Before You Can Get To KOSH, You Have To Go Go Fisk

By Darren Gaines

For one week each summer, a small town becomes the location for the busiest airport in the world. This is Airventure, better known as OSHKOSH! Pilots flying into this event are bound by the Notice To Airmen procedures. IFR Reservations are hard to come by, so almost all of the aircraft will by arriving via the VFR arrival procedure – a procedure that makes air traffic control here even possible.

The Fisk arrival procedure segregates aircraft single-file prior to reaching the airport. It all starts 15 miles southwest of Oshkosh at a town called Ripon. Arriving at Ripon, pilots follow railroad tracks leading northeast. Approaching Fisk, aircraft are required to be single-file at least 1/2 – mile in-trail, no side-by-sides. All aircraft should be at an altitude of 1,800 feet MSL and 90 knots airspeed. If unable to meet this speed requirement, then higher performance aircraft may join the line at 2,300 feet and 135 knots. Controllers admit it is quite a site to have a bunch of experimental, homebuilt and classics mixing it up with a Learjet or Citation flying the VFR arrival procedure with gear, flaps and everything hanging out.

Fisk is a town 5 miles southwest of Oshkosh along the railroad tracks and air traffic controllers located at Fisk are the first real contact pilots have with Oshkosh controllers. The Fisk controllers work out of a portable trailer using binoculars and radio to visually identify and communicate with pilots. Controllers identify aircraft by type, color or any distinguishing features available to single-out aircraft. The Fisk controllers primary duty is to ensure that aircraft are appropriately separated in-trail, if not then they will be pulled out of line and sent back to Ripon to re-join the conga. Departing Fisk, aircraft will be assigned a runway and frequency to monitor. To alleviate ground congestion at the airport, the controllers try to put show aircraft on runway 36 and itinerant aircraft on runway 27. Controllers here do a great job metering the runway demands at Wittman Field. If the Fisk controllers don’t do a good job here, then the tower controllers have a real mess to deal with. If they do a great job, it is equally rewarding. There is a saying that controllers use to describe Fisk ATC responsibility…”As goes Fisk, so goes Oshkosh!”

If OSH tower needs to shut off the arrivals, there is a direct telephone line to Fisk. This might happen due to airport saturation, a disabled aircraft on the runway or a wind shift requiring a runway change. When Fisk gets shut off from the tower, the Fisk controllers now must move into geographical separation mode. For those aircraft already past Ripon and committed to Fisk, they will be directed to hold of Rush Lake to the west. For those aircraft that are at Ripon, a broadcast will be made to hold over Green Lake. Aircraft that haven’t arrived at Ripon, don’t go there, hold where you are and wait for the holding patterns to empty or go to an alternate. No matter where you are, be looking for other airplanes. This is no time to believe in the “Big Sky Theory” as it has the potential to be very busy.

Keys to a successful Airventure arrival while talking to Fisk: Read the procedures, know what to do before you get here, and listen to instructions as you go by.

Be safe and have a great Oshkosh!

And oh-by-the-way ... for those that have a vehicle and would like to visit the Fisk ATC trailer, it is located on highway FF just north of town. If you have ever wanted to visit an ATC facility or talk to a real air traffic controller, don’t miss this chance. There is no barbed-wire security fence or even a visitor pass required. The FAA has done a great job with this PR opportunity and showcase some of its finest talent as there is usually a controller or supervisor here to answer questions. They really appreciate it when you bring them food!

(Images provided by the author)