The Liberty Gazette
August 13, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Just back from a trip north, to the big playground for aviators. For a week every year, end of July through early August the small city of Oshkosh, Wisconsin becomes a bustling community of wing nuts. Of four large conventions in varying industries, AirVenture is the last on the town’s summer calendar, and the largest convention of any kind, drawing 800,000 people and 12,000 airplanes. During summer months restaurants quadruple their staff, a great fit for teachers and students. Sales of big ticket items are frequent; it’s not uncommon to find an airplane, a few exotic cars and a boat or two displayed on a restaurant lawn.
The world’s best air traffic controllers come by invitation to manage the skies over Oshkosh during the week of AirVenture; and proudly hang the large banner on the outside of the control tower touting, "World’s Busiest Control Tower". During peak arrival times it seems they can barely take a breath between giving instructions to pilots on approach and landing.
I funneled in according to the rules for arriving at Oshkosh, over the town of Ripon, which is about 15 miles southwest of Oshkosh. Transponder turned to "Standby," landing light on, airspeed down to 90 knots, altitude 1,800’ – Check! Just look for the Ripon water tower and grain silos, then follow the railroad tracks that run north-south and then take a bend northeast. No talking on the radio unless a controller asks you something. No S-turns allowed, keep a half-mile spacing between you and the next airplane. No overtaking is allowed, and if you’re gaining on another airplane return to Ripon and start over.
Stay directly over the meandering railroad tracks, do not fly a straight line, through Ripon ten miles northeast to Fisk Avenue. At Fisk, a contingent of air traffic controllers housed in a comfortable trailer, equipped with radios, binoculars, and lawn chairs, take their best shot at airplane identification and instruct each pilot flying over to "Rock your wings!" Hearing that is sort of like making the field at Indy and hearing, "Gentlemen, start your engines," triggering your official start as you enter the flow to the world’s largest fly-in and air show.
As I did last year, I contacted my friend Grant to let him know we’d be approaching Fisk Sunday evening around supper time. He was scheduled to work the Fisk Arrival Sunday, but was apparently on a break when we came through. The controller on duty gave me the welcome, albeit with a mistaken identity but I knew he meant me, "Red and white RV, Rock Your Wings!"
Along with several other airplanes we made our way from Fisk Avenue toward the gravel pit, staying between the pit and the northern most runway, entering the traffic pattern flying right downwind to Runway 27. Turning into the base leg over Lake Winnebago, then turning final, the tower controller directed me to land on the orange dot, then changed it to the green dot.
Once down and parked I had a full week of fun work ahead representing my employer. On the last day Grant invited me up for a tower tour and I watched the busyness from up high. Later, as I departed on Runway 18, I heard my good friend’s voice from the tower, "Have a safe flight, Linda, see you back home." There’s just nothing like Oshkosh.