EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017 – “The Year of the Bomber”

by Jim LaMalfa
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2017 issue

Prior to the opening of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh on Monday, July 24, 2017, the movie directed by Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk,” opened on Friday, July 21st worldwide. Nolan used real Spitfires, Me109s and a Heinkel He 111 twin-engine bomber to depict one day in the air battle over the beach at Dunkirk, France in May 1940. The air combat sequences are the closest thing to actually being in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire, dogfighting German aircraft with fuel running low.

Great, but EAA pulled off an even greater reenactment at the Tuesday, July 25th airshow. They honored the attack of April 18th, 1942, 75 years ago by 16 U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-25 North American Mitchell bombers just months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The B-25s took off from the deck of the Navy carrier USS Hornet. In order to give some credence to modern-day folks not around in 1941, the airshow directors had 16 private and Commemorative Air Force-owned B-25s take off south on Runway 36/18, form up and attack the runway from all points of the compass as the Air Corps bombers did to confuse the Japanese gunners around Tokyo. The defensive gunners were not only taken by surprise, they had been told by the emperor and war party that enemy aircraft would never appear over Japan. The 16 Mitchell bombers not only caught the Japanese napping, but changed the course of the war in the Pacific.

The attack by America on the Japanese homeland shocked the emperor and war party and caused Admiral Yamamoto to rapidly implement a plan to attack and land troops on Midway Island, in preparation for an attack on Hawaii and the west coast of the United States. In fact, U.S intelligence had broken the Japanese code and knew their armada was planning an assault on Midway with the goal of destroying all the remaining U.S. carriers, which were at sea on December 7, 1941. Alerted to the Japanese armada, U.S. dive bombers found four Japanese carriers on June 4th, 1942 and sunk them in four minutes – Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu. The U.S. lost one carrier, the Yorktown. One Army Air Force pilot of the Doolittle Raid, 101-year-old Dick Cole, Doolittle’s first officer, and Doolittle’s grandchildren, were honored by EAA on Tuesday evening at Theater in the Woods.

Witnessing the flight of 16 B-25s at the airshow on Tuesday, July 25th, was both a sensory and visual experience. Attacking from all points of the compass, the sound of the twin-engine bombers literally washed over us as they would have over the crews of the wave-hopping Mitchells from the USS Hornet in April 1942. Two B-29s, “FiFi” and “Doc,” a recently rebuilt B-29, flew through the black mist from smoke bombs planted along Runway 36/18. It was a history lesson for the young and old; the enemy may change, but America must be vigilant now and repel hostiles, be they hackers or spies with all due rapid response.

Other bombers on Wittman Regional Airport were a U.S. Air Force B-1, B-17s, a Consolidated B-24, and later in the week, a B-2 bomber was scheduled to do a fly-over. Parts of the B-24 were manufactured at the Lloyds plant in Menominee, Michigan during World War II, trucked to Ford’s Willow Run factory, mated with other components, and every 63 minutes, a B-24 rolled out of the plant.

The north end of Wittman Regional Airport featured warbirds and trainers of all ilk, some rare indeed. Two beautifully restored Grumman F8F Bearcats were tied down on the flightline, along with three Bell fighters, one Bell P-39 Airacobra, and two Bell P-63 Kingcobras. One of the Bearcats was panted like the U.S. Navy Blue Angels used in 1946. The Blue Angels performed on Saturday for the first time at Oshkosh.

The P-63 Kingcobra marked “TEST” had the panel ahead of the pilot’s cabin open displaying its 37mm cannon, the barrel of which ran through the spinner. Designed in the late 1930s, the P-39 was innovational for its day, but its normally aspirated 1710 Continental straight-line engine did not give adequate performance above 20,000 feet. However, it performed well enough with the Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal, and thousands were handed over to the Russians who used them against German panzers (tanks) with devastating effect. The P-63 was an attempt to correct deficiencies in the P-39 by installing a turbo charger, Rolls Royce Merlin engine, and making aerodynamic improvements. The Army Air Forces, however, declined to order the P-63 in favor of the P-51 Mustang. But Russia did order the aircraft for use on the eastern front against German tanks.

Both the P-39 and P-63 are ancestors of the U.S. Army’s Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II used in operation “Desert Storm.” Two A-10s known affectionately as “Warthogs,” did a low-speed flyover before the Doolittle event.

At 1:00 pm, two versions of the P-51 Mustang named in honor of “Old Crow” were featured in Warbirds Circle, as well as a Douglas A-20 Havoc. Old Crow was flown in World War II by Bud Anderson, a triple ace pilot.

