AirVenture By RV?

Out of the blue.

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Camping at the show is one of the best parts of flying to AirVenture. Waking up in a (sometimes soggy) tent next to your homebuilt? Priceless.

Since my Van’s RV-10 first took flight in 2014, I’ve made it to Oshkosh five times. The first four were flying the airplane from Arizona and staying in homebuilt camping (aka HBC). One never forgets their first Fisk arrival, nor any subsequent ones, for that matter. The sometimes 45-minute taxi in or out can actually be a delight for sightseeing along the way.

Our first year, my wife Evie and I had just gotten the tent set up when torrential rains hit. I was happy that I had double-staked the tie-downs. I will never forget, as the rain abated, venturing outside the tent only to see a funnel cloud appear over the field.

The first time we tent-camped at AirVenture, not 20 minutes after getting our tent set up, we were startled to see a funnel cloud appear next to the tower.

Fortunately, the RV-10 can haul a lot of “stuff,” so a week in a tent isn’t as bad as it can be for those sleek speedsters that can carry little more than a small duffle in addition to their tent. I love sitting in a comfortable lawn chair in front of the wing, taking in the airshow off in the distance and conversing with the passers-by.

This year: Smack dab in the middle of the country on the way to AirVenture. It’s a big country. See it sometime.

Prior to this year, I had made the trip twice with my wife, once with my son and once with a good friend. Each was enjoyable in its own way. This year, as we started making initial plans, it looked like it was back to Evie. She enjoys the overall experience, just not the tent camping part as much. We decided that we would try something different.

As a family, we have long been RV (as in recreational vehicle) enthusiasts, most recently with a fifth-wheel toy-hauler, but times have changed, and our kids are now on their own. I took an early, COVID-inspired retirement from my airline career, and we decided to try the motorhome experience. We bought a lightly used, low-mile 2018 Thor Chateau 28Z and decided that our first mega trip would be to Camp Scholler at Oshkosh. We had a marvelous time and learned a lot about the experience at the “south campus.” Like all OSH trips, we will be better prepared next time to more fully enjoy the experience.

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Trip Prep

In July, the EAA’s Camp Scholler is likely the largest RV park on the planet. However, it isn’t the only one available during AirVenture. Many private residences around the perimeter of the airfield allow RVs to camp on their property, and there is also a commercial campground near the main entrance. There is also a smattering of smaller areas around the airport where you’ll find RVs parked, especially near the ultralight area and the warbird section. I suspect those are for folks with special “connections.”

Scholler has two main types of sites and some special category areas. The prime spots are closest in to show center and have full RV hookups or at least water and electric. They are clearly marked and designated with an alpha-numeric address system. That part of the area is clearly laid out in blocks of sites with established roads and passageways in between.

The dry camping sites are mostly just grass fields with fewer designated roads plus some chalk lines to create pathways. There is also a strip laid out with white cones shown on maps as a “safety area,” which actually serves as an emergency landing strip and aerial passageway for the ultralight/STOL runway. The basic area extends all the way south to the frontage road of the main highway. There are areas cordoned off for unrestricted generator use, restricted generator use and no generator use. There is also an area that is designated as handicap accessible and another area for tents only.

Oshkosh isn’t a one-day trip from Arizona, for sure, so we took our time. First stop: Santa Fe, New Mexico (left). Note the restored Honda Trail 90 (now a 125) as our ground transpo. A note of thanks (above) for the man and the company that paid me all those years.

What’s (Still) In a Name?

The closer-in areas have paved streets with names, but further out, only Stits Road extends the entire length and serves as the main thoroughfare through the campground. The “yellow” bus service runs the length of Stits, and there are a couple of camp stores, showers, restrooms and, at the far south end, potable water spigots and a dumping station near the exit.

The dry (aka “basic”) sites open up for sale early, and you pay $28 a night for whatever arrival date you select until the end of the event. (These were 2021 prices and came with a three-night minimum.) If you leave earlier than the official end, you get a refund credited as you leave. You show up on the day you registered for, and from there, your actual site is likely unmarked open grass—first come, first served. This year there was an expedited preregistration program that is intended to save time getting processed at the entry gate.

The water and electric sites are handled differently. They don’t go on sale until later (it was July 2 for 2021), and one pays $70 (2021 rates) each night from the date one makes the reservation until the end of the show, whether you actually occupy a site for all those nights or not. Those sites are reservable but not refundable. That means that if you jump in on day one to get the perfect site, your total camping fee tops $2000, and you’re going to pay that regardless of when you arrive or leave. Wait a few days to save some coin, and the pickings get slimmer. Wait too long, and it will be sold out. Like airplanes, there are high-dollar RV rigs and Burning Man beaters (plus everything in between) to be found in both camping areas.

We opted for the economy class of “basic” and used the savings to add solar panels and an inverter to our coach, which worked out great. We arrived Saturday before the show and were able to find a nice convenient spot in the unlimited generator section near the corner of Stits and the safety strip. It has been said that pilots invented copper wire by stretching pennies. For me, I don’t see myself ever coughing up the dough to get a water-and-electric site, even as jealous as I was walking through High Dollarsville.

One of several “bike parks” near entry gates highlighting Camp Scholler’s unique traffic. AirVenture’s a big place, so you’ll want more than your Keds for transportation.

