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Golden Age Aviation, Inc.

Earl C. Downs, President

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 – It’s Going to Be Fun, And You Can Make it Safe


The President of Golden Age Aviation, Inc., Earl Downs, has enjoyed the thrill and adventure many times of flying into the Wittman Regional Airport to participate in EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.


Earl says, “Flying into EAA AirVenture at Wittman Regional Airport can be a fun experience if you prepare for it by understanding the procedures, planning ahead, and sharpening your pilot skills.” In his training course developed to reduce loss of control accidents, Earl includes certain safety techniques that can make the AirVenture adventure easier, safer, and more fun.


To help you get an early start on preparing for EAA-AirVenture, Earl has prepared a training document that is divided into six chapters to address the issues he thinks are important. Earl adds, “Get an early start in your planning and take your time progressing through each chapter as I share what I have learned about being prepared for this great experience.”


Earl is primarily discussing VFR arrivals for the typical low to medium performance general aviation airplane. He does not get into the issues regarding IFR flying, ultralights, warbirds, or high-performance aircraft. However, many of his hints could be applied to any aircraft operation into EAA-AirVenture.

Chapter 1

The NOTAM - Chapter 1

The NOTAM for this event is so extensive that it is not issued by FAA flight service over the phone. The NOTAM can be downloaded from the EAA or FAA website, and you must have the current one. At first, the sheer size of the NOTAM seems daunting but that’s only because it applies to everything from ultralights arrivals, to warbirds, to instrument approaches.

No radio procedures (NORDO) are provided for landing at Wittman regional during EAA AirVenture, but they can be very limiting and the NOTAM urges you to have a radio. The radio procedures can get hectic and the air traffic controllers know this is a challenge for some pilots. However, these controllers are the best in the business and they do everything possible to help you. There will be more information about the radio procedures in other chapters of this discussion.

The approach patterns are flown by referencing ground checkpoints and you should highlight them on your chart ahead of time. GPS locations are also provided to help you find key points. You will join in on the arrival pattern at the town of Ripon, and the next important place to identify is the visual ground reference point know as Fisk. Fisk is where the radio controllers will pick you up, and the real fun begins.


The arrival procedure brings aircraft in at two different altitudes based on indicated airspeed (not GPS groundspeed). There is a 90 knot altitude and a 135 knot altitude. Slower aircraft should use the 90 knot altitude and try to fly as close to 90 knots as possible.


Get the information, practice your piloting skills, and join with me in the fun at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017. You’ll learn, you’ll have fun, and you’ll build memories that will last a lifetime. As you progress through the following chapters you’ll learn more details about the AirVenture NOTAM.

Chapter 2

This n’ That - Chapter 2


For a recreational flyer, flying into Wittman Regional Airport during EAA AirVenture is part of the adventure. You’ll probably hear some wild stories about the arrival and departure procedures, but if you are prepared, it’s a lot of fun. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss various things that aren’t necessarily connected, but they are addressed in the NOTAM and could use some amplification.


Be Legal

If the FAA wanted to, they could put hundreds of inspectors on the ground at Wittman Regional Airport during AirVenture and perform thousands of ramp checks. That does not happen at AirVenture, but it doesn’t mean the FAA will shirk their duties in the event of some sort of problem or incident. Make sure your flight review is up-to-date, be in compliance with the medical regulations, and double check that you have all personal and aircraft documents in order.


Alternate Airport

Be prepared to use an alternate airport, and if the airport you plan on is included on the NOTAM, be sure you are familiar with procedures at that airport. Once again, understanding the NOTAM and being prepared to quickly reference information is of paramount importance.


Radio Communication

As you approach the VFR initial approach point at the city of Ripon, the NOTAM advises you to listen to the ATIS frequency and then switch over to Fisk approach control and start listening…I assure you, you will hear radio communications like you have never heard before; it’s incredible!  By the way, no communication takes place at Ripon.


