Truly the Spirit of Aviation
There are some years at Airventure (Oshkosh) that are “breakthrough” years — notable for the appearance of new aircraft, avionics, or technologies.
The “I-Pad Revolution” a couple of years ago would be a good example. This year was not one of the “breakthrough” years but that’s OK. Let me tell you why.
Many of us go to Oshkosh to see “What’s New” in General Aviation. Almost anything new is usually showcased there. Evolving technologies usually take several years to come to market — some are only empty promises, and the good products often take several years to become viable products. A good example might be Minnesota’s own Alpha Systems — manufacturer of Angle Of Attack (AOA) systems.
They’ve been selling low-cost AOA systems for years. Last year, I wrote an article devoted to AOA systems — how they could be useful in increasing safety — and that the FAA was changing both certification and flight training rules to incorporate AOA use. In what must be a record for FAA policy change, they did make the promised changes.
At Oshkosh this year, I counted FIVE AOA systems — including one from Bendix/King. AOA systems aren’t new — but with the change in FAA policy, they have become a “must-have” technology. “New technology?” No — but “evolving technology”? Yes.
The same can be said for diesel engines. For years, they have been “right around the corner” — and for regular visitors to Oshkosh, they might be “old news.” THIS year, however, they were “center stage”. Several engine and airframe manufacturers displayed certificated products — ready for sale — and other old-line manufacturers announced new programs. Perhaps the issue is that regular Oshkosh attendees have been in on the development for years. It’s only “news” for those that haven’t been paying attention. It’s yet another reason to make the trip every year — to see the evolving technology. What may be “old news” to you is “new news” to those who have not been paying attention.
For those of us who live aviation every day and follow it on the web, it’s a chance to actually try out the hardware we’ve only seen on the computer. Every year, I have a list of manufacturers I want to visit to see their products for myself. While orders for products may not be actually “made” at Oshkosh — the desire to own that product is certainly “made” there.
I had a mentor in marketing that stated “Do you know how many times the average consumer has to be exposed to a product before making a buying decision? TWENTY-TWO! At first, they may never have heard of a product — then may be vaguely aware — then take an interest — then research it — then decide they want to have it.” For many aviation purchasers, Oshkosh provides the last two steps — research, and “must have.”
This year, I had two British friends visit. David Lee is former Deputy Director of the Imperial War Museum — and is largely responsible for the world-class Duxford, England museum (including the American Air Museum in Britain, located at Duxford).
David also made presentations at a forum at Oshkosh, dealing with the Battle of Britain. Ken Cothliff is an airshow producer and “commentator” (announcer) from Liverpool. The two visited me here — my attempt to return the courtesies that David has extended over the years in hosting us at Duxford.
David and Ken compared General Aviation here and in Britain. There is much more GA here than in Britain, but one of the things that impressed them was “the cavalier attitude you have here — you simply jump in an aeroplane and go flying!” GA is so rare in Britain that pilots log all the types of airplanes they’ve even ridden in! In their decades of flying, my guests had each experienced only 70-80 different types — and they maintained a rivalry to experience more types. I was able to expand those numbers by 11 aircraft for each of them (I wouldn’t want one to get ahead of the other!) while in Albert Lea. They were ecstatic — and the next day, I flew them to two Minnesota treasures — Greg Herrick’s Golden Wings Air Museum at Anoka County, and Ron Fagen’s Fighter Factory in Granite Falls. They literally dropped their jaws as they looked over the vintage airplanes.
“I didn’t think we could improve on the previous day, but each day has gotten better and better!” they exclaimed.
That is until I took them to Oshkosh. Most of us have had the experience of taking someone to Oshkosh for the very first time—and last year, I wrote an article on the experience (“Oshkosh through the eyes of a Newbie”). Though they are both authors and masters of the English language, there were not enough superlatives to describe the experience. Being WW II experts, the Warbirds were perhaps their biggest attraction, and they had a keen interest in Vintage airplanes. They could readily identify Classic and Contemporary airplanes, and stopped to look at all of the new airplane and hardware offerings.
