OSHBlog: A Subdued AirVenture

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Ducking away from the near-endless press conferences, meetings, writing and story-hunting that define my usual Oshkosh schedule to go flying feels about like skipping class used to: I know I have more important things I should be doing but on some days, there’s just too much fun to be had elsewhere. Not, in case my mother is reading this, that I ever skipped class. Much.

This year’s sky-bound escape was provided by the Phillips 66 Aerostars, who were giving media rides out of Appleton International. Paul Bertorelli and I caught up with them first thing Monday morning while the rest of our team dealt with the unique experience of a media trailer that had working electricity and internet by the first day of the show. The weather was perfect—cool, calm, and not a cloud in the sky—and the flight was fantastic.

The particulars of our AirVenture aerobatics have already been blogged by Paul and in this video, so all I’m going to add is that if the opportunity ever presents itself, I recommend watching some of these maneuvers from the air.

Aerostars lead pilot Harvey Meek, who was kind enough to let me take up space in his Extra, made sure we had a fantastic view when Gerry Molidor—with Paul along for the ride—broke away to show off some more hard-core aerobatics. The aerial perspective was awesome and the whole morning was decidedly more fun than I typically expect to have at work, even with this job.

Starting AirVenture with the Aerostars was also a good reminder for me that the tools, technology, products and presentations at the show aren’t just news to be covered. They’re there so we can get people in the air, flying better, safer and more often.

–Kate O’Connor

In the absence of a lot of major announcements in the aviation world, we who rely on Oshkosh for the fodder to fill the week of publications whose mandate is to cover those announcements are forced to actually go outside and find stuff when the larder of “real” news is looking desperate. That can, in turn, lead to the unintended consequence of actually enjoying the show and pausing here and there when something interests us personally rather than professionally.

Despite the lack of “news,” business was brisk, people were happy and the weather was pretty cooperative toward the end of the week. I stayed later than I normally do and caught the Saturday airshow and I was impressed with the clear result of marketing to local residents who jammed the place for a nice show with lots of noise.

I would say more than half of the people there on Saturday had no real connection to aviation but they liked what they saw. And we can never forget that embedded in the hordes of uninitiated are people whose interest in aviation needs to be sparked by exposure to it. There was plenty of that to go around on Saturday.

-Russ Niles

Based on intel, I could tell a week before the show started that it would be a ho-hum year for avionics and it was. If there was a jaw-dropper, it was BendixKing’s announcement that its parent, Honeywell, had purchased autopilot manufacturer TruTrak. The latter has been ripping along certifying the once-experimental Vizion autopilot. One can only hope the BK division will keep the mojo going with this good product.

The same can be said of products in the hopper for a few years but which have just earned STC approval—the KI300 EFIS, the AeroCruze autopilot and the AeroVue Touch retrofit PFD. We should be grateful for the competition, but it will be up to the BendixKing dealer network to give these products traction in a market dominated by you know who.

Everyone is so over ADS-B at this point, and the market is saturated, so no surprises there. uAvionix wasn’t exactly broadcasting the announcement, but the company is working on a low-cost solution for the Canadian ADS-B equipage dilemma that will require dual-antenna systems. It’s a product to watch and proof that uAvionix is on the cutting edge of affordable solutions.

Dynon Avionics turned up the competitive heat in announcing a lengthy AML-STC for its SkyView Certified HDX retrofit display system. Dynon still has work to do—Garmin’s G3X Touch is a player for over 500 models—and I think shops are preprogrammed to sell it first.

Speaking of programming, here’s a cranky request to vendors who hold press briefings at the show: Please show up with media kits with images and a summary of what you’re announcing. Companies at more than half of the briefings I attended had nothing, which meant chasing it afterward. This hurts the companies and blunts the very reason for having a press conference. Isn’t a little preparation worth it for the largest aviation event of the year?

-Larry Anglisano

We’re often engaged on the fly at AirVenture and asked if we’ve seen anything momentous. This year, I got nothin’. Moreover, the muse has abandoned me as I struggle to give this some sort of metaphysical context.

In 30 years of covering this show, I’ve noted an ebb and flow and this year was an ebb. Not bad, mind you, just an even strain of ordinariness. Two exceptions for me were the XP-82 restoration and Paul Dye’s neat little jet.

In three decades, I’ve watched EAA evolve and improve this event and as I noted earlier in the week, they’ve really got it dialed in. I was impressed with the efforts to dry out the camping areas and to make the grass taxiways usable, even, evidently, to the extent of using a helicopter’s downwash to hurry the process. 

A comment on one development Larry mentioned above: Honeywell’s purchase of TruTrak. Ostensibly, these are of benefit to the market because the larger company leverages experience, marketing and capital that the entrepreneur who started the company could never afford. I’ll keep an open mind, but the history of such things hasn’t been impressive. Sometimes, all such opportunity buys end up doing is removing a vibrant competitor from the market and burying it in a faceless corporate entity.

