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‘World’s greatest aviation celebration’ landing in Oshkosh

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Wis. | TysV. Rininger

EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. | Tyson V. Rininger

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GETTING THERE: EAA AirVenture, July 25-31, at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis., about 90 miles north of Milwaukee. Gates open at 7 a.m. daily, with afternoon air shows starting around 2:30 p.m.;

STAYING THERE: Go to airven for details on camping and other accommodations.

TICKETS: Daily adult admission is $25 for EAA members or $110 for a weekly pass. (Annual membership is $40.) General admission for non-members is $37 daily. Reduced rates for veterans, active military and students. Children under 6 get in free. Visit for other discounts and to order tickets.

FAMILY DAY: On July 31 admission is free for anyone under 19 accompanied by an adult. It’s also a good day to watch a lot of planes take off, since it’s the last day of the event.

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Updated: July 20, 2011 3:30PM

For car racing fans, “Indy” means something special.

For those who like to play the ponies, it’s Churchill Downs.

And for aviation enthusiasts, the magic word is Oshkosh.

One week each summer, about half a million aircraft aficionados of all ages descend on this central Wisconsin city for what’s billed as the world’s greatest aviation celebration.

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) annual convention, EAA AirVenture, takes place July 25-31. The full gamut of flight machines will be on display, from Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner to one-man ultralights — and just about everything in between.

Attendees at the 59th annual event get to gawk at thousands of planes, turn their eyes to the skies for daily afternoon air shows, meet exhibitors touting the latest aviation innovations and sit in on some of the nearly 1,000 flight-related workshops and forums.

“It’s part air show, part trade show, part educational seminar and part aviation family reunion,” EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski said. “There’s no place else in the world where you’ll see a collection of airplanes in one place, at one time, like you’ll see in Oshkosh.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re only old enough to fly paper airplanes. Kids can pilot flight simulators and build model rockets. And rides are available on the world’s largest Zeppelin as well as a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor and the type of Bell helicopter shown at the beginning of “M.A.S.H.” For those with deep pockets, about $400 will get you a seat on a Boeing B-17 bomber — the same kind of plane that made headlines last month when it was engulfed by flames following an emergency landing in a cornfield near Oswego.

AirVenture is held at Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport. The massive event spent a decade at Rockford Municipal Airport before outgrowing its Illinois digs and moving to Oshkosh in 1970.

A lot of attendees fly to the gathering, which accounts for a good portion of the 10,000 or so planes spread over Oshkosh’s landscape throughout the week.

About 40,000 people camp during their stay, pitching tents in and around the airport — often right next to their planes. Others fill hotels and college dormitories or rent homes from Green Bay all the way down to north Milwaukee.

“A very international crowd shows up,” Knapinski said. “We draw people from more than 70 countries. You might stand in a food line and hear five different languages spoken.”

People can break out their blankets and lawn chairs and watch flight-related films — “Top Gun,” “The Right Stuff,” “Aiplane!” — on an outdoor movie screen measuring five stories tall.

Concerts are part of the entertainment line-up, too. Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will perform as part of a day-long salute to veterans July 29.

REO Speedwagon gets things off to a rockin’ start on opening day, July 25. (Hmm…do you think they’ll sing “Time for Me to Fly?”)

Country star and seasoned pilot Aaron Tippin takes the stage July 30 before the Night Air Show, an event that proved so popular when it debuted last year, it’s back. Top air show performers will light up the sky with a display of precision aerobatics and pyrotechnics starting around 8:30 p.m.

This year’s AirVenture features a century’s worth of naval aircraft, including the only flying SB2C Helldiver Navy dive bomber in the world and a replica of the plane that made the first carrier landing on the deck of the USS Pennsylvania in 1911.

Other highlights sure to get plane geeks’ engines running: the world’s only flying Boeing B-29 “Superfortress,” the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, and Boeing’s much-anticipated Dreamliner, which the public can tour for the first time on July 29.

“I think the only thing we haven’t had here is the space shuttle,” Knapinski said, “and we haven’t given up hope on that yet.”

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