A look back at the world’s greatest air show
If one event could be a direct testament to the health of general aviation, AirVenture 2017 demonstrated the industry is alive and well.
The show took place July 24-30 and saw record attendance with around 590,000 attendees, a five percent increase over last year. Throughout the week, more than 10,000 aircraft arrived at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh and surrounding area airports. Aircraft parking and campgrounds (more than 11,000 sites) either reached or were pushing capacity for the majority of the week.
Nevertheless, the 5,000 EAA volunteers rose to the challenge and ultimately put on a well-commended event. In a statement following the event, EAA Chairman, Jack Pelton claimed it was possibly the best AirVenture week he had ever seen.
“What in incredible year it was at Oshkosh…the combination of our features and attractions, along with great weather six of the seven days, made for an excellent week,” said Pelton. “It was a week filled with only-at-Oshkosh moments.”
Those moments included an Apollo reunion, historic bomber flights, WWII reenactments, Blue Angel performances and numerous product announcements (largely electronics-based).
Only at Oshkosh
One of the main events at AirVenture this year was the 50th anniversary celebration and reunion of the Apollo Program. Seven astronauts including Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell were in attendance along with other Apollo program affiliates from mission control and engineering. The audience heard firsthand stories and experiences, both good and bad, during their missions including Apollo 8, 11 and 17. This was the first time in 25 years that this number of astronauts from the Apollo era were under the same roof. A video of the full program can be found on the EAA’s YouTube channel.
Just prior to the Apollo program, the famous Blue Angels splashed the scene with a special appearance and insiders’ look into their spectacular demonstrations. This was the first year in AirVenture history where the Blue Angels performed full demonstrations. This is primarily due to the fact that substantial preparation goes into hosting such an act. The airport’s neighboring houses and businesses were required to evacuate for several hours during the performances.
Earlier in the week, show activities commemorated the people and aircraft involved in the Doolittle Raid in honor of the 75th anniversary. More than a dozen B-25 bombers transfixed the crowds in a reenactment of the raid. Dick Cole, the last remaining veteran of the famed Doolittle Raiders, was also honored.
Continuing the theme of WWII bombers, the fully restored B-29 Superfortress named “Doc” made its much-anticipated AirVenture debut. Later joined by fellow B-29, “FiFi,” the pair flew its first (breathtaking) formation flight. It is estimated no one in 60 years has seen two B-29s fly in formation, let alone share a ramp.
At the conclusion of AirVenture, B-29 Doc and Doc’s Friends were recognized by EAA with two Lindy Awards in the warbirds category: the “Best Bomber Award” and the “Phoenix Award.” The Phoenix Award is given to recognize the “highest achievement in craftsmanship and dedication in the preservation of aviation history accomplished in restoration.”
“Being recognized by the EAA at Oshkosh is humbling and celebrates the true dedication and heroism of our volunteers,” said Jim Murphy, Doc’s Friends program director in a release.
The electronics sector stole the show in terms of news at this year’s AirVenture. Especially popular topics were cost-effective autopilots and cockpits, ADS-B solutions, flight app upgrades and connectivity.
Garmin released several new products including two new retrofit autopilots (GFC 500 and GFC 600), two portable weather receivers, a new low-cost ADS-B Out solution and its latest aviator watch, the D2 Charlie.
The GFC 600 is built upon the popular GFC 700 autopilot and is intended for high performance piston single/twin-engine and turbine aircraft. The standalone autopilot includes safety-enhancing technologies like ESP, flight director and level mode. The STC has already been completed in the A36 Bonanza and B55 Baron, with the B58 Baron and turbine aircraft in progress.
Dynon announced it is moving to get its flagship SkyView HDX touchscreen avionics suites into a wide range of FAA-certified aircraft models. The company seeks to install its system in aircraft ranging from single-engine piston trainers to high-performance twins.
“For years, thousands of light sport and amateur-built aircraft pilots have benefited from Dynon’s intuitive, affordable, and safety enhancing integrated avionics systems,” said Dynon Founder John Torode in a release. “We’re ready to bring the Dynon approach to the rest of the GA fleet.”
On the aircraft OEM side, Textron Aviation announced momentum on its Cessna Denali program. The Denali is a clean-sheet single-engine turboprop that will be powered by GE’s new FADEC-equipped turboprop engine. Manufacturing on the first full airframe has begun with first flight expected in 2018.
Raisebeck Engineering and Hartzell have teamed up to produce a five-blade propeller for the King Air 350. It is said the carbon fiber propellers improve single-engine climb performance between five and seven percent.
Blackhawk Modifications also has its sights on upgrading used King Air 350s. The company announced its upgrade package that entails larger PT6A-67A engines and new composite propellers by MT Propellers. Historically, the Texas company has specialized in upgrading King Air 90 and 200 models. The Blackhawk website lists the upgraded King Air produces 1,050 SHP up to 25,000 feet, while stock King Air 350 engines begin losing horsepower at 15,000 feet.
“The King Air 350 is a natural progression for us,” said Bob Kromer, vice president of flight test. “The new engine and prop combination provides the largest performance increase we’ve ever seen.”
We say it every year: how is EAA going to top this? AirVenture 2017 was, without a doubt, a standout show.
“We’re already talking to people about the possibilities for 2018 in all areas, from aircraft anniversaries to new technology and innovations,” said Pelton in his closing remarks. “We saw new programs, such as the Twilight Flight Fest following the afternoon air show, attract big crowds and show a bright future. We’ll be announcing these features and attractions as they are finalized. We’re excited for the future and what’s ahead for next year!”