Do not expect to use your aircraft N-number for identification purposes. For the most part, airplanes will be identified by their type, or color, or some general term that gives a clue that they are looking at you. Before you go, think up some sort of identification that you could use that does not involve your N-number. For example, If I’m flying my Zenith Zodiac that is painted white with pronounced yellow trim, I might call myself a, “white and yellow experimental”…I could also throw in the term, “low-wing.”


As you approach the town of Fisk, the controllers will visually pick you up and give you a call using some sort of identification that they perceive as unique from other airplanes within their sight. They commonly will ask you to “rock your wings” to verify communication. Whatever they choose to use in identifying you, use that as your call sign. Remember, you may not proceed beyond Fisk unless you’re sure you have been identified and given a clearance. If you have to call them, the conversation might go something like this, “Fisk approach…white and red Cessna is over Fisk, have you identified me?” You’ll probably be asked for a ‘wing rock’ and then be given the transition clearance from Fisk for your landing runway.


When in the actual pattern for landing the tower will call you; you don’t have to call them. However, if you’re not sure they know you are there, give them a shout with your aircraft description. If a controller clears you to land in a specific place such as, “Cessna behind the white and yellow experimental, cleared to land on the orange dot,” a confirmation may be appropriate. Your reply might go something like, “Cessna orange dot, Wilco.”


Be concise with terminology by using terms such as, “affirmative,” “negative,” “Wilco” (will comply), and “say again.” Remember, the word “Roger” only confirms that you heard their transmission but does not verify compliance with instructions.


Also keep in mind that multiple frequencies are being used for the different runways and for takeoffs and departures. If you think there is a runway conflict, let the tower know and be prepared for a go around, but if the tower says everything is good, it simply means you’re not hearing the other communication.


Listen to all communications very carefully for two reasons. First, you want to make sure you don’t respond to a communication that’s actually intended for someone else. The second reason is for situational awareness. Try to figure out who’s in front of you and who’s behind you by listening to the clearances provided by the Fisk controllers. For example, if you hear them give a request for wing rocking and you see the airplane in front of you rock its wings, you will be next.


Visual Navigation

The flight from your initial VFR entry point at Ripon to your clearance point of Fisk is achieved by following railroad tracks between the two towns. GPS coordinates are provided but GPS should not be used for primary navigation; look out the window and navigate by visual reference. Don’t make this a ‘heads down’ GPS procedure. Using an autopilot may sound like an easy way to hold your altitude and airspeed, but it makes about as much sense as engaging cruise control on an extremely busy highway in rush hour. Apply your pilot skills and hand-fly the airplane.


Traffic Separation

From the town of Ripon to Fisk, there is no separation of traffic by means of ground controllers…it’s up to each pilot to pay attention and remain a safe distance from other aircraft. The NOTAM recommends no closer than one half mile but you will probably see aircraft closer than that. As you cross over Ripon, I would highly recommend turning on any lights you have that can help other aircraft see you. Heck, if you have a smoke system, give it a puff every now and again.                         Back to Index

Between Ripon & Fisk – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

This time I’m going to talk about sharpening your pilot skills for the Fisk VFR arrival to Oshkosh. But before we for we start, you get my safety briefing.


The practice maneuvers I’ll be discussing are normal and safe, but don’t practice any flight maneuver you are not comfortable with without the help of an experienced safety pilot or flight instructor. Consider using a safety pilot or “airworthy” passenger for traffic watch and for taking notes.

The NOTAM instructs you on several things to do before arriving at the town of Ripon which begins the Fisk arrival procedure. Between Ripon and Fisk aircraft are asked to fly at a constant speed of 90 knots at an altitude of 1800 feet, or 135 knots, at an altitude of 2300 feet. These altitudes place you about 1,000 and 1,500 feet above the ground respectably.

The issue is; have you recently practiced holding altitude at specific speed? For our discussion, we’ll just pick the 90 knot speed. The procedures described for 90 knots also apply to the 135 knot speed. Of course, there will be some aircraft that cannot make it to 90 knots, so the NOTAM just says to use the maximum cruise speed.


Maintaining a Specific Cruise Speed and Level Flight.

