Everything that can be said about the world's largest airshow has been said, and some of it twice. The Rocket Racing league is off and rolling, blue mountain is still the preeminent supplier of advanced navigation systems, and Fox River Brewing makes a pretty damn good beer. There's so much more that it just doesn't bear repeating: Ken Murphy, Steve Wright and Burt Rutan trading stories, Robert and Valerie cannonballing to Memphis, Lance and Janet keeping 722 from blowing away, Brad's a father, Ross doesn't fit in the jet but Cindi does, Larry invents the All Bratwurst Diet. As veterans the world over have said since the Siege of Troy: I was there.

There are, as you may know, only four stories in the world to be told, and we had them all this year at Osh:

A man goes on a journey
A stranger comes to town
Star-crossed lovers
Of honor and revenge

Of course, I'm only going to write about the first one. You can never tell the whole story since, like a map, a tale sufficiently detailed to show everything takes too long to tell. With enough detail, it's nearly the thing itself. Also like a map, a story, by nature, leaves out some of the more interesting surface features and all the really good shortcuts. I was there for most of it and still managed to miss some of the best bits. Some of them get reinvented with each telling. But this isn't about the nature of narrative. This is A Man Goes On A Journey; he meets some people, finds out a bit about himself, returns home only to cross the river again and know that he's changed and it hasn't. It's Life, or something like it.


Getting There

Memphis to Andrews, NC is an hour and forty minutes of hard-driving rock n' roll. The guys at PS Engineering put Sirius satellite radio in their new audio panel, and Buzzsaw is the hard drivin'est rock station on earth. I'm screaming along at 200 Knots and Ozzy's urging me to make it 250. That'll do Pig, that'll do.

Landing at Andrews proved to be more exciting than planned when the nose fork broke and the sent me skidding down the runway fast enough to have the State Patrol say "Boy, you're going to jail ..." if I were driving. We never did find the fork, tire, or whatever made it decide to not be part of the program, but Valerie bailed me out (as usual) and a fork, tire and cotter pin showed up via FedEx. No one in Memphis, it would seem, uses UPS.

Fixed and rolling, weather drove us west toward Nashville, and Ross and I sat down at MQY for a hundred gallons of Jet A, a couple liters of water, and Hey Do You Guys Have A St. Louis Sectional Chart? Hopped to Kankakee, IL descending from the cool of altitude into a truly HOT and miserable afternoon. Frank and the guys at Kankakee hooked us up with a car, and we went to have lunch and a couple gallons of iced tea. Overall, a normal day in Aviation.

Ross is the programmer at BMA, and he's about as broad-shouldered as I am. It was NOT easy fitting both of us in the Cozyjet. I think he was the one who suggested a cardboard cutout like they have at Disneyworld: "If you're any bigger than this, you can't fly this ride." Suits my taste just fine. Note to self: Investigate possible subconscious engineering of jet to require petite copilot.

Out of Kankakee to Oshkosh, and the tower controller clears us from Warbird to land on 18. The dude asks me to land on the Blue Dot, and we go around. "Cozyjet say again JET unable. Going around." I got the whole runway next pass, and thought to myself while I'm doing the Go Around, may as well do it at full power and steep, steep, steep! It is an airshow, right? Hey guys, _this_ is why we fly. Larry's got a theory that life is made up of perfect moments that, all strung together, make life worth remembering. Here's one more:

722 Landing at Oshkosh 2006


The Show

The Blue Angels, The B1 bomber, the F/22, airshow acro performers, the one-man accordion band, Uncle Burt and Bratwurst. Yeah, it's July and I'm back at Oshkosh. Things have their season.

The EAA Brothers from the West Ramp parked Kersosene Dreams under the wings of various planes starting with the C-130, then the A-10 and an F-5 at one point. I think she was a little nervous going to the dance with all the seniors, but she didn't show it. Finally ended up in front of the Rocket Racing tent whose new racers look so close to 722 in design it's almost flattering. They spent the rest of the week explaining that no, that's not a rocket it's the jet from Tennessee that started it all ... I offered to drag race with them. They didn't agree, but then again they didn't exactly say no. blue mountain is doing their electronics, so I may get a shot.

