Thursday, July 31, 2008

Final pictures from Oshkosh

I never went to the Beach Boys concerts at Oshkosh and I couldn't possibly care any less about Foreigner this year. But my youngest son, Patrick, instructed me that I simply must go see Jeff Dunham, who performed Wednesday night.

I'd never seen so many people! The act was very good (I'll stop short of "great" because it did have a slight Southern Republicanish feel to it and I hate politics). I arrived a couple of hours early and got a seat in the "shed" (as we used to say at Tanglewood) and it wasn't until I was trying to get out of there after talking to my wife about Pat's run-in with a gunman that I realized how many people were out on the lawn.

There was no safe exit from the Theatre of the Woods. There were no aisles. It was like the Coconut Grove.

Anyway, I enjoyed the opening act more than Dunham. It featured "guitar guy"

And, yeah, that's a picture of a picture because I happened to be sitting right behind the cameraperson for the TV feed.

And here's a lousy shot of Dunham doing his thing with his character, Walter.

Guitar Guy's act, by the way, is almost word for word what is on YouTube.

More impressive to me -- and I think more in the old spirit of Oshkosh -- was the community band that played prior to the show. It was made up of just plain folks attending AirVenture who happen to play a music instrument. Here's their performance from a year ago. They sure deserve a lot of credit.

In defense of Dynon

I got a nice note from Ian Jordan, who is at Oshkosh with the Dynon folks, today, reacting to the piece I wrote about my experience shopping for an EFIS the other day. Let me reiterate that I've heard nothing over the years that should dissuade you from buying a Dynon product; quite the opposite, actually. One of the unanswered questions -- because I didn't ask it but intended to -- I had as I shopped was, "how is it Dynon is so consistently able to deliver such a great product at such a comparatively low price.

My experience at Oshkosh is just that -- my experience, which I chalk up to the difficulties of running a booth at a place where 800,000 people are going to walk by in a given week.

But, as I said, I'm absolutely fanatical about customer service and even more so about basic manners. When the kid at McDonald's says "yep," when I say thank you after giving him my money, I'm that guy, the guy who corrects the kid. When I called to cancel my Home Depot credit card because their "no interest on purchases over $200" promotion turned out to mean "one purchase=one item" (We bought an $1,100 washer and a $150 pedestal and they considered that two purchases and charged finance charges on the $199), I'm the guy who responded to the customer service lady's offer to erase the charges with, "the time to treat me like a respected customer was when I was dropping $1,250 in your store and that's money that's going to Lowe's next time."

That's just me. That doesn't mean I'm saying it has to be -- or should be -- you. I don't know how Dynon -- or any other exhibitor -- does it. For all I know, the guy the sales rep went to while blowing me off could've been fuming that he wasn't getting the service he demanded (although I doubt it since he was actually standing well into the aisle and hadn't actually come into the Dynon booth area). The only thing I can say about that is: I don't care about the other customer and I sympathize with the exhibitors but that's the way it is.

That said, here's Ian's very much appreciated note:


I work for Dynon Avionics, and I am one of the employees here at Oshkosh.

I was sorry to read about your experience with us in the booth today.
It's a chaotic place, with literally thousands of customers and prospective customers a day. As you probably saw, the booth is always packed, and this means that while we wish we could give each customer an hour of our undivided time, many times we are dealing with questions from many customers all at the same time. We always try to treat every person that walks into the booth as if they were the next LSA manufacturer that will buy 1,000 units from us, but inevitably, in a situation like the OSH booth, humans sometimes fail. It never has anything to do with us making a judgment about if you are really going to be a customer. Every single person that has taken the time to go to OSH is one of our customers. We're all passionate about aviation here. I personally spent 15 minutes talking to a customer today who flew a certified aircraft (clearly not a direct customer) while someone I know well but haven't seen for over a year waited and eventually left since it was clear we were so busy.

There's no excuse if someone really did leave you in the middle of a conversation. We all actively try and communicate with the customer we are with until they are done and then move on to the next one. It sounds like we didn't do that today, and I understand how that could leave you with a very bad taste. All of us at Dynon apologize for your experience. We hope that someday you will swing by again and give us the chance to show you that your experience was very atypical.

Have a great time at the rest of OSH '08.

--Ian Jordan

Well, first of all, yes, someone really did leave me in the middle of a conversation and when that conversation started, there wasn't anyone else vying for his attention. Had their been, I'd have been more understanding.

Of course, I wasn't asking for an hour of time; I'd taken up no more than 5 minutes, the length of time it took to ask "tell me about your product" and a couple of follow-up questions about price and the amount of real estate it takes up in an RV. And I'll say it again: After that 5 minutes, I was within about 8 seconds of writing a check and I'm willing to bet that the guy I got blown off for, didn't buy.

Bob Hoover has a wise piece of advice that would serve American business well, "fly the plane as far into the crash as possible." It improves your odds of surviving. The same is true in today's economy: work with the potential customer all the way to the point where you're sure he's not buying.

But more than that, here are the words that can protect a business from the problem of losing customers in the way Dynon lost me and ameliorate the challenges of doing business at Oshkosh: "Excuse me for just one second."

Second, I believe my experience really is atypical of Dynon. As I said, I've never heard or seen any reason not to plunk down my hard-earned cash with the company.

My decision not to purchase the Dynon unit isn't soley made up by this atypical failure however. Grand Rapids Technologies is the beneficiary of that decision for the same reason I tipped Ed & Ardy's $2 on a $2.60 root beer float. They earned it.

Most assuredly, your mileage may vary and I presume it will.

Again, please understand there's nothing personal involved here. It's just business.

The end

I had to leave Oshkosh very early this morning because of a family emergency. Apparently, my youngest son was held up and robbed at gunpoint at his apartment.

If I've made one mistake -- and for the record, there are days it seems like I've made nothing but mistakes -- it's that I never quite taught my trusting, loving children to be absolutely paranoid about the jerks that are out there. My son found a game console on Craig's List and made arrangements to buy it, but he got a guy with a gun instead.

So parents, teach your kids about Craig's List. I know a lot of people swear by it, but do what you can to simply put it out of business. One guy shouldn't be making a good living by providing the vehicle for crime.

As they say, more as it happens.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oshkosh Diary - Day 5

This was "me" day today at Oshkosh. I've got a few things to do and I didn't have any appointments or "deadline" stories to write, so I did whatever I felt like doing. I was going to go to some of the RV-based forums; I blew them all off.

I did put together a little slideshow of RV "art" -- both nose and tail. You can find it here. If you're at the show and you shot a picture of some nose or tail art, I'd like to add it to the slideshow. Please send me a copy.

Many of the things I've been working on, by the way, will be in this week's RV Builder's Hotline, which will probably come out Sunday. I haven't been able to keep up with the various threads online, however. So if you'd like to be 'editor for a week' on the Hotline, all you have to do is send me your five favorite threads of the last two weeks. The Hotline emphasis is on building, so if they could stick to practical building/flying information, that'd be great. It would be a big help to me.

Reality check

You can probably tell by the piece I did on aircraft judging that I've been pretty well wow'd by some of the workmanship of RV airplanes here, almost to the point where it feels like I should go home, and leave the airplane building to the people with talent. It's that good. I knew I needed a lift and so I stopped by the Van's tent to look at their demonstrator models, knowing I'd feel better. This -- my airplane -- is, afterall, a "working man's RV."

Sure enough, the empennage fiberglass tips that the instructions tell you to fill are not filled. That's really all I needed to see, just a confirmation that these planes can fly without a complete investment of my waning years and children's inheritance.

How to survive in a bad economy

Customer service! What part of that don't you get, American businesses. I hold a grudge -- a long grudge -- against companies that provide poor basic service. My wife and I walked into a Norwest Bank (now Wells Fargo) when we moved here. We signed our name on the sign-up sheet, sat down and waited for someone to help us open checking and savings accounts. The reps ate their lunch and ignored us and we left, vowing never to do business with Norwest again. And we never have. And we never will.

You learn a lot about a company by the way they treat you before you've purchased anything. Now, don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying the company I'm about to mention is a bad company; they're not. I'm not saying their product is a bad product; it's decidedly not. In fact, it may be the best value on the market.