When asked to maintain a specific cruise speed while holding altitude, you are combining a specific power to achieve a specific speed and holding altitude with pitch control which establishes the appropriate angle of attack. It will make it a lot easier if you have a plan for how to do this as you arrive over Ripon and head for Fisk. The following maneuvering practice will help you prepare.


Practice Maneuver

  • Find an appropriate practice area; preferably one where you can use roads or section lines for a ground reference. Pick a safe altitude for the practice; I recommend you be 1,500 feet or better above the ground.

  • Establish a track along your ground reference line and start experimenting with pitch and power to find out what it takes to hold 90 knots indicated airspeed while holding altitude. Do not use GPS groundspeed.

  • When you’re holding the speed and altitude, trim the elevator and take a look at what you’ve got.

  • Make notes of the power setting that you’re using to achieve level flight at 90 knots. Whatever works in this practice maneuver is what you’ll use as your starting point at Oshkosh. Let’s call this configuration “AV90-cruise”

  • Once you’ve trimmed out your aircraft, it will want to maintain this balance. If you reduce power without changing trim, the aircraft will pitch down and start descending to maintain the speed, and if you add power the aircraft will pitch up to maintain the speed and climb.

  • Practice establishing this AV90-cruise from normal cruise flight, from a descent, and from a climb.


Maintaining Altitude

While you’re practicing your AV90-cruise, it’s also a good idea to determine the power settings needed to produce a gentle climb or descent of about 200 feet per minute while holding steady at 90 knots. This will give you an idea of what pitch and power to use if you need to make minor adjustments after establishing AV90-cruise. Note your power settings.


Even though this maneuvering is a careful combination of pitch and power, I think of it this way; once you’re in the AV90-cruise, consider altitude a function of pitch, and speed a function of power. It’s sometimes easier to approach this sort of maneuvering as a step-1…step-2 process.



Once you’re using AV90-cruise and tracking a line, make a few 90 degree practice turns while maintaining the AV90-cruise. Use a medium bank (25 degrees), and be prepared to make some power adjustments to maintain your AV 90-cruise speed. This practice prepares you for maneuvering if you have to break the pattern to enter a hold.


The Wing Rock

You’ll probably be asked to rock your wings for identification at Fisk, and you need to be able to do that while maintaining AV90-cruise. For the controllers to be sure that they’re looking at the correct plane, the wing rock should be about a 25-to-30 degrees bank, and it should be performed briskly. It simply has to be a role one way, then the other, then back to wings level. Practice this while you’re practicing the AV90-cruise. Work on your coordination and expect to be adding a bit of power to maintain your speed while you’re rocking your wings. 


Slow Flight

The NOTAM is very specific about not overtaking other aircraft and admonishes that S-turns are not to be used. If you decide to slow down for traffic spacing it should only be considered if you are within sight of Fisk, and even then this is not the time to do minimum slow-flight procedures like you had to demonstrate on your practical examination. Because of the maneuvering that may be required, flying close to stall speed is a really bad idea.


I recommend using a minimum speed of no less than your best angle of climb speed (Vx) rounded up to an easy-to-read number. I’ll call this “AV-slow” speed. Remember, if you slow down while too far away from Fisk you could be causing traffic congestion problems behind you.


Slow Flight Practice

As with your practice for AV90-cruise, pick a safe altitude and follow a ground track while establishing the pitch, power and trim to hold your “AV-Slow” speed. Record the power setting.

Practice changing back and forth from AV90-cruise to AV-slow while holding altitude.

Remember, it may be easier if you think of pitch for altitude control and throttle for speed control.


If it becomes necessary to break out of the arrival and start over at Ripon, be sure to return to your AV90-cruise configuration.


The Bottom Line

Practice before you go, write down the procedures that you intend to use, and be prepared at any time to break out of the pattern and return to Ripon for a reentry. Set personal limits and adhere to them.

                                                                 Back to Index

Chapter 4

Fisk to Oshkosh - Chapter 4

In this chapter we’re going to practice some more maneuvers so I will repeat my safety advice. Don’t practice any flight maneuver you are not comfortable with without the help of an experienced safety pilot or flight instructor. Keep in mind that any training you receive from a CFI in preparation for Oshkosh could be counted towards a flight review.

