AirVenture – Always A “Can-Do” Spirit

by Jim LaMalfa

EAA’s annual fly-in (AirVenture) is one of the aviation world’s premier events, held at Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, each July. This year’s event ran from Monday, July 23rd through Sunday, July 29th.

Starting my day at the EAA Museum where the Goodyear blimp was giving rides from Pioneer Airport, I proceeded east toward Phillips Plaza, where I noted Flight Designs’ contribution to the Light Sport Aircraft category, the “CTLS.” A neat little bird if there ever was one.

Across the walkway, Cessna aircraft were much in evidence, starting with a Citation painted in U.S. Air Force livery. Cessna’s “Stationair” was on display, equipped with a turbo-charged “recip” engine. Behind it sat the Cessna Grand Caravan EX, looking very muscular with a woodsy color stripe on the fuselage. Completing this bevy was Cessna’s “Skycatcher,” a Light Sport Aircraft, so there was something for everyone.

Piper Aircraft had an impressive display. Sitting primly in front of its latter day cousins, a 1940 Piper J3 Cub, restored by Richard and Dan Knutson of Lodi, Wisconsin, drew our attention to the 75th anniversary of the redoubtable Cub. Called the “Grasshopper” in World War II, Cubs and other light aircraft, served as spotters for artillery, much to the chagrin of the enemy ground troops who tried to shoot them down. Piper’s high-performance propjet, the “Meridian,” was on display, featuring hot props and boot deicers on the wing’s leading edge.

Cirrus Aircraft, Duluth, Minnesota, was displaying their full line of composite aircraft, including their SR22T-FIKI, with weeping wing. The wing streams alcohol over the surface in icing conditions, just like the airliners. I chatted with Gary Black, who was standing by the mockup of Cirrus’s new  “Vision” SF50 personal jet. After slipping in the pilot’s seat of the mockup, I asked Gary how the certification of the SF50 was progressing.

“We have 400 missions on the test ship and expect certification in 2015,” said Black. “The SF50 holds seven passengers, or five adults plus baggage. We want a deposit of $100,000 to hold one for a customer. They will cost $1.6 million when certified.”

Is Cirrus doing well? They must be. They had a “Help Wanted” sign at the booth!

Aeronca aircraft have made a comeback in the last few decades. The latest aircraft features a 210 hp fuel-injected engine – a far cry from the old Aeronca Champ and Sedan. Now called the American Champion Aircraft Company in Rochester, Wisconsin, the company had several attractive aircraft on display at AirVenture. A sleek blue and white “Denali Scout” with a 210 hp fuel-injected engine was much in evidence, as was a fire engine red, fully aerobatic “Decathlon” used by Aerobatics Australia. The Aussies know a good aircraft when they see it! The Denali Scout sports a 36-foot wing, empty weight of 1400 pounds, and a useful load of 750 pounds. It takes off in 388 feet, and has a maximum range of 690 nautical miles at 75% power.

If you take aerial photos – either still or video – the Lockwood 912 Air Cam bears a look. I talked to John Hurst, Sebring Aviation, about this interesting homebuilt kit. Used originally by the National Geographic Society for exploring rain forests in the Congo, it is a tail-wheel type aircraft, but can be equipped with floats.

The Air Cam evolved from an ultralight called the “Drifter,” John told me. “This aircraft has two engines, both the 100 hp 912 Rotax fuel-injected version. The two engines give the Air Cam the capability to fly on one engine or even take off with one if necessary. The two engines are close to the aircraft’s centerline, so there is no appreciable asymmetric power problem.

The kit includes everything needed to build the open seat aircraft, which has a takeoff roll of 200 feet and lands at 35 mph with flaps. It is entirely made of aluminum, ribs, spars and bulkheads. The pilot sits forward, but the rear seat position would still give a photographer unlimited visibility.

Lancair of Redman, Oregon, has been making kits for their high-performance, carbon fiber aircraft for quite some time, but the “Evolution” is their top of the line. I talked to reps Neal Longwill and Doug Walker in front of an Evolution.

“We have sold 49 kits to date,” Neal told me, “and 29 are flying.” The Evolution is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-135A 750 hp jet engine with a four-bladed prop up front. The aircraft is pressurized and has a ceiling of 28,000 feet. It costs $1.3 million and the new owner gets to spend two weeks at the factory. The carbon fiber skin is pre-impregnated with resin.

I admired the smaller two-place cousin to the Evolution, which was parked next to its big brother.

“That’s our Sport Class Lancair,” Neal added. “Our owners fly them for fun, but can race them at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada in the 200 to 240 knots category.

Looming over Phillips Plaza was the 312th Airlift Squadron’s C5A Galaxy transport with a long line of conventioneers waiting to walk through its cavernous fuselage.

Also on the plaza was the Commemorative Air Force B-29 bomber “FiFi,” and to the right, a municipally owned, City of Monroe, North Carolina, Curtiss C46 World War II transport, the “Commando.”

Looking east on the taxiway to the north-south runway, I spotted a pilot doing a preflight on the Red Tail P51 Mustang. The aircraft was painted to honor the 332nd Army Air Corps fighter squadron of World War II – the Tuskegee Institute trained fighter pilots. Several of the Tuskegee Airmen were at AirVenture 2012: Lt. Col. Harold Brown, Col. George M. Boyd and Col. James Harvey. The producer and director of the motion picture, “Red Tails,” George Lukas, was also at AirVenture. Just ahead of the Tuskegee P51, was a Viet Nam-era F-4 “Phantom.”

Walking around the outdoor exhibits, I spotted an interesting radio controlled model of a yet unbuilt flying car, “Caravella.” I chatted with designer Joe Caravella.

“We need investors,” Joe said to me. “The full sized roadable air/car will be powered by a four-stroke Kawasaki engine. We think the kit will run around $50,000. We are street legal as a three-wheeled motorcycle, but need some financial backers.”

I told Joe I had met Molt Taylor back in the late 1970s. Taylor was the first designer of a flying car. Sooner or later, everyone ends up at Oshkosh.

There were a lot of beautifully restored warbirds in “Warbirds Alley” at the north end of Wittman Airfield, including a row of Mustangs featuring “Old Crow,” and one P51 with its dive brakes deployed. There were also some beautiful Navy carrier aircraft including the TBM Grumman “Avenger” torpedo bomber.

The North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, “Panchito,” was on hand. The B-25 was used in the first aerial attack on Japan, April 18th, 1942. General James “Jimmy” Doolittle and 79 other pilots and crew members on board the new carrier, USS Hornet, took their 16 Mitchells and headed for Tokyo and other Japanese cities. The raid stunned the Japanese who had been told their country was invincible. The B-25 was used in the island hopping campaigns of the U.S. Navy as it moved toward the Japanese homeland.

Hundreds of forums and workshops provided homebuilders with the information they need to successfully build or restore their aircraft.

The “Can-Do Spirit” was everywhere at Oshkosh, from the inventors, builders and restorers, to the war heroes honored and the hundreds of volunteers and staff that work hard to produce the event each year so we may enjoy it. AirVenture once again made me proud to be an EAA member, and I look forward to what’s coming up in 2013, July 29 – August 4.

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