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.
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.
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?
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.
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.