by Jim LaMalfa
Published in Midwest Flyer – Oct/Nov 2016
Amid the night airshows, rock bands and fireworks at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016, July 25-31, there sounded a serious note that should not be ignored; the contributions that our American industry and military have made to allow us to remain the home of the free and the brave, especially the aircraft designed and built since World War I. There were plenty of reminders at this year’s fly-in at Wittman Regional Airport (Wittman Field), Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the airport named in honor of airport manager, fixed base operator, aircraft designer, famed air racer, and EAA Young Eagles volunteer pilot, Steve Wittman, at the event founded by his friend, EAA founder, Paul Poberezny.
The fact that by FAA rules, we can build our own aircraft from scratch, kits or restore a certified aircraft, including warbirds, is due to the efforts of Paul who started the organization in his basement in 1953 with a little help from his friends.
When I visited Wittman Field in July, I was reminded of our precious heritage of freedom as I chatted with people from all walks of life, including members of the U.S. Navy who had served in the submarine corps, and one man who had served in World War II aboard the aircraft carrier USS CVB-42 Franklin D. Roosevelt. Reminders of the role of aircraft in defense of our country were everywhere, including personally-owned warbirds, private collections and those owned by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) and EAA.
If you were able to visit the seaplane base on Lake Winnebago, you would have seen the “Martin Mars” flying boat moored down in the bay. The aircraft also performed flybys and water bombing demonstrations each day during the airshow.
The Martin Mars did yeoman duty during World War II in the Pacific as a cargo plane, and was used in the search and rescue of downed carrier pilots. The huge four-engine aircraft is not amphibious, so it could not land at the airport. Only six were built and two have survived, which have been used as water bombers to fight forest fires. Four 3000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-4360 engines power the aircraft.
One of the popular events at the weekend airshow was the “Tora,Tora, Tora” simulated Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The U.S. Navy aircraft flown in the reenactment – Vought F4U Corsairs, Grumman TBMs and Curtiss SBC Helldiver torpedo biplanes – are all genuine, but the Japanese aircraft are remnants of the 1970 motion picture, “Tora, Tora, Tora” (Tora means “tiger” in Japanese). AT6 North American Texans, Convair BT-15s and Vultee BT-13 trainers were modified to resemble the original Japanese aircraft.
There were a number of World War I warbird replicas on display midfield by the Red Barn, as were two-third-scale replicas. The engines were run up and one could smell the castor oil component of the fuel as rotary engines required mixed fuel and lubricant like model airplane engines do today. A number of liaison and observation light aircraft were on display, such as the Piper L4, Stinson L1 and Taylorcraft L2. I had the pleasure of flying the Piper L4 when I was a member of Civil Air Patrol before the Air Force replaced the aircraft with the military version of the Cessna 172, the C41.
Although chilly in cold weather, the Piper L-4 “Grasshopper” had excellent visibility. During World War II, their pilots would fly over the battlefield armed only with a Colt 45 semi automatic handgun, strapped to their hip. Ground troops learned not to fire on the Grasshopper as they would immediately call in artillery strikes. They were also able to take off and land on a platform attached to a military truck when the vehicle could match the takeoff speed of the aircraft – a stunt that is sometimes demonstrated at airshows today with Piper Cubs.
The weather was ideal – not too warm – and the humidity was lower than the previous week. Weather in Wisconsin can change suddenly, as pilots in the dairy state are well aware of.
Certified GA Aircraft
Near the main entrance to Wittman Field’s display area, I encountered a Diamond DA42 twin-engine piston aircraft on a pole. The Diamond DA42 is powered by two turbo charged AE300 Mercedes Benz diesel engines, rated at 168 hp, that burn Jet A fuel. The seven-place twin is a carbon fiber composite, and comes with a full Garmin glass cockpit. Performance is Vne 188 kias, high-speed cruise is 190 kts, and range is 1273 nm at 50 percent power. The DA42 has a certified ceiling of 18,000 feet, and it climbs at 1169 fpm at 92 percent power.
The DA62 has higher performance based on its two 180 hp Austro AE330 turbo charged diesel engines. The DA62 will cruise at 205 kias, and has a ceiling of 20,000 feet. Diamond Aircraft is based in London, Ontario, Canada.
Cessna/Hawker/Beech-Textron, a corporate conglomerate made up of legacy aircraft manufacturers, displayed various Beech twins and Cessna Citations. I chatted with Nikki Rieman about the Citation M2, which cruises at 404 ktas at 41,000 feet, has a maximum range of 1550 nm, and can carry seven passengers.
The Cessna 206 Turbo Stationair features six-place seating, a full-glass cockpit, a large cargo pod under the cabin, a 310 hp Lycoming TIO-540 engine, cruises at 164 ktas, and has a range of 703 nm at 26,000 feet. Also on display was a model of the new Cessna Denali, a high-performance single-engine propjet, plus a mockup of the cabin, which got a lot of attention.
I spoke to Matt Bergwell of Cirrus Aircraft and he pointed out that the company already has 600 orders for the Vision SF50® personal jet, which is expected to be certified in the not-too-distant future.
Cirrus is headquartered in Duluth, Minn., with another factory in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and a new sales and service center nearing completion in Knoxville, Tenn. Way to go, Cirrus!
International Aerobatic Club
The International Aerobatic Club (IAC) building is situated midfield along the walkway parallel to Runway 18/36. On display there was an Extra 330LX, which is flown by aerobatic champion and airshow performer, Patty Wagstaff.
Homebuilt & Light Sport Aircraft
If you can’t afford a North American P-51 Mustang, you can build a two-third scale “kit version” for a fraction of the cost called “Blue Thunder.”
In the section of Wittman Field reserved for kit built and Light Sport Aircraft is Zenith Aircraft, which claims you can build their quick-build aircraft in two weeks. Okay, I took five years to rebuild a Piper PA22 Tri-Pacer, but Zenith kits contain jigs and predrilled and cut sheet metal, plus the Cleco clamps needed for shooting rivets, and Zenith just might throw in two weeks of training. So yes, a beginner MIGHT be able to build a kit in two weeks. That was Zenith’s claim for their CH 750 Cruzer. ICP was offering a basic VFR “Savannah S” SLSA kit for the fly-in special price of $71,950 complete! Not bad, but you can buy a number of used certified legacy aircraft that will carry four people for the same amount of money, and they are ready to fly!
Fischer Flying Products, Ontario, Canada, displayed their kit-built ultralight fuselage and wing from Horizon. This is an all-wood aircraft that looks like a giant model aircraft.
If you ever had the opportunity to visit the Bellanca Aircraft plant in Alexandria, Minnesota and toured their assembly line, you would have seen wings made just like Fisher’s, but skinned with fine veneer. Very strong, but you might not want to tie the aircraft down in the rain if you own a Triple Tail Cruisemaster or Viking.
Sonex of Oshkosh, Wis., is still going strong with their Sonex-B and Waiex-B kits, and their SubSonex quick-build mini jet for $42,000.
Thus ends our tour of AirVenture for 2016. Bear in mind that there were literally thousands of booths and almost 800 show planes, plus 10,000 general aviation aircraft that flew into Wittman Field, so relax, take off a week, camp or try to find a motel that isn’t booked 10 years ahead, and make plans now to attend EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017, July 24-30 (www.eaa.org/en/airventure).