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Prepare for the Big ShowPrepare for the Big Show

Chances are you know someone who’ll be going to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for EAA AirVenture this year—probably more than one. Some might be your customers, current or former. Maybe you’re even going yourself.

Flight school operators may know better, but the aviation community as a whole doesn’t seem to realize just how much the Big Show ought to spur demand for refresher training. Pilots who plan to go straight to Wittman Regional Airport instead of shuttling from one of the outlying fields need to be on top of their game. They’re about to share a little airspace with a lot of other aircraft, following a detailed arrival procedure to the letter.

So, the two weeks before AirVenture ought to be boom times for recurrent training. Those few pilots who know they’re really sharp may do just fine without, but the great majority of us would do well to knock the rust off our pilotage, slow flight, and short-field landings before we even think about sticking our heads into the hornets’ nest.

Unfortunately, the record makes it apparent that not everyone figures that out ahead of time. Along with airshows and summer showers, participants can count on seeing at least one or two flying machines cracked up by pilots who overestimated their skills—or underestimated the extent to which those skills would be tested.

It’s not always the errant airman who pays the price. As the pilot of a Piper PA-20 began to flare for landing, he realized a Cessna was directly beneath him. He abruptly pitched up, rolled, and stalled onto the runway. The Cessna had been cleared to land at the threshold, the Piper at the orange dot 1,200 feet farther down. The Cessna pilot later acknowledged that he’d “floated a little” during his landing.

More often, though, the one who goofs winds up putting on the show. A case in point would be the Mooney pilot who, preoccupied with making the perfect spot landing, tried to force the airplane onto the runway while it still wanted to fly. It “bounced two or three times and traveled off the right side of the runway/taxiway into the grass where it contacted a taxiway light… [and] continued across a service road where it contacted six heavy military vehicles.” Ouch. Then there was the pilot of a V-tail Bonanza who decided to extend his base leg for separation, then “got too low for the tight turn” to final and wound up touching down in the grass instead of on the runway. Trying to save face by taxiing back to pavement (before anyone noticed?), he managed to hit a runway light, skid across the runway, and collide with an airport sign before coming to rest in the grass on the opposite side. Afterward, he said he decided to go ahead and land because he was “unsure of the go-around procedure due to the density of traffic.”

Come to think of it, maybe another fertile area for pre-event preparation would be a little ground time to get a CFI’s help deciphering the arrival notam.

Landing shenanigans may be some spectators’ idea of good clean fun, but not all arrival mix-ups are that benign. When a Europa XS stalled attempting a slow base-to-final turn, both on board were killed. The 10,000-hour pilot of an amateur-built P-51 replica died when his airplane rolled after clipping a 1944 Mustang following an air race demonstration; apparently he’d mistakenly believed the other airplane was departing the pattern rather than landing. And the mischief doesn’t end once you’re “safely” on the ground. Taxi collisions aren’t exactly rare. In some cases geometry’s to blame. The pilot of a Grumman TBM Avenger said he never saw the RV-6 he hit from behind over the high nose of the big warbird—though witnesses also said he didn’t seem to be making any S-turns.

So pilots heading to Oshkosh really ought to want to brush up their skills before they go. If they haven’t been knocking down your door, maybe it’s time to energize your contact list. In the biggest show in aviation, the comic relief should be left to professionals.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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