We gathered at Rockford airport terminal for a great breakfast supplied by Hawker Beechcraft, watching the rain on the tarmac outside and the weather radar updates on our phones & tablets. Eventually there was a break in the rain and the indications were that the weather was lifting so we headed down to the Embry Riddle auditorium for the pre-flight briefing. This involved reviewing procedures, frequencies, what-if scenarios and the announcement that there would be 109 aircraft in the formation (down on previous highs but still a very sizeable number).
From the briefing everyone headed out to the UPS ramp where all 109 aircraft were parked on the wet tarmac, starting their pre-flights and going through final briefings for the pilots in each element. Excitement was building as everyone could see the skies clearing and the few remaining light showers that passed through didn’t dampen spirits.Starting up on time at 11:45am, the first rows of Bonanzas taxied out to the runway, each successive row following them out until they were all moving, at which point the Barons joined the conga line. Once the first aircraft entered the runway, Rockford airport closed to all other traffic as we lined up, three abreast across the runway & 10 feet between the nose of one aircraft & the tail of another. A group photo was taken using a hoist truck then it was time to go. Each element of three aircraft was cleared to launch at 15 second intervals while every few elements an additional 15 second pause was introduced. Eventually all aircraft had taken off and an enormous line of aircraft was making its way towards Oshkosh. The flight itself passed uneventfully aside from the need to descend to pass beneath a cloud layer over Oshkosh. There were a few sightings of traffic but none came close enough to be a concern. Our route went from Rockford (KRFD) through a set of way points (TIRRAN, BADAN, POBER) and then direct to RWY36 where each element’s lead & left wing aircraft landed on the runway while the right wing aircraft landed on the taxiway (designated RWY36R for the duration of our arrival).
Upon landing we taxied off the end of RWY36 where we were directed onto the grass & marshalled into the North 40, parking in rows of about 10-14 aircraft each. Before tying down the aircraft, planks of wood or sheets of metal were produced and everyone joined in to help push aircraft onto them, the goal being to spread the weight of the aircraft & stop them sinking into the soft ground. It didn’t take much effort to refer to this as “planking the plane” :)
With that, we had arrived and the celebrations commenced. Beers were produced and a large number of pizzas appeared ready for hungry pilots to consume while tents were set up between aircraft. Unfortunately for us the temperature was in the high 30’s (Celsius) and extremely humid, so after the party we tried to find whatever shelter we could in the hope that a breeze would help cool us off, all while watching aircraft come & go on RWY27.
Eventually the temperature reduced a little and the winds increased, blowing away the humidity. At this point a few of us headed out to dinner and to do some shopping for items we’d forgotten or delayed until our arrival. Returning to camp, we spent time chatting about aviation, adventures and the day’s flight into Oshkosh. All agreed that flying into Oshkosh was the only way to arrive and that a mass arrival was definitely the best way to fly in.
By this time, tents had sprung up between & around aircraft where they were parked and decorations had already begun to appear on some aircraft. People were relaxing and enjoying a rest, a chat, an adult beverage or two and the chance to watch the arrivals & departures on RWY 09/27 right next to them. Not a bad spot to enjoy some aircraft watching!
No matter what, we had arrived and were on the grounds of Oskhosh. The fun was just starting to begin…