OSHKOSH OBSERVATIONS 2017
Opinions expressed in this editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Minnesota Flyer.
September 1, 2017
Like last year, this will likely be one for the record books—number of airplanes, number of attendees. We arrived the Saturday just before the Convention started—and like last year, the campgrounds were 85% full already. By the Monday morning start of the show, aircraft arrivals were limited to “show planes only”—and Camp Scholler campground was full.
Every year, aviation pundits and prognosticators try to measure the health of the industry by the attendance at the “big shows”—a practice that is about as reliable as watching the actions of Wall Street traders to divine the stock market. Like the market traders, aviation writers are also easily stampeded into trying to guess what large show attendance (or lack thereof) means for the industry. I don’t even try—but here are some possibilities:
• It MIGHT mean that pilots are in a “buying mood”—new equipment, , new radios, new aircraft offerings.
• It MIGHT mean that there is renewed confidence in the economy—low inflation, money to spend.
• It MIGHT mean that there is a pent-up demand—for new aircraft, new radios, new equipment.
• It MIGHT mean that with pilot hiring at a torrid pace, and wages increasing, younger people are looking at aviation as a career.
• It MIGHT mean that last year was so spectacular (another record-breaker) that “we have to do that again!”
• OR, it MIGHT just mean that “the weather is good this year, let’s go to Oshkosh!”
At a media press conference, EAA CEO Jack Pelton said “We are making an effort to be more diverse—to appeal to all interests in a aviation. We’ve moved away a bit from the “One Big Thing” at our conventions, and attempting to have something for many groups.” Some of that thinking is reflected in some of the observations below:
In line with EAA’s “something for everyone” thinking, this was a year for anniversaries—the 90th anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight (complete with EAA’s “Spirit” replica and a re-enactor), the 90th anniversary of Cessna Aircraft, the 85th anniversary of Beech, the 80th anniversary of the Cub, the 75th anniversary of the Doo-little Raid (complete with sole survivor Richard Cole and 13 B-25s), the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon-landing program, the 40th anniversary of the Christen Eagle (the first factory-built kit airplanes), and the 25th anniversary of the Young Eagles program.
EAA CONTINUES TO MAKE INVESTMENTS
The homebuilt camping area was expanded. New facilities (including the new “Tailwind Cafe”) in the “North 40” were used for the first time this year (the area was closed for the modifications last year). The Red Barn area at the Vintage area has been expanded and improved. Fagen Fighter Museum donated a replica Quonset hut (“Officers/NCO club”) in the warbird area. Improvements at Theatre in the Woods have been made. Additional camp sites with electrical and water have been added—these not only serve during the Convention, but serve the volunteers (now at 7000 people!) in the months leading up to the convention.
“WHAT DO WE CALL THIS THING?”
I’ve long opined that the trade name “Airventure” was not something used by most pilots or non-pilots (as mentioned last year, NOBODY calls it “Airventure”—we just say “Osh-kosh”)—and someone in EAA is listening. CEO Pelton acknowledged the change—EAA will simply refer to the gathering as “the EAA convention at Oshkosh” or simply “Oshkosh”—and the museum has officially been redesig-nated as “The EAA Museum at Oshkosh.” “Kidventure” and “Womenventure” will continue, but be increasingly referred to as EAA programs for kids and women.
EAA (and every other General Aviation organization) has pulled out all the stops to prevent the “Privatization” of Air Traffic Control. All throughout the grounds, signs stating “ATC—NOT FOR SALE!” and “MODERNIZE—NOT PRIVATIZE” reminded attendees just how important this issue is. EAA recruited dozens of young people to roam the grounds with I-pads—encouraging attendees to simply ender their name and zip code on the I-pad to send a letter to their Representative or Senator. It only takes a few seconds—and the Congressional leaders have it right away. As of the convention date, there were over 160 General Aviation or-ganizations opposed to the privatization effort—there are none in favor! By contrast, EVERY airline (including former lone holdout Delta, which traded their support for an “open skies” policy in the Middle East) supports the initiative. Pelton mentioned that he has never seen more pressure on organizations, corporations, or Congressmen to support this bill—citing the Delta example—pressure on EAA and other organizations, and pressure on individu-al Congressmen to change their votes (Pelton related that a Norther Wisconsin Congressman, whose district needed flood relief, was told “If you don’t vote in favor of privatization, your flood projects will never see the light of day.” Citing another example of what politics has become, Pelton related that the bipartisan House Aviation Sub-committee scheduled hearings for Tuesday, July 25th—knowing that every aviation organization staff would be in Oshkosh. When the groups protested, they were offered Friday, July 21 instead—except that Congress would be in recess then—leaving only Congressional staffers to attend. The General Aviation groups took the meeting during the Convention—and an EAA supporter arranged transportation to Washington. This is an issue we should all be furious about—CONGRESS created the ATC issue by not funding the FAA (23 “continuing resolutions” by last count!), but now seeks to “make it better” by adopting the failed system other countries employ.
