Virtual AirVenture 2020 - A decade of Seaplanes & Ultralights
By Willie Bodenstein and Juri Keyter
Situated only about 15 minutes by bus from Oshkosh on the shores of Lake Winnebago, the Sea Plane Base is a haven of tranquillity giving one a much needed break from the hustle and bustle at Wittman Field. For us South Africans, seaplanes are a rare sight indeed and it is a wonderland of floatplanes and amphibians of all shapes and sizes that we have visited at least twice in subsequent years.
A short stroll through the woods and there it is, row upon row of seaplanes anchored in the sheltered bay. One is instantly transported into a different world. A park like world of water, trees, immaculately trimmed grass, shade and flower beds. A world of aviators whose runway has no threshold, no identifying numbers and no windsock. A world where the terminal building is a jetty, the transport to and from your aircraft a boat. A world seemingly lost in time when the Flying Boats reigned supreme.
The Seaplane Base can trace it origins to 1948 and Bill Brennand, a keen fisherman and his fishing buddy Al Ziebell. Al worked for John Vette Jr, the owner of a large tract of land along the shores of the lake. Bill and Al wanted to erect a boathouse in which to store their gear and boat and Al introduced Bill to John Vette. A deal was struck and Bill bought 1.9 acres of land around what is today the inner harbour of the Sea Plane Base from John Vette. They used it until 1957 when Bill bought a Piper J3 on floats. Ramps were added and the boathouse became a hangar and Bill and Al flew the J3 on fishing trips to Canada.
In 1970 the EAA annual convention moved to Wittman Airfield in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and some visiting floatplane owners landed in Bill's Harbour and the magic of what today is the Seaplane Base was born. More and more visitors arrived in the subsequent years and in 1973 Bill and Al were approached by Paul Poberezny to operate the base for seaplane visitors during the week long convention. With the assistance of the EAA, improvements were made and a regular bus shuttle service was implemented to and from Wittman field for the duration of the convention.
Preparing the base and running it for the seven days is, in the spirit of the EAA, a small group of dedicated volunteers. They have a multitude of tasks including the preparation of the base, setting of the mooring buoys onto which the aircraft are tied and shuttling pilots and crew to and from their aircraft, as well as getting the catering buildings ship shape. Volunteers also man the base's rescue service, while the Coast Guard, local Sheriffs, firemen and other emergency staff are on standby.
More than 100 seaplanes visit the base each year during the convention, many camping on site, while more than 50,000-day visitors seek out the tranquillity and wonder of the base. A large of number of seaplanes can also been seen at the South 40 parking area at Wittman Field. The South 40 is one of two departure points for buses to the base, the other being at the main terminus.
Fun Fly Park
AirVenture's best kept secret is probably the Fun Fly Park located on the southern edge of Wittman Airfield. The Fun Fly Park, with its grass strip, is where you find the LSA and microlight and other weird and wonderful aircraft. A mini version of Oshkosh, it features the newest developments and products in grassroots aviation. Flying mostly happens in the early morning and late afternoons.
When the sun begins to sit lower in the summer Wisconsin sky and the wind is more favourable for light flight, it's time to have some good flying fun at the south end of the field. That's where-on the evenings of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday-the Twilight Flight Fest commence in the area known as the Fun Fly Zone.
In this laid-back and welcoming environment, AirVenture attendees will enjoy affordable and entertaining forms of flight in an up-close and personal way.
Since the weather forecast for tomorrow seems decidedly iffy, we will be spending the day at the Museum.