After the mostly sleepless night, exhausted but knowing that we were still lucky to be there, we decided to make the best of it and walked around the airport, enjoying the airplanes on display and the constant buzzing of anything that has ever flown. I guarantee that if something has flown, has tried to fly, or has hopes to fly in the future, some version of it will be at Oshkosh. It’s that comprehensive. You overhear a lot of “Wow I didn’t know that still existed!” or “I haven’t seen one of those in fifty years.”
We took our chairs across the field to the ultralight grass runway to watch a three-hour long helicopter airshow. About twenty minutes into the show, it started to rain. Rain is no big deal, but it started to pour, and I had my laptop in my backpack that I wanted to keep dry(ish). We ran into a large tent and waited it out with everyone else who had been watching the helicopter show. It only lasted about ten minutes, after which time we all meandered out and chose something else to do now that the helicopter show was no longer going on because of the rain and threat of more. We walked in a light drizzle to meet my controller friend after he finished his shift.
His offer to stay on the extra bed in his hotel room still stood, and we eagerly took him up on it. He even leant us his car so we could go get our luggage from the tent and meet him at the hotel later as he caught a ride there with another controller. Just as he handed me his car keys, the skies opened up yet again. Having lived in New Orleans for most of my life, it takes a helluva hard rain to catch my attention. This one did. We ran under another large tent, but the wind was blowing so hard that even on the far leeward side of the tent, we were getting soaked. Nothing like a good horizontal rain for an impromptu shower since we didn’t take one last night! We saw a few people running into an open door in a nearby building. I had no idea what was in there, but we ran for it anyway. We were more concerned with staying dry than with trespassing. It turned out to be a storage closet, and six strangers all jammed happily into it, joking about the odd circumstances.
Once again, the rain only lasted about ten minutes, but it was one of the hardest rains I’d ever seen. Just as it was letting up, another couple seeking shelter ran past and told us that a homebuilt biplane that was tied down had broken its tiedowns in the strong wind and flipped over onto a Thunder Mustang. Not good. Now I started to really worry about my plane and how it had fared in the wind.
Under the remaining drizzle, we briskly walked the 15 minutes back to my plane to check on it and our tent. From a distance, we could see that the plane was fine and still tied down…but the tent was flattened. As we neared the tent, we could see that the only thing still slightly propping it up was our now-drowned luggage. The wind had broken one of the poles holding the tent up. We tried to stick the pieces of former tent pole back together to hold the tent up, but there was no way it would stay. Well, that settles it, not that I was second guessing moving into my friend’s cozy hotel room.
I got inside the tent so I could hold it up and assess the situation inside. I picked up Joelle’s suitcase to pass it to her outside the tent…and it gushed water. Ditto with my suitcase. So now we had not a single piece of dry clothing between what was on us and what we had in our suitcases. Each of our sleeping bags weighed about fifty pounds, and it took both of us to drag them out one at the time and hang them open on the struts of the airplane to dry. Water poured off them when we hung them up. It looks a little funny seeing water pour off a sleeping bag hanging on an airplane. About that time, my controller friend texted to tell us there was a dryer in his hotel.
After getting lost on the way to the hotel (boy, this just was NOT our day!), we spent the rest of the day with said dryer, drying our clothes rather than looking at airplanes as we had flown seven and a half hours to do. It took two dryer cycles in an industrial dryer to totally dry our thoroughly soaked stuff. It was while we were sitting on the folding counter in the hotel laundry room, tired, a little dazed, and still soaked since we couldn’t strip naked to dry the clothes we had on, that I began to rewrite the lyrics to “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” in my head:
“Hello muddah, hello fadduh, Here I am at Camp North 40 Oshkosh is very entertaining And we had a tent until it started raining.”
The next day, after being dropped off at the airport, we first went to check on the status of the drying of our things hanging on the plane. It had rained again during the night, but it must not have been a windy rain since our sleeping bags, enjoying the shelter of the wings, were now dry. The tent, however, had breathed its last breath and had now completely flattened under the weight of the rain. I didn’t want to put it wet into the airplane, so we unstaked it and hung various parts of it on the airplane to dry. I tied the “rain guard” (HA!) part to the propeller so that it could flap in the wind like a sail and dry faster. I did NOT want to spend the whole day sitting around making sure the stuff didn’t blow away while it was drying. I came here to see airplanes, not defective, leak-prone tents!