–Paul Bertorelli

AirVenture for me was a pleasant surprise. I haven’t been since, oh, 2012. I think the new layout, which congregated the homebuilts more or less in one area (somehow Glasair Aviation and CarbonCub got a pass to be on the main drag), worked just fine. It allowed me to spend more time talking to airframe builders and less time walking. 

Speaking of walking. It’s probably worth a mention here that the basic scale of Oshkosh makes it a real challenge to cover as a journalist and fully take in as an enthusiast; I suppose that’s just what happens when you basically have one large airshow for the whole season. We’ve written a lot about the weather just before the show and its impact on early arrivals. But I have to give EAA a break here. No matter how many managers, event planners and volunteers you have, this thing has got to be a barely manageable beast. The ripple effect of closed aircraft parking and campgrounds was profound and not really worked out until late in the show.

The last thing that stuck me was a profound passage of time for certain homebuilts. Aside from a good showing of Burt Rutan designs, some highlighted in Boeing Plaza for his appearance this year, I was stuck wondering where all the former stalwarts had gone. Glasairs and Lancairs were once dime a dozen in homebuilt parking, since the companies were locked in a to-the-death battle for market share from the 1980s. I saw just a few of each, and even fewer Glastars than the last time I visited. The RV community has taken up the slack, with RVs of every description almost constantly in view. I suppose when there are more than 10,000 RVs flying, which is roughly a third of the homebuilt fleet, that’s what you get. So it goes.

–Marc Cook

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15 COMMENTS

  1. OK, I’ll accept that some of you guys and gals see it as a somewhat ho-hum year. My two cents is that you covered the ho-hum just fine. Many good stories of good people and good airplanes and pieces all week. Thanks.

  2. My days of wandering the grounds at AirVenture likely are behind me – arthritis takes a toll on mobility. (Although that SF-50 airstair door displays more genius with each passing day.)

    But I can participate vicariously, as the AvWeb staff routinely turns the “ho hum” into “ho, ho, ho!” Thanks to all!

  3. Thanks for the report on OSH. I am curious to know how you determined this comment:
    “more than half of the people there on Saturday had no real connection to aviation”
    Was it by interviewing a statistically significant sample, or by observation?
    Thanks…

  4. Hey! I know it’s extra work, but that’s what interns are for. When you review products in the blog (or anywhere actually), it would be a nice added touch to include a hyperlink to the manufacturer’s product page. Just wishin. Thanks for all you do!

  5. I too sensed the ebb and felt as though an inflection point or crescendo has been reached. The quantum leap from the 6-pack to G3X or HDX is complete never again to be repeated (I rent a 1980’s C172 recently refitted with the HDX STC). Ten years ago a homebuilder was leading edge going all electric, not so much anymore. Still, there was plenty of evolutionary whiz-bang eye candy to see this year which is unlikely to cease.

  6. I wasn’t at OSH, but it sounds like some 600,000 people had a great time, and a few professional journalists were disappointed that there wasn’t any new whiz-bang hardware for them to report on.

    To each his/her own.

  7. I always enjoy Oshkosh. But it is to me more of social event than anything else. Of course the aircraft are great but this year there was no real highlight like a B1, B2 and B52 fly past. I was told there was larger military presence than ever before but it didn’t feel like it. But I hope to be back there next year I can’t stay away from the happiest place on earth for me.

  8. This was my 38th Airventure … “Oshkosh” … since 1977. I guess I’d mirror the comments that there wasn’t any earth shattering product introductions or FAA rule or process changes like at Sun-n-Fun a couple of years ago. I did come across a nifty avionics product that I liked … the SI 11X eCDI from Sandia Aerospace. It’s a no mechanical moving parts electronic color LCD CDI. Unfortunately, it’s for the E-AB / LSA crowd only. It’d be a great companion to a pair of G5’s. Won’t do me any good … and I need one, too. Ya listening, Dennis?

    This year, I made forums and the Theatre in the Woods my raison d’etra. The Friday night Burt and Dick Rutan presentation went on for over four hours … what a hoot! And THAT was after another Burt presentation that afternoon. Maybe we should say that 2019 was the ‘Return of the Rutans (by Starship) ?’

    As always, I made it a point to go to the Meet the Boss forum … this year in the Theatre in the Woods. I must say I liked what I heard from Dan Elwell. Too bad he’s going to become Deputy Dog. He talked about major changes coming via the MOSAIC thing. “They” keep saying it’ll be a while — even they admit they’re slow — but it’ll be worth the wait. C’mon guys … I need it to happen before I’m pushing up grass full time. Light some fires under some people, would ya. I think the FAA itself should be paid using a Performance Based salary schedule. THAT would get ’em moving.

    I spent some time in the FAA hangar talking to a regional AME deputy over a local problem we’re having. I was impressed that I found a receptive guy who I felt might take the issue on and deal with it. Either that or he’s a mighty good actor?

    I attended Sen. Inhofe’s presentation on Saturday AM. THAT guy should be called The Messiah of GA. He is RABID in making positive changes for us all and provided a long list of accomplishments he’s achieved on our behalf. I got a chance to personally bend his ear on a subject he holds near and dear which resulted in his staff taking my name and asking me to send an email further explaining the problem. Don’t get no better’n that. Thankfully, he’ll be in office until 2024. He’s 84 but acts more like he’s 64 when it comes to GA. He talked about his latest legislation … the Plane Act of 2019. Sounded good.

