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Friday, July 27, 2007

Oshkosh by Gosh

I've been coming to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Airvention at Oshkosh since the late 1970s.

EAA is dedicated to supporting a broad array of pilots ... an experimental aircraft can be one that is built in a garage, or it can be that old World War II fighter. It can be a twenty-seater powered by a jet engine, or it can be an ultralight powered a chainsaw motor. It can be many things. The common thread among the 600,000 so people who visit the Airvention is their love of all things aviation.

I used to come just to watch one of the larger collections of old "Warbirds" still flying. There is nothing quite so impressive as the sound of a 1500+ hp Merlin on a P-51 as it speeds on by at 300+ knots. There used to be a couple dozen or so P51s at Oshkosh each year, along with an entire Air Force of other warbirds like the F-4U Corsair, the P-40, and even old bombers like the B-17, B-25, and the B-26.

In recent years, I've been tempted to build my own aircraft "in the garage." The only things stopping me are the fact that I don't have a garage, I didn't have the 2000 to 5000 hours most builders typically put into their projects, and the more annoying fact that the German regulators are not as accomodative of these things, especially by a foreign-rated pilot like yours truly.

The nice thing about Airvention is you get to see hundreds of home-builts of all shapes and sizes. You get to meet the guys (sorry girls, but I haven't met any women who have built their own who built their own, though I have hear rumors that they do exist) who built them. You get the opportunity to take in a few workshops on building techniques if you want to build your skills before you start bending expensive metal or bonding even more expensive carbon fibre.

And it is not surprising that very few homebuilders actually start from scratch. Even though I am trained as an aerospace engineer, the thought of designing and building from scratch is a romantic notion at best. I'm good, but I would prefer to start with a proven design. Not so much because my life is on the line ... I'm not an idiot, so there would be a lot of testing before my butt was in the air in anything I desinged and built, but more because designing your own adds several thousand hours to a project. So another nice thing about Airvention is you get to meet a number of kit-plane merchants who have designed and sold a wide array of homebuilt designs, and these have been flight tested by hundreds of brave souls (which they truly are, because if you have ever seen the shape they have left a breakfast bar in, you would tend to wonder ... or hope ... that their home workshops and the insides of the aircraft they have built were in better shape). Building your own is a good way to get an aircraft that meets your own flying needs. This is the place to explore what those might be.

I haven't attended every year, but many of them ... this would be number 20 for me out of 29 years. Despite that long history, I am still something of an amateur attendee.

When I lived in the US, I would fly myself to the show and pitch a tent next to my aircraft. If alone or with friends, this was a great way to do the show. They have showers and camp shops. They've even added things like camp movie theaters with feature films that have a flying theme.

Last year I brought the Partnerin, so we stayed in a hotel. This year I decided to pack a tent in a rental car and drive up. I learned that this is the least optimal way to visit, because there are thousands of people who come via surface vehicle (Car, RV, motorcycle, even bicycle) fighting over a few thousand camp spots. If you come too late in the week long show cycle, you get relegated to the camping spots next to the highway. Lesson learned.

A motorhome next to the highway is not so good, but doable ... a tent next to the highway is a waste of time. It never used to be so bad in the Airplace campground, but then I was more fanatic and came the day before the show kicked off ... the later arrivals in the aircraft campground also seem to get dumped next to the highway ... note to self, don't fly in too late in the week if you are planning to camp here).

So as I type this in a rather shabby hotel that cost me nearly $200 for the night, my poor tent sits waiting for me to come back and rescue it. I kept it there because my camping fee doubles for a somewhat more expensive parking fee (you pay a minimum of three nights camping fee, so there is no point to pulling up stakes until the third night is used).

One of the highlights of Wednesday was an demonstration by US Marine Harriers. The highlight of Thursday will be the arrival of two of the US Air Force's F-22 Raptor fighters. I published a few photos from last year, but will try to put better pics from this year, if I get some. You see, the weather is a factor in these shows. And it wouldn't be Oshkosh without an afternoon thunderstorm. More to follow.


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