OSHblog: Stirring The AirVenture Tea Leaves
I try not to get my pants snagged writing over-romanticized paeans to the intoxicating magic of flight. For as soon as I allow self-restraint to slip for even a moment, the editorial equivalent of a piston through the crankcase will surely reveal itself. Thus, when AirVenture looms on the horizon every year, we gingerly gird ourselves for the challenge of covering it without getting into a pre-show lather.
Every show I’ve attended, which must be more than 30 I guess, has a different feel. We tend to—wrongly I think—use AirVenture as a leading economic indicator of what the aviation markets are doing. Sometimes it is; often it isn’t. Lately, our barometer has been the EAA’s advance press conference schedule for Sunday and Monday. This year, Sunday is a little light, but Monday is stacked—16 events altogether, none of which appear to be major announcements of things we don’t know about already. But there are always surprises and changes throughout the week. And at least one utter bafflement: Why did they ever do that? We’ll see what develops this year.
Actually, the very first event on Sunday is, in some ways, the most interesting. A company called Vickers Aircraft is sponsoring a media lunch—very unusual on a Sunday—presumably to talk about the company’s Wave LSA amphibian. If you’ll click over to get a look at it you’ll realize … surprise … it’s a conceptual cousin of the Icon A5. I’m sure the company will favor us with how the Wave is different, but dense as I am, I can’t help but wonder how I missed this idea that the world is hungering for this many LSA amphibs. Two years ago, it was the MVP. The A5, the MVP and the Wave are all along similar lines, with hard-cut angular lines reminiscent of high-end sports sedans morphed with Jet Skis. Or maybe Jet Skis morphed with LSAs. Icon claims 2000 orders, even as it struggles to build airplanes for delivery. We can only hope these new ideas do better than the last big-ticket, undiscovered market: VLJs.
Avionics are always big at AirVenture and this year will be the same. The big story is rebates and sales promos on ADS-B equipment. Note to readers: I think the industry is finally getting serious about selling this stuff. This summer might be a good time to push the button, balancing the likelihood of better deals in the future against getting jammed up waiting for an installation slot. I still have no sense whether the latter is a real possibility or not. Also on the avionics front, albeit not related to AirVenture, Garmin and Jeppesen have announced lower prices on flight data scripts. This is not a big enough idea to move the sales needle, but it’s a trend that will make many long-suffering owners happy that not everything is on an upward price spiral. Check with FreeFlight and Avidyne for ADS-B rebate programs and keep in mind the Aircraft Electronics Association ADS-B promotion.
For those who attend AirVenture for the airshow, this will be an interesting year, but then it usually is. The giant Martin Mars amphibian will be doing flybys from the seaplane base on Lake Winnebago. There are busses to get over there to get a closer look, but it’s too bad it can’t make an appearance in Boeing Square. (No wheels.) But the CF Snowbirds do have wheels and will show up in the square, I’m sure. It will be a refreshing change to see a jet act, since heretofore AirVenture has been primarily piston airshow performances. The change of pace will be a good thing, I think and the Tutors the team flies aren’t obnoxiously loud.
New airplanes to see? Three that we know of. Cub Crafters will be showing its new XCub and I recommend stopping by and checking out the interior in that airplane. Whoever though a Cub would come to this? Along the same lines, the ever-prolific RANS will introduce its new S-21 Outbound kit, its version of the Carbon Cub and Legend HP hotrods using the Continental Titan engine. This engine is getting a lot of applications and that shows how even when sales are flat, innovation can drive at least some market activity. The company is in the prototype phase, so there’s no hardware to see yet.
Cessna, we’re told, will have a mock-up of its new single-engine turboprop. It’s bigger than you might have imagined. That airplane will have something we haven’t seen in quite some time: a new turboprop engine, this time from GE. It’s about time that Pratt got some competition for the venerable PT-6. That engine is getting a little stale. Also from the engine file, the Wisconsin-based EPS has scheduled some kind of announcement for its large displacement diesel engine and I won’t be too surprised if Cessna has more to say about the diesel 172, the JT-A. Not to be too cynical about it, but it’s really time for the diesel market to start walking the walk. Except for Diamond, sales of Jet A pistons continue to be slow, despite clearly demonstrated economic benefits.
We’ll have coverage of this on a daily basis, of course, with lots of video and podcasts to tell the story. On a personal note, for the first time in 20-something years, I won’t be at Oshkosh. I’m still recovering from an ankle injury and can’t bear the thought of being seen in one of those electric shopping scooters. (When I shop locally, I wear a disguise.) But I’ll be laboring remotely, processing and editing video and copy and offering the staff urgent but unneeded advice. Look for me next year, sans crutches and cast.