AirVenture In The Tail Lights

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Immersed in AirVenture

This year marks the 30th Oshkosh trip for me, almost. I skipped a year or two in that 30-year run. The show has evolved so slowly that you often don’t notice how much it has changed since 1988.

For me, the most significant changes are neither the grounds nor the airshow, but the degree of immersiveness. Like forever, there have been technical forums where you could learn everything from welding to fabric work. Sure, some curious bystanders took part in such things, but mostly it was people who were building airplanes or who wanted to.

During the past few years, EAA has added two things: The One Week Wonder airplane building program and the Pilot Proficiency Center. I stopped by the OWW project several times and it was just a beehive of energy and enthusiasm, much of it coming from kids and teenagers. Will this ignite in them a lifelong interest in flying and airplanes? For some it will, but I care less about that than EAA having made an extraordinary effort with a nicely conceived and executed idea.

I spent an hour in the Pilot Proficiency Center sampling what this program has to offer. This year, you could sign up for a session and the program would pick two or three sim-based scenarios to hone your skills. It evidently thought that I was rusty on crashing airplanes into trees, because that’s what we worked on.

Like OWW, the Proficiency Center offers hands-on involvement that’s a welcome break from just looking at stuff. It forces you to actually think about the fine art and skill of aviating and I’m pretty sure the participants who came out of that hour went home having learned a thing or two and if a little motivation to seek additional training rubs off, what’s not to like? -Paul Bertorelli

Human History in Photos

Working at AirVenture is a constant stream of articles to write, press briefings to attend and deadlines to meet—not to mention the often-vexing hunt for an internet connection with enough bandwidth to upload everything. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember that there’s more going on at the show than news stories.

Part of what I like about AirVenture is that something usually crops up to remind me. This year, it happened when I met up with aviation photographer John Slemp on Friday morning as I was whipping through my OSH departure checklist. John was working with the Commuter Craft team at their booth over in the homebuilt area. I don’t know much about kitplanes—learning quickly—so John was kind enough to give me the tour and answer my newbie questions. Then we sat down to look at his pictures.

Among many other things, he’s done a series of portraits of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), several of which he’s taken at Oshkosh. There was something about seeing those women’s faces so carefully photographed that struck me in a way that dashing past warbirds all week hadn’t.

They reminded me of the incredible legacy represented at the show and the constant push by the aviation industry to improve—often through the grit, daring and intelligence that still shows so clearly in the faces of the grandmotherly women in John’s photos. -Kate O’Connor

Future Aviation Workers

One of the undercurrents to AirVenture was the aviation labor shortage and there were plenty of weighty discussions and pithy comments about how it came to be and what can be done about it in forums and sessions on the grounds.

And while pretty brochures and engaging stories of derring-do will attract a few new recruits, it will be business fundamentals that win the day. So, while it’s fun to promote what is generally an interesting set of career choices, attracting new people to aviation will come down to pay and working conditions. The purse strings are loosening, but those working conditions could be a problem.

Most in aviation have long days at odd hours and today’s younger people have made it known those are two of their least favorite things. That can only mean that pay rates will have to reach the point that they think it’s worth upsetting their work-life balance, or at least redefine it. It would also appear that Chinese aviation firms misread the potential of AirVenture as a deep well of aviation talent from which to draw.

The Chinese set up an elaborate booth in the main aircraft exhibit area to try to attract people to their rapidly expanding airline industry. We never saw a soul at that booth and by Thursday they’d apparently had enough. Friday morning the booth space was empty, which I’m guessing matched the state of the prospect list they were trying to build. -Russ Niles