Typically, large and expansive airports such as Atlanta Hartsfield–Jackson International have the most takeoffs and landings of airplanes. However, each summer, at the end of July, a tiny airport becomes the world’s busiest airport: Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It hosts EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, an annual air show and convention that attracts hundreds of thousands of aviation enthusiasts.
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh: The largest air show in the world
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, previously called the EAA Annual Convention and Fly-In, is the largest air show in the world. EAA stands for Experimental Aircraft Association, an Oshkosh-based international organization of aviation enthusiasts. It has over 200,000 members and 1,000 chapters worldwide.
Founded by veteran aviator Paul Poberezny and other aviation enthusiasts in 1953, EAA started as a flying club. Its emphasis was on home-built airplanes. However, EAA has since grown to encompass nearly every aspect of aviation and aeronautics, including space exploration.
In 2021, over 600,000 visitors attended EAA. The event featured over 3,000 showplanes. This includes “1,420 vintage aircraft registered, plus 1,089 homebuilt aircraft, 354 warbirds, 148 aerobatic aircraft, 112 seaplanes, 33 ultralights, and 27 rotorcraft,” as detailed by EAA.
Thousands more airplanes come from around the world. Visitors camp with their aircraft on the grounds of Wittman Field and the surrounding area. There’s also a seaplane base at nearby Lake Winnebago. Additionally, Pioneer Airport, an even smaller airport next to the EAA Aviation Museum, is also used for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
Wittman Field: Small airport becomes the world’s busiest and the mecca of aviation
It’s remarkable how Wittman Field, formerly known as Wittman Regional Airport, can coordinate and host so many airplanes. Throughout the year, the tiny airport has very few takeoffs and landings on a daily basis. However, at the end of July, it becomes the world’s busiest and the mecca of aviation.
During EAA, Wittman Field’s control tower, frequency 118.5, is the busiest in the world. At Wittman Field for the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021, there were “16,378 aircraft operations in the 10-day period from July 22-31.” That translates to an average of around 116 takeoffs and landings per hour when the airport is open. Also, during EAA, many more aircraft take off and land at other airports in Eastern Wisconsin.
Since I was a little kid, I’ve visited Wittman Field many times. I’ve looked in awe at the many different types of airplanes at EAA. However, my most memorable experience at Wittman Field was during a part of the year when EAA was not in session. I took a flying lesson there with my brother and mother when I was 16 years old.
The flying instructor was a frail 80-year-old man. As I took the controls of the Cessna airplane, the thought crossed my mind of what would happen if the instructor died while we were in the air. However, despite the instructor’s frail appearance, he had a lively and vigorous demeanor that belied his age — and was a wonderful and steady guide. We soared in the sky above Oshkosh, and my love of aviation was further catalyzed.
Iconic airplanes at EAA AirAdventure Oshkosh
Along with the many unique home-built aircraft, EAA features many iconic aircraft as well. When I was a kid, the Concorde supersonic airliner visited Oshkosh. It was surreal to see the majestic white jet soaring over my house. Other notable aircraft at EAA include the Goodyear Blimp, the Virgin Galactic VMS Mothership “Eve” spacecraft, and some of the most advanced military aircraft in the world.
Back in 2017, after returning to Wisconsin following a three-month trip to Asia, I had a “Welcome back to America” moment. Three generations of military aircraft “greeted” me the day after I arrived back home: the crane-like B-1 Lancer, the bat-like B-2 Spirit, and the massive B-17 Flying Fortress. I now live in a rural area around 10 miles from Wittman Field, and one after the other, the three military jets buzzed over the expansive field in front of my house.
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh also features many vintage aircraft, such as vintage WWII planes like the P-51 Mustang, reenacting WWII aerial battles. Additionally, the event has stunning aerobatic shows, as well as a variety of workshops, including ones for children. Plus, a frequent sight during sunset over the fields in front of my house are paraplanes, which are small aircraft with a motorized parachute.
Many celebrities visit EAA AirVenture Oshkosh
Many famous celebrities also journey to Wittman Field for EAA. This includes Neil Armstrong, the first person to step foot on the moon, and Chuck Yeager, the first person to break the sound barrier. Additionally, actors Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford, who are both certified pilots and avid aviation enthusiasts, flew into EAA as well.
In Oshkosh, there’s a bar called Acee Deucee Tavern. Tom Cruise visited Acee Deucee during a visit to Oshkosh and bought the bar a large sign with an image of a vintage WWII airplane and the words, “Where Your Friends Are.” The sign now hangs outside the bar.
If you love airplanes and are passionate about aviation, then EAA AirVenture Oshkosh should be on your bucket list. Visit Wittman Field, and marvel at how such a tiny airport becomes the world’s busiest — and hosts an incredible aviation event.