AirVenture Produces All-Around Success

EAA's 2021 Gathering At Oshkosh Sets Many Benchmarks


August 1, 2021

Jermey D. Dando

EAA's AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 was a record-setting event, with a large number early aircraft arrivals. Here's a north-looking view of the Vintage aircraft area.

This was my 25th consecutive Oshkosh Convention. The first thing that people ask on my return is "SO-HOW WAS OSHKOSH? WHAT'S NEW?"

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh or "Oshkosh" for short has become so large that it's difficult to cover by one person-so Minnesota Flyer's contributing writers were directed to do the logical thing, and divide the editorial responsibilities.

I took on the event reporting -the displays-the press gatherings-the forums-and the questions of "what's new?"

Contributing writer, professional airshow announcer and historian Tom Lymburn will report on unique aircraft that were present at Oshkosh in next month's issue of the Minnesota Flyer.

With a "population" of 600,000 plus attending AirVenture (if only for a few days), the event itself temporarily becomes the largest city in Wisconsin! That course of action is all that a Septuagenarian reporter can do-even with 12-hour days!

Usually, we can speak "shorthand" to those who have attended before-talking about what is familiar, what is different, and the importance of new developments, announcements, the state of the industry, and the interpretation by EAA on regulatory efforts by government. Here's my take on Oshkosh this year.

There were doubts right up to opening on the size of the upcoming convention-and only a few months before, there was doubt about whether there could BE a convention.

EAA CEO and Chairman of the Board Jack Pelton detailed the decisions to be made at a press briefing on the "go/cancel" decision.

One of the options considered was to simply hold a fly-in-no airshow, no admittance to non-EAA members, and no exhibitors.

This would be a throwback to the original idea forged by Paul Poberezny and other founders: EAA members should get together

and share ideas about building homebuilt aircraft.

Some were afraid that COVID would cause cancellations-and some predicted pent-up demand and a return to "normalcy." EAA prepared very well for both scenarios-and in the end, it was a blockbuster-even though the number of exhibitors was down.

The first indication that this would be a big year was the total of pre-convention aircraft arrivals.

Normally, "early aircraft arrivals" number about 3,500-with a previous high of 5,000 arriving by Sunday evening. This year, these "early arrivals" totaled 7,928!

During his AirVenture 2021 closing day comments Sunday, Aug. 1, Pelton reported EAA's membership had reached 244,698, a new record.

AirVenture 2021 attendance was approximately 608,000, only the third time attendance has surpassed 600,000. There were 16,378 aircraft operations at Wittman Regional Airport in the 10-day period from July 22-31, an average of 116 takeoffs/landings per hour.

Camping units totaled 12,000 paid tents, trailers, and motor homes, another record. Paid onsite parking was 50,000.

We arrived the Saturday before, and found that we were one of the last to fit into the older version of Camp Scholler for campers. By Sunday, the

new "overflow" camping areas were nearly filled, and campers searched for any available camp space.

EAA was prepared-in the intervening year, they had reworked the shuttle bus and tram routings-creating new pickup spots, tram stops, and routes.

Though the procedures were well documented in the welcome and briefing bulletin, there was some confusion for the first day until people caught on.

EAA took the time during the "year off" (the reality was that planning for the convention is ALWAYS more than a year ahead!) to reduce congestion of increasing attendance in getting people in through the gate.

EAA members camping in Camp Scholler could elect to pre-register themselves, vehicles, and campsites-greatly reducing congestion at Registration-and entering through a pre-registration gate. It was easy-AND FAST!

EAA was prepared for "COVID Caution." They enlisted the advice of the Green Bay Packers on how to bring a large crowd into a given area.

More Porta-Potties were provided throughout the grounds-and a new company did a great job of keeping them sparkling clean. Hand sanitizers were evident everywhere.

"Social Distancing" was practiced-with large events like Theatre in the Woods capacity restricted-less dense seating areas in cafes-and Forum seating not only limited, but popular forums were repeated.

