August 14, 2014
- Well, we’re all home now from one of the best-ever reunions at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. The tent is dried out and packed, and the camping gear is all washed and put away for another year. By any measurement, this was an outstanding year, and you will be able to read reports elsewhere of more visitors, aircraft, and traffic in the booths. I want to focus on what really impressed me, coming from the roots of what a homebuilt aircraft convention is all about.
Back in 1976, a Zenith CH 200 was built in eight days at the show using volunteers. This was only three years after French aeronautical engineer Chris Heintz had arrived in Canada. His first homebuilt design flew in 1975, and I was fortunate to meet with him and two of his four sons at the homebuilders dinner on Thursday evening. He’s actually from the French-German area of Alsace and is often mistakenly thought to be German.
He did his aeronautical studies in Switzerland and has now retired back to Alsace. His sons now operate his businesses in Midland, Ontario, and Mexico, Missouri. Thirty-eight years after that eight-day build, Zenith decided to improve on the 550 persons/hour build at the show by donating and attempting a build of a CH 750 Cruzer in seven days. Having volunteered for a couple of sessions as a homebuilt ambassador, I was able to get firsthand experience of the amazing impact this demonstration had on the attendees, from experienced builders to visitors with absolutely no previous contact with aviation. People were willing to stand in long lines just to get the chance to pull a rivet on this record-breaking build.
When people have the ability to look at the inevitable CH 750 Cruzer photos coming out in the next few weeks, they will be able to say, “That’s my rivet, on a real flying aircraft.” Can you imagine a more powerful encouragement to consider building one yourself than having actually participated and seeing how easy it is to pull a blind rivet?
In my six hours at the booth, I saw families with small children proudly doing their part, as well as husbands, wives, and other individuals - even Audrey Poberezny and four senior FAA officials came through and set rivets. I was delighted to be able to shake Audrey’s hand after she signed the log.
Audrey Poberezny’s signature in the Builders Log
On Wednesday during the convention, EAA Chairman Jack J. Pelton presented her with the Freedom of Flight award for her lifetime contribution to aviation.
A bagpipe band from U.S. Customs and Border Protection was at the show throughout the week and played a celebratory “Scotland the Brave” when the fuselage was lifted onto its gear for the first time. While a line of people were each pulling a rivet on one side of the right wing that was mounted in a cradle, others were working on the empennage, the fuselage, and the firewall-forward. The fuselage was lifted onto its gear around 1 p.m., and by 4 p.m. the engine had been mounted and most of the plumbing was completed. There was a very large graphic of the aircraft at the back of the build area with stickers applied to the areas that had been completed so people were able to stroll by every day and check on the progress.
This wasn’t just a “step right up and pull a rivet” process, either. Each person had to go through a demonstration of what a blind rivet was, how it compressed, what a cleco was, and how a manual and pneumatic rivet puller worked before they were awarded a One Week Wonder pin that qualified him to go stand in the long line to be able to pull a rivet on the actual structure of the aircraft.
Hopefully several of the candidates then took advantage of the sheet metal workshop, where they could also learn how to set conventional rivets. The project taxied for the first time on Sunday afternoon right before the Thunderbirds flew for the last time. I’m probably not the only one to be thrilled to discover that Jeff Skiles actually flew the first flight on Tuesday, August 5, just as I was finishing this article.
Those of you who have visited Oshkosh will remember having seen Jerry’s One Man Band placed just near Theater in the Woods. Two years ago he had a sign saying “probably my last year” and we were delighted to see his return last year. Well, I have good news - he was there again this year. This charming piece of the history of Oshkosh doesn’t seem to bring Jerry too much in the way of sales since most people are newly arrived on the tram and just passing through. Perhaps he’s really just one more volunteer doing his bit for the atmosphere and fun of AirVenture. Let’s hope he’s back again next year. He’s part of the fabric.
We were able to see Paul Poberezny’s last project, a replica Baby Ace, which was acquired and completed by his friends at EAA Chapter 640 in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Paul’s last Baby Ace - dedicated to his memory
Crowds of people were intrigued by a radial engine on a motorcycle at the Rotec booth, and we were able to see it running.
Rotec radial on a bike
There was way too much going on to be able to cover it all in this article. Almost 1,500 forums were held, so the aircraft parking was completely full at one point midweek. The Thunderbirds were awesome. The MV-22 tilt rotor Osprey demonstration was impressive. The commentators declined to call it an airplane or a helicopter. “It’s a tilt rotor,” they said.
We were able to tune in to Oshkosh Radio on 96.5 FM without having to buy a special flightline radio to do so. Wi-Fi was free and more available than ever, as was an increased supply of free drinking water fountains, with an extra hose so you could fill your water bottles. We had enough rain that areas at the back of Camp Scholler became inches deep in wet mud, but overall the site has benefitted from significant improvements in drainage. We saw very little standing water after some very heavy thundershowers.
Double rainbow over the AOPA tent after a thundershower
Thanks to all the hard work by the volunteers and staff, this was a splendid year to be at Oshkosh. That camping gear will be ready for the trip next year. Maybe there are a few more years in that old tent.
Don’t forget to spare yourself a few hours and sign up for an EAA webinar, and as always, contributions and comments for Bits and Pieces are not just welcome, they’re what we’re all about.