Just as we had everything hanging out nice and cozy to dry…it started raining. I quickly threw everything back under the wings on the wet grass. Clearly it was just to annoy me because the rain stopped within minutes. This whole rain dance thing was becoming highly unamusing. After a couple hours in the sun and wind, now *mostly* dry, good enough for us, we threw it all in the plane and headed out to the flight line to enjoy the afternoon airshow.
It was a veritable smorgasbord of aircraft: Zeros, Pitts, Extras, Mustangs, Stearmans (Stearmen?), AWACS, the Red Bull aerobatic helicopter, the Goodyear blimp, and all manner of fighter jets doing all sorts of fun things that make me completely jealous. The blimp apparently flew past a little earlier than planned, and the announcer said “Well, that’s the first time I’ve ever been able to say that the blimp was *early* for something!” There were pyrotechnics set off from the far side of the runway to re-enact Tora, Tora, Tora with airplanes buzzing in every direction in mock bombing runs. The young kid behind me didn’t understand what was going on and kept asking, “Mom, why are they trying to shoot down airplanes?” She was terrified. Her mother just kept telling her to be quiet. Poor kid. Finally, after the same question about thirty times, the mother told her that they were not trying to shoot down the airplanes but that the airplanes were acting like they were dropping bombs. Then “Mom, why are they dropping bombs?” But she and her brother each claimed a plane and cheered it on to shoot down the other. Hey, any way you can stay entertained.
Because of the drying out of our clothes on Thursday and the drying out of all other things on Friday, we never did get a full day to play in our aviation playground. And since the weather was looking like it would get worse Saturday afternoon, we decided to head out Saturday morning, hopefully avoiding the summer afternoon thunderstorms around New Orleans by arriving early evening.
Both times that we went to get a weather briefing from the Flight Service tent near the North 40, we were standing waiting our turn in line when a man (a different man each time) cut in front of us. Only when we approached the briefer when it was our turn did he say “Oh I thought you ladies were with that guy.” Of course. Because we’re women and therefore would automatically not be pilots but just be here with our guy. It never ceases to amaze me.
Once again, though, being a woman pilot comes with some advantages. The airplane had sunk a bit into the wet ground, and there was no way just the two of us could push it out into the open so we could start it without blasting anyone behind us. There was a group of four men chatting a few planes over who were more than willing to help two women pilots push their plane when I asked nicely. We put our “VFR” sign in the window so that the volunteer flaggers on the field would know where to direct us for departure. The active runway was 27, the same one we landed on. I was beginning to wonder where, if at all, I could do my pre-takeoff checks since I couldn’t see anyone in the line of airplanes taxiing in front of me stopping to do it.
Just as I touched the taxiway leading up to the runway and was listening to the tower frequency (still no talking to the controllers, just listening), I heard “White and red Cessna, clear for takeoff.” I looked around and asked Joelle “Do you think that was for us?” Then, again, “White and red Cessna, clear for takeoff.” Guess that’s us! So much for doing the pre-takeoff checks! I gunned it and said goodbye to my beloved green dot on runway 27. They were launching planes off about every thirty seconds, so I was keeping my eyes peeled for slower traffic in front of me and faster traffic behind me.
The ride back home was only slightly less pleasant than the ride up there. We hit some pretty bad turbulence for about an hour before we landed to fuel up in Sikeston, Missouri, again. Then closer to New Orleans, we dodged an area of severe precipitation. But, all in all, a great trip! We were, however, looking forward to having a bed for the night (one for each of us!) that was neither on the wet ground nor a shared hotel bed as we sought refuge from our camping disaster.
My only regret for the trip is that we had to spend so much time drying our things out after the storm and therefore lost a lot of time we should have been spending checking out all that Oshkosh has to offer. So…I hope that the stars will align for next year and I can go back. But I think next time I’ll skip the camping.