General Observations of AirVenture 2013

“Oh my gosh, how’d they do that?”

by Harold Green

This year EAA AirVenture, July 29 thru August 4, 2013, provided an opportunity to consider the impact of this event on General Aviation. I spent most of my two days there just wandering around viewing the activities and vendors. First, to share my perspective on it, I have never attended the Paris Air Show, but have attended both Farnborough and Düsseldorf. In terms of attendance, breadth of interests, general organization, and smoothness of operation, AirVenture far exceeds either of those. The organization of the event is superb when one considers the number of attendees, volume of air traffic, etc. To follow are observations on certain aspects of AirVenture and on the impact of this and other organizations on General Aviation.

AirVenture appears to have matured significantly in recent years. One indication of this was the presentation made by Dale Klapmeier, co-founder of Cirrus Aircraft, Duluth, Minn. Cirrus held an event for Cirrus Training/Maintenance Centers, Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilots (CSIP) and invited guests on Sunday prior to opening day, which, as a CSIP, I attended. Klapmeier made the obligatory statements regarding Cirrus’ growth, but most of the presentation was a tribute to EAA history from its inception to today. In response to a question by Dale, it was slightly disconcerting to find that there were only three of us present who had attended the EAA fly-in in Rockford, Illinois before its move to Oshkosh. This attitude of respect for EAA history seemed to evidence itself in many of the vendors present this year.

The extent and breadth of vendor participation was outstanding, providing an opportunity to view products and discuss with manufacturers their aircraft, avionics, simulators, training materials and virtually everything relating to General Aviation. As usual the FAA folks were quite helpful with seminars and providing medical professionals to answer questions. The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) was also available to inform and assist members.

On the other hand, and much to its credit, EAA retains the homebuilt and little guy emphasis with workshops, seminars, and a focus on flying. The number of homebuilt aircraft grows every year. A walk along the aircraft parking area is like an aviation archeological adventure. Homebuilt aircraft from the early days of the movement to the latest RVs are available for inspection. It was interesting to note that airplanes that at one time were considered the epitome of beauty could appear somewhat dowdy by today’s standards. Wonder what tomorrow’s airplanes will look like? Workmanship, while varying somewhat, only goes from merely good to “Oh my gosh, how’d they do that?” All told it was well worth the walk through the area.

For some, the warbird section provides great appeal, even though most of these machines are too costly to operate to qualify as “little guy” machines these days. There is nothing like the throaty rumble of a large radial or the sexy growl of a Merlin to make the blood race even in those of us who will probably never get the chance to fly one of their mounts. “FIFI,” the last B-29 flying, made several passes over the field triggering memories of U.S. Air Force operations in the Mediterranean in the mid 1950s. Their maintenance was an issue then, as it is now. It wasn’t unusual to have a “29” land with one or more engines out. At the other warbird extreme, a gentleman flew a Ryan PT-22 in from Texas. Since these little 160 horsepower beauties did not have the greatest cruise speed or fuel capacity, it took him 15 flying hours and 10 gas stops to make it to Oshkosh. What an adventure he must have had. He was to be envied. I didn’t ask him how much oil was consumed, but those Kinner engines, as do all radials, like to drink oil, hence an oil reservoir reckoned in gallons. His airplane had a Kinner R-55 engine, which meant that every so often he had to grease the rocker arms. The R-56 did not have that issue. As you can tell, I miss the one I used to fly.

The classics and antique areas provided sights and sounds of days gone by. It was also noted that some of the classics were line aircraft not too many years ago. Again, the restoration level was generally excellent, or in some cases, they were what the automotive folks call “survivor” airplanes, pretty much as they were when they left the factory.

The Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) on display showed a level of sophistication in performance and avionics that was impressive. These airplanes represent a new opportunity for General Aviation and the new avionics and construction materials will contribute greatly to their acceptance. Based on observations of the customers viewing the planes, they are beginning to attract attention from more than the “Oh heck, I’m not going to pass my physical” crowd.

The factory guys were there with their latest offerings as well. Perhaps it was just me, but the reps appeared to be more interested in talking with potential customers this year, as were the presidents of some manufacturers. It will be interesting to watch what happens with Cessna’s diesel-powered aircraft. Hopefully, it will be a success because diesels have the potential to alleviate, but not eliminate, pollution and fuel cost and availability issues.

The “avionics folks” were there in force with the usual crowd of interested pilots who gathered around interesting displays. They also conducted numerous training seminars. Their products were generally an outgrowth of existing technology, which in itself is amazing!

Finally, the sea of airplanes parked as their owners either camped under the wings or just parked for the day is astounding and esthetically pleasing! That alone is one of the greatest sights at Oshkosh and a real contrast to the hustle and bustle of Wittman Field.

Now for the conclusion: Presently General Aviation is under pressure from a variety of sources. Developers eye our airports hoping to acquire the real estate. Homeowners without the foresight to recognize when they are building near an airport, cannot be expected to have the integrity to admit their own mistake, so they want the airport removed to compensate for their own short sightedness, regardless of any loss to the community. Environmentalists are concerned about the lead content of our fuel and would like to see it banned. Politicians eye us as a source of revenue – never mind the fact that the fees they would impose have virtually destroyed aviation in other countries around the world, while our aviation industry is the envy of the world and significantly reduces our trade imbalance through both exports and training of foreign nationals. Each of these attacks on GA has some sound foundation for concern.

We do need to ensure that our aircraft fuel consumption does not disturb the environment any more than absolutely necessary. We need to communicate more effectively with our urban neighbors regarding the value of our activities to the community and to the nation. While it is necessary to fund aviation, the politicians must be put on notice that inappropriate taxes and misuse of aviation funds for other activities will not be tolerated without a vigorous public debate.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker appeared at AirVenture, as he has every year since he was elected, and made a welcoming speech. Given the revenue brought into the area by AirVenture, his appearance is only to be expected. However, it would be nice to have more of our elected folks spend a day or two walking around the area and talking to attendees, rather than just to the folks who shepherd them around the grounds. They might be astounded to find out what a diverse background they would find among the attendees. Since money talks, it would be interesting to know the total net asset value of the companies exhibiting at AirVenture. Better yet, the total net asset value of attendees. That alone might give them pause when they realize that not only all those votes, but also all that campaign money could be at jeopardy.

As EAA and AOPA grow, we should all recognize that they carry considerable clout with government as organized representatives of hundreds of thousands of members. While we very probably don’t agree with everything these organizations do at times, we should remember that they are a key element in keeping our flying activities the most free and effective in the world, and we need to support them accordingly.

Until EAA AirVenture 2014, fly well, stay tuned and stay engaged!

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