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By Gosh, Southwest Airlines Was At Oshkosh

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On the face of it, a small upper Midwestern town on the shores of Lake Winnebago seems like an unusual place to host aviation enthusiasts from all over the world, but Oshkosh, Wisconsin has been hosting the EAA’s annual Air Venture since 1969.  (The event actually began in Milwaukee in 1953.)  And, Oshkosh is the perfect venue for the event, with lots of room, friendly folks, and beautiful summer weather—even the rain on Friday felt nice to those of us from a 100-degree North Texas.

If you mix a state fair with a trade show, symposium, air show, you get Air Venture, and I know why some folks spend up to a whole week there because you simply can’t see or attend everything.  Southwest Airlines brought our special Air Venture 2010 aircraft to the show on July 31. 

Those of us on the advance team were sweating out the rain all night, but it stopped about 5:30 am that morning.  It was still cloudy in the distance when N948WN, our glossy month-old 737-700, carrying 100 volunteers and special guests broke out of the gloom and touched down on Runway 18 in front of a surprisingly large early crowd at 8:00am.  Because I’ve been part of the great team who has been working on this project since January, it was an emotional moment as the Boeing was pulled into the center piece of the show, Aero Shell Square. 

I couldn’t help imagine what many of my Fellow Employees were thinking at they looked out their windows, having left Chicago Midway a few minutes earlier.  They had been lifted from the uniformity of a modern airport to an aviation wonderland where our aircraft would share the ramp with some of the most significant aircraft in history.  Surrounding our modern Boeing was a Boeing from a much earlier age, the magnificent B-17.  Adjacent to the B-17, was one of the ultimate piston-powered airliners, the immaculately restored Eastern Airlines Douglas DC-7B.  Continuing around our 737 was the unique tilt-wing Bell V-22A Osprey, a C-130 Hercules, and immediately in front of us, a massive C-5 transport.  Not far away was one of the few remaining DC-2s in the world.

Much more than all of the amazing hardware on display, the big “take away” for me from our participation is the interaction we had with all the people attending the show.  Not long after we deplaned, a long line began to build of folks waiting to tour our aircraft.  For the next seven hours, that line never diminished.  We had set up a tent near the rear of the aircraft where folks exited the aircraft, and we talked to people from Europe and Australia.  Many were aviation enthusiasts like many of us, but others were families from the local area.  I think we were surprised but very proud that so many folks wanted to see our aircraft and to talk with our Pilot volunteers.

Meanwhile, the passengers from our ferry flight fanned across the show.   Other aircraft were open for tours, and two that I made a point of going inside were the Eastern DC-7B and the TWA DC-2.  If your aviation geekiness factor is high enough, you will know that the DC-2 was the forerunner of the DC-3 masterpiece.  The “two” is a third smaller, and the DC-3 was the first example of “stretching” an airliner.

The DC-7 series had the range to fly nonstop from coast to coast, and the DC-7B was a refinement of the basic “Seven” with greater range.  The final DC-7 was the DC-7C or the “Seven Seas” with longer wings, a taller tail, and transatlantic range.  The DC-7’s production life was cut short by the introduction of the early jets, and they were quickly pulled from service, some with only a couple of years’ service.

The military also had a large representation, and here we see Paul Thompson on the flight deck of the C-5 that was parked in front of our aircraft.

Other interesting aircraft on display were the Ford Tri-motor—this example was being displayed by one of the show’s sponsors, Ford Motor Company.

And we had this, the only flying example of the Sikorsky S-38.  The S-38 was a close relative to Pan American’s pioneering S-40s and S-42s.

Not only are the aircraft on display, many of them participated in the daily air show, which is different each day.  This is the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey.

After the show ended on Saturday, we all loaded up into N948WN for the short flight back to Chicago Midway.  Even then, probably a thousand folks had lined the fences along the runway to watch our departure.  It was an amazing event for all of us who attended, and we hope we can return next year.

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