AirVenture Lookback: 2008

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A decade ago, AirVenture was abuzz with news of the PiperJet’s first flight, a new aerodiesel from upstart Austro Engines and space tourism was a thing with Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson promoting what eventually became Virgin Galactic.

Austro showed off its four-cylinder diesel based on the same Mercedes Benz design Thielert used for its Centurion line, but by July of that year, Thielert was in bankruptcy and Diamond Aircraft had branched off on its own to supply engines for its popular DA42 twins.

PiperJet didn’t show its single-engine jet at Oshkosh, but it made a splash from a distance with the announcement of a successful first flight at Vero Beach. Sir Richard Branson and famed designer Burt Rutan did make an appearance, promising that the White Knight Two launch ship would appear the following year. (It did.)

In an unusual admission of aerospace honesty, Rutan said he wasn’t confident the “big breakthrough” in propulsion needed to drive efficient space tourism would happen in his lifetime, but he told an 11-year-old girl in the audience it would happen in hers.

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