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‘An absolute joy’

To mark the fiftieth consecutive EAA fly-in event in Oshkosh in 2019, the iconic Arch was brown on one side, but was repainted its original blue on the side facing the runway—just as it appeared in 1970. Photo by Kollin Stagnito.

We can probably all agree that a solid week of aviation geekery, with airplanes, tents, food, exhibits, and raw horsepower spread over 1,500 acres, is best experienced in person. Experimental Aircraft Association volunteers and staff who have been hard at work for months putting a dismal, AirVenture-less 2020 in the rear view are happy that vaccines have made mass gatherings practical again.

“It is an absolute joy to be getting ready for AirVenture again,” said Dick Knapinski, the longtime EAA communications director. “It was so weird last year in late July looking out on the grounds and seeing nothing. It was just so odd.”

Knapinski, in a recent video chat with AOPA Live®, made it clear that he looks forward to greeting reporters face-to-face, and masks on those faces will be optional—particularly for those among the growing group of the fully vaccinated.

Knapinski said planning for the 2021 event accounted for a wide range of possible realities, from a “completely normal” edition of the world’s largest airshow to one with strict health guidelines and procedures in place. The plan taking its final shape is a mix of these. Adjustments for 2021 include streamlined admission procedures, and an AirVenture first: EAA members can purchase tickets online in advance, and get their wristband mailed to them on July 6. Airbus sponsored this “Express Arrival” program, while Boeing sponsored free admission for everyone age 18 and under, every day of the show that begins July 26 and runs through August 1.

Knapinski said the express arrival procedures will also be available to campers, beginning four days ahead of the show’s opening day.

“Early admission sales have shown very, very strong … you can tell people are eager to come to Oshkosh,” Knapinski said. “That’s very heartening to see.”

Pilots who plan to request the services of the world’s busiest air traffic control tower during EAA AirVenture should carefully study the notam (as always), which includes new procedures designed to better manage the traffic flow. Knapinski said new transition areas have been established west of the airfield that will allow controllers to pace arrivals “so it doesn’t become the Oklahoma land rush all at once.”

EAA will host a webinar June 23 covering significant changes to the notams issued in past years, and sharing tips for reducing pilot workload.

While the military jet teams that often headline the closing weekend of AirVenture made other plans this year, there will be no shortage of military aviation. The U.S. Air Force will deploy a Boeing C–17 Globemaster III and set up a mobile field hospital, and the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command will stage a show of force on July 29, arriving with various aircraft used to transport and provide fire support for elite warfighters. “They’re going to arrive en masse,” Knapinski said.

Another of this year’s headliners will be even more visible: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. plans to dispatch Wingfoot Three to Oshkosh for the week. The newest addition to the fleet will be the first Goodyear blimp to attend the show since 2015. “It’s great to come over the Highway 44 interchange and see a blimp in the backyard,” Knapinski said. The blimp pilots will exercise their airship on many occasions, and the pilots will also participate in events on the ground.

“They’re not doing a lot of airshows this year,” Knapinski said of the Goodyear crew. “To have them at Oshkosh certainly is something that we’re looking forward to, and they’re looking forward to being back again.”

The pandemic-induced cancellation of the 2020 show took with it a planned tribute to the aviators and aircraft that won World War II, but that bit of unfinished business carried over to this year’s agenda, with a “75th (Plus One)” commemoration of the anniversary of the end of that war. Aircraft demonstrations planned on July 30 and 31 will tell the story of how the Allies won the war with a procession of radial horsepower, including aircraft that changed the course of history. Films on the topic will be screened at the Fly-In Theater throughout the week.

Despite the increasing vaccination rate, AirVenture 2021 has posed more than a few challenges beyond the typical. Knapinski said the food will be as good (if not always good for you) as ever, though lining up restaurateurs and concession vendors has been made more challenging by a national labor shortage that particularly affects the food and beverage industry.

“That’s been an interesting situation,” Knapinski said, though he confirmed that bratwurst, cheese curds, and other traditional Wisconsin favorites will be available. Visitors can avoid hunger pangs with planning. “Bring patience… see if you can pick an off-time (to eat),” the EAA spokesman advised. While organizers don’t expect any food or beverage shortages, the staffing challenges (which also affect merchandise concessions in the tents) may lead to longer wait times at peak hours.

Also factor into your planning that the 2021 edition of EAA AirVenture will feature nine airshow performances in seven days, with a bevy of familiar faces committed to return to perform once again. Some afternoon airshow programs will feature two acts at once, with aerobatic performers split into two separate boxes, “separating that crowd a little bit more. Of course, when the F–16 Viper team comes through, they use the whole box, anyway, so it won’t be a problem,” Knapinski said.

Knapinski thanked the state and local health officials who have worked closely with the event planning team for eight months to ensure that safety is not sacrificed in the name of fun.

“It really is aviation’s family reunion in a lot of ways, and we’re looking forward to getting the family back together again at Oshkosh,” Knapinski said.

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