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

Comments (8)

I would not be too quick to write off the Chinese recruitment initiatives. Just 30 years ago, Chinese captains and FOs were riding bicycles to the airport - almost no one owned an automobile. They caught up quickly enough. When they reach a point where expats can't keep up with demand, they will create a world class aviation training industry.

As for American citizens not wanting to suffer the hardships of an aviation career? Governments in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe will be more than willing to send, and even train, their own citizens to fill these roles. That is already happening in the engineering and medical professions.

Posted by: kim hunter | July 31, 2018 7:05 PM    Report this comment

This was only my 3rd Oshkosh over about 5 years (which covers only about half of how long I've been directly involved with aviation as a pilot), but I'm starting to switch over from watching the daily airshows and looking at interesting planes to attending the various hands-on workshops. Not because I'm building (or plan to build) a plane, but because I can only watch so many airshows before they all look the same to me. And my wallet is only so big to spend just a day or two at the vendor booths. But that's one of the things that impresses me about Oshkosh: that there pretty much is something for everyone.

I just wish they'd do something about the ridiculous concession stand prices; $30+/day in food adds up real quickly. Maybe they could follow some of the other airshows I've been to that have volunteers doing the cooking so one could get a relatively cheap hamburger/cheeseburger/hotdog lunch with a drink and bag of chips. They could limit it to only 11a-1p so as not to steal too much business from the other vendors. Or maybe include a pre-purchased food voucher when you buy the ticket. But whatever they do, they do need to do something because Oshkosh is getting rather expensive by itself.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 1, 2018 7:35 AM    Report this comment

Gary, when you go again, I have suggestion. This is what we do. There's a nice grocery store within walking distance from the most northern bus stop in the North 40. Grab some cold cuts and bread and make your own lunch. For me, it's not so much the cost as the quality.

If you're camping and have a cooler, you can buy enough for the entire week.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 1, 2018 9:22 AM    Report this comment

One of my main impressions of the show was that I saw an impressive number of young girls in the crowd, mostly in the 11-14 age group. To a casual observer, most appeared to be genuinely interested in the show and were not immersed in their cell phones as their parents dragged them from booth to booth. I don't know if this is a good sign or not, but we can always hope. I think we all agree that the female gender is severely underrepresented in the aviation world.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 1, 2018 11:43 AM    Report this comment

John, I agree. The female pilot population is only 6% of the male pilot lot. The 99s and Women in Aviation are promoting new female starts in aviation as well as our Coachella Valley Youth Aviation Education Program ( My wife, a retired ATC and pilot, is happy to see the promotion. As I am. As you've written, we can always hope.

On China. The Chinese will gain due to government support. An emerging competitor in GA and transport aircraft manufacturing. But maybe, somewhat of an unwelcome entity at 'merica's greatest aeronautical extravaganza, AirVenture. The Chinese influence in our industry can't be disregarded. We need cojones.

On AirVenture. Just when I feel like it all's turning dark in aviation -- there's AirVenture every year just around the corner.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 1, 2018 12:39 PM    Report this comment

I'm with you, Raf. Not only does Airventure bouy my aviation spirits, it rekindles my thoughts on humankind. Where else could you leave an iPad charging on an AC outlet and find it still there when you get back ... and so on. Some years ago, I was resting under a tree and left ... forgetting my small camera bag. I came back, looked around and it was gone. I noticed a lady looking at me; she asked, "Did you forget something?" I said, "Yes," described it and she held it up for me. WOW! There is only one place like that ... AIRVENTURE !! In those days, it was just "Oshkosh."

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 2, 2018 11:27 AM    Report this comment

Not counting Rockford starting in 1967, I have attended Oshkosh 30+ times...this year as an exhibitor...a first.

Business was brisk. I was amazed at the number of pilots who own multiple airplanes.

The company I represent is painting One Week Wonder. This allowed me to be on the inside of this beehive of activity. The technical knowledge, organization of tools and parts, and the execution of assembly from 3,000 people is nothing short of extraordinary. What really impressed me was the courtesy, professionalism, camaraderie, and devotion the core group of EAA volunteers and Van's employees displayed. They were friendly, entertaining, providing all with a very educational program resulting in a water cooled, glass panel with auto-pilot equipped airplane in a week. A genuine nice bunch of folks. Very encouraging and inspiring.

From an exhibitors vantage point, I would suggest that the EAA separate the non-aviation businesses from the aviation related companies. In the hangar/pavilion that contained only aviation related companies, their floor traffic was considerably more that in other hangar/pavilions that had a mixture. I wish the EAA would display non-aviation businesses selling metal roofs, essential oils, retirement plans/investment portfolios, and a plethora of mechanical massage machines, massage, furniture, etc in a separate building. Then, if I wanted a massage, i would know where to go.

Another observation as both an RC pilot and Bonanza owner/pilot is the full size airplanes are trying to replicate the RC models. At one time, the RC airplanes were trying to mimic full size airplanes. Full size airplanes are trying to imitate RC 3D routines with aerobatics showcasing violent tumbling, gyroscopic twisting, high alpha low speed passes, and hovering with their 400HP engines bolted to 1100lb air-frames. In both cases, its a routine of violent maneuvers looking like aerial mayhem. These acts began to all look alike with a hyped up announcer trying to convince us their respective pilot's maneuver was unique. It is truly phenomenal that an RC pilot outside the airplane or the pilot inside these aerial carbon fiber bullets can keep orientation within this 420 degree per second maneuvering mayhem. However, bring back Delmar Benjamin in his GeeBee demonstrating smooth precision flying. I am glad Matt Younkin cannot lomchevok his Beech 18. i am happy the Aeroshell T-6's did not do a high alpha, low speed formation pass or hover their airplanes in dipping their tails in a pool of water.

But as said before, there is something for everyone at Oshkosh. As usual, well done EAA!

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | August 2, 2018 2:24 PM    Report this comment

BTW: on food. There's a roach coach operation just outside the fence line opposite an opening in the fence near the light sport red barn. It's on the intersection of Knapp and Waupun. "Vickies" sells food at a reduced price from that on the field ... but still a bit high. I ate there every day because I was staying nearby. She has a tent with picnic benches adjacent to the wagon where you can visit with other folks, too. I liked it.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 4, 2018 10:44 AM    Report this comment

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