AirVenture 2010: OSH Mini-Blogs — Final Thoughts

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MEGO on Avgas

Just as everyone predicted, avgas was the hot topic of discussion at AirVenture, throughout the week. Some of this discussion was public in forums and briefings, some was behind the scenes. Why it takes so much lip flapping to move things forward is truly baffling, but we have come to accept that it just does.

Was any real progress made? That's hard to say, but at least more and more people are starting to pay attention. And judging by some of the…umm, naïve questions I heard at Mike Kraft's fuel forum on Monday, they need to. The general level of knowledge on the technical issues is just not out there.

Still, I'm hearing far more positive than negative about the fuel discussions. I'll have some more on this topic this week, once I've had a chance to run soundings on the usual suspects, plus a few more sources new to me.

The Guy I Want Fixing My Airplane

I worked with Art Nalls and his mechanic, Pete, to rig up a camera so we could shoot his Harrier flight demo during Thursday's airshow. This is no mean feat because that cockpit is narrow and tight, and there's not a lot of room anywhere for anything extra.

Pete and I finally figured out a way to mount the camera on the Harrier's metal bridge glareshield. The day before the show, I had mentioned briefly in passing that the camera's fixed lens would need to be rotated 90 degrees if the camera were mounted on its side, but I didn't show him how to do that. When he called me after the flight and said everything went well, I instantly realized the footage would be unusable because the lens wouldn't have been rotated to compensate for the side mounting.

Except it was. Being a meticulous former Navy F-14 chief maintainer, Pete is obviously the kind of guy who won't put anything on an airplane unless he understands its perfectly and knows that it's right. So despite the barest mention of the lens, he picked up on it.

Me? I'd have missed it. I've done it before.


I heard that again this year, complaining about what some people see as the money-grubbing nature of AirVenture. These comments often come from older folks who remember "old Oshkosh" or even the Rockford days. But Oshkosh the show has grown up now and it turned a major corner when it was renamed AirVenture in 1998, a name that reflects what it really is: a significant commercial air show with a primary trade show component. When the FAA administrator considers AirVenture a must-do event, you're in the majors.

The word "commercial" implies profit and, in my view, it's in the industry's overall interest that AirVenture be a profitable enterprise. To its credit, EAA does plow profits back into making the show a better experience. This year, for example, the press area was expanded to include an air conditioned tent so the spectre of a perspiring CEO explaining why his cert project is two years behind schedule is now a thing of the past. Further, EAA built some genuine permanent bathrooms for those with an underdeveloped appreciation for the exquisite flushless simplicity of a plastic porta-pottie. All of which is to say I don't share the sentiment that AirVenture is too cash-hungry.

Actually, I Would Do That

Shortly after Jonathan Trappe launched his cluster balloon from Pioneer Field on Thursday evening, we all agreed that the basic concept of strapping an office chair to a bunch of party balloons is just whacko. But after ruminating on it for a minute or two, we slowly agreed that, well, maybe it's not.

First of all, they aren't party balloons, but the more durable type sold for advertising displays. Second, in having about 40 of them, he's got an impressively redundant system. If a few pop or leak—unlikely anyway—he's still got a lot of lift left.

And the office chair was displaced by a well-made nylon sling and a properly made harness.

After I shot a few minutes of video and watched him launch, drifting slowly eastward on a light breeze, we tracked his progress into the evening. His Spot Tracker indicated a launch around 8:54 p.m. and as we snoozed, Trappe drifted southeastward across Lake Michigan, landing south of Kalamazoo, Michigan the following morning about 9:30 a.m.

Think about that. A long, slow and soundless drift across Lake Michigan at night. There's really no experience like it. It's an expensive ride, though. One of the ground crewman said the helium cost about $1,000, but I wasn't able to confirm that number.

Still, given the chance, I'd definitely try it. To get a feel for what it's like, check out Trappe's video here.

Here's a Monday P.M. addition from Jonathan Trappe:

The helium cost $2,800, and I filled 51 cells ranging in size from 5.5 feet to 8.5 feet. The APRS tracker ran out of battery after crossing the lake, so the last one to two hours of flight aren't shown, but you can see much of the flight track here.

I was going to keep flying into the day, but we reached some physiological limits, and the crew mutinied. They had set up the balloon system in the heat of the day, and then had been chasing through the night. They had to drive aroundLake Michigan, and were rather tired by the time they caught up with me. I was at 14,000 feet and had shed the nighttime cold weather equipment and had geared up for a high-altitude day flight--hat, sunglasses, sunblock, -- and the crew said..."Um, no. You land now." I listen to my crew chief. I landed.

When initiating the landing, after about 12 hours of flight, I had 50 percent of my non-emergency ballast remaining. ("Fuel.") If any individual helium cell fails in flight, I just release some ballast to offset the small amount of lift that was being generated by that one balloon. In fact, I count on cells failing. Though they have never spontaneously popped in flight, I do pull them down to me and stab them with a knife, or cut them away, to initiate a descent. So, I have no problem losing individual cells; in fact, it is part of the flight process.