But here's why I'm now going to spend my money on the Grand Rapids Sport EFIS package instead of the Dynon. I was the booth today trying to get the lowdown on Dynon's product. I'm pretty near ready to commit to either it or Grand Rapids (Ideally, I'd probably go with Advanced Flight Systems, but it's pretty far out of my financial league): I was 10 seconds away -- 10 seconds away! -- from saying "I'll take it," when the Dynon rep saw somebody he knew and struck up a conversation with him, leaving me to twiddle my thumbs.

Guy, did you come here to sell your product or chew the fat?

A few minutes earlier, I was in the engine monitor-shopping business and had stopped by Grand Rapids' booth. The gentleman who helped me understand their system (and, yes, I know there are more whizbangy systems out there, but this is a really good one) spent about 10 minutes answering my question. If he talked to someone else, it's only because that other person was watching the demonstration and had questions that were valuable to me, too.

He got about $1,400 of my money today. I already knew Grand Rapids' reputation for customer service; this guy reinforced it and he not only got a customer today, he'll have one when I buy the EFIS.

As I said, nothing against Dynon, and I know at airshows there's a lot of folks kicking the tires. But I work hard for my money and I demand the attention of salespeople when they want some of it. Perhaps I looked like a tire-kicker and the guy decided his friend was a better customer. If so, he was wrong.

Composite 101

Among the more valuable things at AirVenture are the short workshops intended to get you used to a building material, whether it's sheet metal, fabric, or fiberglass. One of my goals this year was to go to the composite workshop. Mission accomplished. We made a little laminated sheet that's along the lines of something we'd have brought home from school as kids. But you know, I think 90% of building an airplane is the confidence to do so and I feel a little better about fiberglass now.

On the flight line

I haven't sat down by the side of the flight line along to watch planes go by for years. So I did that today. From my seat I got to see the RV formation flight. It looked pretty bumpy up there and as I've said before I'm not really in to formations, but this was really impressive stuff. Most impressive to me was the overhead break to landing and the sight of four RVs in single file, handling a hellacious cross wind as if it were nothing. And, I'd guess, for these guys, it was nothing. Some of the best pilots in the world are here, and these are a few dozen of them.

I'm sure the RV groups will be littered with pictures of it, but they do it no justice. Only the naked eye and an appreciation for precision as maneuvers change can provide that.

Ardy & Ed's Drive in

Ardy & Ed's drive-in has been ranked as one of America's best. It's not just a throwback to an earlier time -- it has waitresses on roller skates and you can eat in the car if you wish -- it's got great food and it's situation not far from the runway at Oshkosh, you get a steady diet of airplanes while you ruin your diet.

I'd intended to head there this week to hoist a root beer float in honor of the friends who couldn't make it to Oshkosh this year. And so this afternoon, I did.

I elected to have mine inside, at the soda fountain...

The place actually looks really cool at night, all lit up in neon. So, anyway, to all of you who couldn't be here this week, this float's for you.

BBQ weather

Interesting to note that had we done the BBQ this year, it would be an absolutely perfect evening to do it because, well, it's an absolutely perfect evening. The last two years we've had thunderstorms move through right at the start.

Figures, eh?

Oshkosh Day 5 -- Ask the Dumb Guy in the Campground

Chad Jensen and his gang of very smart people from all over the country (airline pilots, computer scientists, electrical engineers etc.) have arrived. Brad Oliver took this picture.

... the thread from which I stole it can be found here on Rivetbangers.

I have very little scheduled today so I'm not sure how much I'll be posting. There are three Van's-related forums. Ken Scott has "so you want to build an RV," which I'll pass on. There's a forum on building better RVs and one other one whose name I've now forgotten.

As I indicated in the judging "show," I'm not sure how many more times I'm going to patrol the RV corral. The workmanship is so good, it makes me want to start my project over again. This, for those of you who aren't building your own airplane, is the hardest part of building -- deciding when good enough is good enough. However, my plan is still in place should I ever fly it to Oshkosh; I will never park it next to another RV.

Dear Dumb Guy in the Campground

I've got quite a few messages to open today so let's see what they say. WiFi in the campground has been quite poor for the most part so these have accumulated. Apologies.

Hi Bob,
Just read your Day 4 report - aren't you glad you went? ;-) Last year was my first, and now the problem is that I know exactly what I'm missing by not being at OSH. Before last year, I always thought, "Man, it would be cool to go to Oshkosh", but now I know just how REALLY cool it is. But instead, today I got to watch #1 son at basketball camp, slapping the floor and yelling "We love defense!!" and learning the fine art of dramatizing the charge foul. That's pretty cool too. After we got home I went to the shop and confirmed the leaky rivet in my right fuel tank is indeed fixed so I put it on the wing and am ready to start the top skins. Anyway, I'm really glad you, D.R. and others are there taking pictures and reporting for those of us at home.

So, what to ask the guy in the campground...? Not really campground related, but I'm interested in the GRT EFIS systems too. I read on VAF that they have a new large screen - can you get a picture of it? The GRT Sport is probably more in my line, but it doesn't hurt to dream. I would also like to have seen some of the electric powered airplane stuff that was promised. I could see myself tooling around the local area in an electric Moni.

Seen anything of that other Bob Collins this year? Wasn't he the one that decided to buy a Ran's last year with his daughter and fly it to OSH this year?

Hope the rain holds off. Stay dry and keep those reports coming.

Best regards,
Scott Fechtig
Patuxent River, MD

Hi, Scott. The "other" Bob Collins stopped by on Sunday. He's camping a few streets over. His daughter, the aviation nut and homebuilder who will make some RVer a fine daughter-in-law someday is here too. They did fly in here this year, although they went with the kind of flying where the folks doing it lose your baggage.

I'm going to stop over at the GRT booth this morning so I'll take a picture. I'm with you, I'm more a "Sport" version. I'm "redisciplining" myself to go cheap on the panel. I stopped by Dynon yesterday but I didn't get anyone to talk to me in the short time I had.

update: Here's some shots I took today:

(The second one I think you can click on and get a bigger picture)

Sorry you can't be here, but I can tell you that as good as Oshkosh is, there's nothing better than spending time with your son, even if you're just watching. Oshkosh will always be here. Your son will get big... Trust me on this.

Just wanted to let you know your posts ARE being read and very much appreciated. You had me in stitches with your Port-A-Potty prayer. Too funny! Thanks again for what you are doing. I'm reading 4 different daily blogs from there and yours is the best. I didn't realize how much I was going to miss it... I will be there next year.

Thanks again.
Bill Settle
Winston-Salem, NC.

I'm sure I already wrote this somewhere, Bill, but a week or so ago somebody looked at my RV-7A project and said, "man, you have a long way to go." It was a deflating, demotivating, and depressing comment to hear, which made the decision to go to Oshkosh easier. Though I didn't have that much enthusiasm this year for Oshkosh, my original plan was to spend the week working on the 7A. But after his comment, I thought "why freakin' bother?" I'll have to deal with that when I get home.

But a word to you folks flying your RVs: Don't be a schmuck when you look at someone's project. Provide some technical advice, lie about how far along it is if you have to, but remember your roots and the challenges of building. It doesn't take much to lay down a verbal blockade and don't we have enough challenges to overcome in building an RV?

Hi Bob,

Have you been to Lasure's for Breakfast yet? Oh, I's closer to the North 40 campground so it would be quite a distance for you...but you do have a car. Here's the link to a map

As you can see it's just north of the approach end of runway 9. Across the street from Friar Tuck's, I believe. You have to get there early, like 6:30 because there'll be a line onto the sidewalk outside, and it's a small place; but they do a good job of getting the folks fed and out the door. Omelettes, pancakes, bacon and eggs, biscuits...yum, yum.

In 2006, I was the third of three tents in our North 40 camp. I brought along a small (very small) camp stove to heat water for instant coffee and instant oatmeal. I let my peers pressure me every morning into walking about 30 minutes to Lasure's. Just one morning I wish I had stood up to them, stayed at camp and fixed my own little instant breakfast. (That's the same reason [excuse?] that I didn't get to tag up with you way back in 2004 or was it 2002. They wanted me to tag along with them and I didn't get back to camp in time to meet you.) I still regret that. I feel a kindred spirit with you. My RV-7 has been on hold since 2004, but it will SOON, very SOON, get back to high priority status.

Gotta go...keep the reports from Flyover Country coming! I like the way you write!

Best wishes,


Thanks for writing, Don. I'm actually trying to do Oshkosh on the cheap this year. I've bought one round of food over at WalMart and I'm trying to make it last (bacon that turns green is still OK, right?). For those of you who have never camped here, you need good math skills to do this. You have to balance the cost of the daily 20 pound bag of ice for the cooler, vs. the cost of just buying your food already prepared.

