Mass arrivals add another dimension to the AirVenture experience.
Of all the great things about the late summer aviation family reunion in Oshkosh, one of the most popular elements are the mass arrivals of owners flying Cessnas, Cherokees and other brands of airplanes. These arrivals are the perfect way to show the world that as pilots, we stick together, and we love showing up for a party.
But these mass arrivals don't just happen, as if a bunch of rogue pilots somehow happen to meet over Ottumwa, Iowa and sort of just show up at Oshkosh around the same time. These mass arrivals are carefully planned and briefed, and the organizers work all year to make sure we get to see the sky filled with either high wings or low wings—take your pick.
Two of those organizers are Terry Hocking of Cherokees to Oshkosh and Gil Velez of Cessnas 2 Oshkosh. Both Hocking and Velez work with teams of other pilots, and both are dedicated to making sure their mass arrivals are safe as well as loads of fun for the participants.
Cherokees to Oshkosh
Hocking, a CFII/MEI and owner of a PA-28-160 based at Range Regional Airport (KHIB) in Hibbing, Minn., said the Cherokees to Oshkosh mass arrival began after he and wife Karen were watching the Bonanzas 2 Oshkosh arrival each year.
"As we watched the Bonanzas arrive," Hocking said, "I made the cavalier comment asking why there was not a Cherokee Mass Arrival. When 2009 rolled around, I started knocking on doors. EAA was more than helpful, as was the FAA."
As a pilot, Hocking says the mass arrivals into KOSH elevate the experience to exciting levels. "Being able to arrive en masse into Oshkosh is the embodiment of the freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Each pilot makes a commitment of time and resources to fly the arrival. It is a decision not to be taken lightly, and all those that join us rise to the challenge."
And there can be challenges, especially when you have over 20 private pilots with varying levels of formation experience. Those challenges are met by a team that works independently all year participating in conference calls before they meet for one week in Waupaca, Wis. where they finish training, brief for the arrival and stage for the actual flight into the show.
Throughout that week together, the founding principle of safety is adhered to, and the group never deviates from it. "Each flight begins with an extensive briefing," Hocking says, "and nobody leaves a briefing with any unanswered questions.
"This is because we have the world's greatest Director of Air Operations in Dwane 'Ferg' Ferguson," added Hocking.
Ferg is an ATP, CFIA/CFII and A&P from Gallatin, Tenn. who "stopped counting" after 15,000 hours flying everything from Pipers, Cessnas and Grummans to the T-37, T-38, C-130, MD-80 and the Boeing 727, 737, 757 and 767.
"Although we ask for pilots with at least 500 hours flight time," Ferg said, "we have found that flight time is rarely a good indicator of ability. Those with recent currency and instrument training are often well qualified, and we have included individuals with less than 250 hours who demonstrated the right attitude for safety and learning.
"Every new pilot receives a complete briefing before flying an observation ride with an experienced pilot—and no pilot is required to fly closer than they are comfortable. Even the most experienced pilots are set to standards that ensure safe separation."
"While all the mass arrivals adhere to their FAA Letter of Agreement, there is one thing that makes us unique," says Hocking. "For the period of time we are in Waupaca, there are Cherokees [flying] in formation over Waupaca the entire day.
"This is driven not as a mandate, but by the unbridled enthusiasm that increases each day, beginning when [the pilots] are reunited for breakfast early each morning at our host hotel. This is truly a family of aviators."
Yet, Hocking continued, "They do not want to stand around and compliment each other's aircraft, they absolutely want to be in the air with one another and increase their skill sets in the process."
Cherokees to Oshkosh had 23 aircraft for its 2014 arrival, a number that has remained relatively static over the past several years, says Hocking. "We feel it may have something to do with our Friday arrival date. People only have a finite amount of vacation time, and the two days from the time we arrive to the opening of the convention seem to be an issue."
This will change in 2015 as the Cherokee mass arrival moves to a new date and time of Saturday, July 18 at 11:00 a.m. EAA AirVenture runs July 20–26, 2015.
