Home » I Joined 677,000 People For A Whole Week At The Greatest Airplane Celebration In The World. Here Are The Coolest Planes I Saw

I Joined 677,000 People For A Whole Week At The Greatest Airplane Celebration In The World. Here Are The Coolest Planes I Saw

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Last week, my wife Sheryl and I spent about six days taking in a humongous celebration of all things aviation. It was a dream come true to attend the whole run of EAA Airventure Oshkosh 2023. As it turns out, Sheryl and I weren’t the only ones starry-eyed from an overload of aircraft. This year, the Experimental Aircraft Association did it again and pulled out another record year. As the two of us walked literal miles each day, it was hard to pick our jaws off of the ground. Somehow, this year was even better than last year.

Like I did last year, I will be writing about a bunch of the aircraft I saw out there. For now, I want you to check out some of the epic history that touched down in Oshkosh this year. Something to remember is that the majority of the aircraft that arrive for an AirVenture flew there and will fly back home. It’s living history at its finest!

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Lockheed Super Constellation

Sheryl and I arrived at AirVenture toward the end of its first day on Monday, July 24. We planned to be there in the morning, but timing just didn’t work well. We did arrive in time to watch the first day’s airshow from our campsite and to witness the chaos that was EAA’s Camp Scholler. I thought it was a joke when an EAA volunteer told me that Camp Scholler was sold out. It wasn’t even the end of the first day, how was that even possible!?

As it turns out, the reason behind so much of the madness I experienced was due to the fact that thie year was yet another record year. Here are some incredible statistics for you. Approximately 677,000 attended AirVenture this year, setting a new all-time record. That’s up from 650,000 people last year, itself beating the record of 642,000 people, which was set in 2019. EAA’s membership and AirVenture are both experiencing exponential growth as it appears more people are getting interested in aviation. That’s always a good thing in my book!

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EAA says more than 10,000 aircraft attended AirVenture this year and from July 20 to July 30 there were 21,883 aircraft operations, up from 17,000 from last year. This adds up to an average of 148 takeoffs and landings per hour when the airport was open. For comparison, back in 2019, CNN Travel reported that in 2018 Chicago O’Hare International Airport handled an average of 2,520 aircraft movements per day or 105 per hour. O’Hare took the crown for the busiest airport by aircraft movements that year. That just illustrates why the control tower at Wittman Regional Airport proudly displays “World’s Busiest Control Tower” on its railings every year.

We’re still not done yet with statistics. EAA says 3,365 showplanes were displayed this year including a record 1,497 registered vintage aircraft, 1,067 homebuilt aircraft, 380 warbirds, 194 ultralights, 134 seaplanes and amphibians, 52 aerobatic aircraft, and 41 rotorcraft. Last year, there were 3,200 showplanes including 1,400 vintage, 1,156 homebuilts, and 369 warbirds.

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Sikorsky UH-34D “Ugly Angel” YL-37

In terms of camping, roughly 40,000 attendees camped in a tent, RV, or under the wing of their plane. That number is about the same as last year, however, the number of campsites went up from 12,000 sites to over 13,000 sites. This is the reason why Camp Scholler was sold out by Monday, forcing people to plant their stakes in fields outside of the event.

These impressive numbers led to absolutely packed crowds, lines of aircraft storming down taxiways, and oh so much fun.

Our Own Statistics

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As I mentioned in my piece about how broken my family’s camper was, Sheryl and I camped in a 2007 Thor Adirondack 31BH in one of the overflow fields outside of Camp Scholler. If Camp Scholler is basically a small city for 11 days then the outflow fields were basically the suburbs of that city.

Now that I’m home, I can tell you how things finished with the camper. The 2007 Thor Adirondack 31BH has a 46-gallon fresh water tank, a 36-gallon gray water tank, and a 34-gallon waste tank. The water tank had never been used since my parents picked up the Adirondack in 2016 and despite my best efforts to flush it out, water came out of the faucets cloudy. So, Sheryl and I decided not to drink the water and used it only for cleaning and for the bathroom. We rationed the water and incredibly, the 46 gallons lasted the whole trip. Sheryl ran out of water just after her shower on Sunday ended. The gray tank was full by the end while the black tank was maybe a third full. Just because I was curious to see how it worked, I hired a pump truck to dump our tanks. The putrid truck sucked our tanks out in just a couple of minutes, which was cool to watch.

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The propane worked better after advice from our readers. Whenever the fridge didn’t see propane, I used the stove and that got propane to its destination. Thank you, guys! The same couldn’t be said for the battery. It was clearly damaged from being discharged and it wasn’t happy being run every night. By Saturday, it was roached enough that it could run just a vent fan for maybe four hours before dying.

The battery disconnect also stopped working entirely. Since I re-wired it twice, I have a feeling that it’s broken somewhere else. Apparently, this trailer had a rodent problem during a recent stint in storage, so that’ll be a fun thing to track down. Finally, the floor near the entrance door is definitely soft, which has us wondering about where else could there be water getting in.