Peanut butter and jelly, cereal, hot dogs, eggs, and a gallon of milk are charged with getting me through. Oh, and lots of bottled water. If I play "happy hour" right, I won't need to buy any more beer. (g)

Regarding your project, I hope you get back to it soon. You don't have far to go on it, you know.

We've never met but I'm a daily lurker and sometime poster on VAF. I'm enjoying your Osh blog, next best thing to being there. I was wondering if you've asked any of the homebuilders there about their opinions on the new 51% rule "clarification" the FAA has recently published? I'd be interested to here the perspective of those at the show.


John Russo

As I indicated in an e-mail, there are a couple of forums here on the 51% rule that I'll try to get to. Opinions? RVers? Yeah, everyone has one but there's a ton of hypocrisy on this issue, as you're probably aware. Everyone talks about not killing the golden goose, but few companies can prevent themselves from selling kits to folks that they know are heading toward a builder's assistance center. Now, yes, I know there are some builders assistance centers that are hard-working and legit. But let's face it, some of us are building RVs for a combination of reasons -- the experience and journey being one. Some are having theirs built because they don't want to pay money for a certificated airplane. It doesn't take a genius to determine who the real homebuilders are, so why allow the others to 'sneak' in under the entire concept of "homebuilding" and experimental. There's nothing experimental going on at a builder's assistance place, especially those ridiculous two-weeks-to-taxi things.

Not a question, just wanted to say "Thank You" for the reports! By the way, I have said your prayer a few times myself. Charlie Moseley N174CM

Amen, Charlie.

Drop me a note when you have time, folks.

Judging an RV

Homebuilt judges are busy people at Oshkosh. They'll judge an estimated 800 planes in a week, starting at 8 in the morning going until around 3 in the afternoon. They judge in groups of 3, rotating the individuals so a judge isn't with the same 3 each day. They input the data on a PDA and then download it to a computer which does its thing and spits out the results.

The judges use a point system, awarding a 1-10 score on individual areas such as appearance, fuselage, instrumentation, paint, and power plant and then award an overall score to the airplane.

Armed with this judging standard, I tried my hand at it, selecting the first RV I could find -- there are 400 of them at Oshkosh -- and giving it a good going over. The result? It's better than what I'm building. Join me for the judging.

If you can't see this on your browser, go here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oshkosh - Day 4: I've been thrown out of worse pan-selling shows than this

The oddest moment of Oshkosh this year has nothing to do with aviation at all. A lot of AirVenture actually has nothing to do with AirVenture at all, in fact. AeroShell Square, which is show center, surely is about to renamed Ford Square at the rate that company is taking over things here.

But I was putting together a short multimedia piece, perhaps for my day job, on the sights and sounds of AirVenture, with a perspective on the non-aviation aspects of it. There's people selling ladders, there's Jerry's one-man band, there's the guy with the Flintstone-looking plane that putt-putts around the grounds (the woman who dressed up as a Norse-like cavewoman who would stand on the top and wave is gone, though.

And then there's the Fly Market, where all sorts of interesting characters hawk their wares. Take this guy, for example, the Healthy Gourmet. Apparently he chose that name because The Paranoid Cook was already taken. He was in the middle of his snake oil sales speech sales presentation for, I think, pots and pans when he saw me standing -- not under his tent but in the walkway between booths, taping his talking snake oil pitch sales presentation to a group of women who looked like they were about ready to buy some snake oil overpriced pots and pans to help burn dinner in.

"Hey, you can't record, this is a copyright presentation," he said. Apparently, or so I thought initially, there must be a big market in bootleg tapes of snake oil salesmen pots-and-pans salesmen, standing in front of a suckers little old ladies who actually believe the sign at the front of the room that says "As seen on TV" (but, buddy, not on the Internet!).

I'm used to people not wanting to be taped and so I responded in the way we're taught in obnoxious reporter school. "OK," I said.

So then I took out my camera and took a picture of him and that got him all flustered. He turned to his security force, pointed to me (still standing outside out on the "sidewalk" and said, "Can you....?" not finishing the sentence but I'm pretty sure it wasn't going to but I'm pretty sure it wasn't going to be "... show this dashing young man how well these pots and pans braze chicken."

His security force turned out to be, I believe, his wife, who was charming. I showed her the media credentials hanging around my neck and said "I'm a reporter and I'm credentialed by EAA to come in and tell the story of AirVenture and this is a story I'm doing about the sights and sounds of Oshkosh. "Oh, that's fine," she said. "We've had some problems in the past so...."

Some problems in the past? Hmmmm... is there a Healthy Gourmet competitor out there chasing the guy around from town to town stealing the guy's pitch? Did NBC Dateline catch the guy in some pots-and-pans-salesman sting?

The jet pack

There are lots of airplane wannabees here. Business that have come up with some design for some product that's never going to end up on the market, that has enough venture capital money, I guess, to buy nice shirts, slick marketing kits, and afford a nice booth at Oshkosh. Many of them will draw a crowd, but I'm betting they'll never end up in production.

Here's one. The jet pack. Everyone's talking about. As I understand it you fill it up with gas, strap it on, and fly to work, as long as work is less than a 20-minute jet-pack ride away.

Everyone wanted to see it perform today and -- as the story goes -- they fired it up after an extensive delay, it lifted the guy off the ground a couple of feet, and then settled back to earth.

"Thanks for coming," the guy said.

I'm thinking he and the pots-and-pans guy should meet.

Coming soon: Judging an RV

I couldn't get any of the homebuilt judges to talk to me about judging although I went and found Bob Reese, who is in charge of such things. Bob looks about 45. He's 70, he told me. He pointed out his associated who's been judging for 27 years; he looked to be about 35. He's 51. Clearly there's something of a fountain of youth in this homebuilt airplane judging business.

Bob cleared up for me once and for all, the question of whether covered rivets is a no-no for metal airplanes. It is. If you're going to build a metal airplane, like an RV, and you want to compete for a prize at Oshkosh, do not the rivets. Also, you can't win anything with a great paint scheme. "That doesn't impress us," Bob said.

And so armed with my trusty tape recorder, a camera, and the judging guidelines from Bob, I picked out an RV and went over it closely. It was a wonderful airplane, the construction is clearly better than mine can every hope to be.

I gave it a 8. It'd gotten a better score if he hadn't covered the rivets.

Look for a little multimedia slideshow on the subject soon.


This is James Clark of South Carolina, one of the really interesting people on Planet RV. I ran into him today as he was preparing for a formation flight over Oshkosh. He's a really good guy and I was pleased he remembered me. We've chatted online before and he was kind enough to come to the BBQ last year. The EAA's magazine, Sport Aviation, just did a large article on him. I'd like to think if I hang around, even for a few seconds, with brilliant people, some of it will rub off. It's obvious already this week that this is a flawed dream, but it's a dream nonetheless. Read the article, his is an amazing story.

But this picture here, well, this is what we call "the money shot" in the business. The formation group, I guess, had purchased these hats -- probably from a hat salesman who also didn't want to be recorded or photographed. James said he'd probably look pretty silly in it but I asked to take his picture at which point he gave us a sample of some South Carolina stylin'.

Though the picture is a keeper, it'll grace the top of RV Builder's Hotline this week, I can attest that not only does James' brilliance not rub off on me, neither does his style.

The story behind the story

Meet Jack Beck, his wife Marmy Clason, and Jack's sons, Peter and Johnathan. They're from Germantown, Wisconsin. I sat and chatted with them about the 9A they're building and, well, wow. What a heck of a story! It's so good of a story that I'll probably use it on MPR's News Cut, my day job. It's amazing really that behind every interesting person is an interesting story. It's what makes News Cut go. But I'll be putting the story in the RV Builder's Hotline next week. It involves a leap of faith into homebuilding. The bigger story is one fine people they are and the values that the kids have touched lives as
far away as Nepal.

Going with Trio

Who wants to buy my TruTrak wing leveler system? I bought it for something like $1,500 a few years ago. The servo is installed; everything else is still in the box. I'm going to upgrade to the new Trio product that's shipping in September. You know, it looks like a great product, I know they're great people. Why would I not want to do business with them?

