Many EAA old-timers sit around bemoaning the fact that what used to be a mid-summer association fly-in has morphed into the greatest aviation spectacle in the free world, you can still get a small taste of what it was like “back in the day” if you show up to Wittman field a few days early. Waking up to a long upper-Midwest sunrise, the dew fresh on the tent, airplanes lined up in silent rows outside, you can still smell the farm country wafting along in the breeze, the airfield yet to wake as it anticipates the masses.
Volunteers have been showing up in Oshkosh since early July, camped out in tents and RVs as they rummaged through the storage buildings for the familiar chairs, tables, trash cans, and supplies, trying to put together what the regular attendees remember as “the show.” But in the evenings, they sit around the Pavilion in camp chairs, surrounded by just enough airplanes to make it a fly-in, yet not enough to make it an “event.”
These early days are the times which harken back to the quiet chance to sit around and trade stories of flying, remembrances old and new. They are why we participate in this mass migration, yet that “why” often gets buried in the tumult of the masses. If you really want to experience the quiet of a Midwest fly-in, you have to get here early… but if everyone does that, the magic will pass. For now, however the coffee is ready, and the camp chairs beckon—the day’s work can wait a little while longer.