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Feature Article

FEATURE ARTICLE

Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC tdebber@alum.mit.edu

 

One day at AirVenture

 

I wake to the sound of airplane engines.  My day is punctuated with this sound -- enjoyed by AirVenture attendees -- inviting me to look up.  I see the Ford Tri-Motor making one of its circuits of the AirVenture grounds.  It's a fun airplane to watch, the three engines and corrugated fuselage visible from the ground and flying more slowly than I expect for its size.  One of the firmest impressions of my first visit to AirVenture and one of its best aspects is the ever-changing constellation of planes in the sky overhead.

I’m back at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual “convention,” AirVenture.  Held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, its most often referred to as “Oshkosh.”

I grab a copy of the *AirVenture Daily*.  The articles fill me in on what I missed the day before: the FAA Administrator mentioned that third-class medical reform was high on his priority list; a young lady has successfully hitchhiked (or airhiked?) to every state except Hawaii and Alaska and is looking for a ride to the northernmost state.  But more important now is the daily schedule.  There's always more than one thing that I want to do or see at a given moment, so I've got to come up with a rough lineup to make sure I catch what's most interesting.  Many events are on-going or occur multiple times.  I pay most attention to the Forums schedule.  A forum is only 75 minutes long, doesn't repeat, and occurs in a more-remote part of the grounds, requiring some planning to reach.  I make some notes on what I want to be sure to catch.  Then I join the rest of the aviation enthusiasts walking, bussing, bicycling, and riding in golf carts to the entrance gate.

I decide the first thing I'm going to check out is Boeing Square.  It's like the Quad at a college: a large open area in the spiritual center of AirVenture, surrounded on all sides by important and diverse venues.  It's also where the larger showcase aircraft reside.  Dominating the center of the square is a C-17 Globemaster III.  Having been inside a C-17 before, I walk over to the relatively short line to go inside an Osprey.  The crew is on hand to answer questions and I get to peek at the cockpit and spend some time listening to another visitor talking with a crew member before I move on.  I look at the last flying Fairey Gannet, a strange looking airplane, without appreciating what it is.  There are no signs or people to explain it at the moment, so I wander over to the NASA’s WB-57 high-altitude aircraft.  Her crew is available for questions so I talk with an operations specialist for a while about the design of the aircraft and his particular training.  Having spent an hour or so in Boeing Square looking at some outstanding larger planes, it’s time to skedaddle over to the Forums area; I want to hear a talk on rigging Cessnas.

The speaker for the “Cessna Rigging the Key To Speed” forum is a representative from the Cessna Pilot’s Association.  He discusses Cessna rigging at a high level, describing how a post-1976 aircraft failing to make “book speed” can frequently be attributed to rigging problems.  He describes some of the problems.  The thrust of the talk, though, is that if a Cessna is flying inexplicably slowly or suffers from uneven fuel feeding or a host of other maladies, having its rigging checked and corrected by a mechanic shop that has gone through their training has a very good chance of resolving the problem.  I’m convinced enough that I end up joining the CPA before leaving Oshkosh.  This particular talk is characteristic of the forums on offer at Oshkosh.  They’re well-presented and sufficiently thought-provoking that I usually try to attend one or two each day I’m at AirVenture.  After the question-and-answer concludes, I wander over to the Homebuilder Kit vendor area.

Given that EAA has a large homebuilding base, the homebuilt and experimental area is filled with enthusiasts.  My ten-year plans include building an airplane with my two sons.  I enjoy wandering the vendor area, dreaming about which kits will fit our family and mission best.  The vendor areas themselves have two or three example aircraft to inspect.  The vendors themselves are eager to talk but not pushy.  I spend some time looking closely (again) at the Sling 4, the current top contender for the family airplane.  It’s a Turbo Rotax powered, four-seat airplane capable of 120 knots on 6 gallons per hour.  The Airplane Factory, its manufacturer, says that no airplane can fulfill every pilot’s needs, but that it believes the Sling 4 will be a Silver Bullet for many.  A few booths down, the SubSonex Personal Jet is fun to look at: a home built jet powered airplane.  The engine itself is smaller than a large coffee urn.  That looks like a lot of fun.  Not something that I’m going to build, but its bright-yellow appeal is clear.  After walking up and down both sides of the exhibitors, the sound of high-powered aircraft begins to fill the air.

The daily afternoon air show is a highlight at Oshkosh.  The flightline begins to fill with portable chairs late in the morning and by the time the show starts a front-row seat may be impossible to come by.  But, given that most of the action takes place at least a few hundred feet off the ground, a front-row seat here isn’t as important as other venues.  The air show lineup typically features a military spectacle of some sort, a few solo aerobatic acts, several formation flights, and then some special features.  One of the first performers is an Osprey.  Having gotten an up-close look earlier in the day, watching it demonstrate its unique capabilities completes the picture.  2014 at Oshkosh marked the first year that a military demonstration team performed: the Air Force Thunderbirds performed three shows during the weekend.

The end of the air show marks the end of the day for most AirVenture attendees.  As a camper on the field, I meet up with some WVFC folks for dinner, then head to the Evening Concert, performed on a stage at AeroShell Square.  Tonight it’s Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.  I admit I don’t know the aviation connection, but they’ve performed at Oshkosh before.  They play a great, high energy concert.  During the concert, the Veterans Honor Flight returns, coming back on a 737 after a day in Washington, DC.  After the concert, I listen to the Thunderbirds speak a bit about what it’s like to be on the team, with both active Thunderbirds and alumni.  Heading back to my campsite at 11 pm, it’s been a full-day of aviation activity.  I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.


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