The 70th annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh takes place July 24-30 at the Fly-In Convention Grounds, located near the Wittman Regional Airport. Aviation enthusiasts from around the world gather in Wisconsin to celebrate the past, present and future of aviation. Those headed to join the over 600,000 other attendees can benefit from learning tips from insiders. EAA released a guide for new visitors to AirVenture, explaining how each attendee can enjoy Oshkosh to the fullest.
It all started at the Curtis-Wright Airport in Milwaukee in September 1953, when 21 aircraft and 150 gathered to celebrate aviation. The event moved to Oshkosh in 1956, then back to Milwaukee, then Rockford, Illinois in 1959 when the event outgrew its original location. The annual fly-in made Oshkosh its permanent base in 1970, renaming the event EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 1998. From just 21 aircraft and 150 people, AirVenture has grown to host over 10,000 aircraft and more than 600,000 people.
Some attendees call AirVenture the aviation family reunion. The insider guide said that all visitors can surround themselves with friendly people who love aviation and are happy to spend the week in Oshkosh.
"The result is that Oshkosh becomes the real "Happiest Place on Earth," no matter what you might hear from a certain mouse," the insider guide said.
The basic rules at Oshkosh are to treat everyone with kindness, be respectful around all aircraft, pick up trash and thank the volunteers. The group of more than 6,000 volunteers works hard to guests can enjoy their time at AirVenture. Volunteers have been the heart and soul of the organization since its inception. People can volunteer to join the flight line operations team, aircraft parkers and marshallers, help support the Runway 5k, help with running one of the various youth programs or centers, run trams/on-site shuttles, hang signs and help set up, work as a boat captain or work as a part of the medical team.
Attendees can select from a range of ticket options and kids under 18 are admitted free of charge. Members get their wristbands and other passes mailed out ahead of time and a discount on ticket prices. The daily tickets for member/veteran early birds are $41 and for non-members it is $59. Closing Sunday tickets are $20 for members/veterans and $25 for non-members. The weekly tickets are a member-only deal for early birds, costing $135. The deadline for member-only early bird pricing and express arrival is June 15.
AirVenture is an interactive event, featuring food, drinks, shopping, day and night airshows, movies, presentations, hands-on training and most importantly, aircraft. The guide recommends first-time attendees look up the activities they are most interested in to plan out their stay. EAA presents information on the different events and features online and in the mobile app. There is a lot to enjoy for all ages so be sure to find out what peaks your interest so you don't miss out on anything.
Exploring the grounds
The grounds are over 1,500 acres and there is a designated place for everything. The fly-in campgrounds on the north and south sides of the grounds host thousands of planes and campers. The dedicated warbird area hosts iconic ex-military aircraft, holds presentations, youth activities and a shop. The insider guide recommends taking the Warbirds Adventure Tram Tour to get an overview of the area and learn about aviation history. A dedicated section displays vintage aircraft as well, showcasing restored classics and a gift shop, forum area, youth activities and a used bookstore.
The heart of EAA, the homebuilts, has a dedicated area as well. This section includes commercial exhibits and a campground. Hundreds of showplanes are flown in by builders and pilots each year. The IAC is the home base for the International Aerobatic Club, found at the heart of the convention grounds. The core purpose of the IAC is to promote and enhance the safety of sport aerobatics.
The biggest aircraft can be found in Boeing Plaza. This area shows off the largest aircraft attending the show and those that highlight that day's theme. Between the Boeing Plaza and the main gate are the central exhibits. The four main exhibit hangars and hundreds of outside aircraft displays can be found in this space. The four corners is EAA central. Find out how to join, renew your membership, ask questions, shop around or learn how to become a pilot at the four corners.
Families can enjoy AirVenture together with the various youth-focused centers and programs. The EAA Aviation Museum, close to the Pioneer Airport, transforms into KidVenture during AirVenture. KidVenture hosts fun activities for young aviation enthusiasts. Kids can learn to fly a radio-controlled airplane, experience a flight simulator and learn about aviation history. There will be a simulated B-25 flight experience and life-size replicas of the Mercury 7 and Gemini 7 space capsules.
The Fun Fly Zone hosts ultralight and ultralight-type aircraft, including trikes, powered parachutes/paragliders and rotorcraft. The 900-foot grass runway is adjacent to the Ultralight barn. The Fun Fly Zone consists of flying events that show the less traditional forms of aviation. This evening event is where attendees can enjoy STOL and RC demos in the evenings without a night airshow. Weather permitting, the Fun Fly Zone is also where a mass hot air balloon launch will take place on Saturday morning during AirVenture.
Guests can visit Camp Scholler, the drive-in camping area. During the week of AirVenture, the lot becomes home to over 40,000 people. People travel to Oshkosh from all over the world and there are numerous places for guests to fly or drive into and camp.
The towers on the map include the regular control tower and four wayfinding towers put up for the week of AirVenture. The regular control tower becomes the busiest in the world that week, handling thousands of incoming aircraft. Wayfinding towers are located in the Warbirds, Homebuilts, Vintage and Ultralight areas. The wayfinding towers are tall and colorful, serving as easy-to-spot landmarks or meeting places.
The one spot off the map is the EAA Seaplane Base. This base is a quiet lagoon full of planes. If you are looking to visit, it is a quick 10-minute ride in a car or a $3 trip on a bus.
Making the trip
Thousands of attendees fly into Oshkosh each year, honoring the origin of the spectacular event. First-time attendees might want to familiarize themselves with the rules and procedures unique to Oshkosh during the event. The Oshkosh NOTAM outlines the important rules to ensure all flying attendees get to AirVenture safely.