Air rides-It was originally thought that air rides would have to be suspended due to COVID. Though the B-29 and B-17 four-engine bombers

were not available, EAA was able to do the popular Tri-Motor rides, the helicopter rides, and even rides in the B-25!

The number of exhibitors was down slightly-and the aisles in the display building were able to be widened to disperse the crowd.

Regarding news conferences and media events, there were very few really big announcements during the week. Perhaps the biggest was the FAA presentation of a broad Supplemental Type Certificate to GAMI for a "drop-in" 100LL fuel replacement-after working on it for 9 years.

The effect will not be immediate, but it is HUGE NEWS as it assures that aviation will not be dependent on leaded fuel. The price of the fuel is substantially higher (65-90 cents a gallon).

I predict that it will take 10 years to be adopted, and as distribution is more widespread, it will eventually replace 100LL-AND more people will go the autogas option route if able.

The Warbird area seemed like it had more aircraft than I can recall before-especially the P-51 crowd. The Warbird tram waiting line for free narrated tours was so popular an additional tram was added-and they STILL need more trams.

Boeing Plaza was dominated by even more huge government aircraft than normal-though this is by design (there is no place else on the grounds to park these giants and still have pedestrian access to them).

In addition to military aircraft, humanitarian aircraft like Orbis Flying Eye Hospital and disaster relief aircraft like the Super DC-8 of Samaritan's Purse allowed tours.

An Air Force C-17 special flying hospital with a negative pressure patient treatment module, which prevents transmission of COVID-19 to those outside the module was displayed-it allowed movement of stricken patients and care-givers worldwide.

A new UPS Boeing 747 that had flown more than 400 million doses of COVID vaccine was displayed-what great public relations coups these innovative aircraft provides for aviation!

On the OTHER side of the size spectrum-the rotorcraft/ultralight/balloon/LSA and STOL crowd exhibited their usual fun at the revamped "ultralight strip" on the South End.

The strip was realigned to give more display room-the hazard of wires was removed, eliminating the requirement for low altitude close-in turns to avoid conflict with aircraft operations on the parallel runways.

This also required relocating the "clearway" in Camp Scholler-keeping campers off a designated emergency landing area in the event of an aircraft problem operating from the ultralight strip-and we saw the wisdom of that planning by EAA when a light aircraft made a precautionary landing on it without incident!

Some years are revolutionary-who can forget the appearance of the RCAF Snowbirds-or the U.S. jet demo teams, Concorde, Voyager, or the Martin Mars fire-fighting flying boat?

This year was evolutionary-very few "game-changing" announcements of new aircraft, avionics, or pilot accessories-just constant updates and improvements-and "that ain't bad!"

Pelton paraphrased a long list of EAA accomplishments during the inappropriately named "year off" during his Monday opening day remarks.

"We didn't HUNKER Down, we DOUBLED down!" Pelton said, regarding EAA improvements, which included changes to the grounds, EAA staff learning how to work from home, expansion of the EAA Museum complex that includes KidVenture year-round, STEM lab teaching for teachers, safety and flying proficiency (to include 13 flight simulators), and CFI renewal clinics.

The expansion is a WORKING addition to the museum-but there will be improvements in the museum itself in the coming years.

Pelton listed government regulatory efforts-many in concert with AOPA. Has anybody else noted how well Pelton and AOPA's Mark Baker work

well together-presenting a unified voice of support or need for government reform?

Projects like fighting the ill-considered FAA dictum preventing flight instructors from giving instruction in homebuilt aircraft, warbirds, or limited category aircraft-how does THAT support aircraft safety?

Pelton detailed the upcoming efforts to revamp the mishmash of contradictory and confusing FAA certification requirements for the long-promised "Primary Aircraft"-replacing it with the new MOSAIC system of

performance-based aircraft certification, expected in 2023.

Pelton also gave credit to more than 5,000 volunteers that help with the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh-some working for months before! Specifically, he cited forethought and investment mentioned above for the grounds themselves-EAA really had their eye on the ball.

