WITTMAN REGIONAL AIRPORT, OSHKOSH, WI (July 20) – Let’s be clear about one thing: Oshkosh is not for the environmentalist worried about carbon footprints. At Oshkosh, the world’s largest aviation show, success is all about carbon signatures made large.
Oshkosh is airplanes. Airplanes burn gas. Lots of it. Oshkosh features airshows, fireworks, 2,000 take offs and landings a day, demonstration flights by the newest jets. That’s serious carbon.
Hundreds of thousands of aviation fans attend Oshkosh. Ten thousand come in on their own airplanes (burning 100LL gas like there’s no tomorrow). Thirty times that many drive in. They “camp” on airport grounds.
These are not the nature-loving, no-trace, off-the-grid campers like those looking for moose in the Tetons. These are Carbon Campers.
Oshkosh’s Carbon Campers didn’t peacefully hike through miles of moose country solitude to sleep here in tents. No. They noisily burned carbon: They flew airplanes. They drove gas-guzzling 40-foot motor homes, 12-MPG SUVs, and all-American gas-hog pickup trucks towing campers.
After landing or parking, the Carbon Campers hiked maybe 10 feet and set up tents beneath wings or beside Suburbans. Then they fired up carbon-consuming Honda generators. For lights, Wi-Fi, fridges, stereos, computers and movie projectors.
The giant Food Mall with your choice of cuisine is next door. The humongous community Beer Tent is right over there. The clean showers and rest rooms are 100 steps away. Carbon City. On the grid.
Meanwhile, tight formations of World War II fighter and bomber planes roar overhead, burning, conservatively, 50, 60 gallons of low lead an hour, leaving miles of contrails. Modern fighter jets that scream above treetops are burning 600 gallons of jet fuel an hour, easy.
Oshkosh’s sounds of aviation are relentless. There’s noise everywhere. A couple of helicopters circle the airport constantly. High-performance vintage warplanes and modern aerobatic planes, propeller tips ripping the sound barrier, are always taking off and landing from the runway RIGHT THERE. Public speakers compete with thundering airplanes. Lunchtime conversations are constantly broken by screaming jet engines.
It’s music to the ears of Carbon Campers.
Oshkosh. High-trace. Big carbon. Large noise. There isn’t a moose to be found.
Officially named EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, it is the world’s largest fly-in event, with more than 10,000 aircraft coming to Whitman Regional Airport during the week. Total attendance is expected to surpass 500,000 from more than 60 countries. The “World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration” features flying machines ranging from the smallest ultralight to massive airliners and military aircraft.
North Carolina has a significant presence. HondaJet (Greensboro) is a player. So are the MX Aircraft (Wilkesboro) all-carbon fiber, state-of-the-art competition aerobatic airplanes that dance in the Oshkosh skies everyday.
There’s an impressive contingent of Carbon Campers attending Oshkosh from Morganton, Hickory, Granite Falls, Lenoir and other towns in the area. A few, like Bradley and Al Bormuth, work the show as volunteers. Most, like Clark Hatcher, Mitch and Joey McGlamery, Marc and Pam Plemmons are drinking it in as spectators.
On opening day, Monday, July 20, the weather was cloudy, windy, humid with high 80s temps. It was hot and muggy. But that didn’t stop the crowds, the airshows or Dierks Bentley, who has rocketed to the top tier of country music’s hitmakers. Bentley, an active pilot, flew his plane to Oshkosh and closed the day with a pounding outdoor concert before an estimated crowd in excess of 15,000.
The concert was in Boeing Plaza, center stage for Oshkosh. Bentley’s performed on one end of the two-acre concrete plaza adjacent to runways and beneath the control tower. A B-52 Stratofortress, a B-29 Superfortress, a silver P-38 Lightning and the new Airbus A350 were parked on the other end. Air Force officers stood atop the wings of the B-52 to watch the show.
“Best seat in the house,” said Clark Hatcher, who attended the concert. Hatcher’s love of Bentley’s music is exceeded only by his passion for aviation. He has Carbon Camped at Oshkosh for nine years.
“Dierks Bentley is a superb choice for our opening-night concert not only because he is one of music’s brightest stars, but also because he is an avid pilot who has been to Oshkosh before enjoying the sights and sounds as an aviation enthusiast,” said Rick Larsen, EAA’s vice president of communities and member programs. “Dierks brings the energy and enthusiasm that complements the full week of aviation excitement that will be featured at EAA AirVenture.”
For several hours every afternoon, there is an air show – and two nighttime air shows with fireworks – that stay true to the essence of Carbon Camping. In 2014, the Air Force Thunderbirds were the biggest attraction. This year, the big draws will include the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II for its debut at a civilian airshow.
“Certainly been a great start to the week,” said EAA Chairman Jack J. Pelton. “Right now we’re experiencing a record number of airplanes flying in, about a thousand airplane movements for arrivals over what we’ve seen the last two years. We’ve seen camping that’s been up about 13 percent over the last few years, and gate attendance also up about 7 percent.”
Pelton credits in part increased optimism in the aviation industry. “I think we’re seeing more and more people recovering, back flying again,” he said. “Maybe not at the number of flight hours we’ve seen in the past, but certainly people are planning where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do, and AirVenture continues to be on that list.”