David was able to add to his “aeroplanes ridden in” list by purchasing a B-29 flight in FIFI (he has a B-29 in the American Air Museum he helped create) and a Bell 47 helicopter. He also scored a ride in a B-25 and a Mustang from people that had been to Duxford.
Later, some Canadian friends visited us at Oshkosh. They fly a Light Sport airplane, and are considering buying an airplane on amphibious floats. They also experienced all that Oshkosh has to offer — comparing for themselves the attributes of various old and new airplanes. Again, it was great to watch my foreign friends experience Oshkosh — they were like kids at Christmas
I mention this because those of us who attend Oshkosh every year tend to become jaded. We forget JUST HOW GOOD THIS IS! There are those who are sure to say “Aw, there’s nothing new this year.”
Think again — maybe it isn’t new because you’ve been watching the products evolve over the years.
On the other hand, some things NEVER change:
* The cheerfulness of the volunteers never changes. All week long, they smile and say “Welcome to Oshkosh!” — and they really MEAN it! The demeanor of attendees also is unchanged. The words “Please” and “Thank You!” are heard often — something not heard as often in “normal” society. Oshkosh volunteers and attendees ARE different in that regard—some of the most polite people you’ll ever meet.
* The efficiency of the physical layout rarely changes. The trams and busses are wonderfully efficient — the registration process is fast and efficient — adequate toilets and water are to be found everywhere — there are few electrical problems — the garbage is picked up readily — the campgrounds are well-regulated.
* The airshow still goes off with hardly a hitch — a fast-paced show timed to the very minute. This year, the schedulers made an extra effort to vary the displays.
* The grounds are still remarkably clean — thanks not only to the staff and volunteers, but to the spectators themselves.
* There is a tremendous amount of information available in the forums — on almost all aspects of aviation. There is SO MUCH information available that it is hard to decide which forum to attend due to conflicting schedules. (Note to organizers: It would be nice if there was a way to list what OTHER times a forum would be presented, so we could help make out a schedule to take them all in).
* The comical one-cylinder “flying machine” still patrols the grounds, and the “one-man band” still entertains.
* The seaplane base and the museum remain islands of relative cool and quiet in the midst of the noise and information overload in the rest of the show.
Thank goodness some things NEVER change!
My only negative: I’d like to see some changes in the airshow — and if I’m going to complain, I should give examples of what I would like to see:
* Four hours is just too long — even for me! A shorter show would also open up the airport for more arrivals/departures.
* I’d like to see fewer “thrill show” aerobatics, and more “flight demonstrations.” Have you ever noticed that the people on the flight line watching the aerobatic displays are usually “newbies” while most regular attendees rarely even look up? Oshkosh has all of the big “name” acts — but after a while, all of the violent aerobatic demonstrations look pretty much the same.
* I’d like to see the airshow more varied. The glider aerobatics, the jet glider, and the helicopter aerobatics are great — as is Jim Pietz in the aerobatic Bonanza.
* Tone down the PA commentary. Have you ever noticed that the former and current “class acts” like Bob Hoover, the Canadian Snowbirds, Julie Clark, the French Connection, Matt Younkin, Duane Cole, and Minnesota’s own John Mohr have only explanatory commentary or soft music while performing? The raucous commentary and blaring “music” detract rather than add to the experience. Know your audience — these are aviation people, not NASCAR!
* Fill in with unique airplanes like current and vintage racers — flybys by some of the current super-fast homebuilt and production airplanes — a demonstration of how far we’ve come in homebuilding. On the other side of the coin — how about short-field demonstrations (much like the Valdez, Alaska competitions—have you noticed the videos all over the internet?). How about military or SWAT team “fast-roping” demonstrations from helicopters—or a demonstration of a helicopter hoist — as seen on “Coast Guard Alaska”?
How about contacting one of the motorglider vendors (like Pipestrel) to demonstrate their self-launching gliders — a no-medical alternative to Light Sport aircraft? How about a ground-launched glider demonstration (both winch-launched and auto-towed) — an impressive thing to watch, and an economical alternative to aero tows? (Gliders aren’t often featured in the airshow).