Reamer tips

I stopped over to the ATS Tool booth to talk to owner, Des, about the proper technique for reaming out holes with a, get this, reamer. For the record, I want to step back a couple of years and ream the holes correctly, which is, as he pointed out, by hand, not in a slow-turning (or any other turning) drill. That is all.

Mine is smaller than yours...

I've selected those components I'm willing to pay a premium for, and I'm getting better at putting out of my head, those products that I simply do not need. I do not need to have an IFR capable airplane. I have talked to many IFR pilots here with IFR capable airplanes and the one common theme is, "I don't fly IFR enough to make the investment worth it." Bingo. Anyway, you know those stick grips with the buttons for trim (I have manual trim), autopilot, flaps, DVD, and machine guns that look like the head of one of those jumbo golf clubs? I didn't buy one of those. I bought two grips today with a simple push to talk button. I think even I can install it.

I did stop by the Dynon booth today and I was about to buy, but decided I want to hit the Grand Rapids Technology booth first. Stay tuned.

The Mustang accident

(Turn down your audio for the first 60 seconds here while the ANN boss provides the usual puffery about the news media not knowing anything about aviation. What horse crap!)

In his very fine Oshkosh daily e-mail yesterday, Bob Miller, who writes a weekly newsletter called Across the Airwaves, talked about going to the NTSB booth to leave some criticism that the NTSB focuses too much on mechanical factors, and not enough about human factors, when issuing reports on accidents.

The irony here is that the NTSB display at Oshkosh, is all about the human factors that went into one of the most spectacular accidents ever -- the crash of a couple of Mustangs a year ago.

It's a gripping display that discusses the human factors of the accident; that is, how long does it take for a human to react to events.

There's a forum on the subject the NTSB is holding, I think Thursday, on the crash. If there are comments left here that expresses a desire for me to go, I will.

The future of AirVenture

Today I stopped in to the EAA booth to hear more about the plans for the future of the AirVenture grounds. I believe an RVer -- Dave Klages -- heads this committee.

I don't envy him and here's why. Something has got to be done about the tremendous vehicle traffic on the grounds. People are walking around looking up of course and sometimes that includes the truck drivers, Gator drivers, and golf cart drivers (of which there are too many). Put bluntly, it stinks. The new plans call for a vehicle-free area (except for golf carts). That's a step in the right direction.

On the other hand, I worry about what they'll do about Camp Scholler. I think EAA is on thin ice here. Granted Porta-Johns, and taking a shower with a kitchen sink hose isn't all that great, most people will say publicly. But, you know? That's part of the Oshkosh experience and this week I've talked to lots of young adults who say they haven't been here since they were kids and they're trying to recapture that.

The words I heard too many times on the subject at the booth was this one: luxury. Luxury showers for one. Is a luxury campground far behind? At its essence, it needs to be a campground and while I get the fact that a lot of spouses don't want to come because of that and while I understand the need for more electrical hookups for those who use generators now, it really wouldn't take much to disturb the equilibrium of the Camp Scholler eco-system.

Aviation is already trying to fight the perception that it's a rich person's game. Even in the RV community, let's admit the obvious: an RV-10 driver really doesn't have that much in common with the RV-12 builder. They're beautiful airplanes that are more Cirrus than Cessna and that's great.

But if EAA is heading toward, as I think Brad Oliver or Chuck Jensen said tonight, a "NASCAR" vibe in the campground, then I think that would be the end of AirVenture as we -- the working crowd -- know it. Let's hope they'll be able to finesse these improvements while maintaining the attraction.

There's much, much, much more than airplanes here.

The following is from earlier today. Let the record show: it didn't rain.

It's a spiritual experience, some aviators say, about coming to Oshkosh. I'm not ready to quite go that far, but in recognition that, yes, AirVenture is a spiritual experience for some people, let us bow our heads in prayer.

Dear Lord:

If I ever start making the old man noises that the guy in the Port-A-Potty next to me is making, please kill me.


This being Oshkosh and all, let me take a stab at this whole "looking at the sunny side of life" thing. It was cloudy this morning, rain of some sort is due, but at least the early morning sun didn't heat up the tent to ridiculous temperatures. Yeah, great, that certainly changes the possibility of a flood-out.

Camping at Oshkosh requires -- nay, demands -- that you suffer through at least one interminable night of rain. There are two problems with this: One is the obvious one that everything you own and were too stupid to put in the car is now useless. The other is the next day people in a camper will tell you, "I didn't have a problem. I'm totally dry." I've got your positive thinking right here, Sparky.

Whether we get that sort of rain today, I don't know. It started out cloudy, the sun has come out, and my wife told me this morning that the weather radio in the Twin Cities went off three times overnight. Maybe -- maybe -- whatever's heading our way went north of us, but that would be very unOshkosh-like.

These experiences of Oshkosh have prepared me a little more since the days when Patrick and I gave up shoveling towels against the tide and headed off to the Mexican restaurant to await our rain-soaked fate.

Are you supposed to spray your tent with some sort of water preservative? Every year I tell myself that I'm going to do that -- if you're supposed to do that -- before the next Oshkosh. Most of the incoming flood comes through the zipper on the door. I'm going to duct tape that up tonight (at least the one on the wind side) and see what happens. I'll have Camp Collins looking like the runup to Hurricane Katrina in no time. And, finally, I'm going to put just about everything in the car except for one pillow and one sleeping bag. I'll let you know what happens.

The other part of the Oshkosh experience is your fellow campers. There's always one guy whose car alarm -- beep.... beep.... beep -- goes off around 5:30 in the morning when he's fishing around for something. Yesterday, I was that guy. I was only good for about 7 beeps, but I was still that guy. Geez.

I've got the crying baby next to me this year. A young couple (obviously) with full camping gear and a crying kid. They've obviously done this before; it's not like most "crying baby families" where it looks like the couple thought it would be a nice get away so they stopped to pick up the Acme model tent and by the end of the first day, the kid is crying and the parents are yelling. This one isn't so bad. The kid is crying but Mom seems to be handling things well. The most upsetting part is, perhaps, that Dad thinks keeping the kid from crying is Mom's work. I give the marriage 6 years.

The ultralights are up flying around this morning so you it's not a washout, at least not yet. One of my goals this year is to spend more time over at the ultralight area, watching powered parachutes at dawn or dusk.

Today's goal is to try to get into one of the composites (fiberglass) workshops just to mess around a little more with the stuff. When Oshkosh is over, I need to tackle the fairing at the front of the canopy. Then I'll go check out some more RVs to see how the smart people do it. My friend, Warren Starkebaum, who camped with me last year and was on the reasons last year was the perfect Oshkosh (except for the rain) was at this stage last year so he shot a bunch of pictures of canopies. You can find the slideshow here.

There's good news and bad news for the wireless system in the campground. The good news is the signal strength is terrific; it's much better than last year. The bad news is getting onto the system fails about 25% of the time, although judging from the reaction of my neighbors, it's 100% of the time this morning (I'm writing this offline). You're usually greeted with:

Sorry, but we're currently experiencing technical difficulties. The present error condition is:

Preparing to reconnect with messaging system.

For assistance, please contact:


Additional information:

AP MAC Address: 00:0e:0c:b9:xx:xx

I'll bet "unknown" is really busy this week! But despite that minor annoyance, EAA is doing a fabulous job here. As usual I hear the "it's too commercial" complaints. I say "so what?" Open a drink, pull up a chair and have a chat with someone building an experimental airplane, and say a little prayer for the folks who aren't here.

More as it happens...

Oh, Ask The Dumb Guy in the Campground has been very light the last couple of days. Are you out there, America? Let's hear from you.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I'll meet you at the spikes

From time to time there are little reminders of just how much life has changed since September 11, 2001. Don't get me wrong in what I'm about to say -- I fully place the blame for the events on 19 guys with 99 cent box-cutters.

But still, there are times when it gnaws me just how much our lives have changed because of what we did to ourselves. I hear the phrase "don't let the terrorists" win and I wonder what that means? Do they win if we live scared and make everything a bunker? Because if that's the case, it's too late, they won. From banning sunscreen at Yankee Stadium to toothpaste in carry-on, the signs are troubling.

Here's an example at Oshkosh. This is the old control tower. It's just an old square, but it's one of the signature places here. It's on a hill and it's been the place where people meet. If this place weren't called AirVenture, it'd probably be called I'll Meet You at the Base of the Control Tower.

The thing practically screams "friendly.

What does this scream to you?

