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Cracking the Code: An Insider's Guide for AirVenture Rookies

Last Updated: 1/30/24

PSST! YEAH, YOU. COME over here. Heard you were planning on going to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this year. Want in on the secrets? Oh, you talked to a friend who was there years ago and now you think you’re all set? Know it all, huh? Well listen up, rookie, we’re going to help you out. Pull up a chair and we’ll do some hangar flying — AirVenture style!

A group of us lucky ones who work at EAA year-round got together in a secret location (actually, it was that odd little conference room in the basement, the one with no door) and came up with some tips. We did the math — we’ve got 157 years of combined AirVenture experience, so you just might learn a thing or two. We’ve filled this story with sidebars and stuff so be sure to check those out, too.


  • Attendance: More than 670,000 people, from 92 total countries
  • Total Aircraft: 10,000-plus
  • Total Showplanes: 3,365
  • Campers: 40,000 people
  • Forums, Workshops, and Presentations: 1,400-plus
  • Social Media Reach: 18.3 million people


It hasn’t always been AirVenture. And it hasn’t always been in Oshkosh. And it sure as heck hasn’t always been this big.

The first fly-in was 70 years ago, back in September 1953, the year Paul and Audrey Poberezny founded EAA. It was at Curtiss-Wright Airport in Milwaukee. Twenty-one aircraft and 150 people showed up. We tried Oshkosh a few years later in 1956, and then moved it back to Milwaukee.

In 1959 it got too big, so we moved it to Rockford, Illinois, for 10 years and then made Oshkosh its permanent home in 1970. It was renamed EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 1998.

Now it has grown from 21 aircraft to more than 10,000, from 150 people to more than 600,000.

Learn More About EAA and AirVenture


1.) Treat everyone with kindness.
2.) Be respectful around all aircraft.
3.) Pick up trash if you see any.
4.) Thank the volunteers.


Some people call AirVenture “aviation’s family reunion” — and that’s a darn good description. When you wander around, you’re surrounded by friendly and respectful people who love aviation just as much as you do. They’re all excited to be here. The result is that Oshkosh becomes the real “Happiest Place on Earth,” no matter what you might hear from a certain mouse.

Everyone is either an old friend or a potential new one, and that atmosphere is fun and contagious. As Paul often said, you come for the airplanes but come back for the people. And remember, about 6,000 of those people are the volunteers who work like crazy, sometimes for months, to make sure you enjoy yourself. Plus, thanks to the traditional “Oshkosh Rules” (see sidebar), you won’t believe how clean it is.


When it comes to purchasing tickets for the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration, it pays to be a member. You’ll get the lowest price and you can use the Express Arrival program, where wristbands and other passes are mailed ahead of time. And, don’t forget, kids 18 and under are admitted completely free of charge.

The deadline for member-only early bird pricing and Express Arrival is June 15.


Member Early Bird: $43
Nonmember Early Bird: $60
Veteran Early Bird: $43


Member: $22
Nonmember: $27
Veteran: $22

WEEKLY (Member-Only)

Early Bird: $140


If you’ve never been to one of our conventions, this is important. AirVenture isn’t an event you attend; it’s something you do. It’s not like going to a ballgame where you buy a ticket and just sit and watch. AirVenture is what you make it. It’s not a spectator sport.

Nobody can see and do it all. You have about a zillion things to choose from, like day and night air shows, shopping for everything from T-shirts to airplanes, going to movies or hundreds of forum presentations, getting hands-on training and learning things like how to weld a fuselage or wire an instrument panel, and a lot more.

There’s a bunch of info online and in the mobile app, so do some homework and make a plan. Look through the schedule to pick out the stuff you don’t want to miss. The “Stay Informed” sidebar has the full list of planning tools for you.

And, speaking of sidebars, check out the Top 5 Things to Know About Oshkosh As A First-Timer written by our pal Brittany Lozier Moon, EAA 1435726, who won the Pilot Your Own Adventure Writing Contest last year and did her first AirVenture in a big and fun way thanks to our friends at Flight Outfitters.