    Finally, I attended the Salute to the USAF presentation on Saturday evening. Boy … the USAF must be hurting because the Chief of Staff (with a noticeable security detail) along with the Commander of Air Mobility Command showed up and verbalized that that Service is looking for “a few good people.” No wonder there were so many daily flight demo’s by A-10, F-22 and F-35 aircraft. Having a beer at airshow center on Saturday and watching the F-22 doing its thing in front of some giant towering cumulous to the south was an awesome juxtaposition!

    And now the large cargo trailer I called “home” for 7 days is back in my hangar and the wait for Airventure 2020 begins. Hopefully, 2020 will be The Year of MOSAIC?

  9. Forgot … near Airshow center, I came upon the Airbus kiosk. Walking in to see what that weird looking ‘thing’ they were displaying was, I was greeted by a young man who was eager to talk about the “Vahana.” It’s a dual tilt wing, eight motor autonomous single person people mover (as long as you and your stuff don’t weigh more than 200 lbs). Yars would love it.

    I like to talk technical so I started asking questions. It has eight 35KW motors … two per wing and side. Doing the math, that’s 375hp. (Imagine what an airplane with a 375hp engine could do.) I asked how many could fail. Answer: one or two IF they’re on opposite sides. I asked about endurance. Answer … are ya ready … 20 minutes. Well, maybe EAA could buy a few and replace those noisy Bell 47’s with ’em. OR … you could call one up if you needed to get to the other side of Airventure in a hurry. Unless you’re trying to scare birds away, not much use beyond that, I’d say. Maybe the Vahana could take me to Valhalla, though?

    As I walked out, the young man thanked me for asking questions and hands me a key tag that said Airbus on one side and — are ya ready — “Charge Before Flight” on the other. I may frame that one down in my Man Cave. I wonder if Airbus knows that the NASA Maxwell has 14 motors?

  10. Any vehicle whose charging interval is a multiple of its flight endurance is a (pardon the irresistable pun) non-starter.

    I can drive my Santa Fe SUV around in the city for about 8 hours, on one tank of fuel. (My bladder no longer has such endurance.) It takes about 4 minutes to re-fill the tank.
    But could Hyundai sell such a vehicle if it required a 24-hour refueling interval?
    Maybe. But not to me.

    I can fuel the new Cirrus in 10 minutes, then fly it for 4 hours. Sounds about right, to me.

    • I found a chart produced by the U.S Energy Administration that I wish I could show here, Yars. In one small graphical format, it shows both the futility and FOLLY of trying to power anything with pure battery power in terms of physics. Your statement is correct.

      The chart is a comparison of ‘energy content per unit weight’ vertically and ‘energy content per unit volume’ horizontally. It uses gasoline as the index of “1” for both axis in much the same way as water is the index in specific gravity comparisons. So there are four quadrants to the chart: lighter than gasoline and requires less space and heavier than gasoline and requires more space. ONLY diesel is slightly higher in energy content in these two quadrants by about 10%. Everything else is shown to the left with LESS energy content than gasoline per unit volume although some exotic fuels do contain slightly more energy per unit weight. These two quadrants are lighter than gasoline but requires more space (CNG and LNG are among these chemicals) and heavier than gasoline AND requires more space. Methanol, ethanol and propane are in this quadrant. (The takeaway is why a flex fuel vehicle gets less fuel mileage on E85 than gasolene). At the very bottom left corner at darn near Zero and Zero is … BATTERIES. They’re energy content per unit volume OR per unit weight are near zero by comparison to gasolene.

      SO … I just do not understand why people keep chasing the idea of electric power anything. Spending multiples of 20 minutes of flight time to recharge the Valhala … fuhgetaboutit with today’s battery technology. One thing is for sure … there will NEVER be a pure battery electric A380.

      I walked out of the Airbus kiosk shaking my head and laughing.

  11. I agree about ebb and flow through the years, but after 39 EAA annual conventions/fly-ins including 3 at Rockford, I detect ebb and flow during the course of these annual individual weeks as well, and sometimes even during individual days. This year’s airshows were great, I got to indulge my major crush on Julie Clark one last time, and the USAF’s recruiting tools/aircraft demos were impressively spectacular. The Workshop area had plenty of buzz. Many people I talked to as they passed through have pulled the trigger (financially speaking) and committed to beginning the homebuilt project of their dreams. Many of these folks were talking about building from plans, an area of interest that seems to be having a rebound over the past few years. Some were experienced RV builders who wanted another project that was “not an RV” so maybe, when they finish, the variety will be something more than how much $$$ in the panel and which hot rod shop did the paint. After a couple of years in basements and garages, maybe AvWeb will be reporting on a whole new crop of Experimentals out on the flightline with their proud builders. Because, though the “New & Improved” fades quickly from Product and Product Lines (ho-hum), each one of those airplanes will have been completed by a new manufacturer.