A Non-Pilot Spouse’s Perspective on Oshkosh

By Lianne Neima, EAA 882792, Porter’s Lake, Nova Scotia

It has been more than 15 years since my husband, Jack, started attending EAA AirVenture Oshkosh — the largest air show in the world! He always had more vacation than me, and he used his extra time to drive from Winnipeg to Wisconsin with friends, who were also pilots, and take in the event. When he returned home he had tales of more than 10,000 airplanes, three-quarter of a million people coming through the gates, and concerts put on by groups such as the Beach Boys and the Lt. Dan Band. He went to outdoor movies and joined presentations that included speakers such as Harrison Ford and other well-known celebrities. He would have stories of the “camping gang” and all their exploits. It sounded a little too good to be true, almost Disney-esque.

His week always included volunteer time, mostly for the EAA Young Eagles group, until two years ago when he joined the EAA Canadian Council, and that’s when he asked me if I would like to attend with him. We had retired, so time was no longer an issue. I must be honest and confess that at first I was very leery, as I had always considered it a “pilot thing,” and while I do love to fly with him, I wasn’t sure there was a place for me there. I was nervous about spending so much time around airplanes, about the very hot weather there, and the thunderstorms that occur regularly. But hey, anyone can do it for one week.

Well, the event is overwhelming. There
really are more than 10,000 airplanes, ones you would recognize in a minute and
others you wouldn’t know at all. There are hundreds of old warbirds from World
War II that are in immaculate shape and real crowd-grabbers for the history
they hold.

Beautifully displayed B-17G.

There are homebuilt aircraft, and airplanes
that have hundreds of hours of labour to lovingly restore them. There are the
giant aircraft of the military and commercial airlines, right down to single-seat
planes and helicopters, and many one-of-a-kind types that are never seen
anywhere but Oshkosh.

There are seminars and presentations
galore. There are activities and crafts, such as rock painting, or water
colours for those who are interested. Last year I took part in the One Week
Wonder and pulled a rivet on an aircraft they were building that would be
completed within the week. This year I went back and saw that same plane with
my name showing on the builders list printed on the wing. I have to say, it was
quite a feeling.

Jack’s name and mine on the wing, bottom right.

Do you have children? No problem.
KidVenture provides hours of hands-on crafts and small building projects for
young ones.

There are flea markets and fly markets,
four huge hangars full of vendors of aircraft stuff, product advertising and
items for sale, including jewelry, photos, hammocks, and massage chairs. While
all of this really was wonderful to me, it is the people who make the event
what it is.

I volunteered to work in the Canada Tent
for a few hours each day, and I truly had an awesome time. I enjoyed the people
I worked with, but even better were the folks who dropped in looking for
information, or wanting a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee, or who came to attend one
of our seminars. They were from all over — the United States, Australia,
Germany, Asia, and of course Canada. They came with their questions, their
comments, and their smiles. They were happy to be greeted in a friendly manner,
and we were excited they came.

If you go down with a group of friends, as
we did, you have the added benefit of the camaraderie shared at each meal, and
unforgettable memories of laughter and kinship.

But, hey, if airplanes aren’t your style,
what is? Oshkosh is an attractive town with an outlet mall, an antique mall,
shops to suit any budget, and some really terrific restaurants, including
waterfront cafes and steakhouses. There is a wonderfully unique candy/chocolate
shop in the downtown area, and even a homemade chocolate business run from a
private residence. There is something for everyone. You can top off your day
with a night air show that is second to none. The fireworks rival Disneyland,
and the extraordinarily lit aircraft are a distinctive detail you’ll remember
for years to come.

So may I personally extend an invitation to
other wives out there who have wondered what Oshkosh is all about? Come and
see. Please don’t forget to check out the displays and tents, and may I
recommend you try volunteering for a few hours? It will be an experience you
won’t soon forget; I can promise you that.

While I was there, I read a sign that was a
quote from Paul Poberezny, the founding father of EAA and AirVenture Oshkosh.
The quote stated: “Through EAA, I’ve learned much more about people than I ever
have about airplanes.” This says it all. So set your hesitation aside and try something
entirely different. I think you’ll love it. In case you were wondering, I’ve
gone back for a second year. New experiences; new friends. Come join us and say
hi at the Canada Tent.

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