by Harold Green
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2017 issue
Attending EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and its predecessor, the EAA Fly-In Convention, since about 1960, I have watched it move from Rockford to Oshkosh and grow to a level that would have seemed impossible a few years ago. I admire the workmanship and skill that go into many of the experimental and restored aircraft; it is beyond belief. The EAA members who build, restore and create aircraft are to be envied.
My focus at AirVenture this year, July 24-30, was on the “technical advances” offered to general aviation, and 2017 turned out to be a wellspring of information.
First, there did not appear to be any dramatic new technology, but there also wasn’t time for a thorough comparative investigation into any specific products.
I am especially wary of companies that attempt to dazzle with new, technical-whiz-bang products, which will probably be long gone before next year rolls around. However, manufacturers presented a degree of technical and business maturity that I did not see or recognized in prior years, and I want to thank them for that. In the past, questions about service and support were often met with a brush-off from some companies as though that was not important. But this year, most vendors (i.e. avionics), were quick to discuss the philosophy and extent of their service networks, and were sincere in asking where I got my aircraft serviced. This indicates to me that manufacturers are finally recognizing the importance of having their equipment installed and maintained by reputable shops.
It should be noted that there are still a lot of radios built in the 1970s flying around and working well. Support for these units exist to the extent parts are available, and technicians capable of repairing them.
Modern equipment use more custom designed parts to reduce weight, increase capability and reduce cost. My hope is that new products will achieve long-term support as well, but perhaps in a different form than in the past.
The new products, while not revolutionary, were impressive. We all expect the big guys to have many new products to show and they did. These products represented evolutionary, rather than revolutionary advancements, which to me means that manufacturers are maturing.
There was some very impressive second and third generation products on display. Further, representatives were prepared and eager to show necessary, but not so sexy things, like the micromechanical gyros and pressure sensors that are required for the equipment to function. Some of the equipment was a replacement for the six-pack, which saves panel space, increases reliability and reduces in weight. Most were well done and should improve pilot awareness and decrease maintenance frequency and costs. Human factors have improved because of increased attention to ergonomics. All representatives were also sensitive to safety/reliability issues. In summary, in my opinion, this was frankly the best year yet for new products for experimental and legacy aircraft, as most new aircraft come with technically advanced equipment anyway. There were self-contained electronic units, both primary and backup, even including backup batteries, providing attitude, altitude, airspeed, and heading for under $10,000, which would allow vacuum pumps to be eliminated in single-engine aircraft along with all those electromechanical gyros. Over a few years, the cost of the equipment will be more than recovered through decreased maintenance and replacement costs. In speaking with the owner of the avionics shop I have dealt with for years following AirVenture, my impressions of the show were reinforced.
Moving on, the Proficient Pilot Center (PPC) at AirVenture was very active this year. For those not aware of PPC, it is an activity sponsored by EAA, the Society of Aviation Flight Educators (SAFE), and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), with support from Redbird. Fourteen (14) Redbird flight simulators – seven six-pack equipped and seven G1000 equipped, plus a crosswind trainer – were available at no cost on a first-come, first-serve basis. People could sign up with a volunteer instructor and a flight simulator.
The volunteers from NAFI and SAFE developed a series of flight scenarios – seven VFR and seven IFR. There were 2,731 scenarios “flown” during the week. The Redbird visuals were excellent and provided realism, particularly in low IFR approaches. There was also a crosswind trainer available. Additional volunteers served as air traffic controllers providing radio communications to add to the realism. Other volunteers served as coordinators, signing up students for time slots and directing them to available instructors.
Each student could state what their interest was, and use the scenario most appropriate. All told, this was a particularly valuable effort on the part of those involved.
From the standpoint of an instructor, some interesting facts emerged. Of particular interest to me was the fact that many pilots, when confronted with a descent path resulting in a potential touchdown short of the desired touchdown point, tended to raise the nose, rather than add power, regardless of the airspeed. As a result, several people crashed the Skyhawk short of the runway. I’ve been complaining about the lack of attention to the pitch/power relationship in our training for some time. This just tended to reinforce that opinion.
Another scenario was to land on an “aircraft carrier.” I witnessed one student who did so successfully. Others, did not. Another young man said he was just learning and had about 11 hours of instruction.
The student was set up to land at Oshkosh in severe clear. He held altitude reasonably well on downwind, and when turning base, seemed to have a little difficulty with the throttle. He tended to react late when advised to change power. In fact, his actions with the throttle were somewhat puzzling to me, but I attributed it to a strange situation for the student. He didn’t respond as I expected to my advice to add power and eventually crashed short of the runway due to lack of power. As our crumpled red/white Skyhawk burned merrily about 20 yards short of the runway, the student turned to me and said contritely: “I guess I should have told you that all my time has been in sailplanes.” Lesson learned by both student and instructor. After that, I questioned students more closely regarding their flying background.
In summary, this year’s AirVenture appeared to be very advantageous to attendees and more fun than ever, but a lot depends on one’s attitude. If you go with a positive attitude, you will leave fulfilled.
If you have never attended EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, you should seriously think about doing so next year. I have found that even people who aren’t directly involved in aviation also find the event a great adventure. After all, with more than 10,000 airplanes, 600,000 people, daily airshows, both modern and vintage aircraft on display, and talking to and learning from the experts and icons in aviation, what better place is there to be than at Oshkosh in the summertime?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Harold Green is an Instrument and Multi-Engine Flight Instructor (CFII, MEII) at Morey Airplane Company in Middleton, Wisconsin (C29). A flight instructor since 1976, Green was named “Flight Instructor of the Year” by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2011, and is a recipient of the “Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.” Questions, comments and suggestions for future topics are welcomed via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 608-836-1711 (www.MoreyAirport.com).
The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and other instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.