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So Many Epic Planes

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ASI Super Guppy Turbine

None of our camper problems put a damper on our trip, which was simply spectacular. When I read that NASA’s Super Guppy was going to be in Boeing Plaza during Wednesday night’s fireworks show, I had to make my way out there. As it turned out, about 20 or so other people, most of them seemingly EAA volunteers, also had the same idea. My phone did a commendable job, I think.

Let’s kick this off with a 1930s aircraft reborn for the modern day.

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Junkers A50 Junior

Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke AG hasn’t been around since 1969, but it’s technically back today thanks to businessman and avgeek Dieter Morszeck and his luxury luggage company, Rimowa. Morszeck loves vintage aircraft so much that Rimowa decided to modernize the Junkers F13 and put it back into production in 2016. This has since turned into a full-blown business–Junkers Aircraft–and the company has most recently brought the Junkers A50 Junior back from the dead. Its parent company is Waco Aircraft, another dead name brought back. From Junkers Aircraft:

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Junkers A50 Junior

The Junkers A50 Junior had its maiden flight in 1929. The single-engine, two-seat low-wing monoplane with an oval fuselage cross-section and dural corrugated sheet metal planking was equipped with an 80 hp engine and already had a take-off mass of around 600 kg at that time – in other words, an ultralight aircraft of the first hour.

The Junkers A50 Junior was able to set a number of FAI world records around the world and became famous, among other things, because Marga von Etzdorf was the first woman to fly her Junkers A50 Junior from Berlin to Tokyo in several stages in 1931.

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Junkers A50 Junior

The “reissue” Junkers A50 Junior has modern avionics, 100 HP Rotax 912iS power, a corrugated aluminum body, and looks like no other aircraft in the sky. It’s $199,500, which is expensive, but I expected a boutique plane like this to be even more expensive.

Another aircraft that grabbed my attention was NASA’s Aero Spacelines Super Guppy Turbine. This plane will get its own piece, but for now, here’s a description I wrote a couple of years ago at the old site:

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ASI Super Guppy Turbine

When you need to carry cargo that can’t fit on any regular freighter, there are some rather freaky-looking planes that can get the job done. NASA’s choice is its Super Guppy Turbine, registration N941NA. It was originally put into service all the way back in 1953 as Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker SN 52-828.

One big problem of the space race was figuring out how to get giant rocket parts to Cape Kennedy. They were far too big for the road and for rail, so NASA used slow barges. In 1961, Aero Spaceline Industries stepped up to the plate with a solution. The firm would take a KC-97 Stratotanker and heavily modified it to carry the second stage of a Saturn rocket.

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ASI Super Guppy Turbine

First came the Pregnant Guppy, which had a 19-foot diameter cargo bay and cut transport time for rocket parts from 18 to 25 days down to 18 hours. In 1965 ASI introduced the Super Guppy. This one featured a 25-foot diameter cargo bay, more powerful engines, a pressurized cockpit, and a nose that hinged out to swallow huge loads.

ASI and NASA used the plane for a whole 32 years, using it to carry loads as large as the third stage of the Saturn V. This Super Guppy is one of two Super Guppy Turbines, which come powered by Allison T-56 turboprops. As humans head back into space, NASA is using N941NA to carry spacecraft parts like it used the original Super Guppy in the past.

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ASI Super Guppy Turbine

This year I finally made it out to the Seaplane Base. True to EAA’s word, the Seaplane Base offered a much slower, more tranquil version of AirVenture. You could sit back in the shade and watch various floatplanes and flying boats touch down on Lake Winnebago. Since it was sizzling hot outside, I went for a swim at the Seaplane Base, where I watched planes fly low right over my head to touch down in the bay. You couldn’t do that on AirVenture’s flightline on land!

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This year’s theme for AirVenture was 70 years of the Experimental Aircraft Association. The variety of aircraft on deck this year was incredible. The beefy C-5 made a return, as did the Boeing C-17 Globemaster, a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, and even a FedEx Cessna 408 SkyCourier.

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Cessna 408 SkyCourier

Speaking of flying boats, check out this Grumman HU-16 Albatross. Sheryl and I sat under one of the broad wings of this aircraft when we watched Wednesday night’s airshow. The aircraft’s occupants watched the show from the cockpit and from the hatch in the bow/nose.

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Grumman HU-16 Albatross

 

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Grumman HU-16 Albatross

Here’s a description from the Pacific Coast Air Museum:

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HU-16E Albatrosses were in the U.S. Coast Guard fleet from 1951 to 1983. These aircraft were used on many types of missions. They were used as search platforms looking for lost boaters or downed aircraft and to locate sinking fishing boats. If they were needed, de-watering pumps were dropped by parachute. Crews launched day or night. The aircraft were used to check on ship collisions or to locate vessels with ill crewmen. Many times the aircraft escorted helicopters to complete rescues, and rarely this amphibian landed on water to make a rescue.