This is the base of the new control tower and although you can't see it here on the other side there are tall spikes to prevent you from getting close. "I'll meet you at the spikes?" Nah, it doesn't have the same ring.

It's a pretty unimaginative structure that doesn't scream "friendly," but suggests in a whisper, "we're the government, and we're scared to death of you."

Here's two other examples of the old and new. An old plane, and the new jet (the one from Cirrus)

Ask the Dumb Guy in the Campground - Part II

Today's mailbag.

Bill Cloughley of Maryland writes:

I've been working on a RV-7 slowbuild the last 4 1/2 years. But I told myself this year, no more Oshkoshes for me until the RV is airworthy. I mean it. So I'm glad you are blogging from the aviation mecca. I don't know if you follow golf, but this year's U.S. Open had a playoff on Monday between Tiger Woods and some other guy. Of course, like most people I had to go to work and couldn't watch or listen to it, but I was able to follow it through an ESPN blogger. It was great! So I'm hoping to attend Oshkosh virtually through your blog.

I've been to Osh 5 times I think but always in the middle for 3-4 days, never before it started like you are. By the time I've gotten there in the past, it's hard to find a place to pitch a tent. I got a kick out of how you have the exact GPS coordinates for your spot. Hope you have a great time. Thanks for writing it up.

I did the same thing with Tiger. In fact, I think all of America did the same thing. But you're building an RV in 4 1/2 years. Slow down, man, you'll hurt yourself at that speed. I'm on year 8.

In the event you're having pangs for Oshkosh, well, that's certainly appropriate but let me remind you of the dark side: Rain. It's in the forecast for tomorrow. And not just little showers. We know that because the EAA AirVenture newsletter has a big raindrop under the Tuesday forecast -- not sun with a cloud and a few drops, a raindrop. That's bad. That's visit-the-Maytag-laundry-to-dry-out-your-clothes-bad.

And it's very difficult to enjoy the setting knowing that tomorrow I have a good chance of being the Good Ship Bob.

Dick Chevalier writes...

You don't know me. Caught your email on the RV list. Live in NM. , now vicariously I guess. Enjoying your pics and text. Have a nice time at the event. Go pick up a free SPOT tracker. They are giving them away you know.

One thing about not having an RV that's flying; there's little need to be tracked. I'm sure the unit is a cool thing, but the "free" part that's being marketed is misleading and that's too bad. It's "free" if you sign up for a year's service which is something like the cost of a year of TiVo. Polaroid started this stuff with cameras that were dirt cheap and they got you on the film. Gillette and Schick never lost a dime sending out millions of free razors. Ain't nothin' free. (g)

Oshkosh Diary - Day 3

The slideshow
I transferred some more wealth to the estate of Sam Walton today and bought a power cable which allows the audio cable to work out of my Marantz hard disk recorder. Bottom line? I've been able to add audio to the RV slideshow. Meet four really fabulous people. Now, you may not be able to see this especially if you use Firefox. If not, please go here. You should be able to view it there regardless of what browser you're using. I hope you enjoy it. Please note: It WILL take a long time for the audio to load. So be patient.

Last night's dinner

The WiFi in the campground crashed last night (too many people? Maybe) so I couldn't post an update.

Here's the "trio" from Trio Avionics. We had a very nice dinner down at Wendt's on Lake Winnebago.

Even if I had decided not to come over for the week, I'd have driven over for the evening to spend some time with Sid Tolchin, Chuck Busch, and Jerry Hansen. They're what makes Oshkosh Oshkosh.

Some famous aviators stopped by the table while we were there. Mark Scheuer of PS Engineering (I profiled his product years ago in the Hotline) stopped when he saw the Trio Avionics shirt that Sid was wearing.

And the people from Grove Aircraft stopped over to say "hello" to the guys. Their headquarters is next to Trio's in the San Diego metro.

Later in the evening, Paul Trotter stopped by for a visit. He and two friends drove straight through from the Westchester County area. Paul was one of the forces behind the RV BBQ and we discussed bringing it back next year.

Here's the thing: It takes up-front money and I don't have it. So if there is a sense that we should return the BBQ next year, I'll need some help on the initial round of donations.

But there's more to it than that. The BBQ started as my -- and a few other folks -- desire to be around friends who shared a passion. As it grew, it became great fun, but we also started to lose the friendship part. Without getting too specific, there were a few folks who came to the BBQ and ate the food and drank the beer and then over the winter posted on the RV Yahoogroup that I was out of line for objecting to my treatment in Kitplanes at the hands of another writer "because he had a great Web site and it would be a shame if he got mad and took it down."

I have to figure out how to tell those people to stay home. I haven't figured that out yet. Shoot, I didn't want to go off on that old wound...

Happy happy hour

I struggled about whether to come to Oshkosh this year, as you may know, and I'm glad I did. Some old acquaintances have been stopping by, and some new ones, too. Fine people, all.

Ben Beard of the great state of Wisconsin, by way of Texas, dropped over. He's a 6A builder and pilot. He gets together over in Eau Claire for pancakes with some of the Minnesota Wing of Van's Air Force. It was great to meet him and have a chat.

And old friend Bob Kelly of Indiana then stopped by so the three of us had happy hour, accompanied by the next-door camp, led by Steve R. Bob is an RV-9A builder and pilot. Last year at Oshkosh he gave me a DVD he made of building his airplane, which has served to provide occasional inspiration for my project, which -- I've joked this week -- will be on display in the vintage aircraft section here at Oshkosh some year.

And Doug Reeves of Van's Air Force stopped me as I was wandering aimlessly around the grounds. It's always good to see Doug and thank him for the good work he does. His big news? He's got termites. Always fear the call from home!

On the air
If you'd like to listen to the Oshkosh tower live, go here.

What's hot?

So what's hot at Oshkosh this year. Hard to say because the show technically doesn't open for 45 minutes. A lot of folks go streaming for the Van's tent but I generally ignore it. I've got my project. Supposedly they're going to announce the RV-12 fuselage is now available (See their Web site).

But it's amazing how many people are talking about this demonstration coming up later this week with a guy marketing a jetpack. Allegedly it uses gasoline and can last up to 20-30 minutes, plenty of time for my commute to work. We were chatting last night about how the FAA would license such a thing. Is it an ultralight? Is it a light-sport aircraft. If I take off from my backyard, would that violate Woodbury, Minnesota's ban on airports?

Forum on wiring
I attended the "aircraft wiring for smart people" forum this morning. That's the first forum I've attended this year and one more than I attended in 2007, and 2006. Greg Richter (above) of Blue Mountain Avionics was the presenter. I've written an article for RV Builder's Hotline which you can find here.


A quick trip to the SteinAir booth this morning netted a picture of a couple of smart electrical engineer types attempting to smile.

For you non-aviation Minnesota types who are following along, Jed and Stein are based in Farmington. At least one of 'em, I believe, is a former Northwest employee. Stein made his money in the radio business like everyone else and then, subsequently not needing to work for a living, decided to build instrument panels for homebuilders.

At least one of those statements is not true.
More as it happens.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oshkosh Diary - Day 2 (July 27, 2008)

Did I mention I'll be updating these daily posts as the day unfolds? I'll be updating these daily posts as the day unfolds, so check back.

Chad's Compound
One of the many traditions -- all of two years, I believe -- is Chad Jensen's "compound" just across the creek. He asked me to stake it off and today that was one of my early priorities.

You can see the ultra luxurious Casa Collins resort in the background.

The other priority today was picking up my media credentials and that has also been accomplished, as has the first run for ice. The $1.20 price for a bag at WalMart is much better than the campground store, although I notice the price tends to go up later in the week. I'm a one-cooler guy this year so I won't be spending a fortune on ice this year. Of course that also means I only am able to ice 3 or 4 beers at a time so if you're in the campground and you intend to join me for a Happy Hour, get here early.

Darwin checks in
Darwin Barrie called an hour or so ago and it was a very nice surprise to hear from him. You want a Mr. Oshkosh (to me)? That's Mr. Oshkosh. I wish he and Glenn Brasch could be here but next year should be quite special. As of 10:30 this morning, Darwin reports it's 91 in Chandler, Arizona. But, you know, it's a dry heat.

Two items from Darwin: A heat wave is apparently heading for Oshkosh. That speaks for itself.

And Darwin said he talked to Jeff Point earlier today and the reason the "North 40" is 75% full is about 25% of it is unusable. They had something like 14 inches of rain here in June and some of it is reportedly flooded. I'll have to check that out.

