AirVenture, Technology & Us

by Harold Green

It is late summer and this is an aviation publication. Therefore we have the opportunity to discuss EAA AirVenture, held annually at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

AirVenture is truly a unique event with worldwide scope. I began attending back when it was the EAA Fly-In Convention held in Rockford, Illinois, and EAA’s headquarters was in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. Of course it was much smaller in those days. Back then vendor displays were nowhere to be seen and it took about an hour to cover the entire area including looking at all the aircraft on display. Due to a variety of factors, it had been over a decade since I last attended AirVenture and it was high time (pun intended)! As a result, this year’s event provided a quick snapshot of changes in both AirVenture and aviation technology.

While AirVenture has gotten much larger and vendor displays have become a major attraction to the event, some things have not changed much. People are still friendly, the grounds are kept immaculate despite the number of people milling about, and there is still excitement over airplanes and flying and, there are many, many more airplanes including experimental, warbirds and factory-built classics. In short, the whole event is magnificent and unique.

The technology displayed by the vendors presents an inviting picture of what flying is and is becoming. It seems there are two aspects to the technology on display. First, there is the capability represented by the new products, and second, the training implicit in the use of the technology. The technology, both aircraft and avionics, presents a tremendous advance over what we have had in the past.

The aircraft can be represented by the advanced aircraft technology of Cirrus and the Cessna Corvalis. In the avionics world, Garmin and King are well represented. This is not to short others who legitimately claim advances in specific areas. It is not the purpose of this discussion to compare products, but rather to suggest implications of the new products to flying and to flight training. Of necessity, the high-performance piston singles on display are flown like jets – power and airspeed by the numbers appropriate to the phase of flight. In fact, one sales person was overheard explaining how he had previously flown corporate jets and how it was simply no transition at all to move into the Cirrus, he is now flying. This could easily be said for the Corvalis as well. This is not a bad thing because that is the way these high-performance airplanes need to be flown.

For the experienced pilot moving up to one of these aircraft, this is no problem. However, for the pilot who has received no training before acquiring one of these new airplanes, there can be a lack of appreciation of the fine points of attitude/power control that is part of every pilot’s training in lesser aircraft.

In effect, this is a similar argument to that put forth by sailplane pilots over the years that energy management needs to be a part of every pilot’s training. In the past, pilots generally progressed from simple trainers to the slightly more complex, eventually winding up in very high-performance aircraft. Today, the Cirrus and Corvalis are being sold to pilots with little or no experience. Indeed, many purchasers of these airplanes never had a flying lesson in their lives until they acquired their aircraft. (The factory offers capable and professional training to their customers.) How will the pilots trained only in these aircraft fare with lower performance airplanes, and how will they react when their aircraft must be flown with emergency- level energy management? So far the accident history is comparable to the introduction of earlier high-performance aircraft, such as the Bonanza and Cessna 210. As these aircraft work their way into the general aviation used fleet, the training requirements will be passed on to the FAR Part 61 training operations. Time will tell if this is a serious issue.

On the avionics front, there were no great technological surprises offered. However, so many offerings in one venue provided a good overview of the significant capabilities available today.

The advanced avionics on display offer tremendous advances for general aviation. Among these the initial ADS-B, (Automatic Dependent Surveillence-Broadcast) equipment offers promises of wide acceptance because, while it is “IN” only at this stage, the government offering free access to uplinked radar weather will bring acceptance for this product and, as a result, flight safety will be significantly enhanced.

The iPad has achieved wide acceptance and there were seminars devoted to its use in the cockpit. The number of after-market multi- and primay function displays was impressive.   The product quality was very good. We are definitely moving toward a more complete picture of where we are and where we are going. Of course, nothing comes without a price!

One of the issues with the new equipment is the complexity of operation. Not only are multiple steps required to accomplish relatively simple tasks, doing so can often be a definite distraction. There was no evidence of any real attempt to simplify or standardize equipment operation. In fact, when looking at a new audio distribution panel, I could not see how the transmit unit was selected.

There was a company representative, dressed in the company uniform, nearby so I asked him how to select a unit on which to transmit. He answered he didn’t know since he wasn’t an audio man. But he did offer to go find someone. If an audio panel is that complex, what hope is there for the rest of it?

The upshot of all this is that the capabilities of our airplanes and avionics, and hence our operational abilities, are being expanded to a degree never seen before. This has implications for operations, training, and proficiency. Issues that will need to be addressed include, but are certainly not limited to, the following items:

How many sources of the same data makes sense? The more goodies we have in the cockpit, the more likely we are to have problems setting them up. When they don’t agree, which should we believe?

How do we split our attention between the goodies and the outside? Does everyone really understand that the Traffic Collision and Avoidance System (TCAS) can only present what the receiving antenna receives and that there may be airplanes close by that either don’t have a transponder, or their signal is blocked from the antenna? Are we really aware that the weather presentation may be several minutes old and we just might be heading into a thunderstorm?

Can our autopilot lead us into an autopilot-induced stall, and how will we maintain awareness of this possibility? When should we use, or not use, the autopilot? How and when should we override the autopilot?

Is the pilot really able to respond rapidly to a drastic change in route or approach configuration? Then how does he/she handle the plethora of equipment in the airplane?

Given that we can now routinely operate at higher flight levels, does everyone understand the need for, and the proper use of, oxygen? Under what conditions is Flight Level 180 not useable? By the way, what are the speed limits for aircraft? We do cover these things in a cursory fashion today, but what about the near future? With the coming advent of the small jet, these questions become even more significant.

The answer to these questions will be found by instructors working with pilots who operate these airplanes. Hopefully, the manufacturers will provide more logical and complete information as time passes.

In short, we are undergoing one of the most significant changes in the history of general aviation. The results of this new direction will truly expand our capabilities. We must adapt to the new requirements in training and operations. At the very  least it is going to be very interesting. Enjoy the ride!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Harold Green is a CFII at Morey Airplane Company at Middleton Municipal Airport – Morey Field in Middleton,  Wisconsin. (www.MoreyAirport.com).

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