Canadians’ Flight to AirVenture Is a Pandemic Adventure

By Raquel Lincoln, EAA 1306824, and Jim Bell, EAA 543641, EAA Chapter 63, Lyncrest, Manitoba

If you had asked aviation enthusiasts to imagine a year without AirVenture, they would have told you it’s unimaginable. It took a worldwide pandemic to cancel every aviator’s pilgrimage in 2020, so the yearning to be part of the adventure once again was full throttle for two Canadian pilots.

In April 2021, Raquel acquired a 1976 Cessna 172M (C-GXGR). A fellow member of the Springfield Flying Club, seasoned pilot and annual AirVenture attendee Jim Bell, was equally eager to share the flying in a quest to ‘land on the dot’ and hear those coveted words: “Welcome to Oshkosh!”

The morning of July 25, Jim filed an eAPIS for U.S. Department of Homeland Security notification. At 11 a.m., with vaccination cards in hand and at the height of a Prairie heat wave, we took off from Lyncrest Airport (CJL5) through a cloud of grass-strip grasshoppers, en route to Piney Pinecreek airstrip (48Y) in Minnesota. Shortly after taxiing to the south apron, a U.S. customs officer made his way to the airplane. After a few questions and a nice chat, we got an enthusiastic ‘Welcome to the USA,’ as he returned both passports. The ol’ Lycoming was on its way to KOSH!

A friendly fuel stop was made at St. Cloud (KSTC), before entering busy MSP airspace to land at Airlake Airport (KLVN) just outside of Minneapolis, under the Class B shelf, to spend a day with family and friends. An FAA waiver was required to fly under the shelf without ADS-B.

Monday morning was spent getting fresh groceries and flight planning, with blaring in the background, fuelling the anticipation when we would finally hear, “Rock your wings!”

We stopped for gas at Stevens Point Airport (KSTE), Wisconsin, so that we would have lots of fuel for the final leg, in case of delay or a diversion. We had to hold for one orbit of Green Lake before getting the okay to continue.

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Wittman Airport
First sight of Wittman Field – already looking full

We were directed to Runway 27, where Jim made the steep descending turn required to bring the airplane down on the green dot.

Green Dot at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh
The famous green dot – we nailed it!

We had a 20-minute taxi to a new parking area at the extreme south end of the airport — the south of the South 40! It was 7:30 p.m. before we finally shut down, two hours of engine time. With sunset just after 8 p.m., we were in a flurry of activity getting the tents set up and the airplane put to bed before it got too dark and the mosquitos came out! It was time to crack open a couple of cold Cokes to celebrate our arrival at AirVenture 2021!

South 40 Campground at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh
Our view of the busy south 40 campground
Campsite at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh
And their view of us – my tent matching the 172 paint job

AirVenture was almost indistinguishable from pre-COVID years with a total attendance of more than 600,000 for the seven days, more than 10,000 airplanes parked on site, four hockey rink-sized exhibition halls, daily air shows, deep fried cheese curds, root beer floats, and everything else we go to Oshkosh for. Although we are both fully vaccinated, we diligently wore masks at indoor venues and in locations in close proximity with others like in line-ups and on transportation.

While the air shows and the vast assortment of airplanes leave any aviator drooling, the thunderstorm on Wednesday evening was what we’ll remember most. The convergence of three systems was forecast, including extremely high winds, pouring rain, quarter-size hail, and tornadoes. By Wednesday afternoon, the night air show had already been cancelled. The day show ended early, at 5 p.m., so people could get home before the storm. Even the Red One Market store was closed at 7 p.m., leaving campers with what they had at hand. We spent the evening battening down the hatches, but we were really at the mercy of the weather. We had no time to leave, and no place to go. At 10:30 p.m., the state troopers came by and requested everyone evacuate their sites. EAA had opened the museum for campers to take shelter. It started raining, and then it really started pouring. Fortunately by then we were on the bus, where we rode out the storm, rather than going into the museum. It rained very hard for an hour, and finally let up around 1 a.m. While a tornado touched down a few miles upwind, we were very lucky that the worst of the storm passed us by.

Although parked on the fringes of the ‘Under the Wing’ camping world, Wi-Fi was excellent. While Jim caught the air show, Raquel joined a work Zoom meeting from the left seat of the 172 as a C-17 flew overhead. Meeting attendees commented on the ‘life-like’ virtual background (little did they know the background was as real as it gets!). We missed the tail end of the air show on Thursday to go into the town of Oshkosh to get our COVID PCR tests, a Canadian government requirement for re-entry. The driver we hired, from Kobussen Transport, even stopped at a grocery store so we could make a quick pickup.

Aerial view of Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Passing over Eau Claire, Wisconsin on our way home

Bright and very early on Friday morning, we packed everything into the airplane and made the long taxi to Runway 36. We left Oshkosh in our prop wash, and flew northeast towards Superior, Wisconsin (KSUW), near Duluth, for a fuel stop. During our stop, we filed CANPASS for re-entry into Canada. About a half-hour north, Mother Nature had one more challenge for us — heavy smoke in northwestern Minnesota brought visibility down to the VFR limit for several minutes. We made it through, and visibility improved as we crossed the border. The customs officer met us at the FBO at Winnipeg International Airport (YWG). We showed our ArriveCAN app, proof of double vaccinations, and negative PCR test results. In return, we received the ‘welcome home’ mandatory COVID home-test kits. The 172 lifted her wings one more time as she headed to her hangar home at Lyncrest Airport. Let the dreams in anticipation of AirVenture 2022 begin!

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