Pilot Skills

Landing at Oshkosh during EAA AirVenture requires that you have the pilot skills necessary to safely get the job done. A way to evaluate this would be to simply look at the sport pilot or private pilot checkride test requirements and make sure you can repeatedly perform to those minimum standards. Remember, runway 36R and 18L is actually a 50-foot wide taxiway, and runways could be assigned that are not aligned into the wind.


Here’s a truncated version of what it says in the sport pilot Practical Test Standards (PTS) and private pilot Airman Certification Standards (ACS). If you can consistently meet this standard, you’ll do okay at Oshkosh.


ACS/PTS – “Touch down within the available runway, within 400 feet beyond a specified point with no drift, and with the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with and over the runway centerline. Maintain crosswind correction and directional control throughout the approach and landing sequence.”


Stabilized Approach

A stabilized approach is one in which the pilot establishes and maintains a constant angle glidepath towards a predetermined point on the landing runway. It usually means that the airplane is in its final landing configuration.


There are various ideas about where the stabilized approach should be established. One concept is that instrument approaches should be stabilized at 1000 feet AGL and visual approaches at 500 feet AGL. At EAA AirVenture this is probably not going to work.


The point is, it is of paramount importance that all pilots affix some point at which the approach is stabilized, or make a go-around. A high-performance aircraft needs a higher decision point, while a low performance recreational type airplane might be safer to establish that point at a much lower altitude. In my Zenith Zodiac, I use 300 feet AGL as my ‘must be stabilized’ point. If I become unstabilized below 300 feet AGL, I should either be consciously dealing with the situation or I should be making a go around.


You can practice your stabilized approach skills either at altitude using a make-believe runway, or you can practice at your local airport. As you practice, make sure some of your approaches are close-in and some are extended.  You’re never sure what kind of an approach you are going to be using at AirVenture until you actually start it, but the NOTAM advises that close-in approaches are common and often required.


The Suspended Descent

It may be necessary to suspend the descent after you are established in what you believe is a stabilized approach on final, but are still above your decision point. An example of this could be a clearance to land at a “DOT” (more on the DOT is coming up) further down the runway. A suspended descent means maintaining approach configuration and speed while holding altitude. This is another maneuver that should be practiced before heading for Oshkosh. Here’s how you might do this:

  • Choose a suitable practice area and pick an altitude that is no less than 1500 feet above the ground as your make-believe airport altitude.

  • Fly a traffic pattern 1000 feet above the make-believe airport altitude and fly a downwind, base, and final, just like you are making an approach to a real runway.

  • After establishing the make-believe final in landing configuration, apply power to level he airplane without changing configuration while holding airspeed and altitude. Note the power setting.

  • Hold this suspended descent configuration for 10 seconds or so, then reestablish your stabilized approach. Practice this several times. 

The Colored Dots

Separation minimums are reduced when AirVenture procedures are in effect, and the Dots allow more landings to occur in a shorter time. If you are assigned a colored Dot point on the runway, make a normal descending approach to that point. If assigned a Dot that is further down the runway than the normal threshold, do not drag the airplane down the runway at low altitude to your landing point.

Make your pattern and descent appropriate to the assigned Dot as if it is the beginning of your runway.

The landing on an assigned Dot is not a spot landing contest. It simply means that the Dot represents the touchdown zone of the runway, and an appropriate touchdown would be within 400 feet beyond a specified Dot.


To practice “Dot landings,” find a suitably long runway, and practice flying patterns to a landing point further down the runway. The NOTAM provides you with distance information for the Dots, and you could use this for guidance when practicing.


Other Pattern Considerations

Some of the landing patterns at AirVenture will be right turns. If you’re rusty with right-hand patterns, go out and get some practice. Some of the patterns are noted as requiring a continuously descending short approach. These also need to be practiced, and this is a time when the help of an experienced pilot or flight instructor might be a really good idea. Even on these close patterns, a minimum altitude at which you are stabilized must be determined.