Again, there weren’t a lot of new aircraft on display—most were new models or improvements on aircraft that have already been introduced. Almost all manufacturers had touted up (perhaps “tarted up” might similarly be appropriate) their existing models with the new lower-cost avionics and autopilots derived from the joint EAA-AOPA initiative to allow avionics formerly restricted to homebuilt aircraft to be used in the legacy fleet. That’s GOT to be a good thing for homebuilts and older aircraft.
With only about 800 days until the FAA ADS-B mandate goes into effect, people are finally accepting that they may need this to fly in controlled airspace. Prices have come down, with the base for a certified airplane with ADS-B out at about $2000—and going up from there. It’s hard for aircraft owners to decide whether to equip or not—and if so—to equip for the minimum required, or to upgrade the aircraft. Examples of increased capabili-ties are the Lynx transponder/ADS-B/traffic/weather/SIGMET unit priced between $5-6,000, all the way up to a $20,000 Garmin or Dynon unit to transform your factory-built single into a full glass panel with GPS, ADS-B, Synthetic Vision, Traffic, Weather, new engine instruments AND a coupled autopilot. That’s a LOT of money—but that’s also a lot of capability—and something that would have cost over $40-$50,000 only a few years ago. I believe that this initiative by EAA/AOPA is one of the most important breakthroughs in recent years, allowing old-er airframes to have capabilities of new aircraft. The selection process is daunting, but it’s yet another reason to go to Oshkosh next year—to actually “hold the hardware” and finalize your selection.
WHAT WASN’T THERE?
It’s always hard to think of what wasn’t at the show. There were fewer non-aviation vendors this year. FLYING magazine was not there—for the first time I can remember. HELICOPTERS were in short supply—none of the major manufacturers, the Helicopter Association was not there. There were no helicopter demos at the airshow—EVERY OTHER category and class of aircraft participated, but no helicopters. There is obviously an interest in helicopters at the show, as evidenced by the helicopter rides and the homebuilt helicopters.
BRICKBATS AND BOUQUETS “WHAT WENT RIGHT AND WHAT WENT WRONG”
The record attendance highlights some problems—but that’s a GOOD problem to have.
• We’re running out of room. Aircraft parking and Camp Scholler were full even before the official start—even with the expansion to the “South 40” and the return of the “North 40” to service. When we left on Friday, car traffic was lined up for 4 miles at each exit. There just isn’t more room for airplanes OR campers on the grounds—and even the “reliever” airports are at or near capacity. SUGGESTED SOLUTION: It’s time to go back to a “two weekend” schedule—let the show cover two weekends to eliminate crowding. Perhaps the first weekend would cover flight demonstrations—and the second would cover the airshow—or a mixture between the two of them. SOMETHING’S got to give!
• The busses were full—and then some. More busses MAY help—but dispersing the crowd over a longer period may allow the busses to keep up. We waited several times for more than 40 minutes for busses. The trams were also often full. That said—the bus and tram drivers were still unfailingly courteous—as were the passengers.
• I mentioned last year that the bus stop next to Camp Scholler usually became a muddy mess. This year, EAA has done something about it—moving the stop a short distance—giving the busses more space to load/unload—providing crushed rock to the gate. I also mentioned that the bicycle/scooter/motorcycle parking area was too crowed in this area—they took care of that, too!
• I mentioned last year that Stits Blvd—the main pathway through the campground, was fouled by leaking septic pumping trucks. This year, they had street sweeper/washer trucks. Thank you!
• The airshows—I’ve long opined that they are too long—watching different performers do the same maneuvers for 5 hours. Introduce new demonstrations (perhaps a hovering F-35 next year?) STOL demos? More helicopter or glider demos?
• This year, EAA introduced “Twilight Flights” (for want of a better term)—designated times for balloons, ultralights, light sport, helicopters, gyroplanes, and powered parachutes to perform. The powered parachutes were particularly impressive with their performance in the fading light—silhouetted against the sky—their propulsion fans lit up in blue light. Let’s see more of that at the main stage!