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Cessna Model 337 Super Skymaster

Did you know that Cessna once built a push-and-pull twin-engine aircraft? I didn’t until I ran across this Cessna Model 337 Super Skymaster. It was designed to be a lightweight, inexpensive, and easy-to-fly twin-engine aircraft. Having a tandem engine eliminated the need to have a twin-engine, non-center-line-thrust pilot rating while also in theory, bolstering safety during emergencies.

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Cessna Model 337 Super Skymaster

 

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Cessna Model 337 Super Skymaster

Another highlight was the Fairchild C-123K Provider “Thunderpig.” This plane is literally the very last of its kind, from EAA:

The Fairchild C-123 Provider served as a cargo and troop transport aircraft throughout the late 1950s to mid-1970s. About 300 were built, but only one survives in flying condition. That airplane, affectionately known as Thunderpig, will be coming from the Air Heritage Museum in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, to be part of the “Vietnam Remembered – 50 Years Later” commemoration at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2023.

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Fairchild C-123K Provider “Thunderpig”

 

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Fairchild C-123K Provider “Thunderpig”

This particular airplane was built in 1956 and served at a number of bases in the U.S. It was resurrected from an aircraft boneyard in Arizona in the 1990s and delivered to the Air Heritage Museum’s restoration facility. The name Thunderpig was the nickname used by the 911th Airlift Wing based at Greater Pittsburgh Airport when it flew the C-123 there.

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Fairchild C-123K Provider “Thunderpig”

 

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Fairchild C-123K Provider “Thunderpig”

I got to watch this start-up and depart Wittman. This plane seems to leak just about everything. When it sits still, oil drips from the engines onto the ground. When it fires up, it puts on enough of a smoke show to waste any mosquitoes in a quarter-mile radius. It even smoked during its takeoff run! Given Thunderpig’s provenance, I think it has the right to be a heavy smoker.

Unlike last year, I finally got to see everything at this year’s AirVenture. It took us about five days for us to see everything from the event and I learned about some interesting quirks. Sheryl says it seems like AirVenture is really two shows in one and I can see where she is coming from. The aircraft on display from Monday through Wednesday may be vastly different than the aircraft that appear from Thursday to Sunday. This year, the massive commercial aircraft were all gone by Thursday morning, replaced with military equipment.

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Boeing 747-400 LCF

 

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Boeing 747-400 LCF

It was also interesting to see just how many people left on Thursday morning. That morning, there was a conga line of aircraft so long that both main runways were clogged up almost end-to-end with planes waiting to go. Due to some unexplained circumstances, departures were closed off. The wait to leave was so long that many pilots shut down their aircraft and took naps under their wings. It reminded me of those articles of horrific traffic jams taking so long that people start camping out.

Once again, Sheryl and I had the time of our lives. I never thought I could have so much fun at an airport, but it was easily some of the most fun I’ve ever had. It was also an inspirational time. I met so many pilots during my time at AirVenture, including women, LGBTQ people, and such a huge variety of people all brought together by a shared love for aviation. This event also inspired me to keep on working toward my own private license. I’m making Sheryl hold me to a dream: I want to fly to AirVenture within two years.

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Lockheed Super Constellation

 

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Beech D18S

 

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A vintage Aeronca!

Stay tuned, because I have a lot of airplane history to write about. And if you’ve ever thought about going to an AirVenture, do it, you won’t regret it.

(All Images: Author)

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Martin English
Martin English
10 months ago

Not sure about the definition of the Super Constellation being the only one still flying. There’s one that flys from my local airport; it was an ex USAF and National Air Guard that was restored to civilian standard, to reflect the QANTAS ones of the 50’s

More detail here
https://hars.org.au/lockheed-c-121c-super-constellation/

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 months ago

Great article Mercedes! Sounds like an amazing time, glad you have fun. That Super Guppy is out of this world! (Ha ha) It looks like a happy whale. I can’t help but stare at the pic w/ the front of it; it just makes it look enormous…can’t imagine it in person. That teal Aeronca is beautiful!

Barry Allen
Barry Allen
10 months ago

Love those 20’s and 30’s aircraft, they look like hope

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
10 months ago

I would love more aero content. Thanks for the reportage, Mercedes!

Geekycop .
Geekycop .
10 months ago

Next time you head out west stop at the Hill AFB museum for some unique ones, including a skymaster, and the ONLY SR-71C, the bastard is in their back hangar.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
10 months ago

Great fun but does it seem more and more small owned planes are crashing than they used too? I wonder if it is climate change related s;/

Preston Flowers
Preston Flowers
10 months ago

OshKosh is on my bucket list and the seaplane base sounds like the spot I might spend most of my time in

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