I have returned from Airventure 2008. My feet are a bit sore, my skin is a bit tanned, and my head is swimming with more images of airplanes than it can hold. Even though I knew from last year that this was a huge event, I was re-amazed as I discovered several more hangars and complete fields of planes that I had not reached before. I was there for three full days and was still not able to see it all.
A few notes;
I was looking forward to seeing the V-22 Osprey tilt rotor plane which was supposed to arrive on Tuesday, but apparently they pushed it back to Thursday which was beyond my stay so I did not get to see it. It looked like they had the Harrier fill in for it which is always a impressive sight in it’s own right. They must have burned more than our annual household budget in jet fuel as it hovered and turned for several minutes and performed repeated vertical takeoffs and landings. And let me just say, wow is that thing loud on hover! In case there was any doubt, the Harrier scene in True Lies was complete fantasy.
Tuesday they unveiled the new Martin Jetpack. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of the event, this was not so well organized. A massive crowd encircled the designated spot, leaving only a small circle around the pack, which was of course not large enough for their planned demonstration flight. So, as the planned time came and left, they were still struggling to push back the crowd into a larger circle which was of course difficult and potentially dangerous as the front rows tried to back into a tight crush of people who did not want to back up. They then moved around their little platform and podium several times and finally began setting up their PA system while the crowd grew hot and impatient. When they finally pulled off the sheet to unveil the “Jetpack” a child called out what was probably on the mind of many there, “it’s not a jet! it has propellers!”. Indeed, the “Martin Jetpack” is not actually a jet at all and instead sports two ducted fans connected to a 200hp, 4 cylinder 2-stroke engine (water cooled). They explained that they were not cleared for an actual flight among the crowd due to safety reasons and instead performed a short hover with a handler holding each side of the pack. Many people wondered aloud why they didn’t take it out to the runway for a real flight. Talking to them later at their booth I learned that they are keeping it in the “ultralight” classification by limiting the onboard fuel to 5 gallons, which should give a 30 minute flight time, and the top speed to 60mph, although they have not reached that speed in tests yet. They are also including a ballistic parachute system for safety, the only problem being that the chute can not operate under 400 ft, and the cushioned landing legs can only handle up to about 10 ft, which still leaves them with a safety issue for anything in between. They have looked at the zero altitude, zero speed chute systems used in military ejection seats, but found them prohibitively expensive. They say that overall the pack is very stable and training time is only about 3 days, being much easier to handle than a helicopter or even a small plane. Currently the control system is all mechanical, but they note that the future addition of a computer system could help overcome pilot error. It is indeed an impressive looking piece of technology, although the big unveiling was not worth the hot crush, and it is not clear to me who the market for such a device would be.
And speaking of new technology with out a clear market, the folks from Terrafugia were showing off their new flying car prototype, insisting that, “it is not a flying car, it is a road-able aircraft.” An interesting concept which has certainly been tried many times, but leaves some interesting questions like, how safe is it on the road, how does it handle on the road, or in the air for that matter, and what happens in a fender – bender? I would guess the answer to the last one is a very expensive repair bill and re-certification for flight. They claim you can fly to a destination airport, then drive in to town, or that you can continue a long trip on the road when flying conditions become unfavorable, but the only real niche for this that I can see is those new “fly in” communities with their own small airport. Saves you having a hangar I guess.
The aerial displays were amazing as usual. I still am boggled by the way those stunt pilots manage to put their planes into an end-over-end tumble which in no way seems to include the characteristics of normal airplane flight, then recover and zoom on. An interesting additional this year was the world’s’ first acrobatic helicopter display. Chuck Aaron, the only FAA certified stunt helicopter pilot, put his stock BO-105 CBS Red Bull helicopter through rolls, loops and flips to the delight of an amazed crowd.
Another piece of acrobatic work that grabbed my attention was Matt Younkin’s astounding performance in a Twin Beech 18. Seeing a large old twin engine craft like this scream towards the ground to pick up speed, then pull up sharply into a loop, or haul over into a roll was really something. I could hear those engines roar, heaving that beast through it’s maneuvers and part of me kept wondering why those wings didn’t rip themselves from the fuselage.
There were many many more exciting sights than I can list here, not the least of which were the field after field after field of beautiful vintage aircraft. I seem to particularly like the lines on the old sea planes. Interestingly there seems to also be a trend in the new Light Sport plane market for small sea planes which offer the freedom to fly in to all kinds a beautiful lakes and small ocean island locations.
Airventure Oshkosh is a great time for anyone who is even passingly interested in airplanes. If you get the chance to go, I recommend it. Now I have to continue sifting through the 700+ photos I took. I will be uploading photos in groups to my flickr set over the next few days. Look there in a few days for lots of photos and a few short videos.