It appeared there were a substantial number of RV airplanes already in the homebuilt section as of 10 a.m. I'm heading down there now to see some of the RVators. I'm taking a laptop, tape recorder, camera and chair with me. It's been years since I've sat by the side of the runway and watched the Sunday arrival traffic but this is the only plan I have today.

Formation arrives

I'm not much of a formation guy. I know it takes a lot of work and a lot of practice but if you don't fly formation and have never practiced it, you have no appreciation for flying formation. To me, one formation looks like the next and I don't mean that at all as a negative. There's a really crappy photo of the RV arrival at Oshkosh, although now that I look at it in its bluriness, I'm not sure it is; but I think it is since it showed up around 1:30, the assigned time, I believe.

The other thing about pictures of formations? Since you can't shoot anything on the ground, one looks pretty much like the other.

RV Corral -- The movie

Not really, but I have been over talking to RV airplane builders and/or pilots in the homebuilt camping area this afternoon and I'll be putting together an audio slideshow this afternoon. I'm not sure I'll have it done by dinner (I'm going out to dinner with the guys from Trio Avionics), but I'll try. I'm in the press headquarters now dumping the images. I have to go to WalMart to get the right audio cable.

Fingers crossed, but I think you'll enjoy it when it's done.

I did run into Mark Chamberlain. He's arrived from Arizona, obviously, but the guy with two emergency landings under his belt (he says he's gone a year without one) is shy of cameras and microphones. Great guy.

RV safety
Rick Woodall has an interesting thread going on Van's Air Force. While most pilots are safe, you just have to wonder why the FAA doesn't just haul off and pull the certificate of some pilots.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Oshkosh Picture of the Day - Saturday 7/26

Don't get your hopes up here. I have a little dinky Nikon thing that they could just as easily give away with free subscriptions to a magazine.

This is the "north 40" at sunset. It appeared likely that it will fill up fairly early on Sunday.

Ask Mr. Oshkosh - Saturday 7/26

You know, this is a lame title. It makes me sound like I think I'm a big shot. Mr. Oshkosh. That's not the intent, just for the record. It's just the only title I could think of on short notice and Ask Mr. Dumb Ass in the Campground didn't fit the title very well.

The wiFi is holding up great in the campground. I bought a gizmo to allow me to charge the laptop on the car power supply so having showered and all, I'm sitting in the car... updating things and waiting for the laptop to hit 100%, at which time I shall retire to the tent to watch some TV shows on

I heard from Rick Woodall. He's staying at the Sleepy Hollow campground, which -- again if you're not familiar with camping at Oshkosh -- is a private campground down the road. It has lots of amenities and isn't quite as busy or noisy. I believe there's a shuttle bus there. I'll try to visit with Rick and his family for a few minutes later this week. He's building a 9A.

Daryl Tolliver is has checked in via the AMO (or ATDAITC, if you prefer) link:

Glad to see ya made it! I have only been to Osh 2 times. The most recent was 2 years ago. I flew in with a buddy in his RV6A. We camped in the homebuilt lot. We had a great spot right next to the showers. Where are you in relation to the Homebuilt camping. In that area it was mostly RV’s. I thought I was in heaven. He has since sold the plane and is building a 4. My 7A is coming along nicely but still not done for this year so maybe next I hope.

I will be checking your posts each day and let us know if your standing in the showers naked talking to someone about airplanes again. That story cracked me up last year.

The homebuilt camping is fairly far away; perhaps a mile or so. The campground, and folks who fly in here really should come over to the campground, is on the southern end of the airport. If you're familiar with the "south 40" you would head due West to the highway. The ultralights' pattern takes them pretty close to overhead.

By the way, Daryl, thanks for catching the messed up email link in the day 1 diary.

It was nice to get a note from David Lamb tonight:

I'm in Wausau, WI this evening and plan to arrive in OSH Sunday AM. The last time I wrote you a note I was flying in Sri Lanka about 2 years ago. I have been working on my RV7A for the past 5 years and have made a lot of progress over the past year. Maybe, a big maybe it will fly in 2009.

I got very frustrated not being able to fly regularly so, I broke down and I bought a 1974 C172. It is the 172 that brought us to Wausau today. 3 hours 20 mins from the home town of Tisdale, Sask. to Piney Pinecreek Border Airport, Minn. The runway runs through the 49th parallel, half in Canada half in the US. You can clear customs in both directions. Kind of neat. The customs guy couldn't have been nicer. 3 hours from Piney to Wausau at 9500 ft and 130 knots ground speed. I can't wait to do this in the RV. I expect to do a much better than 130. This is my first trip to OSH so I am like a kid waiting to get into a candy store.

I look forward to meeting you when we arrive. I have always appreciated the good work you have done

OK, let's break this down. In an hour less than it took me to drive -- faster than the speed limit, I must admit -- from Woodbury, Minnesota , which is practically on the Wisconsin border, 3/4s of the way across the great state of Wisconsin, David flew from Tisdale, Saskatchewan to Wausau, which is about 90 minutes from here by car and 50 miles as the crow -- or David -- flies.

But David was probably doing what I was doing too, calculating how long the trip would be in an RV. For me? About an hour and a half not including the time it takes to get out of your tipped over "a" model since you have to taxi on grass here. (That's a joke).

David, find me when you get here... or somewhat after you get here. I imagine you'll be reaping the benefits of the exchange rate when you're here. I won't be.

Charlie from Pochahantas, Mississippi added a comment to the Day 1 Diary post. He's made the big cut on his canopy this week. Also nice to hear from Bayne Just.

Pete Howell emails that the Oshkosh buzz isn't happening -- at least yet -- in the skies from the Hawkeye state to the Gopher state:

I agree traffic might be down. Ryan and I came in this evening from a family reunion in Iowa and let loose with a "Who's headed to Oshkosh on 122.75. Chirp, Chirp, Chirp..... Nothing. The SL-40 has
some power so that really surprised me. I might try to make it over
Monday if I can get some work stuff done tomorrow.

Nice of you all to write. It gets a little lonely out here in the field sometimes. Just me and the jackasses in their semi-trailer trucks riding their horns at 3 a.m.

A question or comment? Send it on.

Oshkosh Diary - Day 1

Son of a gun. It is like coming home.

I arrived at Oshkosh around 2 -- a 4-hour trip from St. Paul (if you're coming from the Twin Cities, be advised Highway 45 is closed). Using the trusty GPS, I found "my" spot.

I said yesterday I was getting used to packing light, in anticipation of making this trip in an RV airplane someday. I have a lot more learning to do on the subject.

In the old days, when my wife and kids came over, this is the part where I'd get all upset about something and Carolie would say, "let me take care of it," and I'd go for a walk and come back and the tent would be up. Those days are gone but over the last few years I've gotten pretty good at it. The tent -- and it's like an old friend that comes here once a year, too -- went up in about a half hour and the big canopy took a little longer, thanks to the typical Oshkosh wind. But in due course, "my spot" was "my home" once again.

A lot of friends aren't showing up at Oshkosh this year and as I was about finished setting up camp, I was thinking this was the first year in many that someone didn't venture out to the middle of the field to see if I was here. When I turned around, there was Rich Emergy of St. Charles, Mo. (or is it Illinois, anyway it's basically St. Louis), one of the first people to stop by every year (Larry Frey, are you here?). Rich was one of the big organizers and volunteers of the BBQ and it was great to see a friendly face.

Rich, who is one of the volunteer chairmen here, says there aren't as many airplanes as usual on the field yet. I noticed a very, very quiet sky as I was driving in, and here in the campground, I'm seeing more tents and pop-ups this year, and few of the big land yachts. Take this anecdotal evidence for what it's worth. Since I camp out in the middle of the field at the EAA grounds, I see the campground fill up as people eventually reach my location around Sunday afternoon or evening. I'd say, so far, it's about the same as last year.

(As I wrote that, three big land yachts just showed up a couple of 'streets' over. They're setting up in a "compound" formation, so it looks like we'll be having some parties nearby. Good.

Rich, who recently retired and is building an RV-7 airplane, had a nice chat and we engaged in the campground version of watching people land. We watched people struggle putting up tents in the afternoon Oshkosh wind.

As is the nature of Oshkosh, we eventually helped the poor kid get his rig set up. I give it one good rainstorm before it sees the dumpster.

