The Experimental Aircraft Association's fly-in airshow held annually at the Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is one of the largest and most anticipated events of its kind in the world. With a history that stretches back more than 60 years, this aviation spectacular now attracts over half a million aircraft enthusiasts, along with some 10,000 planes, helicopters and experimental aircraft of all eras. Gizmag joined the multitudes on the shores of Lake Winnebago for EAA AirVenture 2014 – here's our look at the highlights.
Having grown up building models of P51 Mustangs, P38 Lightnings, B25 bombers and most anything WWII related, to be standing in a field surrounded by aircraft of this ilk was nothing short of a surreal. That my Dad flew Harvard’s in training during WWII out of Moose Jaw only added to exhilaration of seeing roughly a dozen fly in formation around the airfield. Throw in some modern luxury like the new Honda Jet, a smattering of homebuilt aircraft, conceptual gyrocopters, a legendary 50 year old NASA research jet, one or two half million dollar gliders and cutting edge designs like the amphibious ICON A5 and I was in the middle of an aviation-themed religious experience.
Picking highlights from a show of this caliber is easier said than done, but here is a taste of some of the sights that kept enthralled throughout the week.
50 years of the Breezy
Designed by Carl Unger and friends back in 1964, the Breezy celebrated its 50th anniversary at this year’s EAA AirVenture.
On the other side of the aviation spectrum, Honda’s new HondaJet made its production debut at Oshkosh. The new US$4.5 million luxury aircraft is a definite departure for the outfit better known for producing Civics.
With a sophisticated glass flight deck, Over-The-Wing Engine Mount (OTWEM) configuration, natural-laminar flow wing and fuselage nose and composite fuselage, the HondaJet is billed as the world’s most advanced light jet. It has a wing span of just over 37 feet (12 m), 66 cubic feet of storage space, room for a crew of two and four passengers and is powered by two GE Honda HF120 turbofan engines that take it to a cruising speed of 420 knots (KTAS) for approximately 1180 nautical miles.
According to the Honda rep at the show, the company has received over 200 orders for the HondaJet. Delivery dates are set for sometime in 2017.
Stemme S10 Glider
If flying about in silence and soaring like the proverbial eagle is your thing, then perhaps you’ll want to check out the US$440,000 S10 dual-passenger glider. Located amongst the million dollar luxury jets at Oshkosh, the S10 from Stemme of Germany is a glider with a difference. though – it features a Rotax engine in the nose and retractable, spring loaded propellers. When activated on take-off, the nose cone slides forward allowing the 115 hp Rotax 914 F Turbo engine to pull the plane to soaring altitudes.
With the engine engaged the S10 offers flyers a maximum cruise speed of 140 kt (260 km/h) and a range of 929 nautical miles (1,720 km). In terms of avionics, the S10 features a LX9000 soaring computer with both a stick remote and AHRS for the system, plus a Garmin GPS 695 navigation system, electric trim indicators, acoustic stall warning sensors and a classic UMA engine instrumentation setup.
Stemme’s S10 glider also holds the world record for "cross country soaring," with Klaus Ohlmann flying it 2,463 km (1,530 mi) in approximately 14 hours over the Andes.
The ICON A5 two-passenger amphibious aircraft debuted in production form at Oshkosh this year. The aircraft features foldable wings for easy storage and a 100 bhp Rotax engine to help get the carbon composite hulled craft up to a top speed of 105 kts (120 mph/194 km/h).
The standalone cockpit display clearly demonstrated how cues from the automotive industry have helped shape the A5’s interior design. Instrumentation and console setup could have come from any number of performance exotics, and the side-by-side seating and overall ergonomic lay-out also indicate an automotive influence.
Icon reports the A5 will have a range of 300 nautical miles (345 mi/ 555 km) when the first customer takes delivery of their plane in May of 2015. Estimated price for the amphibious flying hot-hatch is expected to be around US$189,000.
Another of the show’s more interesting amphibious offerings was MVP’s Aero. Part fishing boat, part float plane, part flying camper, the Aero was on display in Oshkosh’s experimental section as well as at the hidden seaplane hideout located 20 minutes south of the airport.
Using a forward cabin/rear mounted engine design, MVP has re-imagined the typical amphibious flyer into one where users can fish off the front on their favorite lake, or using the optional tent package, can park the Aero on shore where it can be used for camping.