On Two Wheels

One common sight throughout all of Scholler is every kind of motorbike, minibike, e-bike, “bike bike,” golf cart, scooters, powered and unpowered skateboards, unicycle, uniskateboard—you name it. There was even a DeLorean complete with an illuminated flux capacitor. The main thoroughfares look like downtown Hong Kong during rush hour periods, and since the roads also tend to be the primary pedestrian walkways, things get crowded and chaotic at times.

Our alternative transportation consisted of my recently restored 1971 Honda Trail 90 (now a blistering 125cc) that we hauled on a rack behind the motorhome. It was extremely handy to drive from the campsite to the bike park next to the entry gate, or run for pizza, run to Target, or whatever. We even rode both of us to a neighboring town in a manner reminiscent of a scene in Dumb and Dumber for a media get-together. There were dozens of such vintage bikes around, and comparing notes with the owners was as enjoyable as it is with airplanes.

All in all, the entire round trip to Scholler from Mesa, Arizona, was a leisurely 15 days, 3607 miles and $1288 in unleaded fuel. The RV-10 certainly wins the time and operating expense comparo, but, in truth, it was actually nice to see up close the heartland that I have flown over for decades but never driven through.

Tent or RV?

Having done both kinds of camping—tent and RV—I can say there are definitely pros and cons to each. Every airplane builder who is capable certainly needs to fly their masterpiece to Oshkosh at least once to start their collection of the world’s most expensive commemorative mugs. It is just so cathartic to the aviator/builder soul. HBC is a wonderful community of like-minded individuals, brimming with camaraderie. Considering that it is nevertheless tent camping, the facilities, restrooms, showers and cabana are still pretty nice, all things considered. I have enjoyed every stay immensely.

Scholler has a slightly different vibe and culture. Even though anyone seeking repose in Scholler is supposed to be an EAA member, a surprisingly high percentage of the “neighbors” that I met had no direct connection to aviation. They just like “big” events, and AirVenture is about as big an event as there is. There are a lot of individual groups of longtime friends, EAA chapters, military squadrons or other special interest groups who gather and camp together, and that looked really fun. For better or worse, there are also a lot more spouses and kids in Scholler as well.

Finally set up in “basic” (dry) camping in Camp Scholler on Saturday afternoon (left). The white cones delineate the safety area where no rigs can park. Another view of the intersection of Stits Road (right) and the safety area as it starts to fill in.

I have to admit, though, after a long day at the show, it was sure nice to fire up the A/C and enjoy a home-cooked meal while you catch up on the news on satellite TV while charging your devices. I have certainly found as I have aged that better sleep at night means more energy and range the next day.

I confess I really missed having the airplane on the premises, especially when it came time to venture home, and it was going to be four days instead of one. To be honest, though, I didn’t miss plugging my phone into the spaghetti jungle pole to charge it and hope it didn’t grow legs while I was standing in line for the stainless steel toilet where the shortest line always seemed to have the biggest dude at the front of it. When it comes to human physiological needs (FAA parlance) and daily ablutions, nothing beats the blessed sanctity of one’s own mobile castle, not to mention the positive effects such luxuries have on spousal attitude during show week.

Another difference in ambiance between HBC and Scholler derives from overhead. At Scholler, especially near the ultralight pathway, I found the morning and evening overflights to be enjoyable to watch from a comfortable chair and not annoying in the least. In contrast, at HBC, those low-level Bell 47 rides are interesting the first thousand or so passes, but by mid-week, especially during precious nap time, each successive pass invokes urges to scour the AeroMart for surplus surface-to-air missiles. (No offense intended to my friends who fly those things.)

But the Weather…

A welcome sight on the way home from an epic adventure at OSH.

A comparison of show styles would not be complete without a discussion about the weather. It seems that dangerous weather and airshow week tend to attract each other. 2021 was no exception, and I have to admit that when I was lying in bed hearing the blaring loudspeaker announce busses being sent out for evacuating tented folks to the museum and other safe locales for incoming weather believed to contain large hail and even tornadoes, I was quite relieved to have my precious RV-10 tucked safely in a steel hangar 1800 miles away and a heavy iron V-10 anchoring down our Chateau.

I hope to attend many more AirVentures and will, if available, do it both ways at least once more. There is no doubt that I will miss the airplane and HBC when at Scholler and the motorhome and motorcycle when at HBC. Barring figuring out a way to accomplish both in the same season, I have thought long and hard about next year, compared the pluses and minuses carefully and decided for sure that next year I will absolutely be taking the RV. See you there.

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Myron Nelson soloed at 16 and has been a professional pilot for over 30 years, having flown for Lake Powell Air, SkyWest Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. He also flies for the Flying Samaritans, a volunteer, not-for-profit organization that provides medical and dental care in Baja California, Mexico. A first-time builder, Myron currently flies N24EV, his beautiful RV-10. He has also owned a C-150 and a Socata TB-9.

1 COMMENT

  1. Myron, thanks for the very informative article. I’ve always camped by my plane at homebuilt camping. All the details here will make it much easier for me when I decide to take a “different RV” back to the motherland someday. I also like that you got the “Thanks Herb” license plate!

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