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Caravan XII, July 25, 2009

2009 Mooney Caravan Participants

MAPA Article by Jim Stewart – MAPA #14908

2009 Mooney Caravan to Oshkosh
View from a “first timer”

Those of us who have flown most any aircraft for a while have many recollections of the memorable “firsts” – our first solo, our first cross country, our first experience of being lost on a cross country, our first Mooney, etc. As a first time attendee of the Mooney Caravan to Oshkosh, I am happy to say that I have achieved a new “high bar” for memorable moments. Arranging the calendar and priorities to make it to Oshkosh has been on my list of things to do for some time, and the Mooney Caravan turned out to be just the way to get the job done while reducing risk and “stress” levels. I thought some of my fellow MAPA members might appreciate the perspective . . .

Planning

I am based out of the San Francisco area, work for a biotechnology company in perhaps the worst financing market of all time, and really needed a long cross country flight to get away – what better location than Oshkosh. While my wonderful wife had already decided that camping in a tent under the wing of the Mooney was not on her summer vacation plans, I could not have been more excited. This is when a mention in the MAPA log, and a quick review of the Mooney Caravan website at www.mooneycaravan.com were most helpful.

It turns out that a little research very quickly convinced me that planning for a visit to Oshkosh, as part of the caravan, was a safer and easier way to go. If you visit the website you will quickly learn that there is an incredibly strong focus on both the camaraderie of attending the world’s largest air show with 40 – 50 like minded “Mooniacs” and the safety of an uneventful arrival. If you have read the Fisk Notam that describes the way most people come to Oshkosh, you quickly appreciate the huge benefit of flying with a group of well briefed, well trained and supportive Mooney pilots.

Getting Started on the Journey

The Caravan starts from Madison, Wisconsin where the local FBO, Wisconsin Aviation, could not possibly be more friendly. The flight into Madison happens for most of us on the day before the Caravan departs, Saturday July 25th this year, and you are met on your arrival by flag men who have sorted out well in advance which flight group you are part of, where your plane needs to park, and how to direct traffic. As an added bonus, the grizzled veterans of many Caravans have the insight to be sure that there is a well stocked cooler of beer to accommodate all the hangar talk that happens after you arrive.

The materials provided on the website before you depart, the materials you get upon arrival, and the open sharing of “advice” all go a long way to make the attendees, both newcomers and repeaters, very comfortable with how the flight will ultimately unfold. For most of us that got there a few hours early, there was that wonderful mix of airplanes, great stories, and pilots who are sharing an experience at the most amazing airshow in the world.

Flight in to Oshkosh

As I mentioned, the materials are very comprehensive and do a great job of preparing you for the experience. However, nothing is left to chance. There is a mandatory briefing two hours before departure where all of the details are covered, all questions are answered, and the group again hears that the focus of the flight is a safe, group arrival at Oshkosh so we can all camp together. There is also a follow on safety briefing by the planes where each group lead makes sure that his flight of six is properly prepared, and any remaining questions are answered. There are no “medals” issued for tight formation flying, and in fact most of us have never had any formation flying experience. The groups are organized to ensure that pilots of varying skill levels in very different aircraft are comfortable together. I think it is safe to say that Mooney Caravan XII benefitted enormously from the continuous learning and improvement of prior caravan experiences. In fact, the goal this year was to keep the maximum number of planes at 48 (we still had some openings!) so that the group size was safe and manageable. I personally think that the level of safety was high, and there is room to expand the group size if more of us were to attend, but I leave those tough calls to the characters who have done this many times.

Our flight started with the most amazing taxi line of 37 Mooneys lined up to take the active runway out of Madison. All aircraft in fact were on the runway in our position and hold spot as the Mooney Lead, Dave Piehler took the take-off clearance from Madison tower. A regional jet had just landed in front of our flight and was taxiing back, but stopped to watch the takeoff sequence. I was positioned in Echo #6 (roughly position #30) so had a spectacular view of each aircraft launching four seconds in trail of the plane that launched immediately in front. With ten second gaps between the flights of six, there was a very reasonable margin of safety between groups as the inevitable speed corrections of “loose formation” flying snaked to the back of the group.

For those of us who have not had the experience, there is something special about the landing sequence when you can see 8 – 10 aircraft in front of you on short final. Smooth flying, quick taxiing, and proper advance briefing took most of the drama out of this experience and we were quickly on our way for a long taxi through the grass to our Mooney neighborhood of tents.

Memorable Moments

There are not enough words to capture the breadth and grandeur of Oshkosh, or to fully share how much fun it is to be with 40 like minded Mooney pilots from all over the world. It is extraordinary!

A few of the high points from my recollections:

  • I made a bunch of new friends from across our border with Canada. Neil Santin and Andy King have a spectacular G1000 Ovation 3, and Chris and Debbie Shopperly have a terrific 252 and two of the best behaved kids you could imagine.
  • Dave Piehler, James Oliphant and John Bartholomew have the deepest reserve of great stories as I think that they are the only three who have attended all twelve Mooney Caravans.
  • Sandy Thomas in his beautiful 201 gets my special thanks as the guy leading this “newcomer” to Oshkosh from his position as Echo #5. Our group lead, Al Hartmann set a nice pace and kept his flock safe.
  • Ken Beaubien was the head “wrangler” in Madison and did a masterful job of organizing and managing the activities while we were all anxiously pacing around planning for the big flight to Oshkosh. He was also the wise man who took charge of providing plenty of ice to chill the beer.
  • Scott Cutler must have the most expensive 201 avionics panel I have ever seen – I think that Garmin ought to seriously consider a subsidy for his avionics budget as he is a rolling retrofit commercial.
  • Mike Elliott has one of the neatest paint jobs on an early Mooney that I have seen, and shares my passion as a “retired” SCCA sports car racer – nice stories to share.
  • Ed Hillary and Ken Cathro have a beautiful 231 and must have logged more miles than all of us as they flew into and out of Oshkosh on the same day as they headed back to a Canadian Centenary of Flight journey that they were part of. They returned Friday to Oshkosh, after crossing the remainder of Canada with their group.
  • Darwin Puls and his delightful wife Deanna were gracious hosts, and Deanna was key to the registration process which made all of us newcomers feel so welcome right off the bat. Darwin had great stories from his F100 days and his career at Delta Airlines. No surprise that he was flight lead on the Delta group.
  • Once we had settled into our new community in Oshkosh, there was a terrific barbeque on Sunday night where we all had the extraordinary pleasure of listening to Carolann Garrett tell us about her 7 day around the world flight in a Mooney 201 with Carol Foy – now that is a serious cross country flight!!
  • My brain is still “foggy”, but Monday night’s adventure included a tasting of Scotch samples brought by all of us – the entry criteria was over 12 years old, and single malt (unless you are Canadian and then some exceptions were made on the ageing given the “exclusive” nature of the bottle). Good fun was had by all, even if Scotch was not your drink of first choice.
  • And finally, Tom Kristoff got my personal award for most prepared as he had the bottle opener in Madison that was so urgently needed to take advantage of the beer in the cooler upon arrival.

Summary

If you have ever thought of attending Oshkosh, I can only say don’t wait longer than next year! If you can make the logistics work, join the Mooney Caravan for an added bonus of flying with 40 – 50 wonderful pilots in the machines that we all love so much. Unless you actually see it, it is very difficult to adequately express the excitement of over 10,000 small aircraft at one location, at one time, with similar passions – not to mention over 600,000 spectators! If you have any questions I can answer, just email me at James.stewart@viapharmaceuticals.com .

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