Elsie's Oshkosh Trip Report: Part 1

The engine started at 6 o’clock in the morning of my boss’s RV-10 on July 20, 2012. Passengers included myself, my two bosses Dave and Tim, and Dave’s 12-year-old son Darwin. Departing point is Watsonville, California. The destination is Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with a few stops along the way, of course. With the four of us and no more than 25 pounds of luggage each, we crammed into the plane, rather comfortably. I thought to myself you couldn’t do this in a Cessna 172, the plane I’ve been flying for the last five years.

I was surprised to see that the typical morning fog had decided not to grace us with its presence, and had instead left a clear and bright summer morning. I was in the back seat for the first leg, which I was thankful for, thinking I would get a nap in before my time came to fly right seat. Getting up before eight in the morning really isn’t my thing. However, as I found out that morning, and throughout the rest of the trip, I couldn’t stop staring out the window. With my camera practically a permanent attachment to my hand throughout the trip, I snapped quite a few pictures. More than I could practically share in this article, topping out at 605 photos. I have to say I documented my first true cross-country flight fairly well.

You might be wondering at this point why we were going to Oshkosh. Obviously a business trip can’t be purely for fun. The company I work for, Aircrafters, is a builder-assist company for people building experimentals. I was asked earlier this year if I would like to go to Oshkosh AirVenture to present a composite workshop. My boss asked me to think about it and let him know by the following week. I remember thinking, “Oh, is this something I should think about.”, as if there was a reason why I should not go to the world’s best airshow, all expenses paid, have a flying adventure, and all I had to do was volunteer my time and present a composites workshop. I already knew my answer as soon as I heard the words “…do you want to go to Oshkosh…” Well, naturally, I agreed to go and take advantage of a rare opportunity to not only attend the legendary AirVenture, but be a part of it.

As the months went by with July rapidly approaching, I realized it wasn’t just one presentation I had to do, but at least two, and they weren’t just 30 minutes long, they were an hour and 15 minutes. And it wasn’t just on how to make a composite block, but it included a brief history and just about everything an A&P student would have to learn on the subject. So naturally, I was getting a little nervous, because honestly, talking really isn’t my thing either. So by the time July 20th came around (anniversary of Apollo 11, by the way), I was a mixture of excitement for the adventure and anxiety for the presentations and the inevitable questions that would be sure to follow. Good thing I skipped the coffee that morning.

We took off with the sunrise, and I’ve never seen the valley more beautiful. It was as if the ocean had spread into the valley, with the fog rolled in, with waves lapping against the hills and the sun reflecting off their surface. It was a whole different landscape. Our route programmed into the GPS, we made our way over to Lake Tahoe and then to Elko, Nevada. However, before we could make it into Elko, nature called, and we made a pit stop at Battle Mountain instead. Just descending, I could feel the heat creep up. We got out and stretched our legs and filled the plane up with fuel. I snapped off a few more pictures, including one of the airport cat. One of the things I’ve noticed at the various FBO’s throughout the trip, is quite a few have pets. I think we should definitely get one for Watsonville. Another thing I thought was funny, not being used to it, even though I ran the fuel truck part-time at Watsonville for ten years, was the linemen. They just stand out there, not even facing you sometimes with their hands up. Well, apparently, that’s where we were supposed to park. Good thing Dave was at the controls, otherwise I would have just waved as I went by in search of a tie down.

Taking off from Battle Mountain, I got to fly right seat. Dave let me fly for a little bit, but then after a while we just turned on the auto pilot. Dave said, “Now all we have to do is remember to switch fuel tanks.” The autopilot is a nice thing to have. I’m sure flying without one would have been a lot more exhausting, but satisfying as well. I remember when we finally got to Oshkosh, we were supposed to have a rental car waiting for us at one of the FBOs, but it wasn’t there. Another pilot duo out of Van Nuys also was left stranded without a car. They flew up in a Cessna 195. I didn’t ask, but I imagine an auto pilot wasn’t part of their avionics platform. They must have had a whole different experience flying by hand.

Eventually we wandered over to Utah and passed over the Great Salt Lake dessert and the lake itself. The dessert was the brightest landscape I’ve ever seen. It was a blinding white and stretched on for miles. I sure was glad I was in an airplane far above it than down on the sand. I don’t think all the sunblock in the world would have prevented instant incineration. Then passing over the lake was interesting as well. It was divided into two sections, split by a railroad in the middle. One side of the lake was pink with algae, and the other a crystal blue. I always thought Lake Tahoe was good sized, but Salt Lake is huge.

Pretty soon afterwards, we started flying over some colorful terrain that I’ve only seen in pictures and movies. It was like going back in time to my grade school social studies class when we learned about the Oregon Trail. Not that I’m a well-traveled explorer, but there have been only a few times where I’ve gone on a trip and have actually seen distinctive features from one place to the next. Underneath the green, instead of the mountain being a dull brown, they were striped red, white, and orange. That’s when I told myself, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” so to speak. The further we got into Wyoming, the more the red faded into brown, but the striations were still unmistakable. Our second stop was in Sweetwater, Wyoming. We took the airport’s courtesy car out to the town to grab some lunch. If the mountains didn’t give it away that we were in the Midwest, the cowboy hats sure did.

With our bellies full and the wings filled up once again, we we’re off to Nebraska. Finally, storms came into view. We knew they were coming and figured that we would fly between them. Frankly, at this point, between the food coma and the two hours of sleep the night before, I slept through most of it, being in the back seat again. But I woke up here and there and took some more pictures, including one of a microburst off of our left wingtip. Definitely a new experience.

After we made it through unscathed, our final destination for the day of Valentine, Nebraska was close by. We tuned in the ASOS and Judy Garland’s voice runs through my head once more when the temperature calls out 40°C. How can there be nearby thunderstorms and the temperature is that hot? Apparently, as I was slowly discovering, it’s seems to be the norm for most of the country. We rolled up to the fuel station and climbed out of the plane. One of the local pilots was there to greet us, help us fuel up and showed us where the courtesy car was. One of the first things I noticed, aside from the weather, was how they bundled up the hay surrounding the runways. I’ve only seen rectangular hay bales before, but here the hay is rolled up into bundles. Maybe not the most riveting fact about the Midwest, but I thought it was interesting.

Now, I know I wasn’t PIC, and I was only copilot once out of three legs, and even then it was more sightseeing than copiloting, but after a long day of flying, I was ready for dinner and a full night’s sleep. We drove to the hotel we saw on approach to the airport and checked in. Thankfully I got my own room. I did feel a little guilty with the three guys crammed into one room, but I got over it. Time to myself was much appreciated. We went to the Valentine Lounge for dinner, which is apparently the place to be in town. The food was pretty good, and any place that makes their own blue cheese dressing gets my seal of approval. Back at the hotel, I looked over my pictures I took that day, listened to my favorite music, and just sat thinking how amazing it was that only this morning I was in California. Up to that point in time, the longest flight I’ve been on in a general aviation airplane was down to Camarillo. Today, I went all the way to Nebraska.

*Note to readers:
I started writing this account at noon, thinking I would write about the whole trip in one afternoon.. The day is half over now, and I’m only one day into my trip. Hopefully, you’ve found it interesting so far and would like to read more, but I’m thinking it would be best to stop for now, and write some more next week. Stay tuned.

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