I originally wrote this for Piper Magazine and it was published two months ago. I thought the forum might also enjoy:

Having had the luxury of flying up in my friends Archer my experience to Oshkosh started off amazingly. I’ve been a student pilot for almost three years, but that’s another story. Henry Graeber, Greg Kelsoe and myself piled into his Archer and we were off to Waupaca. We arrived early for the Piper / Cessna Association meetings and I was able to meet and connected immediately with their great members and staff. The hotel and meeting rooms were very nice. It was an excellent event with outstanding presentations and it made me all the more excited to get my Oshkosh tent experience in full swing. Kent and Jennifer the founders of the association were able to help me find a ride to the grounds a few days early to ensure a great site for my tent.

Once I arrived I was directed to a suitable area by one of the many volunteers. Their recommendations were any area not taped off was fair game for your site. Great, found a tree and started to set up the tent, but a closer look at my new site I found an animal carcass but no tape. Setting the animal carcass aside and double-checking for tape as wells as bugs, I was good to go! Telling this little story back with the Association folks earned me the nickname, “Tom of the Woods”. In hindsight I could have left out the part about the carcass, yet there I’d be in a matter of days.

I arrived for the full on tent experience Sunday and immediately meet my neighbors. Interestingly enough I was very rushed when we first meet as I wanted to get all my gear in the tent and to secure some basic supplies but this new friend was very chatty. I paused for just long enough to realize that in my first 5 minutes I had already learned something great; this was Oshkosh, fellow pilots hanging out and chatting. So after slowing down a great deal and taking the time to listen and enjoy the conversation I settled in for a great week. I was happy to have had this knocked into my head on day one.

Meeting another attendee who offered a ride to the WalMart to get supplies, she was a huge help and turned out to be an AP staring her own business. We also found time to rent some bikes so off to find the Coffin Guy we went. I found out about the Coffin Guy on the EAA forums, great resource for Oshkosh. If you are unfamiliar, you’ve got to meet Chuck and hear his story. He immediately welcomed us, offer a beer and the conversations began. Found out that he goes through 900 pounds of ice during the week just to keep the beer cold. After telling him he was famous and the word was out, it was off to the movies and shuteye; it was going to be an early start in the morning.

As the forums ramped up I had my schedule packed all week; it was one of my main reasons for attending. I thought that Jason Schappert, Rod Machado, and the FAA Pavilion provided fantastic learning opportunities and shook hands with all that shared their time. I was also very struck with the willingness of all the speakers to continue the dialogue long after their presentation. I was attending these presentations alone but it never felt that way, I was amazed at just how many conversations started with a simple, “So… What do you fly?”. I would rate the forum experience as excellent and fully subscribe to Jason’s tag line, “Because a good pilot is always learning”.

I learned from the vendors as well, multiple trips to the various Redbird displays were not only fun but made me wonder why they don’t have these fantastic learning machines on every corner. Of course there was plenty of drooling at the Piper display as well. Early one morning before they opened I had a great conversation with their chief pilot about the new Matrix, what a bird. As a student pilot I felt reassured with the advice he provided and the opportunity to hang out in the cockpit for a few minutes was inspiring to say the least. Inspiring was a word I used a lot that week and the airshows and aircraft everywhere added to the over all experience in ways I did not imagine.

The nighttime airshow was fantastic as it was something I had never seen prior to Oshkosh. The day shows with the spectacular lineup and talented performers made the day complete. The performers gave me a whole new reason to really dig deep and complete my certificate. The whole size and scope of the event was something to behold and the photos sent home every evening kept the family and my little ones at home engaged as if they were there; perhaps next year.

I really was amazed at the spirit of the event. Half a million in attendance and grounds that where as clean on the first day as the last. Personal belongings left to charge all over the place, never to be concerned. The willingness of everyone who was there to be the event and not just attend. The countless volunteers who offer their assistance before being asked. The pilots willing to share opinions, advice, stories and great conversation over a beer to someone they had just meet. It was the little things that make Oshkosh the big event it is.

Well upon returning home and telling the stories of all those I had met to anyone that would listen I found myself very committed to my training. In short order I did complete my training and I’m happy to report for my next Oshkosh I’ll return as a Pilot. I completed my checkride on August 24th, now that’s the power of Oshkosh. Sometimes… a little inspiration goes a long way!

Tom Sarach, Jr.
“Tom of the Woods”