Adventure at AirVenture – or, Surviving Oshkosh as an Airshow Newbie

One of the central projects of my internship was helping in the planning for one of our biggest annual trade show appearances and then tagging along to offer support at our booth. I saw from reading the website that AirVenture is one of the biggest airshows of its kind in the world, and the attendance stats from last year were mindboggling. That said, nothing can really prepare you for an event of this magnitude if you’ve never been to it before. The last time I went to an airshow, I think I was probably five or six and I didn’t really see anything because my glasses broke within ten minutes of us getting there. I was pissed off. So, AirVenture was my chance to make up for that…

And holy cow, did it.

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time actually out wandering around and seeing the exhibits because I was working at our booth. Orbital ATK, Lockheed, Boeing, NASA Marshall, and Kennedy Space Center all donated materials, equipment, and/or man-hours to running a booth dedicated to Orion and the Space Launch System, including a VR tour of SLS and a simulator which gave people the chance to try docking Orion to the ISS. We even had a photo booth which gave people the chance to have their picture taken as an astronaut on Mars or at the ISS, among other backdrops. And we were just one booth out of I’d have to say about eight or nine, all representing NASA’s upcoming research and technology. We even had retired astronauts drop by from time to time for a visit! (One of them, Charlie Precourt, is one of my current bosses.)

iss photo
I couldn’t resist getting my photo taken as an astronaut at our photo booth.

The only downside to this awesome gig is that it’s exhausting, especially for an introvert. The only things that helped extend my battery life, so to speak, were that I was talking about something that interests me deeply and that I was working with people who are working on these projects and just as invested as I am. But what really made my day? The kids who came into our booth who are amped up about space and want to learn more, and the parents who support them.

I got to tag along to the two panels which we supported, too, so that I could do social media coverage (livetweeting – if you want to read, go check out Explore Deep Space on Twitter). Both of them were amazing panels, but the second one was from the perspective of women in the space industry and it was full of things that I needed to hear about the unique challenges faced by women in this sector – and, more importantly, how to overcome them. I also got the chance to network with some truly great people because of these panels.

In the interests of keeping this post short, I’ll summarize the rest of my personal airshow highlights below. They’re in no particular order because they were all freakin’ unbelievable.

  • Getting a look at Blue Origin’s retired New Shepard booster
  • Attending a reunion of most of the surviving Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts (and getting fifth-row reserved seating because of industry connections)
  • Talking with folks from NASA Armstrong – formerly NASA Dryden – who remember working with my aunt Leslie in the model shop while she was there
  • Taking photos of “Doc,” one of two surviving flightworthy B-29 Stratofortress aircraft, in flight and being towed down the flightline
  • Finding out that the person I was chilling out with in the NASA break room on Friday morning was none other than Fred Haise, the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 13

new shepard
Blue Origins’ retired New Shepard booster. [Photo pulled from my Instagram.]
So yeah, I think this more than made up for the busted glasses that took away my first airshow experience as a kid. I’d love to go back to AirVenture in the future – and this time I’ll know what to expect.

There’ll be more photos as soon as I have time to go through the hundreds that I took in the few days that I was there. Don’t worry, I think they’ll be worth the wait. But for now, I need to catch up on my rest…

 

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