The three largest and most important aviation events in the world are hosted in Paris, Farnborough, and Oshkosh. The former two, held in alternating years, are large trade shows for industry insiders. While there is limited access for the general public, these are very much events for CEOs, business executives, and sales representatives for the likes of Boeing, Airbus, and their major international customers.
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, by contrast, is the People’s Airshow and only has one requirement to attend: a passion for flight. AirVenture is the Mecca of fly-ins, and every year hundreds of thousands of pilots and aviation-lovers make a pilgrimage to Oshkosh.
Hosted annually each July by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) at their home airfield of Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Wisconsin, AirVenture is the world’s largest fly-in and gathering of aviation enthusiasts. In 2021, over 600,000 people attended the event, with many attendees being pilots who arrived in their own planes and camped in tents pitched under their wings. Approximately 10,000 aircraft temporarily made their home at KOSH during the week of the fly-in, with over 1,000 of those being official display entrants competing for a coveted Lindy Award.
During the week of AirVenture, the airspace around KOSH becomes the busiest in the entire world. FAA air traffic controllers from all over the USA volunteer their free time to travel to Oshkosh and work in the airport’s tower, clearing tens of thousands of aircraft movements over the course of the fly-in. So high is the demand for landing clearance that individual runways sometimes are authorized for three simultaneous landings at different lengths, with the target touchdown position indicated by colored dots painted on the runway surface. Each year, the FAA issues a special NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions) to bring order to the chaos of thousands of aircraft arriving at a small regional airport.
Walking around Oshkosh, attendees will see planes of all shapes, sizes, and eras. Everything from vintage warbirds to modern fighter jets to GA classics like the Cessna 172 and Beechcraft Bonanza, to futuristic eco-friendly planes like the Pipistrel Velis Electro (the all-electric battery-powered variant of the Virus), to helicopters, gliders, and paragliders, to experimental and home-built designs were all present at AirVenture.
For many years, legendary aviators Chuck Yeager and Bob Hoover were EAA ambassadors and regular attendees at AirVenture. For fans at the show, the opportunity to meet and talk with two aviation heroes who both have legitimate claims to be called “the greatest pilot to ever live” was a real highlight. While Yeager and Hoover are no longer with us, many other famous pilots make the annual trek to Oshkosh. Among them is Patty Wagstaff, inductee of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the first woman to win the title of US National Aerobatic Champion. Wagstaff also has a long association with Microsoft Flight Simulator. She has worked as an aviation consultant on the series and appeared as a virtual flight instructor in MSFS. An Extra with her plane’s distinctive livery has been featured in previous editions of the series.
Fifteen members of the Microsoft Flight Simulator team were granted the immense privilege to travel to Oshkosh and attend AirVenture 2022. For a group that has been working almost entirely remotely for more than two years, this represented a rare opportunity for members of the team to gather together. For some of the newer staff who started on the Flight Simulator project after the switch to fully-remote work in March 2020, this was a chance to meet their colleagues in-person for the very first time. For everyone present, attending Oshkosh allowed us to indulge our collective passion for all things flying and aviation.
We asked some of the team to provide their thoughts about the AirVenture experience. Here are their responses:
Jorg (Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator): Oshkosh was, as always, awe inspiring. Being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of aviation fans is just an amazing experience. Highlights for me were some of the airshows (had no idea how tight a Mig-21 could turn)! and then, seeing a replica of one of my beloved old German planes (a Junkers) was awesome! And finally … got a chance to take a look at a dozen P-51s and a fantastically restored Bf 109G!!! Overall, an awesome show!!!
Boyd (Audio Director): The highlight of the show for me was (and is always) the warbirds…specifically the awesome sounds made by these increasingly rare hotrods from the Second World War. Nothing comes close to the sound of a P-51 Mustang pulling high G maneuvers directly over your head. The roar of that huge supercharged Merlin engine and the screaming “howl” they make as they pull out of a dive…it never fails to give me goosebumps!
Jayne (Senior Community Manager): My favorite part of Oshkosh was spending time not only with my Microsoft family but with one of our community advocates, Blu Games. As a CM, I work with community members daily, but almost exclusively online. To get to meet and hang out with Blu in person was refreshing and so much fun. I can’t wait to meet with more community members and connect in the future!
Parsian (Senior Data Scientist): AirVenture 2022 was my first airshow, and I was blown away. I got to see some of my most favorite aircrafts in person. I walked inside of a C-5 Super Galaxy, saw the ridiculous short take off of a C-17, felt the roar of F-35C’s F135 engine while in afterburner, took selfies with a gorgeous P-51 and listened to its amazing engine sound, all the while the sky was beautiful, the grass was green, and the temperature was perfect. Loved Oshkosh. I am returning next year.
Chris (Community Manager): My Oshkosh highlight was seeing so many experimental planes like the Burt Rutan-designed Long-EZ and Quickie. These aircraft and the people who fly them represent the true spirit of the EAA, and it was a real treat to see dozens of them parked on the KOSH grass.
Tyler (Pilot Tester): Attending Oshkosh has been a dream of mine since I was in 5th grade, so having the opportunity to go with the team and seeing the future and past of all things aviation was incredible! There’s no way I could narrow done one specific favorite part. However, watching the faces of some of our flight simulator team light up when hearing the roar of a jet fly by or seeing their excitement about some of the experimental designs inspired me! Seeing the passion of the builders, pilots, crew, and new attendees was a small reminder of why I love the aviation community. My only regret is not wearing more sunscreen.
EAA AirVenture 2023 is scheduled for July 24-30 next year. For anyone with an interest in aviation – and let’s face it, if you’re reading this article, you probably qualify – we highly recommend you take a trip to Wisconsin and experience Oshkosh for yourself. You won’t regret it.