Steen Skybolt biplane owner and airline captain Mike Roach of Atlanta was on his back cleaning the belly of the purple-and-yellow showstopper near the main arch as airshow attendees quizzed him about the homebuilt completed by two California builders in 2001 but never officially displayed. After purchasing the “work of art” at an estate sale, Roach flew the small airplane from Georgia to Wisconsin.
“Oh, my God, I’ve wanted to come here since I was 22,” added his wife, Shawn McDaniel. “When Mike said, ‘Do you want to come to Oshkosh?’ I said ‘Yeah! And you’re taking me.’”
Roach considered it his obligation to display the aircraft for builders Bill Hill and John Watt. “Here I am on my first trip to Oshkosh with this amazing airplane. I don’t believe I’m actually here yet. It’s like a dream,” Roach added. “For me, my head is still up in the air somewhere between Atlanta and here.” He explained that the airplane “has been hiding in a hangar in California for almost 20 years and only a handful of people have ever seen it. The world needs to see this airplane. That’s why I’m here.”
Across the airfield, groups of pilots flying Beechcraft, Cessna, Cirrus, Ercoupe, Mooney, Piper, and other aircraft touched down in coordinated mass arrival elements of twos and threes under a sunny sky with a westerly breeze, a few days after smoky haze from Canadian wildfires threatened to challenge the visual arrival process that follows lakes, train tracks, and Midwest grain silos.
Pilots itching to renew old acquaintances and make new friends backed up the conga line arrival process more than 43 miles west of Wittman Reginal Airport to well before the first Fisk arrival visual waypoint at the Endeavor Bridge. “No cheating. I need you at 1,800 feet and 90 knots,” an air traffic controller barked on the radio. “You know the drill. Nose to tail a half mile from each other. Pick an airplane and follow it in. Give me a wing waggle, white Cessna with the landing light in your left wing. Good waggle, and welcome to the show! You, in the red Cherokee, go back to the end of the line six miles south of Endeavor, and start all over again.”
An unsettled morning of thunderstorms July 24 briefly produced instrument conditions but soon cleared through the rest of the weekend. A group of 50 or so Mooney pilots had already decided to overnight another evening in nearby Madison to maintain safety during their formation arrival. “It’s not worth it to jeopardize the group,” explained Mooney Caravan President Chuck “Cowboy” Crinnian of Phoenix, who presented a safety matrix of wind, visibility, and ceilings that contained more red and yellow than it did green. The Mooney formation arrival began in 1998 and has evolved into a sophisticated process with mandatory regional formation clinics and other safety measures.
Mooney M20K pilot Chris “Toro” Shopperly of Canada figured the delay allowed his family more time to visit with friends after a year away from them. “It was a big hole last year” after EAA AirVenture was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, he recalled. Although Shopperly and his family were not allowed to fly their own aircraft to the United States from Calgary because of travel restrictions, they joined long-term friends in the seats of other Mooney Caravan regulars and participated in safety briefings, formation practices, and other activities.
He traveled to EAA AirVenture to camp out for a week with daughter Halle, 23, and son, Mason, 20, a routine they’ve practiced 15 times previously. Shopperly said he was “incredibly lucky to have my family as passionate about aviation as I am. It’s a major part of my life. We’ve done more holidaying with our airplane than without it.” The camaraderie, the concepts of mutual support, and the notion of “giving you something to be passionate about is extraordinarily useful and lovely in life,” he added. “I’m so pleased my family is as engaged as I am.”
Shopperly said his family was “thrilled” to participate in what many call the World’s Greatest Airshow. “It’s like the old saying goes, ‘We come for the airplanes, but we stay for the people.’ Meeting the folks and the community and getting together—that’s what really brings us back year after year. We’re happy as heck to be here.”