The 10,000 visiting airplanes have flown home but the impact of EAA AirVenture resonates through the city of Oshkosh all year. EAA AirVenture, the largest annual event held in Winnebago County and the largest aviation convention anywhere in the world, experienced a more than 5 percent jump in attendance over 2013’s numbers as the flying world celebrated innovation, achievement and the value of general aviation.
“More than 500,000 aviation enthusiasts are drawn to this event every year, making it unique and unparalleled in size and scope,” Governor Scott Walker said as he officially proclaimed statewide Aviation Week during his annual appearance at AirVenture. “Aviation plays a pivotal role in Wisconsin’s economy with the total economic impact of the aviation industry reaching $7 billion and providing approximately 90,000 jobs throughout the state. This week-long event alone boosts the local and state economy by approximately $110 million.”
EAA Chairman Jack Pelton remarked, “We filled Wittman Regional Airport with aircraft for the first time in several years, with both aircraft camping and parking areas completely full by midweek.” He gives some of that credit to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, which were seen jetting over the entire city of Oshkosh in tight formations that sped back over Wittman field with stunning speed and skill. It was the team’s first full performance at AirVenture and businesses east of the runways supported the show by respecting a larger ground safety zone than the typical airshow performance box calls for.
As always, manufacturers let AirVenture be the stage for major news. The Carter Aviation Technologies Personal Air Vehicle II flew in for its first Oshkosh appearance, and the makers of the pioneering CarterCopter announced plans for a turbine-powered fixed-wing autogyro.
The new owners of Mooney Aircraft were thrilled to deliver the first newly constructed Acclaim Type S during a press conference at AirVenture. The company further confirmed that they have 14 firm orders for the high-performance piston 4-seater, with production underway for the first time in five years.
Six years ago, Icon Aircraft unveiled its amphibious light sport A5, which quickly became an Oshkosh favorite partly due to a flashy design and lavish promotional parties. However, 1,300 deposits have demonstrated that there are many serious customers anxious to pull the 2-seater home on a trailer, or to unfold its wings, take to the air and splash onto open water.
An amphibious pusher-prop competitor was warmly received at 2014’s AirVenture as well. The MVP floats, folds and rearranges to mimic a fishing boat. A variety of clever features support its name of “Most Versatile Plane.”
The much-anticipated public debut of the HondaJet’s HA-420 production model followed its first flight on June 27. "In many ways, this event was the true beginning of Honda's aviation venture," said Honda Aircraft Company President and CEO Michimasa Fujino. “EAA AirVenture Oshkosh has been the setting of several HondaJet firsts.” 2005 saw the proof-of-concept debut here. One year later the company that makes more internal combustion engines than any other announced the formation of the Honda Aircraft Company. HondaJet’s over-the-wing engine mount (OTWEM) configuration combines with the natural-laminar flow wing and an unusually pointed nose to achieve unprecedented efficiency. With nine aircraft on the assembly line, first delivery could come in early 2015 if the FAA grants certification in time.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta fielded questions from a full crowd of knowledgeable aviators and was one of hundreds of officials and aviation leaders meeting in Oshkosh to work on aviation-related issues in ways that simply cannot be done anywhere else.
Huerta was just one of many enthusiasts to personally help build a Zenith 750 CH Cruiser, showing how easy and rewarding building a light aircraft can be. The “One Week Wonder” had a prominent central location on the field to help encourage active involvement from attendees.
“I want everyone who walks through the gate this week to want to build an aircraft,” said Charlie Becker, EAA director of community programs. Becker manages the international organization’s homebuild programs and highlighted the roots and first objective of EAA - supporting experimental aircraft by leading the first “One Week Wonder” since 1976. “We’re building it to demonstrate to everyone how easy it can be, how it’s a great affordable option to build a brand new aircraft, how enjoyable it can be, and how you can take advantage of the latest technology when you go with an amateur aircraft.”
With so many hands assembling the plane over the allotted seven days the Zenith earned its airworthiness certificate and taxied on Sunday…the last day of AirVenture. “But until it flies, it’s not an airplane,” Becker conceded, and at approximately 11:07 a.m. Tuesday, August 5, 2014, the airplane thousands of aviation enthusiasts had a hand in building flew for the first time. With EAA’s Jeff Skiles at the controls, the Zenith CH 750 Cruzer N140WW departed Wittman Regional Airport’s Runway 9, quickly ascended to about 1,800 feet, did one circuit around the pattern, landed at 11:19 a.m., and taxied to EAA’s Weeks Hangar on the north side of the runway.
“The flight was great,” Skiles said. “The Zenith Cruzer has a lot of performance, and lifts off very fast. Like a rocket ship, really.” The yellow 2-seater will tour airshows around the nation for at least one year.
Before aluminum and composite materials were introduced, wood was the structure inside aircraft, and the role World War I played in boosting aviation was one of the week’s themes. Builders from Oklahoma brought their incomplete Curtis JN-4D to the Warbirds area, letting attendees see the extensive framework that will soon hide beneath fabric.
