AirVenture: Nice Numbers to Start Out


Smashing First Day at OSH

OK, so it wasn’t my imagination. The North 40 camping area at AirVenture really was hopping on Monday and if not filled to the point of closure, EAA did direct some campers into the overflow areas. I ran into Jack Pelton late in the day Monday and he said on Sunday and Monday, the gate was up 15 percent over the same days last year and that represents about 1000 more airplanes each day. That’s quite a bump indeed.

Whether it means anything other than a good year for attendance, no one can say. We’re always looking for that corner-turning event that represents in inflection point in the GA economy. Maybe between the stock market and the general economy, which is growing moderately if not briskly, pilots and owners are getting more interested in getting back in the air. I’ve given up trying to read such tea leaves so I take these numbers at face value. All I can say is if more airplanes are flown into AirVenture, there’s just one word to describe it: Yay.

Diesel Market

I covered a couple of diesel stories Monday with videos and podcasts. One, Superior’s three-cylinder Gemini engine, came out of the ground just last spring at Sun ‘n Fun. EPS has been perking along since 2006, but now appears to be getting more serious, with a cert plan on file with the FAA and funding in the works. EPS is a tiny startup located down the road in New Richmond, Wisconsin.

Superior’s news was that American Legend has committed to installing the Gemini in its Cub-type airframe for trials, if not production aircraft. In this video, Keith Chatten gave us a tour of the Gemini installation, which is shockingly simple, as diesels tend to be. That will be a plus for airframers looking for an economical powerplant in the 100-hp range.

But even though I like the diesel idea for its fuel economy and potential durability, I continue to believe this will be a very difficult market to potentiate. And that has little to do with weight or cost, but the profound lack of volume in the market in general. While diesels have proven attractive and there are between 3000 and 4000 of them flying, they have not proven transformational and probably won’t. As Diamond proved with its DA40 and DA42 diesels, heavy fuel engines are a niche market. It takes a heroic investment to ready them for production, even if they’re approved under simpler, less expensive ASTM guidance. Michael Fuchs, EPS’s CEO, estimates the investment to bring that company’s engine to market, approved as a FAR 33 engine, to be in the range of $45 million. If you’re wondering why we’re not seeing less expensive airplanes and powerplants, that’s why. The volume is simply not going to be there to drive down unit costs. But then, you already knew that.


Before it was renamed AirVenture, the big show at Oshkosh was called the EAA Fly-in and that’s exactly how it started, as a grass roots event propelled by people who build airplanes. Somewhere along the evolutionary track, what we now know as AirVenture became an all-purpose airshow and trade exposition that encompasses about everything that flies. (And a lot of stuff that doesn’t, including housewares and cars.)

No offense, but a King Air or a Citation doesn’t have a lot to do with AirVenture’s beginnings. But one turbine that does is the French-built TBM. Most people have probably forgotten this—or never knew it—but TBM stands for Tarbes-Built Mooney and the airplane’s antecedents date to the days when the then Tarbes, France-based Socata had a relationship with Mooney to develop a fast, cabin-class cruiser.

While the partnership with Mooney unraveled, the airplane concept certainly did not. At a press briefing Monday, TBM CEO Nicolas Chabbert reported that there are 738 various model TBMs flying, 80 percent of them in North America.

As turbine owners go, TBM owners are definitely cut of different cloth. While the airplanes find some business use, they are predominantly flown by owners for personal transportation and those owners tend to have come up through the aviation ranks as piston drivers owning light singles and twins. They’re airplane guys first, airplanes and transportation machines second, meaning they come to Oshkosh out of passion for aviation, not to shop for new leather interior in an airplane flown by a paid pilot. As a result, said Chabbert, the TBM is the most represented turbine at AirVenture, with at least 40 owner airplanes parked on the field.

As we’ve reported, the company has rebranded itself as Daher and no longer uses the Socata nameplate. I wish someone had mentioned that to the people putting the AirVenture guide together because the company’s new booth, way down on the south side of the field, is listed under Socata. So if you’re looking for it, look under that name.

Despite overall and persistent softness in the GA market, Daher is having a good year. It’s developing more contract component manufacturing in the U.S. market and had one of its strongest first- and second-quarter sales periods in 2015, although it hasn’t matched the 2008 high water mark yet. Chabbert says that while everyone talks about sales in China and India, those markets haven’t bloomed yet. The U.S. remains the king dog for sales of owner-flown, single-engine turbines.