How about a demonstration of helicopter autorotations—something we as helicopter pilots routinely practice, but the public rarely sees? For the Vintage crowd — how about recreating the 1930s drop-off and aerial pickup of the air mail with a Gull-Wing Stinson—even inviting people to send a letter via “Airmail” for the occasion?
How about a demonstration of a rotary-engined airplane (complete with “blip-button” engine speed control) — a good fit with next year’s WW I 100th anniversary theme? How about a fly-by and photo opportunity for EAA’s Spirit of St. Louis replica—how many people have seen it fly? (That might be extended to any other unique EAA-owned aircraft). How about a tribute to Steve Whittman — 2014 will be the 110th anniversary of his birth, and 90 years since he earned his pilot certificate — also 90 years since he built his first airplane. Perhaps a Formula 1 race in commemoration?
I mention these changes — not to be critical—but because I believe that EAA really DOES listen it its members!
The GOOD news:
* See above...............the GOOD STUFF NEVER changes!
* The absence of the military was hardly noticeable. The jet demonstration teams usually don’t perform at Oshkosh due to the difficulty in keeping their aerobatics within the designated aerobatic box — limiting their routine to fast fly-pasts. Yes, it would have been nice to have some military hardware available for inspection by those who paid for it through their tax dollars, but EAA did a wonderful job of filling in — from JetMan to the civilian Sea Harrier.
* The EAA’s Tall Pines Cafe does a great business providing breakfasts in the morning — a great meal at a very reasonable price. I’d like to see MORE EAA-owned enterprises like it.
* The JumboTron 30’ superscreen was a nice addition. I watched JetMan twice — the first time without the JumboTron—the second time, with it. The first time looked almost like any ordinary skydiver — just a dot in the sky — the second time, being able to watch from his helmet-mounted camera made all the difference in the world.
* There was reputedly a record number of exhibitors this year, but it didn’t feel like there were as many vendors in the pavilions this year, but I had a sense that the aisles were wider. The extra space allowed visitors to spend more time in each booth without holding up traffic — much appreciated. Perhaps it was because the college exhibitors had their own dedicated area this year — outside the pavilions.
* EAA continues to make some nice changes to the grounds—campers in the “North 40” now have more bathrooms and showers, a cafe, and a store/gift shop.
* Light Sport Aircraft seemed much more prevalent — in the light sport area — in the main display area — and in the parking areas. Perhaps they are achieving “critical mass” — enough of them that people are taking notice?
* New this year — the EAA Innovations Pavilion abutting the main square. Maybe it’s just me, but I hadn’t heard much publicity on it — and it is one of the most important changes EAA has made. Not only does it showcase new technology, but it brings EAA back to its roots as experimenters and innovators — something that members have been asking for. It is yet another example that EAA is listening to its members.
* The FAA handed EAA more than an unexpected bill for $450,000 this year — it handed the organization a MISSION that has united the membership. If there EVER was an issue that stressed the importance of having a strong and united organization to oppose government run amok — this is it. I particularly liked the “This isn’t Over!” signs on the grounds. It unifies pilots like never before.
* Overall, there was a sense of optimism that has been missing for the past several years. Optimism about new products. Optimism that owning an airplane or learning to fly might be within the grasp of more people. Most important, the optimism that EAA is getting back on track in once again being a “bottom up” organization that listens to and interacts with its members — something that is bigger than any of us can be individually — something we all want to be a part of. I’m not one to bash previous administrators — only excited that the new regime at EAA has been so responsive to its members.
I saw old and new airplanes there — saw new technologies — saw some great Forum presentations — saw dozens of old friends — saw how my British and Canadian friends appreciate American aviation--but best of all, saw that “The Spirit of Aviation” (whoever came up with that description for EAA should get an award!) is alive and well. I’ve already blocked out the time to go next year!
Jim Hanson is the long-time FBO at Albert Lea, MN. For 50 years, he has been an ardent aviation advocate. Never one to be shy about expressing his opinion, he says “The best part about getting old is that you don’t have to care WHO you offend!” Whether you agree with him or not, Jim appreciates feedback. He can be reached at his airport office at 507-373-0608, or firstname.lastname@example.org