The EAA, bless their hearts, has again provided free wiFi, so here I sit in the middle of a field, connected to who knows who, who knows where?

If you're out there reading this, shoot me a note. I'm playing "Ask Mr. Oshkosh" (link fixed) this year so make it a fun note. Each day I'll be printing a few.

Rich is camping near one of the homebuilt judges, so I'll try to get introduced to him, perhaps, this evening for a story I'm doing on what makes a well-built RV airplane. We'll try to pick one of the heap that's arriving at Oshkosh tomorrow around 12;30 on a formation flight from Rockford, Illinois.

As I said before, this year I'll be writing a bit more about the unique experience that is Camp Scholler. For those who've never been here, getting in is easy. There's many volunteers to move what looks at first to be a long line into a short registration process. I was into the front gate and onto my spot (I used the GPS for the exact coordinates) in under 10 minutes.

For veteran campers, you'll be pleased to know the South Africans are here again. They fly a charter over and set up in a huge area and they do not observe the usual 10 p.m. curfew. They observe the 10 p.m. curfew on South Africa time. They party, bring in bands and booze. We'll be stopping by to say "hello."

On the other side of the emotional spectrum, I've received this from John Porter:

Well, it is with deep sadness that I tell you I won't make it to OSH '08. We had three big trees ( two oaks and a hickory) punch holes in our house in a recent storm. We made the cover of the Cherokee Ledger..............big score!! And since my deductible for wind and hail is $4500, we will be laying low for this year. Bob, thanks again for all you do. I really look forward to next year.

That's a real shame. John was one of the many pleasures of last year's Oshkosh. Veterans RVers will remember him as the brains behind this shirt (and that's John holding it up):

I had at least one Ask Mr. Oshkosh question this morning but at this hour of the afternoon (sunset), it's nowhere to be found.

More as it happens... Don't forget to subscribe to the RV Builder's Hotline for a recap of this week with articles from forums etc.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Oshkosh Diary - Friday June 25, 2008

(Cross posted at Letters from Flyover country)

Many of you know I wasn't going to go to Oshkosh this year; I just couldn't seem to work up a heck of a lot of enthusiasm for it. If it weren't for a couple of fellow RVers, a crushing amount of pain in my shoulders from crouching over my computer in my day job, and J.W. French, I wouldn't be going. I'd be working on that RV-7A canopy. At the reception for J.W. French the other night, fellow RVer Paul Hove looked at the project and said, "man, you have a long way to go; you haven't even started the systems yet." It was at that moment that I realized that my project is years away from completion and while spending a week working on it is not only necessary, but therapeutic, it was nothing that was going to make a big difference in the big scheme of things. So what, really, do I have to lose by sitting in a field for a week, watching planes and hope people stop by to say "hello."

This diary has become an annual tradition of the RV Builder's Hotline. I'm starting the writing a day early so that I can talk a little about camping in Camp Scholler. Every year on Van's Air Force, a newbie or two will ask about camping at Camp Scholler. Not many people ever write about it, possibly because it's old hat. So this year I'll write about it and next year -- when my RV-7A project will still have a long way to go -- you can Google it. So if you're reading this in 2009, don't tell me who won the presidential election. Let me surprised.

Friday July 25, 2008
Dateline: Woodbury, Minnesota. It's muggy as all getout, some thunderstorms are passing to the north and normally I'd be putting up the tent in a muggy field in Oshkosh. But I decided to wait a day. It's not that important that I stake out my usual spot in Camp Scholler on 12th Street between Lindbergh and Elm, because I'm not doing the RV Builder's BBQ this year (Note: It's been surprising how many e-mails I've received this week from people asking if I'm doing the BBQ. It's a reminder that a lot of folks don't read this blog, get the RV Builder's Hotline, or peruse Van's Air Force or Rivetbangers.).

Stuffed to the gillsWith the price of gas being close to $4 a gallon (it actually dropped around here to $3.65 today, a day after I filled the tank.), I'm taking the 2004 Cavalier rather than my wife's AWD, but lousy gas mileage, Subaru. This requires me to pack a little light this year. I figure if the RV-7A project ever gets done, I'm going to have to get use to living light, since the baggage payload is only 100 pounds.

And, guess what, it fits? So what do you need to set up a good campsite at Oshkosh?

A tent
One of those bit canopies you get at Fleet Farm
An air mattress
A cooler filled with a couple of frozen jugs of water (the ice concession is a rip-off in the campground)
Shorts and T-shirt
Tons of bug repellant an sunscreen
Cooking stove, plates and all that
The Van's instruction manual
A GPS if you have it with weather
A computer, and digital camera (if you have a blog or a newsletter that a lot of people don't read)

That's pretty much it. What? No food? Pointless if space is at a premium. You'll be spending as much time over at the WalMart across the street. Why carry it over?

Surprise! It all fit in the car.

There's free wiFi at the campground but as more people show up, it becomes somewhat problematic. It wouldn't hurt to pick up a $20 Starbuck's card and register for the free 2 hours a day of service at Starbuck's. There's one on the frontage road. Don't bring too much clothing. The Maytag coin-op laundry in Oshkosh also has free wiFi.

I've been getting e-mail already from companies and such that want to do interviews while I'm there (I'm media). On Saturday, there's a Chevron-sponsored event with Barrington Irving, the first black pilot to fly solo around the world, and someone who tries to encourage young people to strive to achieve their dreams. If that's through aviation, so be it. But that's not the prerequisite. Unfortunately, it's at 11 a.m. and I'm not leaving here until 8, which should put me in a muggy field just in time for the afternoon thunderstorms.

As always, if you have questions, drop me an e-mail and I'd be happy to answer them for you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

No Hotline this weekend

I don't think I'm going to be able to put out an RV Builder's Hotline this weekend before I leave for Oshkosh. It's not that I don't have any material -- even though I actually don't have any material -- it's just that my shoulders and arms are falling off.

I'm not sure what it is but it's been constant pain for the last week or so and hunching over a computer isn't helping.

By the way, I'm still getting e-mails asking if there's an RV BBQ at Oshkosh this year. This surprises me because I thought everyone read VAF in which this was worked over pretty well. And a couple of people, I figured, open the RV Builder's Hotline, in which it was also discussed.

But the short answer? No. But don't let that stop you from migrating out into the field at Camp Scholler, 12th St between Lindbergh and Elm. I'll be there. Sitting. Waiting. Hurting.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The hardest part of homebuilding

There are weeks when I wonder if anyone really reads the RV Builder's Hotline, or whether it's treated the same way I treat newsletters I've subscribed to -- delete.

Because tucked near the bottom was this item:

We all know the usual hard parts of building an RV airplane -- fuel tanks and canopies, mostly. But what part of building an RV surprised you most of all when it came to the degree of difficulty? And how did you overcome it? For a future RV Builder's Hotline story, please share your experience.

And I got a grand total of, ummm, no responses, which means I really don't have a "top story" for this weekend's issue and it is Tuesday already. On the other hand, I'm not actually committed to putting out an issue this week since technically it's an every-other-week newsletter.

If you're interested, however, go here.

J.W. French departs

After a nice evening and a leisurely morning, J.W. French departed Fleming Field in South St. Paul, heading for his brother's place south of Madison, Wisconsin. We'll meet again next week at Oshkosh.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Who put this plane in my hangar?

J.W. French, as we speak, is sitting on the couch across from me, catching up on the news on the TV. When you're away from home for more than a month, I'll bet it's easy to lose touch with what folks are up to.

If you're an occasional reader here, you know what J.W. has been up to. He's been recreating the Sam Burgess flight on the 1970s, in which he flew solo to all 48 lower states, without the benefit of fancy navigation systems we've got today. (Listen to my MPR colleague Elizabeth Stawicki's story)

J.W. is flying an Acro Sport aerobatic airplane, even though he doesn't do aerobatics, with a Garmin 396 GPS the only concession to the new age, compared to when Sam -- a war hero, an aviation pioneer and his good friend -- did this journey.

J.W. reached the 48th state Friday when he reached South Dakota and tomorrow he'll head out to see his brother south of Madison. Next week, he'll occupy an honored location at AirVenture in Oshkosh, in commemoration for his feat.

He landed at Fleming Field in South St. Paul around lunchtime today and after sitting around the house here and grabbing some dinner, we headed back out to the hangar. It was great to open up the hangar door and see the Acro Sport sitting there.