Radio Procedures Beyond Fisk

After rocking your wings at Fisk you’ll be assigned the appropriate transition for your landing runway, and this is when the radio really gets busy (AKA Crazy!). Almost all the communication is from the controllers with no response required from pilots. If you think it’s absolutely necessary to talk to the tower, identify your aircraft the way you did at Fisk; do not use your N-number. Of course, if the tower requests a response, respond quickly and keep it short.                                                  Back to Index

Chapter 5

Go-Around & On the Ground – Chapter 5


The practice maneuvers I’ll be discussing in this chapter are normal and safe, but don’t practice any flight maneuver you are not comfortable with without the help of an experienced safety pilot or flight instructor.


The Go-Around (rejected landing)

When flying into Oshkosh during AirVenture, it’s easy to take a mindset that a go around is not something you want to do. No doubt, a go-around will involve a little hassle to get back into the pattern, but you must absolutely be prepared to do it.


It’s unfortunately true that go-around accidents are all too common in general aviation, and it has happened at AirVenture. However, with a little practice, a go-around is nothing more than a normal procedure.


In a previous segment of this series we discussed the importance of establishing a point where you must be in a stabilized approach. If that point is reached and your approach is not stabilized, a properly executed go-around could prevent an accident. There is also the possibility that the tower could request that you go around even if you don’t see the reason for it.


Go-Around Practice

The practicing I’ll be discussing is general in nature. Always use procedures that are spelled out in the Pilots Operating Handbook (POH). If you are flying a home-built experimental airplane, these procedures should have been developed in your phase-1 flight test program and included in the POH you created, or at least placed on a checklist.


Choose a suitable practice area and establish a make-believe runway altitude (the hard floor) no less than 1500 feet above the terrain. Use a road or section line as an imaginary runway. Establish a normal traffic pattern to your, “runway in the sky.” Just execute a normal final approach in landing configuration and, at about 200 feet above the hard floor, execute a go-around using procedures that should go something like this:


  • Apply full power. Be ready for torque and P-factor to cause yawing of the aircraft; counter it with rudder (center the ball).

  • Establish a pitch attitude that results in an indicated air speed that is no less than the best angle of climb speed (Vx) and no greater than best rate of climb speed (Vy). Make preliminary pitch-trim changes if needed, but don’t spend a lot of time with the trim.

  • Retract flaps (if applicable) to the recommended go-around setting, or to what you established in phase 1 flight testing. Adjust pitch to maintain an indicated airspeed of no less than Vx or more than Vy. Trim as required.

  • When a positive rate of climb is indicated either by instrumentation or visual reference to the ground, retract the landing gear (if applicable).

  • Maintain the appropriate climb airspeed until any obstructions are cleared or upon reaching the pattern altitude specified in the AirVenture NOTAM. Upon leveling out, remember to adjust your airspeed and aircraft configuration to comply with the NOTAM speeds (AV-cruise) or whatever is needed to blend into the traffic pattern.


On the first practice run, take your time and make note of pitch attitudes and the amount of trim change required to hold the proper airspeed during the configuration changes of the go-around. After about 30 minutes of practice you should start to feel confident in your ability to successfully reject the landing. Of course, at EAA AirVenture, you need to immediately let the tower know what is going on, but always fly the airplane first. Let the control tower worry about how to work you back into the traffic pattern.

After Landing

The AirVenture NOTAM gives explicit instructions about exiting the runway and having appropriate signs available to show ground flag persons your parking preference. On some runways, flag persons will be indicating to exit the runway onto the sod. It’s important to respond as quickly as possible, but not until the aircraft has slowed sufficiently for the turnoff to be safe. Both taildraggers and tricycle gear airplanes have incurred damage at AirVenture because the pilots rushed to get off the runway. Think safety first!

Aircraft that weigh less than 6250 pounds are required to follow signals to clear the runway onto the sod. If your aircraft is, for some reason, not capable or unsafe to be operated on the sod, tell the control tower prior to landing that you need a paved taxiway.