“If you could see inside ours, it would be very similar,” said Myron Callaham, a board member of Friends of Jenny, which flew their JN-4D in from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Their biplane’s tail number is the same as the first ever U.S. airmail carrier. The “Jenny” was America’s first widely seen aircraft. “The 1914 model was commissioned by the U.S. government to build a safer trainer,” Callaham explains, “After WWI ended there were many of these in surplus so it became the quintessential barnstormer.”
Their hard work and the Jenny’s legacy could never be appreciated more than at AirVenture. “There’s no place in the world where you have this much interest in warbird aviation, and just every aspect of aviation in general. There’s no place in the world you can get as much exposure,” he said.
And that’s one reason competition can be so fierce during the many contests that use the Wittman runways but usually take place beyond the public’s view. This was not the case for the first Short Takeoff and Landing Competition hosted at AirVenture.
While the event’s north end is reserved for warbirds, the south end plays home to Ultralights, and amazed onlookers surrounded the grass runway as daring pilots pushed their dynamic aircraft into the air after unbelievably short takeoffs. Adding that takeoff distance to their short landing to come up with the smallest overall number was the objective of the STOL competition.
Frank Knapp took top honors this year with a winning cumulative distance of only 134 feet. His “Lil’ Cub” (N85CX), took off in a mere 72 feet, and then landed in an even shorter 62 feet. Each finalist of the short takeoff and landing competition was allowed two runs, with the lowest total giving them their final score. Knapp, of Palmer, Alaska, said their passion to be the best pushes custom design and upgrades all year. “I won’t say they’ll let the air out of your tires when you’re not looking, but we’re a pretty competitive group,” he remarked.
Taking second place was Bobby Breeden, with a total of 197 feet (72 feet at takeoff and 125 feet at landing), while third place went to Steve Henry at 206 feet. STOL pilot Doug Wilson said, “It’s one of the few places where you can really pit your airplane and aviation skills against other pilots. There’s also a lot of camaraderie involved. So much of flying is done alone, so it’s fun to do something like this.”
Manufacturers came together at the annual meeting of the Aircraft Kit Industry Association (AKIA) to select the president of Oshkosh manufacturer Sonex Aircraft as the organization’s new president. Jeremy Monnett was voted in while Dick VanGrunsven, president of Van’s Aircraft, was elected vice president.
Several meetings and forums were held to explain recent breakthroughs in the challenge to replace avgas with a completely lead-free alternative. EAA had a central role in forming the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative (PAFI), a public/private partnership that created a roadmap to consider new fuel blends. High-performance piston aircraft need the octane boost offered by lead, but the Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the lead additive currently in use is harmful and cannot be used much longer. Lead was banned from automotive fuel beginning in 1973.
In early July PAFI accepted nine new fuels that could hold the answer. EAA Government Relations Director Doug MacNair said it’s not just about high performance. Low-compression engines in ultralights and other small aircraft need to get away from lead, too. “Choices have become very, very restricted. You either need to find ethanol free auto gas or you need to suffer your way through engine fouling using avgas. MacNair added that PAFI has given major oil companies and small innovators an even footing and realistic target dates.
“Frankly, we’re thrilled to see that because, after 25 years of working on this, we were beginning to get pretty discouraged,” he remarked,” That doesn’t mean we’re going to start burning unleaded fuel on Dec 30 of 2018. That’s really the end of the testing evaluation and validation process necessary to begin the certification undertaking. That certification undertaking is really the most difficult part in the absence of PAFI, because all you could do at that point is literally get make/model specific STCs of fuels, and none of us would live long enough to get through that process. At 2018, what PAFI does is begin the fleet wide transition process. How long that takes is really going to be dependent upon the property of the fuels. So if we have unleaded fuels that are really quite similar in their properties to 100LL today, we stand the chance of a really seamless transition.”
Seamless operations above AirVenture are thanks to the small army of air traffic controllers who take charge of what is, for one week, the busiest airport in the world. Dan Carrico is usually a controller at Chicago O’Hare Airport, and called AirVenture both a thrill and an incredible challenge. “There is a lot of stress that goes with this event. We’re not using radar up here. There is radar in the tower, but when I’m out on the Fisk Approach Control, it’s just a trailer on a hill with some binoculars and a radio. That’s not to mention, when you get this mass of aircraft in the air and everyone has a transponder on, you just can’t see anything anyway because the tags would overlap on the radar. It’s a VFR environment,” he explains. “So this is an old school air traffic control tower. We’re using a lot of binoculars and eyeballs. We don’t use call signs because it’s just too busy. We use ‘high wing,’ ‘low wing,’ we use color. We’ve got a few folks who are absolute aviation experts and they can pick out planes by their types.”
It’s a different world and it’s kind of like taking a step back in time,” Carrico said, “But it’s a good step back in time.”
* All photos used in this article are courtesy of EAA. The image of the HondaJet on the homepage is courtesy of Honda