How can you make Oshkosh more fun and flying into OSH safer at the same time? Read on!
This year, in planning to fly into Oshkosh I found what I thought would be a safer way to fly in instead of using the required Fisk arrival routes. Last spring (March 2010 timeframe) I found the Cessnas 2 Oshkosh (C2O) website and signed up after reviewing their info. C2O organizes the Cessna mass arrival and is sponsored by Cessna Pilots Association. It is a formation flight arrival which was limited to 75 aircraft for 2010. To participate, each pilot is required to attend a 1 day formation flying clinic, and to attend the pre-flight briefing just prior to the formation flight departure to Oshkosh. C2O had several formation flight clinics this year around the country, which were free except for the cost to get there and stay overnight if necessary. The departure airport for the formation flight to Oshkosh is Dodge County airport about 40 miles south of Oshkosh.
Due to the flooding and wet camp grounds, we were not able to land the planes at Oshkosh this year. We were scheduled to fly in on Saturday, 7/24, so instead of landing we did a formation fly-over with 25 planes participating, and then returned to Dodge Co. In all there were 58 planes that arrived at Dodge Co. for the mass arrival. We had three Cardinal RG join the mass arrival, and we were all grouped together in one flight element for the formation fly-over. (And, thanks to Jim Perkins and Andy Pawlish in N7568V, I now have two gorgeous pictures of my plane in flight.)
After flying the formation flight, I've decided it's the only way I will fly into Oshkosh in the future. (I did fly into Oshkosh the following Saturday, 7/31, via the Fisk arrival. Something I'm not excited about doing again; too many unknowns and aircraft all at once.) The C2O mass arrival is coordinated with the EAA, and is approved via a letter of agreement with the FAA. For the mass arrival the Oshkosh airport is closed to all other traffic, so that eliminates the biggest safety concerns I have for flying in, so many other airplanes and not knowing what they may do. Because all the pilots in the mass arrival have been trained and attended the flight briefing, there's little question what the other planes may do, where they are, or where they may turn. For the formation flight, all the planes are matched up in flight elements of 3 planes of similar performance, and the planes in each element are flown at safe 4 wing-spans distance. The gap between elements is 1/2 mile, with wider gaps in between some to compensate for higher performance aircraft elements flown at higher speeds.
At the end of the formation fly-over on 7/24, the landing back at Dodge Co. was something to behold; 25 planes all landing on the same 5,000' runway in rapid sequence. (The planes are landed one at a time; the 3-plane elements go into trail formation about 4 miles from the airport.) There were usually four planes on the runway taxiing on the "cold" (up-wind) side to the end while the fifth was landing. All 25 planes were landed within about 10 minutes, with only one going around. The biggest hang-up was the taxi-way backing up; becoming filled faster than the first planes could taxi back to the ramp.
I suspect some of the above descriptions sound a bit un-nerving to some; it would to me. However, the formation flight training, the pre-flight briefings, and the overall organization by the C20 folks are exemplary. Their primary focus is on safety. One of the organizers, Rodney Swanson, flies formations daily for work, and does most of the planning for the actual flights, as well as the briefings. This organization and focus on safety makes the formation flight a true joy.
Because of the wet grounds at Oshkosh, C2O got a U-haul and busses and we all loaded up our camping gear and moved to Oshkosh North 40 on Sunday, 7/25. Camping with this group turned out to be some of the highlights of the week. CPA provided a large tent for group functions, C2O provided a BBQ Sunday night, and Cessna, CPA, and several other sponsors came by on subsequent nights with drawings for some great prizes. A couple nights there were movies in the tent and each morning there was a group breakfast. Looking back it is really amazing that three guys, Rodney, Craig and Gil living hundreds of miles apart, can put together and coordinate such a successful gathering, do it with such a focus on safety, and deal with all the last minute complications; such as the flooded grounds at Sloshkosh this year.
On Saturday 7/31, Rodney told me that he has gotten approval from the FAA for an unlimited number of Cessna's to join in the C2O Mass Arrival for 2011. I'd sure like to see a whole bunch of those being Cardinals. I'm sure planning on being one of them.
Here's the link to the C2O website for anyone interested: www.cessnas2oshkosh.com