The airshow began at 2:30 pm in ideal weather with aerobatics performed by some of the best airshow performers in the business. Also flown was the prototype of the new Stratos VLF very light jet. Stratos weighs 8400 lbs, and cruises at 41,000 feet at 400 kts with a 1500 lb. load. The company is looking for investors and may offer the aircraft as a kit. It has a centerline thrust jet engine.

The warbirds segment of the airshow began with flybys by World War II “Grasshoppers,” light aircraft made by Piper, Cessna and Aeronca, which were used for liaison and artillery spotting. The Piper J-3 Cub, renamed L-4, could take off from a platform attached to an Army truck and land on the same platform. The last dogfight between the USAAF and Luftwaffe occurred in May of 1945 between an L-4 and German Fiesler “Storch.” The German aircraft was downed by the L-4 crew using their Colt 45 side arms. Other aircraft in the review flying in mass formations were North American T-6 Texans and Beechcraft T-34 Mentors. The airshow concluded with a formation flight of four aircraft – a state-of-the-art Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, a Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog,” and two North American P-51 Mustangs.

Aerobatic performers featured Skip Stewart flying Prometheus 3, Sean Tucker flying the Oracle Challenger II, Bob Carlton flying the Subsonex JSX-2 minijet, and Manfred Radius flying a Glasflügel H-101 Salto aerobatic glider.

Light Sport Aircraft Welcome New Kid On The Block

Just inside the main entrance to EAA AirVenture 2017, I stopped to chat with Brad Majari, U.S. spokesman for Pipistrel Aircraft (means “Bat” in Latin and Italian). Majari explained that the aircraft is manufactured in Slovenia, but due to restrictions placed on aircraft manufacturing, was only flown at night in the 1980s; hence, the first hang gliders were called “Pipistrel” bats. They can be purchased in any configuration a buyer wants, including powered glider with the ability to change prop angles to neutral via the air stream for low drag. The aircraft can be purchased with a brushless electric motor or Rotax 912 80 or 100 hp gasoline engine that burns 3.2 gph, and uses 100 octane low lead avgas or auto gas.

The Pipistrel Virus SW, which is fabricated in Slovenia and then moved across the Czech border into Italy, is made of carbon fiber and Kevlar. The “Virus SW” version with a 100 hp engine has changeable components. The wing can be changed to glider or cruise configuration performance by unplugging the tips to change span. All Pipistrel models have ballistic parachutes. Price for most models is around $100,000 U.S., but adding ADS-B capability transponders would be an additional $3,000. The electric powered version includes a charger and yields a full charge in one hour. The smart charger talks to the battery for maximum efficiency.

The Swiss company, Pilatus, showed off their latest corporate propjet, as did Piper, Cessna and Beech. Cirrus was very much in evidence. Cirrus has delivered eight Vision Jets to date. The components for the Vision SF50 jet and SR22 are manufactured in Cirrus’ Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant, and transported to Duluth, Minnesota for assembly. Nearby was the latest product from American Champion Aircraft of Rochester, Wisconsin, the High Country Explorer. Enstrom Helicopter of Menominee, Michigan, showed up with several models, including one with a night vision sensor mounted under the cabin.

Boeing Square, Airshow Central

Since AirVenture 2017 was deemed the “Year of the Bomber,” it was not surprising to see the supersonic, variable-sweptwing, Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber on the field. The aircraft was used over Afghanistan, according to the pilot I spoke with, but is being phased out. Just to the left sat a brand spanking new Boeing B-29, “Doc,” rebuilt by former employees of Boeing in the Wichita plant. Found in 1987 by Tony Mazzolini, rotting in the Mojave Desert, the aircraft has been completely restored.

In February 2013, a group of Wichita aviation enthusiasts and business leaders, led by Jeff Turner, formed the organization, “Doc’s Friends,” a nonprofit board to finance the rebuilding of the historic aircraft. The results showed up at Boeing Square, AirVenture 2017.

Absolutely awesome! Doc and FiFi took part in the Tuesday Warbirds Airshow, along with the 16 B-25s, as I mentioned earlier. Also on display was “Blue Origin,” with convention-goers nestled inside, no doubt dreaming of space. Hmmm, looks like fun!

Once again, aided by near perfect weather, EAA’s convention planners pulled off another great AirVenture with around 2,200 show planes, 10,000 aircraft, a crowd of 550,000 for the week, with the grounds packed for Sunday’s “Tora, Tora, Tora” airshow.

Planning for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 is already underway!

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