Great fiscal management was evident-while EAA took a financial hit, its cost-cutting resulted in stable cash flow-"Our 5-year plan worked out well," Pelton said.

Though EAA membership dropped during the pandemic, it was mainly due to those whose renewal date coincided with AirVenture-which was missing last year. EAA expects any losses to be regained.

The VFR arrivals were revamped-allowing for GPS navigation and expected arrival times. Preliminary information from controllers

and pilots show it worked very well for a first-time experience.

A "shout out" here to EAA PR Guru Dick Knapinski-Dick has been not only the "spokesman for EAA" for years, but arranges press conferences, media briefings, and even gives a hand to journalists with special requests-the man is tireless-always upbeat-and "the answer is always yes!" to a request. His mantra is, "Now we will find a way to make this happen!"

A "THANK YOU!" to the weather watchers who monitored weather during the night to warn of possible weather problems this year-and to those who made the decision to open the museum and other buildings for those seeking shelter!

I again appreciated the demeanor of EAA'ers-EVERY person I've taken to AirVenture remarks on the "Boy Scout" quality of the people attending-

as a reminder, "Scouts are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent")-OK-so

I missed a few-but I wish the rest of the country got along as well as EAA attendees!

A perennial request (but one can always HOPE!)-a change in the helicopter routing to stay south of the tower and away from the Forum buildings. The entire PREMISE of this CONVENTION is LEARNING-and that's what these Forums are for-but they are spoiled and drowned out by the din of helicopter rides passing over every minute.

I LIKE helicopters-I OWN a helicopter-there ARE better options-and it is cheaper than trying to insulate the Forum buildings. The noise threatens the entire Forum learning process.

EAA needs a dedicated press center-the canvas building doesn't make it any more in an age of electronic and broadcast media.

Press briefings are drowned out by aircraft noise-much to the consternation not only expressed by the media, but by the presenters-MANY OF WHOM ARE SPONSORS OF EAA!

Associated issue-there is no "Green Room" or areas where the press can conduct a short interview without the message being drowned out by aircraft noise.

IF YOU WANT TO GET YOUR MESSAGE OUT (whether it is by EAA or Sponsors) you need this facility! Possible solution-the FAA isn't using the area next to the tower for ITS OWN "AVIATION SAFETY BRIEFINGS"-why not renovate IT?

It is easy to find, and it is "'show central"-handy for reporters AND for exhibitors to reach quickly. I'm sure you could find other uses for the center during the year.

EAA needs to continue the improvements to the Camp Scholler roads and camping areas.

While they may have been adequate for smaller crowds, they turn into a muddy mess each year from the increased traffic.

Take a tip from the "improved" camping areas with water and electric-they cost substantially more, but people willingly pay it.

This is one step down-just gravel for bigger rigs so they don't get stuck-increase the parking-and it will have no effect on smaller campers.

I liked the re-routing of busses from Camp Scholler to the gates-but believe it could be improved by either adding busses to accommodate

the increases in campers due to expansion of the lots-or re-routing to eliminate the turn-around at the end of Stits Road.

Tim Hennagir

Mark Patey, BestTugs CEO and founder, shares a laugh with an EAA AirVenture booth attendee before the company's July 27 Sierra tug line new product launch.

Many busses were full of people getting aboard while they were OUTBOUND in order to not be bypassed inbound with full seats.

Three years ago, I suggested an app that would enable a forum attendee to organize and plan for Forum presentations.

Forums are presented multiple times and dates-the app would create the ideal itinerary that allowed viewing each one. It was listed this year, but had failures. Please keep trying!

Editor's Note: Jim Hanson has been attending aviation events for more than half the time since the Wright Brothers first flew. He is unabashed in his critique-both favorable and unfavorable-he has been known to say "I told Orville and I told Wilbur...." when the subject is aviation. If you would like to tell HIM a thing or two, you can contact him at


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