• The Forums and Workshops were particularly good this year—it seems that they were more focused on “How do I ……” (problem solving) than hands-on building something. They were well attended. HOWEVER (see next)…
• The helicopter noise was as prevalent as ever—and disruptive to the thousands of people that came to learn at the forums. I’m a commercial helicopter pilot, helicopter owner, and ride provider—I’ve owned two Bell 47s—but this needs to change. Yes—people like to ride in the helicopters, and the revenue is important for EAA—but there IS a solution. The helicopters spend about 50 seconds north of the control tower on their routes—extend the flight pattern south to the ultralight runway instead. This still leaves ample space for autorotations in the event that something goes wrong (also utilizing the ultralight safety area, and spares the noise over the Forum pavilions. It’s far cheaper to change the route than it is to soundproof or relocate the Forum structures.
• I liked the idea of a “theme”—this year, attendees could watch the bombers—the B-1, B-2, B-17s, TWO B-29s, B-52, and 13 B-25s—in addition to the various other bombers. Impressive!
• I mentioned last year that the map of the grounds needs to be updated to reflect the increased area for generator use at Camp Scholler—and EAA did. The good news is that they followed up and moved the generator area to the West of Stits Blvd. The bad news is that there was so much demand for camping space that the area to the East (marked “Pet walking area”) was taken over as well—it was “the Wild West”. Time to recognize reality and make that official.
• Yodeling on the PA system at 7 A.M. The system works well for storm alerts, but yodeling? Really?
• New this year—the “exhibitor parking/staging area” located at the extreme end of Camp Scholler. If the Convention is to remain this popular, this area is needed for more camping.
• CEO Pelton recognized the fact that while Camp Scholler was designed for tent camping, more and more attendees are using larger and larger trailers and motor homes, and the slightest rain makes getting in and out doubtful. I’ve called for a 5-year plan for EAA to put down crushed rock on the designated “streets” to prevent them from becoming impassable. In the past, EAA has been very helpful about using tractors to pull rigs out, but now they have liability concerns. EAA is getting $27 per night for a campsite in a hayfield, with no amenities. It is not only a major source of income, but there is no way to solve the housing shortage at the convention without these campers. I would gladly pay more if I could be assured that I could be assured of leaving. EAA put a lot of money into the new campsites with sewer/water/electric—that money may have been better spent improving the access.
• On the plus side, EAA was very good this year about quickly putting down crushed rock and wood chips where needed.
• Others (not only me) have mentioned that there are far too many vehicles on the grounds. EAA has restricted the old cars to the couple of blocks where major sponsor Ford runs the model T cars near its pavilion—a major improvement. I observed a major change to scooters, but there are still far too many golf carts and Gators transiting the grounds.
• Camp Scholler needs a sidewalk along Stits Blvd. There is more pedestrian/vehicular traffic on it than any other place on the grounds—yet unlike other streets, there is no sidewalk.
• “Kidventure” was even better than last year—a lot of dedicated volunteers working with a huge number of kids for “hands-on” learning. I’d like to see it in the education area, however. It would make it far easier for parents to get kids there (rather than riding the bus to Pioneer Airport) and be closer to all of the services at the main ex-hibit campus. Use one of those big white tents like the Education, NASA, and Careers exhibitors do. Let Pio-neer Airport go back to what it was designed for—representing the early airports. As it is, it is a huge invest-ment—hardly capable of making that connection to that early era.
• “Kidventure” would be a great adjunct to the Young Eagles program located in the new “Blue Barn” right next door--and written descriptions and age-appropriate lesson plans provided to school teachers would be a perfect way to teach Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math--a hot subject right now.
Don’t take this as a complaint about the Oshkosh convention--I plan on going there as long as I can. These observa-tions are just that--my own observations--and are intended to be used to “accent the positive” and as constructive criticism to make a good experience even better—after all, that’s what writers DO--make observations and comments. See you at the greatest aviation event in the world, NEXT YEAR!
Jim Hanson is the long-time airport operator at Albert Lea, MN. Far from being a “grumpy old man”, Jim has reached an age where he has achieved “curmudgeon” status, and though he means no harm, his writing has been described some times as “acerbic.” If you would like to comment on his comments, contact this magazine--or Jim directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone him at 507 373 0608. Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite!