Caravan X, July 21, 2007


David Piehler, MAPA # 12367

The tenth Mooney Caravan to Oshkosh was an unqualified success. On July 21, 2007 thirty-eight planes ranging from C models to a new Acclaim made the half-hour trip to the Mecca of aviation, then paraded to the North Forty to set up camp. Plans are now underway for Caravan XI, July 2008. This article recaps the history of the caravan and its present operational philosophy as practiced in 2007 and planned for 2008.

2007 Mooney Caravan Participants

Caravan History

It was early 1998 when Akmal Khan innocently posted a note on the Mooney Mailing List asking if anyone else going to Oshkosh for the EAA convention wanted to explore the possibility of camping together. (See for a link to the lists.) Jonathan Paul accepted the challenge and organized anad hoc group of Mooney owners to make the trip together. Madison was chosen as the marshaling site for the caravan due to its proximity to Oshkosh, its Class C airspace, and the South Ramp, location of a defunct FBO that offered copious parking for transient planes. Forty-one planes descended on an unsuspecting Madison in 1998 for the first edition of a new tradition. A special Letter of Agreement was negotiated with the FAA to allow for a group arrival, and arrangements were made with the EAA ground crews for handling. Things went so well that it was decided to repeat the exercise – again, and again, and again. The year 2000 was the high water mark for participation, with ninety-seven planes, after which the exhausted organizers decided to scale back the operation to maximize the fun while minimizing organizational hassles.

Over the years the basic formula of the caravan has remained the same – a cell formation of planes with one clearance from ATC, arriving in a “sterilized” airspace at Oshkosh where other traffic is excluded during the group’s arrival. Caravan participants who have flown the Fisk arrival at other times report that the caravan arrival is much less stressful. The caravan formula now includes groups of six airplanes within the cell formation, and a one and one-half hour all hands briefing, followed by a planeside briefing for each group. Activities proceed in a calm, orderly fashion, building gradually up to the half-hour flight, which has become the most anticipated flight of the year for many caravan participants.

Another caravan tradition is the annual Mooney Caravan Barbecue. What started in 1998 as a community cook-in on camp stoves has evolved to a fabulous feed resulting from the efforts of a well-oiled machine led by John Bartholomew which serves a wonderful repast that allows caravan participants and other Mooney lovers to share Wisconsin’s famous Gemütlichkeit. Besides the increased sophistication in the mechanics of staging the barbecue, another big change has been the enthusiastic participation and support of the Mooney factory. Where the caravan was initially ignored by a prior (and much less PR aware) administration, the present Mooney Airplane Company wholeheartedly supports the efforts of the caravan, from sending a factory new plane to participate to passing out freebies at the barbecue (shrewdly creating numerous walking billboards on the grounds of AirVenture).

The Personalities

Besides the author, five other pilots have participated in all ten caravan flights to date: Bill Rabek, Ken Beaubien, John Bartholomew (along with his wife Pat), James Oliphant, and Jody Voss. Most have flown the same plane all ten years. However, Mssrs. Oliphant and Voss seem to be vying to see how many different planes they can fly in. Jody is ahead on style points, having once again finagled his way into a factory new plane in 2007, this one a brand new Acclaim that was brought to Madison by ferry pilot Kay Alley.

The veterans of all ten Mooney Caravans. From left, John and Pat Bartholomew, Ken Beaubien, James Olipaht, Bill Rabek, Jody Voss and Dave Piehler

The caravan has settled into a familiar routine over the years. Jonathan Paul acts as registrar and web master. Bill Rabek is FAA/EAA liaison and group leader. The author is occasionally the alternate lead (just one fouled plug away from his moment of glory). Jody Voss is the treasurer and ace registration packet preparer. Ken Beaubien hosts the arrangements in Madison. John Bartholomew chairs the barbecue committee. James Oliphant is the group’s haberdasher. Despite this familiar routine there is always room for additional helpers, and new blood is always welcome. For 2008 we welcome Scott Cutler as webmaster, while Jonathan Paul labors away in Prague, Czech Republic.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Planes arrive for the Mooney Caravan from all over the U.S. and Canada, and, at times, from overseas, typically a day before the caravan. Pilots sometimes fly together in “regional caravans” to reach Madison the day before the caravan, allowing for a leisurely overnight before the flight to Oshkosh. The author, based in Wisconsin, has never before had the opportunity to fly a long distance to Madison. Last year was different, as business took the author to Houston in the week before Oshkosh. After meeting with Houston resident Scott Cutler and Jody Voss, who flew commercial from Albuquerque the night before (arriving several hours later than scheduled, thanks to modern air travel economics), the plan called for a 7:00 a.m. departure from David Wayne Hooks Airport on Friday, July 20. The departure was delayed two hours by a minor detail – a Convective Sigmet over the field. After a two hour delay two planes departed in the diminishing rain. The photo shows the Nexrad picture of the area at the time of departure.

Thank Goodness for XM Weather!

After an uneventful, if slightly wet, departure, we flew through a stationary front in southern Missouri, deviated around a few areas of moderate precipitation there, and shot GPS approaches to the Midwest National Air Center (KGPH) at Mosby, MO, just east of Kansas City. After lunch and an updated weather briefing we flew to Madison, arriving at 4:30 p.m. local time.

At Madison we were greeted by the ace ramp crew as well as a cold beer. Following registration, ably handled by Deanna Puls, Judy Gantt, Linda Hartman and Pat Bartholomew, it was off to the motel. From there the group assembled at Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant for Margaritas and dinner. Pedro’s is wonderful in accommodating our large group on short notice, and provides a venue ideal for socializing and renewing acquaintances. From there our party-hearty group returned to the motel and retired for the evening. What a lively crew!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The day of the caravan flight dawned bright and clear. The weather was great! We had light winds, scattered clouds and moderate temperatures. This was in stark contrast to 2006, when our takeoff occurred as a thunderstorm bore down on the airport. Our greatest worry for the flight changed from issues of weather to mechanical problems or conflicting traffic that was also going to Oshkosh via the Fisk arrival. More airplanes arrived throughout the morning and were parked in their groups for the caravan. Bag lunches were served. At noon the group leader briefing started, covering the procedures for the flight with particular emphasis on coordination and procedures. That was followed by the main briefing at 1:00. This is a mandatory briefing for all pilots. Miss this and you miss the flight. This briefing covers all procedures, navigation, emergencies and contingencies. After question time the group adjourned to the ramp for the group photo, and then the group briefings at planeside to reinforce the procedures and do a walk through of the cell formation.

Following the briefings there was time for final details to be handled, and a bit of milling around and final loading and checks of the airplanes. We boarded the planes and fired up engines promptly at 3:15 p.m. (It’s interesting to be alongside Bill Rabek’s Mooney Lead when he starts up. His Mickey Mouse watch must have a NIST synchronization signal, since he does things right at the scheduled time.) Bill called Madison Ground for taxi clearance and we were off in a conga line for the end of Runway 3. At the end of the taxiway the planes turned 45 degrees and the pilots took their time performing the runup and checking in with group leaders to indicate their readiness. Bill then called for clearance onto Runway 3, and we taxied two abreast along the runway to an intersection that allowed all planes onto the runway, and still gave ample runway for a Mooney at gross weight to take off safely. Madison tower cleared the flight, and exactly when Mickey’s second hand hit 3:30 the planes began to roll at four second intervals. The climb to 2,500’ MSL was performed in a leisurely fashion. Runway 3 puts the caravan on a course very close to direct OSH, and only one gradual turn is needed to aim for a point 10 miles south of OSH that allows a long final to Runways 36L and 36R (the latter being a taxiway pressed into service as a runway during AirVenture.

Planes fill the runway before takeoff

The enroute portion of the flight requires attention to the caravan as well as to the possibility of crossing traffic. The 25 minute flight went smoothly, with some need to deal with updrafts and downdrafts due to the sunny day. Soon we were lined up with the runways and squeaking onto the concrete. Even two days before the convention officially began there were numerous spectators along the runway and taxi route, sitting in their lawn chairs and judging the landings. These people just love planes. Our sort of folks!

Following landing the group merged into a single line, exited the pavement to the grass and taxied to parking. This summer was dry in Oshkosh, and the turf, though nicely mown, was rougher than any time in recent memory. This led to one caravan participant damaging his prop on departure. Thankfully there were no problems during the actual caravan itself. We followed the directions of the ground handlers and were led to a marvelous spot just east of the showers, convenient to the convention grounds. We practiced another caravan tradition, helping to expeditiously park all the planes. The EAA ground crew tells us that our group is the best it sees at getting our planes parked and secured in an efficient fashion.

After taking a few moments to celebrate a successful flight, the group set about pitching tents and sunshades, followed by searching out Darwin Puls, who once again brought a keg of home-brewed beer. Beautiful weather, a smooth flight, a great camping location and good beer. How could it get better? Keep reading!

Sunday, July 22

Sunday is setup day. The convention isn’t officially open, and the exhibition buildings are closed, but the rest of the grounds are accessible. It’s a great time to wander the grounds, scouting vendor locations and getting a look at the planes already there without the crowds. After a day of wandering the grounds, again with great weather, we were treated to the annual Mooney Caravan Barbecue. The night of the barbecue was advanced from its usual Monday night due to the Beach Boy’s concert scheduled for that evening. John Bartholomew and his crew did their usual exemplary job with the arrangements. This year the barbecue featured a simpler menu and a “bring your own chairs” format. Guests included Mooney Airplane Company employees who brought tee shirts and hats for caravan participants and Hans-Michael and Heidi Abicht, who didn’t fly in the caravan, but merit special mention for having flown to Oshkosh from Germany in their 231. As is always the case, old friendships were renewed at the barbecue and new ones formed.

Heidi and Michael Abicht Flew the Atlantic to come to AirVenture

....And Now for the Rest of the Convention....

With the major caravan activities concluded prior to the opening of AirVenture one might think that the convention itself would be an anticlimax. Far from it. The Mooney Aircraft Company display featured friendly salespeople, plenty of shiny hardware, and a PA system playing rousing music and calling passers-by into the display. Trey and Lela Hughes held court at the MAPA tent, where the cold lemonade seems to get tastier each year, and hangar flying was practiced in its finest form. Naturally the exhibits, forums, flybys and airshows were all first rate. Informal gatherings at the caravan campsite took place on an ad hoc basis from morning until night, starting with coffee and finishing with other beverages. The Royal and Ancient, Secret and Sober Single Malt Scotch Tasting Society continued its search for the best tasting single malt scotch. Once again the group reported that more tastings will be necessary before any conclusions can be reached.

What Happens at AirVenture Doesn't Stay at AirVenture, Don!

On to 2008!

The Mooney Caravan’s purpose is to make the experience of attending AirVenture safer and more enjoyable. New friends are always welcome, either in the flight or at the campsite.