While you’re working on your plan, go ahead and order your wristbands and other passes online. You’ll save money! And, if you do order by June 15, you can use Express Arrival to get the wristbands mailed to you in advance.


AirVenture is huge. We’ve never met a first-timer who said it was smaller than they expected. The grounds cover 1,500 acres. You’ll need the lay of the land, so check out our grounds map.

It’s a typical map, except for one thing — north is left. This is because that’s the way the world is lined up when you walk through the main gate and when you’re along the flightline watching an air show. The map will show you all kinds of stuff, but the first thing to look at are the major neighborhoods:


Whether it’s learning about some of the biggest attractions at AirVenture, finding the location of that forum presentation you don’t want to miss, or staying apprised of severe weather in the forecast, there are plenty of ways EAA has you covered.

  • Live Webcams
  • App: EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2023
  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn
  • Text Alerts: Text OSHARRIVAL to 1-855-485-5674 for updates on the status of AirVenture arrivals; OSHALERT for weather alerts; and OSHFUN for notable features and attractions.
  • EAA Radio: 96.5 FM/1210 AM, online at EAARadio.org
  • Newspaper: AirVenture Today, published daily and available for free in boxes around the grounds
  • Online Discussions: EAAForums.org

The North 40 and the South 40

These are fly-in campgrounds on the north and south sides of the grounds. They’re home to thousands of airplanes and campers.


This is where ex-military aircraft spend the week. This area also has presentations, youth activities, and a dedicated shop for T-shirts and things. Pro tip: Take the Warbirds Adventure Tram Tour. It’s the best way to get an overview of the area, and you’re guaranteed to learn a lot. When you do the tour, ask for Vic and tell him we said “Hello, Mr. Know-it-All!” He’ll know what that means.


The aircraft of EAA’s roots. This area includes commercial exhibits and a camping area in addition to hundreds of showplanes flown in by proud builders and pilots.


This is the home base for the International Aerobatic Club (aka EAA members who aren’t happy unless they’re upside down).

Boeing Plaza

This is the center of the show. It’s the area where we park the biggest aircraft, along with the ones that highlight that day’s theme.

Four Corners

This is the central hub for EAA stuff during the week. It’s the place to join EAA, renew your membership, ask questions, do some shopping, learn how to be a pilot (or a better one), and more.

Central Exhibits

Between Boeing Plaza and the main gate, this is where you’ll find the four main exhibit hangars and hundreds of outside aircraft displays.

EAA Aviation Museum and KidVenture

You can’t miss our world-class aviation museum. And, during AirVenture, the adjacent Pioneer Airport turns into KidVenture, which is overflowing with fun activities for the young ones. Pro tip: Get there early if you want your kids to be able to try everything.


This section features the lovingly restored classics from yesteryear, along with a gift shop, forums area, youth activities, and a used bookstore.

The Fun Fly Zone

This area is AirVenture’s home to ultralights and ultralight-type aircraft, including trikes, powered parachutes/paragliders, and rotorcraft. It’s also where you’ll see STOL and RC demos as part of the Twilight Flight Fest on evenings without a night air show.

Camp Scholler

This is our drive-in camping area that, for one week every year, becomes a city of 40,000. Even if you’re not camping, go check it out — some people go all out on their campsites.


You should also find the towers on the map — the regular control tower (the busiest in the world that week) and the four wayfinding towers that we put up. There’s one wayfinding tower in Warbirds, Homebuilts, Vintage, and Ultralights. They’re tall, colorful, and hard to miss, which makes them great landmarks and meeting places.

EAA Seaplane Base

There’s one neighborhood that isn’t on the map because it’s too far south (which is the right side, remember?), and that’s the EAA Seaplane Base. The Seaplane Base is a quiet lagoon full of airplanes and has the most laid-back vibe anywhere at AirVenture. You can drive there, but it’s a lot easier to just hop on a bus. It’s well worth the 10-minute ride and the three bucks for the roundtrip ticket.