Cessnas 2 Osh
For Gil Velez, a commercial and private pilot and Skyhawk owner based at Sky Manor Airport (N40) in Pittstown, N.J., getting involved with the Cessnas 2 Oshkosh mass arrivals began in 2006 when he received news of a planned mass arrival into Oshkosh to celebrate the 50th anniversary of production of the Cessna 172.
That arrival was being planned by Fred Johnson, Rodney Swanson and Dennis D'Angelo, part of a small group of Cessna owners who met in the North 40 in 2005 to figure out a way to fly into Oshkosh and hang out together as a group under the wings of their airplanes in the North 40.
The group's goal was to share their mutual passion for aviation in general, Cessna aircraft in particular, and have a good time together during the whole week of EAA AirVenture. It seemed like a mass arrival was the way to make that happen.
Velez is now in charge of the group's communications and serves as database administrator and webmaster. He spent time with me explaining in great detail the choreography that allowed 54 aircraft to participate in the 2014 Cessnas 2 Oshkosh mass arrival—a 29 percent increase in participation compared to the previous three mass arrivals.
"The greatest challenge is to train all the participating pilots in basic formation flight prior to our meeting at the staging airport the day of the arrival—the first-time registrants, as well as returning ones," Velez said.
"Starting in the spring, we organize and hold formation training clinics given by volunteer lead pilots who have been trained using our own program created by Rodney Swanson, our Director of Training and Operations."
The group uses precise safety procedures. "The mass arrival flight starts with a pre-brief meeting, when Rodney assigns each checked-in pilot to either the lead or the wingman position within their specific element, based on the aircraft model they are flying and their individual experience flying with the group.
"Each section (the group of elements of a specific model) is assigned a specific airspeed. In addition, a time interval between sections is calculated. The airspeed of each element and the time interval between sections are calculated to provide a separation of approximately 500 feet between aircraft in an element and 2,500 feet between elements over the threshold of Runways 36L and 36R (Taxiway A) at Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH)," Velez explained.
"Once the makeup of the flight is completed, we move to Dodge County Airport (KUNU) in Juneau, Wis., where all the participating pilots and passengers await the start of the preflight brief.
"At the conclusion of the preflight brief, we move to our planes; after engine start, Rodney hands control of the flight to the 'Cessna Shooter' who starts launching each element and section observing the interval times calculated during the pre-brief meeting.
"We do not take off in formation; the takeoff is sequential," Velez explained.
"After liftoff, each lead pilot accelerates and holds the briefed climb airspeed and keeps the climb rate under 500 fpm. Each wingman maneuvers to join the lead aircraft in formation using the technique taught and practiced in the formation training clinics.
"Radio silence is maintained throughout the flight. Only the lead aircraft talks to Oshkosh Tower to report when [the arrival aircraft are] 20, 10 and 5 nm from KOSH.
"These compulsory reporting points, along with other procedures that rule the mass arrival flight, are included in the Letter of Agreement between Cessnas 2 Oshkosh and FAA. The radio silence is only interrupted by the lead pilot of each element to call the trail formation, approximately two nm from the threshold of the runways.
"After landing, we taxi to the end of Runways 36L and 36R and then follow the instructions of EAA volunteers to parking in the North 40."
If this kind of precision flying and camaraderie sounds like fun—and of course, if you fly a Cessna—consider joining the Cessnas 2 Oshkosh group. (See Resources for the website where you can get more details and register. —Ed.)
Even though Cessnas have high wings while a Cherokee's wings are low, these two groups are very similar. They are both made of regular pilots that want to have some fun with their airplanes—and nothing shouts "FUN!" like a mass arrival with your pals into Oshkosh.
Hocking and Velez are only two people within the large teams that make these arrivals a reality, but they represent the kind of aviation advocates that do the work behind the scenes to make sure these arrivals come off safely each year and highlight for everyone the capacity for mass cooperation among pilots.
Dan Pimentel has worked in journalism and graphic design since 1979, and is the president and creative director of Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design (celestedaniels.com). He's an instrument-rated private pilot and has been writing the
Airplanista Aviation Blog (airplanista.com) since 2005. You can find him on Twitter as @Av8rdan. Send questions or comments to .
Cherokees to Oshkosh
Cessnas 2 Oshkosh