Oshkosh or bust

I’m forever spoiled. Everyone talks about flying an airplane to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but arriving in a helicopter is a far better experience. I’m burdened with knowing this now, thanks to Sporty’s Pilot Shop’s John Zimmerman, my ride to the show this year.


John owns a beautiful R44 he flies for fun and the occasional work purpose. Being a gadget geek, his is kitted out with a Garmin 430, a handheld Garmin 496, and that day we were carrying two iPads, and Sporty’s new Iridium Go! satellite hotspot. It also has air conditioning, which is a luxury well worth having. So while many would scoff at the suggestion that a helicopter is a cross-country aircraft, with some nice instrumentation and create comforts, it turns out to be well suited to the task.


The trip started with an early morning airline flight to Cincinnati, where I met John. The first two miles were over the eerily quiet Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. The helicopter proved to be a good vantage point to see the juxtaposition of miles upon miles of runways for the dozen or so regional jets parked at the various terminals.


From there it was another 348 miles on to Oshkosh, including two stops. Since helicopters and their pilots are most comfortable at lower altitudes, trips like this are a joy. The world isn’t going by very fast, which leaves that much more time for taking it all in. Lounging around at 75 knots groundspeed, the trip took more than four hours, but it felt like much less.


The best part of the trip, and what airplane pilots miss out on, is the arrival to the show. In an airplane there is a mass convergence on one spot southwest of the airport as everyone forms a line and heads in. You have to listen closely to air traffic control, respond quickly, and follow the controller’s directions precisely. The arrival procedures in a helicopter are much more civilized. Simply listen to ATIS, monitor the tower, maintain 1,800 feet, and land. Transients can park at Pioneer field, outside the main show site. From the time we shut down to the time our ride arrived was 10 minutes. There’s no walking, no humping heavy bags. They pulled off the main road and we jumped in and left. Clearly the folks at EAA know helicopter pilots, and the arrival suits them perfectly.


With the R44’s fuel-burn rate, and lackluster groundspeed in headwinds, it might not be the most efficient cross-country machine. It is, however, a lot of fun, which is all that matters when you are on your way to Oshkosh.


  1. Looks like a fun time and learning a lot.

  2. Well this is a good story about alternative approaches to Whitman Field Airport. Approach photo’s to the airport would have been a nice add on. Did the R-44 have a basic autopilot to help with all the navigation chores? Maybe another article would be a great idea. Thank you for another good one. KG.

  3. Robinsons don’t have any type of autopilot, not in R44s or R22s anyway. Perhaps in the R66, but I have not heard about one being available. Hand stays on the cyclic at all times. You can release the collective to manipulate radios, GPS, etc. as it will stay in position. You won’t find an autopilot in a helicopter until you’re looking at ships in the $1 million and up price range. Besides, what if your autopilot goes out?

    I did my IFR training in an R44 (Garmin 430) and CFII training in an R22 (Bendix King GPS, alphanumeric display only). You do what you have to do.

  4. The only thing better than sex is flying a helicopter!

  5. 'Turbo" Ed DArcy

    November 27, 2014 at 8:48 am

    i got introduced to hell’s with my dad at osh in 04 and 05. this is where dreams definitely come true! dad then purchased a new r-44 clipper and it has been an incredible ride since then. flights from california, oshkosh and a 5,000 mile trip from connecticut to the virgin islands and back in the winter of 2008 with my brother and dad create an experience that can’t be beat. flights in the r-44 are a magical carpet ride. go out and get a ride in a heli, it may change your life, especially if it is with me.

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