If you’re going to live the dream and fly yourself into AirVenture, there’s one thing you need to do: Read the FAA’s Notice (usually called the Oshkosh NOTAM). And then read it again and again. It’s a free 32-page book that outlines all of the procedures you’ll need to follow to get here safely. Like we said, read it more than once. It’s full of rules, not suggestions.

If you’re taking a commercial flight, you have a lot of choices. Flying into Appleton (ATW) gets you closest, followed by Green Bay (GRB). Oshkosh is also an easy drive from Milwaukee (MKE), Madison (MSN), the Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA), and even Chicago (ORD or MDW).


Four off-site locations have been designated for Uber or Lyft drop-off and pickup.

  • Super 8 hotel/Friar Tuck’s restaurant pedestrian gate
  • Foundation Road south of Gate 34
  • Camp Scholler S lot
  • South 40/Gate 19/Knapp and County N

If you don’t rent a car, there are all kinds of shuttle services available from most of those places and the usual ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

If you’re driving yourself, the directions are easy. Get close, follow the signs, and do what the nice people in the vests tell you to do. Pro tip: You can save $10 a day if you preorder your parking online (just like you did your wristbands). If you don’t, then bring cash.


So, where to lay your head at night? No matter how you get here, you can camp, and that’s the ultimate AirVenture experience for some. Camp Scholler is open to everything from tents on up to sites with full water and electricity hookups. Whether you pitch a tent next to your homebuilt Van’s RV or drive your big RV van into Camp Scholler, it’s an affordable way to stay, and a great way to make new friends. Campers are well supported with laundry services, multiple grocery stores, and more.


If you have any questions about AirVenture, check in with the experts on our EAA Membership Services team.

If you fly a warbird or a vintage or homebuilt airplane, you can camp in either of those areas. The North 40 and South 40 are open to all aircraft.

If camping isn’t your thing and you prefer a roof over your head, you have more choices than you probably think. First, there are hotels. At this point, you probably won’t find one in Oshkosh, or anywhere within about a half-hour drive. Maybe not even an hour. But take a look at a map, and check out some other cities and towns that are fairly close by. Even some pretty small towns have decent motels.

Next, multiple colleges in the area make dormitories available, from right here in Oshkosh to surrounding areas like Menasha, Fond du Lac, and Ripon. You’ll also find some great choices on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. A lot of locals (the crazy ones who don’t love airplanes) head out of town for the week and rent out their houses.


We’ve got a series of trams and buses that run on specific routes throughout the day to get you where you need to go. They’re free, and the drivers are friendly — everybody’s friendly at Oshkosh. This is a great way to see the grounds and give your feet a break. Plus, the tram conductors always know a few jokes — not always good, but usually funny. Also, if you’re trudging along at the end of a tiring day, don’t be surprised if an EAA staffer on a golf cart offers you a lift.


  • Comfortable shoes
  • Hat (or buy one here)
  • Sunglasses
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Umbrella and/or raincoat
  • Sweatshirt and/or light jacket
  • Phone charger/power bank
  • Patience and a smile


When you walk around the south end of Homebuilts, you’ll see a bunch of semi-open buildings with green roofs. Some of these are used for forums, some for workshops, but they’re all going to teach you something. There are presentations on everything from aviation history and the latest innovations to hands-on skills like welding or working with fabric, wood, sheet metal, or composites. Best of all? All of this stuff is free. Check the schedule for the ones you’re interested in, add them to your itinerary in the app, and consider it part of the plan.


One of the best parts of each day is the afternoon air show, followed on Wednesday and Saturday by the night air show. These shows are spectacular, highlighting classic warbirds, today’s frontline military hardware, and some of the best aerobatic performers out there. Not to mention the occasional surprise visitor.

The night shows feature stunning performances by airplanes bristling with lights and rigged with pyrotechnics. They are followed by the best fireworks show you’ve ever seen. (Yes, we’re biased.) Bring a chair and a blanket, but don’t worry about trying to fight for space. Our show line runs about a mile and a half north and south, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Plus, unattended chairs and things can be removed if any of our volunteers think they’re a safety hazard.

