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Don't Miss the Fun Fly Zone at AirVenture
By Chris Moran, EAA 726984
September 2020 – Hello, I am one of two new members of the Canadian Council and 1967 is my earliest memory of aviation. I can still remember sights from that air show in Abbotsford, British Columbia. I was able to get there again in 1969. After that we moved back to Ontario. I have gone to every air show I could get myself to ever since and taken hundreds, no, thousands of pictures of aircraft.
Over the years I heard stories of this mystical place where there were thousands of airplanes, air shows every day, where thousands of people camped and the town was booked up many years in advance. I always thought it would be cool if I could get to this mystical aviation place called Oshkosh someday. I never took the time to look and see where Oshkosh was, I always just assumed it was so far away I would never get there, and even if I could, where the heck would I stay? I could not plan years in advance to find lodgings.
Fast forward to 2001 and a fellow I worked with, Rob McInnis, got to talking about going to Oshkosh. One thing led to another and there I was camped in Oshkosh. Turns out that Rob is a helicopter pilot and volunteered "down on the farm" as it was called back then working on the flightline with homebuilt helicopters and gyros.
I met a small, tight-knit group of volunteers who worked there every day from 11:30 to 2:30. I was hooked by the mysterious aviation city that pops up like Brigadoon every year for a week and then disappears again, as if it was never there. I have been back every year since to work with a wonderful group of people I think of as my Oshkosh family.
Activities on the Fun Fly Zone flightline.
So let me tell you a little bit of our helicopter operations in what is now called the Fun Fly Zone. For those who aren't familiar with the FFZ, take a tram and head south. You will see the Ultralight vendor area on the west side of the tram route just as you pass the jaw-dropping airplanes in the Vintage area. A prominent feature is the large Red Barn that has been the HQ of the rotorcraft and Ultralight volunteer groups for many years. That is where the reference to being "down on the farm" came from. Just west of the vendor area is the grass runway where all the flying action takes place. Further south of the Ultralight runway there is just row after row of parked airplanes. That is how you will know you stayed on the tram too long and missed us.
A host of powered parachutes.
All the aircraft that fly in the FFZ use a pattern altitude of 300 feet AGL so you can get a really good look at aircraft in action. Ultralights and powered parachutes usually do a takeoff and landing on every circuit around the pattern so there is always a lot of activity on the field. Our helicopters and gyros do fly-bys mostly, however there is room for hovering and it is up to the pilot to decide if they are going to spend time hovering or doing fly-bys.
First and foremost, this is the only place where you can go and see powered parachutes, ultralights, light-sport aircraft, helicopters, and gyros flying at the show. Other than during the air show itself there is usually always something flying. The early morning calm starts with powered parachutes, then the ultralights and LSA take over and fly until 11:30. Helicopters and gyros take over and we fly during the hottest part of the day when the heat coming of the ground would make flying an ultralight or LSA that close to the ground very rough.
Our helicopters for the most part are homebuilt ships and include many Safaris (they look like a miniature Bell 47, the MASH helicopter in case you are not familiar with the Bell 47), Rotorway helicopters, and Mosquito helicopters (original design by Canadian John Uptigrove from Alberta). Over the years we have seen some unique helicopters including a tip jet helicopter, a jump gyro that could launch itself hundreds of feet up before going forward. We staged the Carter Copter there one night before it went to its main display area. We have seen Helicycles, a Scorpion, (an early design from B.J. Schramm who started the Rotorway Helicopter company), even the odd Brantley, Mini 500, Hummingbird, and more.
These helicopters and gyros are powered by every kind of engine from Rotorway designs, Lycoming, Rotax, and Subaru conversions to small turbines and small two cylinder two-stroke engines, among others.
Restored Bell 47 owned by Mike Masar.
In addition to homebuilt helicopters we have had a number of certified ships over the years including a beautifully restored Bell 47, Enstrom, Robinson R44, R22, Hughes 500D and E models, and Switzer 300 helicopters.
Safari 400 owned by Jim Benson.
There are a large number of different gyro planes on the market today, including factory built and kit form, and we see a goodly number of them at our little patch of aviation heaven every year including Magni gyro, American Ranger, Honeybee, and homebuilt Benson gyros, Dominator, RAF gyro, Air Command, and the American Golden Butterfly designed by the late Larry Neal along with his roadable gyro that had a custom designed folding rotor system.
Golden butterfly designed and flown by the late Larry Neal.
We've also seen a record-setting Little Wing gyro (currently in the EAA Aviation Museum) designed by Ron Herron, reminiscent of the early days of gyro flying.
The only time the runway is quiet is during the actual air show. As soon as that is finished the Ultralights and LSA take to the skies again, followed by the powered parachutes who start and end the day in the calmest air. The last few years there has been a Twilight Flight Fest featuring STOL aircraft demonstrations, skydivers, and RC demos.
It is a great place to watch arrivals on Runway 36, and it is not far to catch the bus to the Seaplane Base in case you want to get away from the hustle of the main grounds and spend a tranquil hour by the lake.
If you haven't been down on the farm in the Fun Fly Zone, I urge y'all to come on down, there is always something going on for you to see.
… and as the day comes to an end.