The early evening light shone into the tent, making the old orange nylon glow. It was appropriate to be there at the campgrounds of Camp Scholler in the first tent I ever camped in—my family’s tent from 40-plus years ago—for my return to Oshkosh au naturel, more than 20 years since I first put down stakes there.
It turned into a homecoming, and a new experience at the same time: My partner in crime, Stephen, celebrated his first Oshkosh ever during the 2018 show. He had an excuse: He’s a Brit. So we were both like kids returning to our more innocent years. And it turned out Scholler was a perfect place to do it—hard ground, busy showers, bugs, and all.
We rolled in around 6 pm on Tuesday, which meant we secured one of the last tent spots for the taking. Seriously, when we located our home for the next four nights, we looked around for the south boundary fence and found it just a few yards away. That made me happier than you might think: It meant that Scholler was FULL!
My guess was verified the next morning at the media briefing: Not only was Scholler at capacity, the aircraft camping filled up as well, even given the new extension, the South 40. More happiness. To have so many folks there, spending days or the whole week, and (most importantly) flying in, that made my heart sing. It’s a solid indication that our general aviation industry retains a shine, perhaps returning to full health after a decade of rough years.
So many elements go into this hope, as I found out over the course of the week at EAA AirVenture. Innovations took top billing, with forums and showcases and lots of attention from all sides. Old friends met new ones: Both the warbird and classic rows featured new faces, and the homebuilt areas were packed. The venders with whom I compared notes said business was good—a solid showing at least. More satisfaction.
And the weather…nearly perfect. Does that ever happen? Okay, so, Wednesday eve we ducked out of the pouring rain around dinnertime, and feared what we’d find at the campsite. A moat? A stream? Water cascading through our tent? We lucked out. We’d picked a bit of ground that sat ever-so-slightly higher than its surroundings. And with the exception of one dumbass move (leaving the vent window unzipped), we stayed dry through that single night of showers.
But the best part of camping was the people (aside from opting out of the morning traffic jam coming into the grounds). After our early morning showers and reasonably giant coffees from the canteen, we sat outside and talked with newbies from around the country—and the world. Everyone gave off a kind of quiet joy that’s impossible to fake.
If we were a bit worried that we might find politics a problem, our concerns faded quickly. It was as if everyone silently agreed to keep our differences outside of the airport boundaries. We had enough common ground to focus on that the divisiveness fell away. It had no place. Let’s make a pact to carry on that spirit of camaraderie, shall we? We could wind up solving our problems rather than letting them grow intractable.
It felt as though general aviation has started to use its collective will in this way to renew itself, and move forward. For a first-time visitor to Oshkosh, what I’ll call the “Spirit of Scholler” demonstrated best what GA in the United States is all about. For a longtime avgeek returning home for that annual visit to Wisconsin, it made me feel so full of hope.