As well as a cockpit canopy that lifts up and back to allow users to fish out of the seat like a typical fishing boat, the engine can be run to navigate about waterways to select fishing holes. The Aero’s foldable wings are designed with high lift capabilities to enable shorter take offs and landings. To navigate docking, with wings folded, the tri-phibian’s on-board trolling motor and bow thrusters also enable the craft to park just like a regular fishing boat.
The Aero’s instrument panel is a self contained pod that once pivoted out of the way, enables users to fold over the “origami deck” that fully covers the seating area. The foldable deck stretches from the bow to the baggage compartment giving occupants an area large enough to sleep on, according to MVP.
Running a Rotax 912 series rear-mounted push engine, MVP reports the carbon/glass composite Aero should have a maximum cruising speed of 14 kts and a climb rate of 1,000 fpm.
NASA WB-57 High Altitude Research Plane
NASA stopped by the show with its high altitude WB-57. Derived from the Martin B-57 Canberra in the 1950s as a military bomber, the plane on display at Oshkosh was used extensively by NASA for scientific purposes in the 1960s.
With a wingspan and wing area coverage that would shame a herd of 787s, the big white flyer had the ability to reach altitudes of over 65,000 ft. (12 mi/19 km) and fly at speeds over 650 mph (1,046 km/h) in its day. Capable of carrying payloads of 4,000 lb the WB-57 was used for everything from high altitude weather research for Apollo space launches to gathering high atmosphere radiation samples from nuclear testing plumes.
The plane on display at Oshkosh, N927NA, had been in storage for over 40 years before making its comeback flight last year. That hiatus made it the longest plane to have sat in Arizona’s “Boneyard” before returning to the air. NASA is now loaning the N927NA out to various firms to perform their own atmospheric and satellite research.
Another throwback to the cold war era with a design only an engineer could love, the British Airforce’s Fairey Gannet is anything but pretty. Decked out in a two-tone orange and black paint scheme and sitting next to the elegantly styled WB-57, the unusual looking workhorse with the big torpedo holding belly was initially developed in 1953 for British aircraft carrier service. Weighing in at a hefty 14,000 lb (6,382 kg) the Gannet features dual-folding wings, retractable tri-wheel landing gear and contra-rotating, turboprop propellers.
Designed as an anti-submarine hunter the aircraft was later adapted to deal out electronic countermeasures and take on delivery roles. The Gannet also had the ability to operate on only one engine were the pilots required to extend range or conserve fuel.
Featured in Oshkosh’s center staging area, the last of the flying T5 Gannets (serial XT752) affectionately known as Janet has endured a number of retrofits and owner changeovers in its 60 years. Only 340 Gannets were produced from 1953-1959.
Another concept plane to catch our eye was Elytron’s highly unconventional 2S Tiltrotor. This radical design from Elytron Aircraft of California was located on-site at the show but only in semi-complete concept form. The full-sized display model showed one side with the craft’s unique box-wing configuration in place, while the other showed a cutaway of the planes unique rotating wing gearing.
Although the Prandtl wing box dates back to the early 19 century, the rotating wings and prop rotors on the 2S are designed to give it conventional take-off and landing, plus vertical and short take-off and landing capabilities. According to Elytron this unconventional design not only covers the three take-off scenarios but also makes for a plane that is stronger and lighter than similar craft while being faster than a traditional helicopter.
Using fast prototyping and carbon composites, the company plans to throw a 450 bhp race engine in its plane and conduct tests next year. There are also plans to build a 7-seat version of the box-winged aircraft.
As impressive as the Elytron tilt-rotor concept is, it pales in comparison to its monstrous cousin, the MV-22 Osprey. Thirty-two years after it was developed, the US Marines VTOL multi-tasking aircraft was still one of the most impressive exhibits of the show – static or flying.
Featuring tilt-rotors and sporting huge 38 ft (11.6 m) helicopter sized blades, the multi-functional Osprey has the capability to transport 24 combat troops, carry 20,000 lb (9,071 kg) of cargo or lift and move up to 15,000 lb (6,804 kg) of cargo externally thanks to twin Rolls Royce turboshaft engines that produce 6,150 shaft hp. The Osprey has a maximum speed of 250 kts (463 km/h / 287 mi) and a range of 390 nautical miles (722 km / 448 mi) when carrying a full troop deployment.
During its 20 minute flight demonstration at Oshkosh the Osprey, which stands 22 ft tall (6.7 m) from tarmac to rotor hub, certainly showed off its versatility, from short runway take-off capabilities to high speed agility and hovering prowess.
Although the Osprey has had its share of accidents and design issues over the years Boeing is confident that the current version, with its redundant engine back-up system and fly-by-wire system, will help it replace aging helicopters and certain transport aircraft.