Those flying commercially can have a choice of airports in the area. The closest is Appleton International (ATW), followed by Green Bay (GRB). Visitors can drive from Milwaukee (MKE), Madison (MSN), the Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA) and Chicago (ORD or MDW). If you don't want to rent a car to get to the grounds, many of these airports have shuttle services or ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber.
Many attendees drive themselves to the event and you can follow the signs and directions from volunteers. For first-time attendees, the guide recommends preordering parking online to save $10 a day.
Find a place to stay
Looking for lodging at or around the grounds? Luckily, there are many options to choose from. Camp Scholler is open for guests staying in everything from a small tent to a full site with water and electricity hookups. Guests can stay the week in a tent, an RV or a van in an affordable space, surrounded by people ready to enjoy aviation. AirVenture provides campers with laundry services, grocery stores, ATMs, banking/currency exchange, charging stations and first aid.
Campers flying in with a warbird, vintage or homebuilt airplane have the option to stay in one of those areas during their stay. The North 40 and South 40 welcome all visiting aircraft. First-time attendees have the option to stay right at Oshkosh during their stay, giving them a full experience and friendly neighbors to talk to and make friends with.
For the visitors that prefer a bed to a sleeping bag, cities or towns close by Oshkosh will have lodging available. Colleges in the area make dormitories available in Oshkosh and surrounding areas like Menasha, Fond du Lac and Ripon. Airbnb and Vrbo are also solid options for guests.
For those that do not drive or rent a car, EAA AirVenture has trams and buses that run throughout the day. The free transportation can take guests across the grounds or to the different campsites. Staffers will also be driving around on golf carts to offer lifts to tired walkers.
What to bring (or not to bring)
First-time guests might be stumped while packing for their aviation adventure. The guide recommends comfortable shoes, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, a refillable water bottle, an umbrella or raincoat, a sweatshirt or jacket, a phone charger, patience and a smile.
All guests have their bags searched before entry to ensure a safe experience for staff, volunteers and guests. Larger coolers, alcoholic beverages, firearms, fireworks, laser pointers, pets other than service animals, bikes, oversized bags or backpacks, recording devices, large umbrellas or any illegal substances or contraband are prohibited from the grounds.
Enjoying your stay
First-time attendees usually turn into regular visitors at EAA AirVenture, returning every year to experience all that Oshkosh has to offer. The biggest draw might be the afternoon and night airshows. The shows highlight a variety of aircraft including warbirds, modern military aircraft and aerobatic performers.
Night shows dazzle guests with lights and pyrotechnics, followed by a firework show. The show line is a mile and a half north and south, giving guests a great view wherever they find a spot to sit. The nights without an airshow feature the Twilight Flight Fest for STOL demos, powered parachutes, paragliders and 3D RC flying.
For guests looking to spend some time in the air, AirVenture features different flight experiences. Fly in a Bell 47, Ford Tri-Motor or B-25 Mitchell. The Bell 47 is one of the earlier helicopters put into production and an aerial tour of the grounds costs $65. The Fort Tri-Motor brings the ‘20s to life with an $85 ride for members and $95 for non-members. The B-25, famous for its role in the Doolittle raid is an iconic WWII warbird. Guests can take a ride in the B-25 Berlin Express for $425 or $475 for non-members.
If you are not watching a night airshow or the Twilight Flight Fest, the Theater in the Woods will host guest speakers including astronauts and combat pilots. The Fly-In Theater features a movie, introduced by a pilot, historian or filmmaker.
Guests can buy souvenirs and merchandise to remember their stay, or buy the hat they forgot to pack. The different shops will carry different items, some themed to the area they are located in like warbirds or homebuilts. Shoppers can find everything from clothing to artwork.
If you are looking for a plane, don't worry. Aircraft up for grabs will have a "for sale" sign in the cockpit. Bulletin boards will also feature the aircraft available for purchase.
Food and drink
Visitors will not go hungry during AirVenture. Food stands and trucks are supported by vendors like Papa Johns, Subway and Dunkin'/Baskin Robbins. Try the local cuisine during your stay with a visit to the Machine Shed or Parker John's BBQ.
There will be something to eat for every dietary need or preference, including vegetarian and vegan options. Enjoy everything from eggrolls, cheese curds, bacon, doughnuts, biscuits and gravy, pancakes or a cheese curd taco. The red barn in the Vintage aircraft area will host an ice cream social and will offer popcorn to guests. Campers can buy their food from one of the many grocery stores and stock up on snacks for the week. Vendors will sell bottled water or guests can bring their own and use the free refilling stations located around the grounds.RELATED STORY:EAA celebrates 70th anniversary at AirVenture with commemorative beer
While alcoholic beverages might be a prohibited item, visitors can imbibe after 1 p.m. at specific locations. This year, the EAA is celebrating its 70th anniversary with an anniversary beer. The Beer is brewed locally and there are seven different designs, representing different phases in aviation history and the seven days of AirVenture.
The grounds will also feature about 1,000 port-a-potties and real bathrooms in two of the four main exhibit hangars and at the EAA Aviation Museum. Visitors can also find first aid, changing and charging stations, ATMs, Wi-Fi hotspots and a lost and found to cover other basic needs.
Remembering your stay
When visiting AirVenture for the first time, or any time after that, be sure to take in all that the event has to offer. Take pictures and videos to create lasting memories. Many guests take pictures by the iconic brown arch, a reminder of the adventure in Oshkosh.
Visiting as a non-member? You can always join the EAA while visiting to get the many benefits on your next trip to Oshkosh. AirVenture can create lifelong memories for the whole family. Aviation enthusiasts of all ages can enjoy a trip to Oshkosh.
Be prepared for the "post-AirVenture blues" when you return home. Whether this is your first visit or you are a seasoned regular, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is an experience nonetheless.