilots and their families together, but it's safety that keeps them together, Rodney said, noting that participating pilots must attend formation training clinics. "The only way to keep being invited back is to be safe," he said. "We have high expectations of our pilots."
Rodney said EAA did a great job keeping them informed of what was happening with Oshkosh weather and ground conditions on Saturday. "They want us there; we want to be there. But both parties know that we need to do it safely. That’s why everything is so fluid now."
Rodney said despite the difficulties the weather created, coming to Oshkosh is a no-brainer.
"What else are you going to do in July?" he said. "We come for the airplanes and our friends. I've been coming to Oshkosh for 16 years, and I've seen marriages come together and fail, I've seen kids grow up, and it all happens around aviation. No matter if you are a CEO or student, at Oshkosh, everyone is a pilot."
C2A COPA to AirVenture
Pending weather and ground conditions, the Cirrus group is scheduled to arrive about 8 a.m. today after departing from the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville.
Mike Radomsky, C2A chairman, said 2019 is their group's sixth mass arrival. Like the other groups, they decided to arrive together so they could camp together. "But the real fun is the formation flight," Mike said. "It combines our two passions: coming to AirVenture and flying in formation."
Like the other groups as well, safety is key, and to ensure safety, they hold six to 10 formation clinics throughout the country annually. "Each pilot needs to show that he or she has a good grasp of the basics of formation flight," he said. "They need to be able to do the basic maneuvers, such as take off in a formation, climb, descend, turn and land, and do all of that as a lead or on someone's wing. It's not too complex."
Their first year, it was just five airplanes that flew in together. This year, about 22 airplanes carrying 40 people were expected to participate in the Oshkosh mass arrival, with Will Garber flying lead and Mike flying tail.
While they made no changes to the flight, the group did cut back on the time required for the mass arrival. "Sometimes we would gather as early as Thursday to fly into Oshkosh on Sunday, but this year we asked folks to come in Saturday for the Sunday flight," Mike said. "We're hoping more people can join us in future flights that way."
Although their group is small, they are passionate. "We love what we do," Mike said. "We just wish we had a way to let our Cirrus pilots know how much fun this is."
The Mooney Caravan is scheduled to arrive in Oshkosh and touch down about 9 a.m. today, pending weather and ground conditions.
Staging from Madison's Dane County Airport with about 67 airplanes whose pilots came from more than 26 states, three Canadian provinces, and Mexico, the Mooneys first came to AirVenture as a gaggle in 1998 with 42 airplanes. They've only missed one year in those 22 years — 2010, the year Oshkosh became better known as Sploshkosh because of rain.
The group has been arriving in formation for more than 10 years, said Chris "Toro" Shopperly, who flew lead in the 2018 arrival and was set to fly tail in this year's flight.
"All of our participants demonstrated proficiency in formation flight in the past six months and have been qualified to fly in the Mooney Caravan," Chris said, adding that their group held numerous formation clinics across the country, as well as clinics co-organized by them and the other mass arrival groups.
He's proud of the collaboration between the aviation groups, and notes that they hold formation clinics that pilots from other organizations can attend. "There is a great deal of camaraderie among the mass arrival groups," he said.
In addition, Chris said the Mooney Caravan has become a signatory to Formation Flying Inc. in the last year and several of their pilots have earned FFI wing or lead cards.
Why do they come each year?
"It's all about the people," Chris said. "We like to come together as fellow aviators and spend time together, which allows us to cherish and celebrate aviation and the friendships we've made through aviation. Our planes allow us to get to Oshkosh, but it’s the people who keep bringing us back."
On their 30th annual trek to AirVenture, B2Osh made the difficult decision of canceling the mass formation flight due to weather and ground conditions.
Organizer Larry Gaines said that EAA suspended all movement on aircraft on ground on Saturday, leaving them with no good options for a place to park or camp. With 121 airplanes — including 104 Bonanzas and 17 Barons representing pilots from 35 states — they decided it was best to cancel.
"With the weather between Rockford and Oshkosh, we have no business flying in formation," he said, noting it was still "raining like crazy" in Rockford mid-afternoon on Saturday.
He said individual pilots will decide what to do. Some may fly in the normal Fisk arrival when weather improves. Others may leave their planes in Rockford and drive up. Still others may decide to go back home.
The Beechcraft group started making mass arrivals in Oshkosh in 1990 as a way of ensuring friends could park together, Larry said.
"Wanna camp together? Gotta arrive together," Larry said. "The formation arrival is fun, and training events nationwide make up another layer in the social fabric/network."
Only once before, in 2010, did they not arrive in formation because the camping area was too wet to park airplanes. So they parked on the northeast side of the airport and camped in the regular North 40.
Larry said B2Osh plans to honor and remember Wayne Collins, who founded the B2Osh flight, and Robert Mark, who organized the B2Osh pilots from New York and New Jersey and led the entire B2Osh flight in 2009. Wayne, 94, died in January, while Robert died in July in an airplane accident after his engine failed.