The F/22 shows what you can do with an unlimited budget, Valerie holds court on Part 23, Lance gives a sniper's viewpoint and Larry invents the Oshkosh Diet Plan: "A brat for breakfast, a brat for lunch and a sensible cocktail dinner". Brad Snodgrass is a proud papa, Ira loses his camera, we find it and exercise commendable restraint with regard to toothbrushes. Shelia buys a flying pig for my office, Cindi appears midday and Bob O parachutes in from Johnson City and all is up and rolling with the new EFIS/One. We're at full power, picking up speed. Three days to go ...


A Man Goes On A Journey

Monday. The show is over, the booth broken down and packed away and our bags wrapped for shipment to Copperhill. Ross is already home, Hal, Shelia and Larry are flying out on Delta. Cindi and I are pre-flighting the jet and bailing the water out. The new cover was thrown together at the last minute and doesn't work. The plane's full of rainwater. We dry out, button up and get ready to go behind a pair of F-5's. The flight leader salutes, closes his canopy and we all spin up.

"Oshkosh ground, experimental jet 722, Aeroshell Square, ready to taxi."

"Cozyjet taxi runway 18."

It's nice to hang out in a place where they know your name.

Greg and KD

An hour and a bit to Kanakakee, Cindi goes to sleep at 11500, and I make a note to fit oxygen. I do Dr. Chuck's finger-waggling peripheral-vision check, and decide to go lower. At Kankakee I bum the car off Frank again. He rags me about sleeping for an hour last time through, and wants to know if we'll need the Pilot's Nap Room. I hang him The Finger, and we head out to lunch at The Homestead, a place that's been around for 100 years or so. They make a pretty good salad, and the tea's as good as you're gonna get outside The South. People are friendly in the Midwest. And the West, and the South, and Up North once you get to know them.

In the air again, and off to Elizabethtown, KY. Was originally planning for Glasgow but the clouds came tumbling down, as Ben Folds would have it, and I asked the EFIS for a divert. E-town is pretty sweet, and the FBO put 722 in the hangar, lent us his Jeep, and made suggestions about where to go and what to do. Aviators are nothing if not a fraternal bunch. Now, I noticed we were only 40 minutes by car from Louisville so we went to the Old Seelbach Hotel. If you ever get the chance, go. The Seelbach is now owned by Hilton, but meticulously restored to her 1905 grandeur. The Old Bar, the Rathskeller, the Oak Room. It's my favorite hotel in the world, and it's been over 15 years since I've been there. Before I had long hair, before I cut it short again, before I was married.

Before I was divorced. Before I learned to fly. Before I was who I am now. OK. Deep breath. Here we go.

We roll up in an old jeep with no windows, Cindi in jeans and a tied off long sleeve shirt, me in shades and green Nomex, both sunburned and smelling like jet fuel. Yeah, we get some looks from the suits since we're clearly having more fun than is typical in Kentucky. The bellman dug it the most:

"What do you fly?"

"Experimental jet."

"Oh man ..."

Dinner was supposed to be a salad and something light, but six courses later, we threw in the sponge. Our sommelier knew his business, and kept showing up from the kitchen with little plates and glasses unbidden: "Try this. It's good." Buffalo tartare? Sure bro', whatever you think. As a foodie and cook from the word go, this place was a revelation. I don't know what I ordered. I'm sure it came in the middle of all that stuff somewhere ...

Now:

What is it like to revisit an old haunt with someone new? Wonderful, sad, better, new. Everything old is new again. Every day is, really.

Next morning (well, late morning) we launched from E-town to Andrews for a short hop of an hour and a bit. I could get so used to this -- Louisville is not six hours drive. Louisville is an hour's flying. Memphis is not a day away. Memphis is an hour an a half from home. After we landed at Andrews and pulled our stuff out of the various little places you hide things in a small plane, I looked back.

You're never supposed to, of course, but with the jet sitting nose low on the ramp she looked less like a bird of prey and more like what she was: without realizing it, without even trying, I accidentally built a time machine. Twenty minutes to Asheville. Twenty minutes to Atlanta. An hour and a half to go back in time fifteen years and to glimpse a possible future. I smile and wonder if anyone else knows.

The sun drops behind the mountains casting long shadows on the ground, and even longer ones in my mind. There's always next year, always Oshkosh. It'll be the same, and it'll be so very different. Just like tomorrow. I fire up my old Porsche and swoop down the twisties to my house on the mountain. Time to make dinner, time to tend the garden.

Once again I'm tired, happy and sunburned; smelling vaguely of kerosene with a head full of memories. I suppose I was wrong earlier. THIS is why we fly.