The flag persons are well-trained EAA volunteers that have been given clear guidance regarding the directing of aircraft off the runway. But remember, the pilot-in-command always has the last say when it comes to safety.


Airplanes landing on runways 18L or 36R (the converted taxiway) must not cross the adjacent parallel runway unless a clearance has been received from the control tower or a ground flag person wearing a “pink shirt.” Pink shirted flag persons are not EAA volunteers, they are FAA air traffic controllers. When you get a clearance to cross another runway, be prompt but safe.


Remember, the ground flag persons are EAA member volunteers (except the “pink shirts”) who are trying their best to efficiently get you where you want to go. Sometimes things may not go as you plan, but you need to do the best you can to follow the directions you are given. Sort out any corrections or preferences after you have parked.


Also, so much is going on around you while you’re taxing to the parking area, you need to be aware of anything that could require an immediate need to stop your engine. Speaking for myself, I always have a hand near the magneto switch, just in case.                                                                    Back to Index

Chapter 6

ADM and CRM at AirVenture – Chapter 6

In this final chapter of our discussion we’ll get into the issues of Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) and Crew Resource Management (CRM).


Fuel Planning

Obviously, good preflight planning is a must. There is a strong likelihood that you will end up in one or two VFR holding patterns over designated lakes as you approach the visual checkpoints of Ripon or Fisk on your VFR arrival. Also plan for the potential of diverting to an alternate airport.


These patterns and alternate airports burn fuel so plan your flight with a nearby fueling stop and, if needed, plan a stop for fuel prior to making the final run at Wittman Regional. It’s common for surrounding airports to welcome AirVenture pilots with low fuel prices, so this could be better for the wallet as well.


Single Pilot Operation

Let’s start off by considering some hints that could help a pilot who is flying into AirVenture without the help of a crew. The first thing to do after downloading the NOTAM is to print it out and review it.


Section out the NOTAM pages that don’t apply to you and assemble a binder of the pages that do apply. Highlighting the key parts of the diagrams helps. Each diagram contains radio frequencies, altitude information, and lots of notes.


Consider transposing this information to a quick reference card that fits in your shirt pocket or can be quickly displayed on a knee board. Get organized. Review the other sections of the NOTAM to see how other patterns interface with yours.


Think ahead about cockpit organization and where this information will be when you need it.


Co-pilot Crew Resource Management

If you are flying with a qualified pilot in the other seat, he or she can be a help or a hindrance. Don’t assume another pilot can figure everything out inflight. As the pilot in command you should meet with your copilot a few days before the event and thoroughly discuss the procedures. It’s important to separate duties so that you don’t waste time by both doing the same thing, and make sure to have duties and responsibilities well defined. Two pilots can mess things up if no one is in charge.


Non-pilot Passenger Crew Resource Management

A non-pilot passenger can be put to effective use with a little training and preparation. Your passenger can be trained to handle radio frequencies and visual checkpoints as well as how to see and identify other airborne traffic. Most non-pilots welcome this kind of training and responsibility, and may actually do a better job than your pilot buddy. Involve your non-pilot passenger in the NOTAM procedures and organization of the NOTAM information. This non-pilot passenger may even want to create his or her own set of notes.


Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM)

Good ADM skills mean planning ahead and being ready for the unexpected. But ADM also has a lot to do with the pilot’s attitude. If there was ever a place where your attitude has to be one of, “let’s just get this done as smoothly as possible,” flying into AirVenture is where you must put it into effect.


You will be encountering challenges in the air and on the ground, and this is no place for “air rage” or “ground rage” to take place. Remember that the ground flag persons are EAA-member volunteers, and they’re trying their best to make it go smoothly for everyone. If something’s not going your way, take a deep breath, and keep everything safe and friendly.


The difference between an adventure that is fun and one that is overly challenging is often determined by planning ahead. If you know anyone who has flown into Wittman Regional Airport during AirVenture, ask that person for a briefing about their experience.


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a Safety Alert that also addresses some of the issues we’ve discussed.


Remember, even after your trip to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh goes as smooth as silk, you will still have earned the right to tell your story by starting with the words, “There I was….”                    Back to Index

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