On nights without a full air show, you can head down to the Ultralights area for Twilight Flight Fest and see STOL demos, powered parachutes, paragliders, and some absolutely insane 3D RC flying


There are lots of places around the grounds where you can buy cool stuff. You can get EAA merchandise at a bunch of places. (And they don’t all carry the same things, so hit ’em all.)

Many exhibitors have retail displays where you can get everything from avionics to artwork. You can find all kinds of aircraft parts, tools, and hardware at the Aeromart, and everything from die-cast models and memorabilia to sheets and lawn ornaments at the Fly Market. Both of these are just southeast of the main gate.

If you’re looking for an airplane, watch for “for sale” signs in the cockpits, and check out the huge bulletin boards on the east side of the EAA Wearhouse. Pro tip: If you can tear yourself away from the afternoon air show one day, that can be a great time to go shopping or just check out the exhibits.


Put your New Year’s resolutions on pause (if you haven’t already) because the one place you won’t go during AirVenture is hungry. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthy — there are even vegetarian and vegan options out there if that’s your bag — but there are a lot of tempting choices.

Food stands and trucks are supported by multiple vendors like Subway, Dunkin’/Baskin-Robbins, and Papa Johns, whose AirVenture presence last year made that the company’s most successful week in its history. There are also plenty of other local favorites, like the Machine Shed and Parker John’s BBQ.

You can find everything from bacon to egg rolls, from cheese curds to cheese curd tacos. The freshly baked doughnuts at A&W locations are legendary, as are the biscuits and gravy at the breakfast-only Tall Pines Café down between Vintage and Ultralights.

You can get a great deal on breakfast, including all-you-can-eat pancakes, at the Chapters Pavilion, and support a good cause while you chow. The red barn in Vintage hosts an ice cream social and offers popcorn (donations gladly accepted), and you can always stock up on snacks at the Red One Markets. Food vendors all sell bottled water, or you can bring your own bottle and use the free refilling stations around the grounds.

If you’re of a mind to wind down your day with a cold glass of suds, you can do that after 1 p.m. at specific locations. This year, you can even get the official EAA 70th-anniversary beer thanks to the Stone Arch Brewpub.

Yes, with all of these choices, you might overeat a little or bend the rules of your diet, but you’ll definitely get your steps in.


If you’re looking for a unique flight experiences that you won’t find anywhere else, AirVenture Oshkosh has you covered.

Bell 47: One of the earliest helicopters put into production, the Bell 47, is synonymous with the Korean War and the TV show M*A*S*H. For $65, you can purchase a flight in a Bell 47 that will give you an aerial tour of the AirVenture grounds — a vantage point you’ll never forget.

Ford Tri-Motor: The Roaring ’20s come to life when you step inside a Ford Tri-Motor. As the first luxury airliner, the Tri-Motor played a vital role in the progression of commercial aviation in the early stages of the industry. For $85 ($95 for nonmembers), you can take a ride in this important piece of aviation history.

B-25 Mitchell: Most famous for its role in the Doolittle Raid, the B-25 was one of the stalwart medium bombers of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. For $425 ($475 for nonmembers), take a flight in EAA’s B-25 Berlin Express and experience the sights, sounds, and smells that a B-25 crewman might have felt in the 1940s.

In addition to our aircraft opportunities, our friends at the Yankee Air Museum will be offering rides in the B-17 Yankee Lady


Okay, nobody really wants to talk about it, but, eventually, you’ll need to make a pit stop. It’s the circle of life, or whatever. There are about 1,000 port-a-potties around the grounds, plus real bathrooms in two of the four main exhibit hangars (B and C) and the EAA Aviation Museum. Plus, you can check the map to find things like first aid, changing and charging stations for babies and batteries, ATMs, WiFi hotspots, and the lost and found.


If you’re not watching a night air show or the Twilight Flight Fest, you can head to the Theater in the Woods where we host fascinating guests each night to talk about aviation, space history, and innovation. You’ll hear from combat pilots, aircraft designers, astronauts, and more.

