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A Quick and Dirty First Timer's Guide to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2014

July 30, 2014 at 2:23 PM | by | ()

If you're the sort of person who looks up to the sky at the sound of an aircraft engine, prepare to be nearly catatonic for hours every day at OSH.

"OSH" is the airport code for Oshkosh, Wisconsin's Wittman Regional Airport and the common term for the event formally titled EAA AirVenture, a massive aviation celebration of 10,000 airplanes and half a million people who swamp the tiny town for one week every summer. That week happens to be this week, july 28 - August 3, and we cannot stress hard enough the awesomeness of it all. You should go, if you aren't there already. Make it a long weekend, a day trip, whatever—just make it happen.

Should you heed our advice to give AirVenture 2014 a go, these are the quick and dirty tips to getting to the most of OSH:

· Ideally you'd visit OSH for more than one day in order to experience everything, but a day trip is doable. We headed up on a day trip from Chicago ourselves last year. Discuss priorities before arriving, or the whole day could blow by before you know it.

· Be armed with the daily highlights schedule, a map of the grounds, and your favorite weather app. Pack a bonus smartphone mobile charger or two, and perhaps even an extra camera battery.

· The $40 EAA membership is actually a spectacular deal, so do it. First off, paying the $40 for membership entitles you to discounts and experience flight specials throughout the year, plus a free subscription to Sport Aviation magazine. Come time for Oshkosh, that membership reduces the regular daily ticket price of $43 per adult to only $28, and you're allowed to extend that discount to one non-member spouse or guest.

Finally, if you time your membership right, you'll be able to use discounts to OSH for two years under one annual membership. For example, we joined last summer on July 31 and thus were able to buy our OSH 2013 and OSH 2014 tickets at the reduced rate. It's also worth noting that only EAA members are allowed to bunk down in Camp Scholler.

· Every day from 2:30pm-6pm, the sky above Wittman Regional Airport's main runway is set for a continuous airshow. The featured aerobatics and aircraft vary—check the daily schedule and peruse the list of performers—but plan to do nothing but stare up into the sky and get goosebumps for much of that time. This goes double for when the USAF Thunderbirds take to the sky, August 1-3.

· The early bird gets the swag. While there's not many free gifts to be had at OSH, the determined will find a few. For example, the Cirrus tent was handing out iPhone cases, pens and drawstring backpacks. Jeppesen has hats for the first rush every morning, and word on the street says Cessna has good stuff. Regardless, the earlier the better for grabbing the goodies.

· The main drag is only the tip of the iceberg. After entering the main gate, it's tempting to focus on the main street flanked by tents from aircraft companies, at the end of which is Boeing Plaza and the large airplanes on display. Boeing Plaza runs up to the Wittman runway over which the aerobatics happen, but be sure to explore further to the right for the vintage aircraft on display, or way down to the left for a field of homebuilts and the impressive Warbird Camp.

· OSH isn't a church festival, so the food is actually diverse and good. You'll find more than deep-fried snacks, and there's even a lovely Watermelon Social at the Seaplane Base on Saturday. We're big fans of a waffle cone at dusk, but otherwise picky eaters will find everything from fresh salads to Italian entrees. Head into Camp Scholler for a few general stores that even stock Krispy Kreme donuts!

· A folding chair is your best friend. As we previously mentioned, the airshow is a 3.5-hour daily block of awesome, one for which you'll probably want to sit down during for optimal enjoyment. Walking around OSH with a folding chair is the norm, so feel free to a sling one across your back, just don't forget the sunscreen and sunglasses (and maybe a hat for good measure).

· The Seaplane Base is an idyllic oasis off Lake Winnebago and a must-visit, regardless of its 15-minute drive time away from OSH. Buses ($3 pp roundtrip) leave from the bus corral at the main OSH gate, but driving yourself is also an option. Hold onto your parking or camping pass if you plan on driving, because flashing that scores you a free spot. It's $10 to park otherwise.

· The best shopping isn't anywhere near the main drag, but over in the Fly Market. Build shopping time into your schedule, because in the midst of the Fly Market's vendor tents are all sorts of tempting purchases, from outdoor goods and crafts to aviation memorabilia and actual airplane parts. We hauled home a retro-painted rudder from a Piper Cherokee for $25, with the hopes of it becoming a home decoration/conversation piece.

· If the weather turns sour, everyone and their moms will run to the EAA Museum. This is one time where you should follow the crowd, as the museum is massive and this may be the only time you have to enjoy it since there's so much else to do when the sun returns.

· If Camp Scholler is your temporary home, definitely introduce yourself to camp neighbors. The campground is simply massive (for example, we parked in row 10 of 60) and it contains general stores, WiFi shacks, restroom/shower cabins, and even an open-air theater. Year after year, Oshkosh friends camp next to each other on generously sized plots for $25 per night.

Say hi; the aviation community is an extremely welcoming, share-and-share-alike community (you definitely don't need to be a pilot to fit in) and that family setting up their BBQ and campfire next to yours may become lifelong friends. Shout-out to Fred, who shared his homemade elk bratwursts and Alaska bush-flying tales with us this year.

Please share any of your own tips in the comments so everyone can enjoy OSH to the fullest!

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher, Ian Petchenik, Joe Corrigan]

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