We rolled it out to tarmac and Pete Howell and his son, Ryan, arrived in their RV-9A. Pete, as I've pointed out many times, is one of my aviation heroes. Paul Hove from EAA Chapter 54 (and an RV-7A pilot and builder) joined us as did Rep. Michael Beard, who represents Savage in the Legislature but has his hangar at South St. Paul, his son and, I presume, grandchildren (sitting in the plane in the photo above). Mitch Anderson also drove over from the Flying Cloud area.

I'm still somewhat aggravated, I admit, that we couldn't generate a bit more interest among the various EAA groups, but I'm pleased we were able to turn out enough people this evening to show our admiration for Mr. French's endeavor.

He'll be sending out his "position report" later this evening and I'll post it here.

Here's Mr. French's "position report" for today. This is the last one of his trip.

I left Sky Harbor Airpark this morning for an arduous cross country of 0.4 hours to Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Mn. Fleming Field was the base of operations for many years of Chuck Doyle, Sr. I smoothed on a good wheel landing and my host, Bob Collins, was standing by to flag me in to his hangar when I landed. Bob is a news writer for Minnesota Public Radio and also writes a blog entitled 'Letters from Flyover Country' for the RV builders that can be found at He has done a great job of posting the SBMJ 2008 Position Reports in his blog.

Elizabeth Stawicki, a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio and a colleague of Bob's was waiting to interview me and learn about the life and times of Sam Burgess. After the interview Bob and I opened the knife-and-fork lodge in due and ancient form. I got to relax this afternoon. Paul Hove, a member of Chapter #54 Lake Elmo, MN, and a builder of a completed RV-7A joined us for supper at Bob's house. After supper we went to Bob's hangar where a number of members from Chapter #54 gathered to have a look at the Acro Sport.

Two young boys were in the group so I made sure they both got to sit in the cockpit and have their pictures taken by dad and grandpa.

We had a nice relaxing evening back at the house. Tomorrow I leave for Monroe, WI, which is an airport close to my brother's home in New Glaris, WI. I'll have a chance for a couple of days of R and R and then we'll be off to Brodhead, WI on Friday for the Pietenpol and Hatz Fly In. Bud Gores, the builder of N3791H, will be driving over from Burlington, WI to take a look at the Acro Sport. He did a great job. I haven't had a squawk on the plane the whole trip.

Next Monday I will head to Air Venture 2008 and will be there 'til the end. I'll make a report after Oshkosh, and another one about the National Antique Fly In in Blakesburg, IA after I get back home to Ft. Myers in September.

J.W. French

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Barnstormer makes it to Minnesota

J.W. French, whose barnstorming messages I've been posting in a willy nilly fashion over the last few weeks, completed his mission to fly to all 48 lower states when he arrived in South Dakota Friday night. Today he was to launch for Sky Harbor airport in Minnesota and he's expressed interest in taking me up on my invitation to spend a night in the Twin Cities on Monday.

One of these days, I will write a missive on why I'm not in a local EAA chapter in the Twin Cities. Suffice it to say, my attempts to stir up some interest in Mr. French and join us to greet him has been met with a general shrug of the collective EAA chapters shoulders in these parts. Is it all of aviation or is it just Minnesota that isn't excited by a chance to hear about his exploits?

"There was a time when people in an entire town would turn out to greet a barnstomer," I said to my wife this morning. "Now, even pilots don't give a rip." It's pretty sad, and -- frankly -- a little embarrassing to me and the Twin Cities. Think of it: This guy started out this summer down in Florida, went around the Gulf, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, up through California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and all along the way he met members of EAA chapters who were thrilled to have him.

Up here? Not much of anything. Shameful. We talk about how we can stir up an interest in general aviation among the non-pilots, and we can't even light a spark among the pilots.

In any case, I've let him know it's up to him whether he wants to spend the evening with the likes of the Collins family. Just in case, I cleaned the hangar and moved the project off to the side. So at least something good will come of this...

Oh, by the way, here's Mr. French's latest e-mail:


Friday morning Bob Little from Chapter 344 was at the airport to see me off for Billings, Mt. I was really looking forward to this leg of the trip, because this would be the last of dealing with the "Big Rocks." I elected to go south out of Helena to Bozeman, MT and follow the interstsate to Billings. There really big rocks to deal with in the pass east of Bozeman, and was glad to get that behind me.

The ceiling and visibility were great and the air was calm most of the way, with the exception of going through the pass were light chop prevailed. Billings tower cleared be for a long final to runway 11 left, so I again had to use my negotiating skills to get a 45 degree entry to to right downwind for 11, but the tower was cooperative. I was directed to Dave Standish's hangar on the west end of the field and stopped at the Chapter 57 and introduced myself to a member there. Dave's brother, Mark was there to meet me shortly and the knife-and-fork lodge was opened in due and ancient form.

That evening we visited the Chapter 57 hangar and I met Pat Kinney, the local middle school science teacher who mentored the young ladies who recovered a famous Pietenpol, and received recognition for there efforts that included an educational camp at EAA headquarters. Their project received a lot of good press. One of the young ladies is now building a Pietenpol Sky Camper. Other project in the chapter hangar include at Dorme Bathturb, a Stitts Playboy, a Starduster II, and restoration of a Culver Cadet. This chapter is really active in involving young people in aviation.

Mark Standish and his brother Dave have completed and are flying a Lancair IV. During my daily call to my wife, Vicky, we wished each other happy 10th anniversary.
Saturday July 19th, Mark saw me off on the way to mission completion. My plan for the day was to land at Bowman, ND for fuel to claim the 47th state for the Sam Burgess Memorial Junket and then spend the night at Mobridge, SD for mission accomplished.

I had not lost one day of flying since I left Ft. Myers, FL on June 15th, and success was just in sight. As soon as the XM weather came up on my Garmin 396 there were the Big Nasties to the north of Billings. I scrolled out along my intended line of flight and by deviating to the south and going on a straight line to Bowman I could stay out of the thunderstorms and rain. I had a front row seat for the fireworks to the north of me but I had a clear shot to Bowman.

After refueling at Bowman, ND I scrolled ahead on the XM weather on the GPS and found that Mobridge,SD was still on the edge of thunderstorm and shower activity and was still IFR. Maybe today wouldn't be the day I got to claim the 48th state. By the time I was 40 miles out from Mobridge the conditions went VFR and ceiling and visibility were not an issue when I got there, but there was a 20-knot wind right down the runway. The 48th state for the Sam Burgess Memorial Junket was now an accomplished fact.

Virgil, the airport manager, had me refueled in short order. He made arrangement at a local motel, handed me the keys to the courtesy car and told me where the best food in town was served. I'm not really a fan of fish, but the fresh-caught walleye pike there was outstanding. About 7:00 p.m. Virgil called me at the motel to tell me that he hoped I didn't mind, but he had gone back to the airport and put the Acro Sport in his hangar because it looked like the thunderstorm activity was coming back during the night and there might be hail in it.

Hello, Castle and Cooke, you could certainly take lessons from Virgil. What a great guy. In the morning it was off to Alexandria, MN. Now the pressure was off, because the mission was complete. Well, not exactly, Alexandria was in and out of IFR, and just on the edge of thundershowers when I left Mobridge, SD, and by the time I got to Britton, SD I elected to land and get fuel and wait the weather out. Finally I launched for Alexandria and watched it drift in and out of IFR conditions on the XM weather of my GPS. When I got about 10 miles out it was touch and go, but it opened up enough to get in. The stiff cross wind that the ASOS was reporting was really pretty much down the runway, and everything worked out alright.

Dan Barber was there to meet me and directed me to his hangar. That evening about 15 members of Chapter 702 were there at Dan's hangar for a cookout. Dan has a Stearman, an Aviat Husky and a Cirrus in his hangar, and the other members of the chapter had some interesting airplanes. Dan told me later that only two of the members there didn't own tailwheel airplanes, so it was really my kind of crowd.

After we ate they asked me to share my recollections of the life and times of Sam Burgess and the trip I had made in his memory. Sunday morning 7/20 found the ceiling just above the top of my socks, and it is now 2 PM and we are still waiting in Dan's hangar so I can make the the one hour trip to Sky Harbor (1MN8) south of Minneapolis, MN and RON with Chuck Doyle.

There are now big holes in the overcast so I should be able to leave soon.

You can also follow along on Mr. French's odyssey on the EAA site.

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