Everyone in the aviation family is responsible in their own way for doing whatever it takes to strengthen the bonds that hold this close community of aviators together. Some of us throw hangar parties, while others willingly offer their left seat to senior pilots who have lost their medicals and are thrilled to take to the sky one last time. And during the last week in July, all of this is on full display along the shores of Lake Winnebago.
At aviation’s annual summer family reunion in Oshkosh, the blissful camaraderie we share as pilots gets amped up to insane levels. Walking the lanes in Camp Scholler on the EAA grounds at Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH), you can literally feel the love as thousands of people visit old friends and make new ones. And nowhere is this more apparent than on the corner of 43rd and Lindbergh, where the succulent aroma of freshly-cooked bacon wafts through the air, drawing crowds to #CampBacon. That’s where Oshkosh’s most “connected” collection of #avgeeks, podcasters, pilots and enthusiasts gather to celebrate a common love of technology, flying machines, beer and bacon.
#CampBacon – yes, you DO have to always type that with the hashtag – is the perfect example of the way we pilots can draw upon our appreciation of airplanes to do something extraordinary. On the surface, this week-long accumulation of tents, campers, bacon and cell phone chargers might appear to blend in to the row upon row of other people who call Camp Scholler home for a week.
But as you step inside the imaginary perimeter that separates these few campsites from the rest of Scholler, you feel a different and very positive energy. And that’s exactly the way #CampBacon founder Martt Clupper (@AirPigz) wants it.
“Aviation is all about ‘passion’ to me,” Clupper says emphatically, “a passion for the amazing opportunity that allows a person to leave the earth and take flight. That passion drives my interest in aviation, and it drives my efforts to share this amazing thing we call flying with everyone that I can.”
A Warsaw, Indiana pilot, Clupper soloed a sailplane on his 14th birthday and spent countless hours with his father learning to fly in a brand new Citabria 7KCAB, attended his first annual EAA Convention and Fly-In in the late 1960s, and joined EAA when he was nine-years-old. “My first ‘Oshkosh’ was actually Rockford 1969 when I was just 8 years old,” Clupper said. “I think my total Oshkosh count is now around 36 plus that the one convention in Rockford.”
Clupper is also the force behind his website, Airpigz.com, which is “a mix of aviation entertainment with a measure of education,” he says. “Back in 2007, I was following the automotive blog Jalopnik, because I like cars and because the website was very entertaining. I wondered why aviation didn’t have a great website that could talk serious and industry-oriented one minute and be whacked out funny the next. I realized that aviation wasn’t doing the best job of reaching the younger generations (teens thru late 20’s) so I wanted to pick a name that better fit the modern mindset. AirPigz just seemed to make sense. When you can’t get enough of something, you ‘pig’ out on it. AirPigz allowed me to take my slightly above average graphics skills and my desire for fun creativity and extrude it all through a wildly varied aviation mindset.”
#CampBacon evolved out of Clupper’s idea to promote AirPigz in a grass roots manner at Oshkosh. “In 2011, Clupper explains, “I had come up with the idea of having some “Bacon Parties” at our Camp Scholler campsite as a way of making people more aware of AirPigz. By that time, I had met Larry Overstreet (@LarryOverstreet) online and we decided to merge our Oshkosh camping experiences together, and agreed that we should invite like-minded #avgeeks to join us. For the last three years, the name #CampBacon has been used for our growing compound of OSHgoers who gather together in the same location each year in Camp Scholler. These days I host evening Bacon parties during show week and we usually get about 50 people to stop in to ‘chew the fat’. It’s all pretty laid back, but everyone seems to enjoy their time at an AirPigz Bacon Party.”
Overstreet, of Sussex, Wisconsin, is an instrument-rated private pilot who has flown J3 Cubs, a DA-40, an Archer, a C182RG, and even gliders. He’s made visits to EAA’s Oshkosh shows a part of his life since 1979, and his work to help organize #CampBacon is on many levels, all part of the fun of this required summer aviation ritual.
“Oshkosh is family. It’s home. It refreshes my soul,” said Overstreet. “It’s where I go to see friends I only get to see once or twice a year. We have fun, tell stories, and I get inspired. And I remember once again what a lucky guy I am to be involved in this great thing we call Oshkosh. I could spend the whole week of Oshkosh just hanging out in Scholler – walking around, seeing friends, listening to the music the South Africans play every night, or checking out the coffin beer cooler in Paul’s Woods.”
For Oshkosh 2013, Overstreet provided a large white tent for shade and common space with tables and chairs, along with a generator that anyone could use to work, charge mobile devices or run computers. That extra “juice” came in handy too, because when you have this many #avgeeks in one place, there are always plenty of ‘pads, ‘pods, tablets and camera batteries that need recharging.
Along with Clupper’s Bacon Parties and numerous social campfires during the evenings, #CampBacon became Ground Zero for the #avgeek community at #OSH13. “We’ve had a lot of podcasters and other social media folks join in over the years,” Overstreet explains. “At #OSH13, Other People’s Airplanes did a lot of video podcasting and editing from there, and three of the four In the Pattern Podcast hosts were there. They did a great series of “BaconCasts” – great interviews emanating from #CampBacon. We had #avgeeks from Pilot’s Journey and Pilots of America, plus lots of folks from all over the U.S. and even as far away as New Zealand.”
There is a definite new media flavor at this Oshkosh camp, and as excitement builds throughout show week, the buzz comes alive through heavy use of social networking. While not a written rule, it’s safe to say that if you do not understand Twitter, you might not “get” what all the #avgeekery is about. In fact, there is now so much original content coming out of #CampBacon during Oshkosh, Overstreet says it is almost a certainty that at some point “visitors to the camp will find a microphone or a camera in their face, and they might even be caught on a live broadcast or podcast.”
As plans come together for #CampBacon 2014, both Clupper and Overstreet are clear that this camp might not be for everyone. “#CampBacon is a controlled-access campsite within the bigger campground,” Clupper explains. “That’s not because we don’t love everyone, but because we’re trying to keep it somewhat managed so we can ensure a good close-knit experience for everyone. It’s somewhat self-limiting in that people need to be willing to spend nearly three times as much for the camping registration, since we have to register well in advance of the event to be able to mark out the desired camping area.”
You don’t have to spend very long at #CampBacon during Oshkosh to realize that this is the aviation family at its very best. Standing around the camp’s fire washing tasty slices of smoked Sus Scrofa Domesticus down with ice cold Leinenkugels, talking airplanes and technology with old pals and new friends…there simply is nothing better in the world.
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