Next to the US military’s svelte, bristly Apache attack copter we spied one of the show’s oddest participants – the CarterCopter.
Designed by Carter Copters" target="_blank">Carter Aviation Technologies, the Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) prototype with its claimed top speed of 245 mph (394 km/h) at 25,000 ft uses a 350 hp turbocharged Lycoming IO-540 engine that is reportedly capable of carrying 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) from a jump takeoff and 5,000 lb (2268 kg) from a rolling take off.
This next-gen gyrocopter also features a 45-ft diameter rotor up top that matches the unit’s wingspan and a stubby rear tail where the horizontal stabilizer hosts a rudder and twin winglets.
Glacier Girl P-38 Lightning
One of my favorite warbird recovery stories has to be that of the P38 Lightning, known as “Glacier Girl.” Set amongst two other P38s at Oshkosh’s Warbird alley, the recovered green Lightning was one of five fighters and two B17’s that had to ditch on Greenland due to inclement weather in 1942.
For over 50 years the P38 sat in the snow alongside the other aircraft. In that time over 268 feet of snow covered the plane, making locating and recovering it near impossible. But in 1992 a team using innovative ice melting and recovery techniques managed to burrow their way down to one of the P38s. Workers, using steam hoses carved out a cave around the Lightning, which once uncovered, had to be disassembled in order to fit up through the access shaft.
During restoration, salvagers discovered that as a result of sitting under hundreds of feet of snow and ice for fifty years, most of the plane’s key components and architecture had been twisted, broken or squished. Over the next ten years restorers were left having to either fabricate new parts or track down original parts from collectors. But after ten years of exhaustive restoration, the Glacier Girl finally flew again in 2002.
Designed by the famous aviation pioneer, Louis Bleriot, this replica sitting amongst various pre and post-war aircraft represents one of the earliest aviation achievements. Although not identical to the plane flown by Blériot in his English Channel Crossing feat, the replica on the grassy grounds in Oshkosh was close enough in design and frailty to give one a legitimate sense of appreciation for the amount of sheer stupidity and bravery it must have taken to make the 22 mi (35 km) flight from France to Dover on that day in 1909.
The P-51 Mustang, considered one of the greatest planes of the Second World War was on hand by the dozen at this year’s EAA AirVenture.
But while the Mustang with its 435 mph (700 km/h) top speed and agility was one of the show’s great warbird examples, it was not to be outdone by a couple of Corsair’s, one Japanese Zero, two Russian Yaks, a tri-fecta of P-38 Lightnings, Harvards in various trim and two B-17 Flying Fortresses.
EAA Airventure Museum
Featuring the likes of the Wright Brothers finest creation, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, gyrocopters, early day air racers and memorabilia from an assortment of manufacturers, the Oshkosh air museum is one of those must see spaces for anyone remotely interested in the history of aviation.
On Thursday, Dick Rutan, co-pilot of the record breaking Voyager was at the museum recounting his non-stop flight around the world back in 1986. With a replica of Voyager’s cockpit/cabin as a backdrop, Rutan recalled how over nine long days, he and his co-pilot Jeanna Yeager (who cut her hair in order to save a quarter of a mile) had to deal with hostile countries, bad weather, ill tempered engines and communication issues. He also shared just how disconcerting it was to fly a 110 ft wingspan vehicle with 7,010 lb of fuel on takeoff and the joys of being cramped into a cockpit not much bigger than a phone booth for the duration of the 26,366 miles (42,432 km) flight.
Even though most of the museum’s collection dates back decades, it provides important context and perspective to visitors on how innovation and creativity have shaped aviation over the years. If you’re in the Oshkosh region I highly recommend a quick detour to the relatively innocuous building off Highway 45 to get better a sense of the technological achievements, and failures, that have occurred over the past 100 plus years.
I almost bypassed it on my way back to Milwaukee, but thanks to a small sign and a guy named Dusty I found the magical bay where float planes and their pilots reside during AirVenture.
Located roughly 20 minutes south of Oshkosh at the far south end of Lake Winnebago, this tiny secluded harbor provides safe refuge for dozens of float planes from the winds and weather that occasionally hit the region. Dusty explained to me how the site is basically a smaller, more intimate version of the big show. Featuring pared down amenities the retreat provide pilots with camping, food vendors, and the chance to see "Frozen" at 9:30 on the big outdoor screen.
Check the gallery for more highlights from the 2014 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow.