I’ll admit up front. The word “special” is overused. Is every Super Bowl special? What about every Jason Bourne movie, every opening at the Met or every Indy 500? Even hardcore enthusiasts of those events would admit that some are way more special than others, and that sometimes there’s a real stinker, one that’s downright pedestrian by any standard. Yawn and move on.
So what about AirVenture? This annual weeklong celebration of all things aviation, and then some, from foot-launched ultralights to massive military transports—is every year a special year, or are there some forgettable editions, too?
You’re probably guessing already that this year’s show comes down in the special category, and you’re right, but for reasons that are both personal and fleeting.
This was my 25th Oshkosh (the last many have been branded as AirVenture, a name I’ve come to like), and while there has been one major downer of a show—several years back now when EAA was figuring out its future direction (it seems to have gotten that part right)—every year the show is a special one. There are good reasons for that, ones that are directly related to the thousands of hours EAA staff puts in getting great airplanes and great acts to show up at Wittman Field.
This year the star of the show was without doubt the Martin Mars water bomber, which filled up the sky several days during the show, showing what the pinnacle of a certain kind of aircraft development looks like. In this case, it was awe-inspiring. Literally. Mouths were agape as the giant bomber passed by, dumping its 7,200-gallon load of Lake Winnebago water on the runway—yes, it’s true that a lot of fish had to be picked up; they gave their finny lives for our entertainment. Sad, but I’m hoping they were ultimately tasty.
Every year is different, and that’s part of the big message. If you missed the Mars, it’s likely that you really missed it, like, for good. The chances of it coming back are pretty slim. It’s enormously expensive to fly and maintain, and it’s for sale, as well, with an asking price of $3 million.
In other years we’ve seen similar one-of-kind appearances. Even the two- or three- or four-of-a-kind showings can be special—we’ll never witness Concorde, its long nose adroop, touching down, tires smoking on contact, as it settles down on the East/West runway at KOSH.
It’s the way it is at OSH. Planes, pilots, achievements and history move at a meandering, weeklong pace through the grounds at Wittman Field, a summer wind composed of time, meaning and memory that has never been like this before and will never be the same again.
We say hello each year to old friends and goodbye to those who will never return again. That greatest generation of men and women who fought the air war in distant skies are gray by now, those of them who remain, but the planes they flew, today painstakingly restored and maintained, motor through free skies here. They are a ghostly testament to a time that still seems like yesterday to so many here each summer. Oshkosh is all about remembering and honoring.
So, is every AirVenture special? You bet. And maybe that’s because every year the giant show comes to life anew, as though fully composed, a million moving elements, many of them airborne, woven together like a living tapestry of where we’ve been with life in the air, where we are now and where we’re going.
It can’t help but be special. And we can’t help but look on in awe.