Movie buffs can grab a blanket or a chair and enjoy an aviation movie under the stars at our Fly-In Theater. Each movie is introduced with a short presentation featuring a pilot, historian, or filmmaker. Then, as the sun sets, you watch the night’s film, digitally projected onto an 80-foot screen with a state-of-the-art sound system.

There’s no charge to get into either venue — and even the popcorn’s free at the Fly-In Theater!


Every AirVenture is memorable, especially your first one. You can make even more memories by volunteering. Plan it in advance by checking out EAA.org/Volunteer, or just stop by the Volunteer Center across from the Fly Market once you get here.

A lot of people have made taking a photo at the iconic Brown Arch an annual tradition. The arch was the original main gate for the fly-in, which gives you an idea of how much it’s grown. If you want a lasting memory, you can buy a customized brick at the arch, which makes for an even more meaningful photo op next time.

You can also show your commitment to EAA, save a few bucks, and say goodbye to those pesky renewal notices by joining as a Lifetime member. Be sure to stop by the EAA Member Center at the Four Corners and ask about it. If you’re already a Lifetime member, stop in at the Lifetime Member Oasis just across from the Brown Arch to cool off and grab a free water or soda.

Seeing AirVenture from above is another great way to make a permanent memory — see the “Getting Off the Ground” sidebar a couple of pages ago for details.


The post-AirVenture blues are a real thing. Going back to reality after a week of full-on, deep-diving, nonstop aviation immersion is tough. Your body may be glad that it’s over, but the rest of you is going to be bummed out. Be ready for it.

There’s no cure, but you can treat the symptoms by sharing the photos you took (tag ’em #OSH23), telling your friends and family stories about your incredible week, and, of course, planning for next year.

We’ll see you out there on the grounds, kid. Good luck, stay hydrated, and — this is the easy part — have fun!



As the Pilot Your Own Adventure contest winner, I experienced my first AirVenture last year. While my experience was unique, I walked away with valuable knowledge for first-timers.

  1. Be prepared to walk. Even if you get the opportunity to view Oshkosh from the air, it is still hard to comprehend just how large AirVenture is. A first-timer friend of mine walked 60 miles last year.

    Bottom line: Bring comfortable shoes. And, if you’re camping, bring a bike to get around the campground.

  2. See a smile, give a smile. Oshkosh volunteers are one of a kind. They truly are spending weeks on the property for the joy of helping others. Say hello and ask them where they are from or what’s their story. Trust me, they have stories! There’s a reason they come back year after year, even decades, to volunteer.

    Bottom line: AirVenture wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the thousands of volunteers.

  3. Food Two words: Cheese curds. Two more words: Spotted Cow (that’s a beer — Ed.). Just two things that you must enjoy while at Oshkosh. Don’t be afraid to pack your own food. Shoot for a big meal once a day. The Chapters Pavilion offers all-you-can-eat pancakes (and other delicious breakfast food) for only $8 — and we know EAA pancakes are the best! Root beer floats also make a great pick-me-up. Some of my local favorites include Pete’s Garage, Acee Deucee, and Ardy and Ed’s.

    Bottom line: Bring a refillable bottle for the numerous spots to get water. Stay hydrated!

  4. Social media Get social! Create, tag, follow, and repost all things about AirVenture. It was something special to be able to meet people that I follow on social media from around the world in person during my time at Oshkosh. I joined a Facebook group specifically for 2022. With more than 30,000 members, I felt instantly connected as I posted questions or pictures. This is also where the famous Oshkosh stowaway cat gained popularity!

    Bottom line: You’ll never know what that post or follow will lead to during your time at AirVenture.

  5. Breathe it in. Don’t forget to take a moment for yourself. As the C-5 Galaxy arrived last year, I witnessed a personal moment of a loadmaster. She climbed up above the cockpit, opened the top hatch, and took a picture. Then she took a few moments visibly breathing in what she was witnessing — the immense amount of airplanes and people that make Oshkosh so special. You’ll never do it all. Learn to accept it and save something for next year. Trust me, you’ll be back!

    Bottom line: Experiencing AirVenture is life-changing.
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