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What A Week!

July 30, 2016 - AirVenture Oshkosh 2016 is coming to an end, and, by all accounts, it’s been one for the books. Just hours before voting closed on USA Today’s 10Best Air Show contest, EAA members and supporters managed to pull through and secure a win for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh as the best air show in America providing an extra cause for celebration this year.

In spite of some weather that never seemed to do exactly what we wanted, attendance has been exceptional, whether you’re counting people or aircraft. It’s not uncommon for general aviation camping in the North 40 and South 40 to fill up at some point during the week, at least for brief periods, but this year, it happened before 9 a.m. on opening day! To put it simply, this was one amazing year.

EAA CEO and Chairman Jack J. Pelton said at his closing remarks on Sunday morning that  through Saturday there were roughly 14,300 aircraft movements at Wittman Regional Airport, allowing it to continue its claim as the busiest airport in the world.

Asked Saturday what he thought of attendance, Hal Shevers, founder of Sportys, said: “This is the best Saturday crowd I’ve ever seen here.”  And he’s been coming to convention since long before EAA moved to Oshkosh.

With an event like AirVenture, there’s no such thing as a single star of the show. If there was, it might just have been the spectacular Martin Mars. The massive water bomber was a huge hit — literally — whether it was on the water at the EAA Seaplane Base or dropping water along the runway during the air shows.

(On Friday evening, the Martin Mars aborted according to procedure a fully loaded takeoff when an engine light went on. The airplane struck a submerged object in the lake, but lifted off, dumped its water load and returned to base safely. Repairs are underway that scratched it from yesterday’s air show, but boat tours to the aircraft from the Seaplane Base are continuing.)

Another star this year would have to be the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, returning to a warm Oshkosh welcome after more than three decades away. “What’s unique is they are a lot like EAA,” Pelton said, noting two Snowbirds who camped under the wing of one of their airplanes and two more who spent time directing traffic as flightline volunteers.

Homebuilt parking was overflowing with airplanes, some that had just been finished, and others that proudly displayed placards proclaiming they’d been flying for 1-, 2-, and even as many as 4,000 hours. In all, there was an 11 percent increase in homebuilt aircraft attendance over last year to 1,124 airplanes. The Warbirds area was flush with fighters and bombers, trainers and transports, seeing a 6 percent increase to 371 aircraft, and Vintage was host to scores of beautiful airplanes from aviation’s golden age, from tiny single seaters to classic airliners, with a 7 percent increase to 1,032 aircraft. Aerobatic airplanes of all types and eras were out in force at IAC, inspiring future generations of precision pilots.

The daily air shows were thrilling, as were their nighttime counterparts, including a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 25th of Desert Storm, and a look back by a century at the fragile fighters of World War I. We celebrated anniversaries too, wishing Boeing and Coast Guard aviation a happy 100th, along with ultralights, L-birds, Cadets, Chipmunks, not to mention the 50th for the Mustang II and the 30th for the wildly popular Van’s RV-6.

The inaugural Founder’s Innovation Prize was awarded in front of a rapt audience at Theater in the Woods, and moviegoers had something special to look forward to every evening, including a screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a surprise introduction by Harrison Ford. And speaking of Ford, one of our proudest moments of the week was when he flew EAA’s 2 millionth Young Eagle, a staggering milestone in an outreach program that began nearly 25 years ago.

Visitors attended more than 1,000 forums and workshops in droves, and kept a record number of exhibitors busy all week. EAA announced a major addition to our Accessible Safety STC, and to celebrate our shared victory in the long-running struggle for third-class medical reform.

Of course, the real stars of AirVenture are volunteers. We have a saying about volunteers at EAA headquarters: they could do it without us before we could do it without them. We’re extraordinarily lucky to have more than 6,000 people in our extended family who do anything and everything to make it all happen, year after year. “Those folks on an annual basis contribute about 240,000 labor hours,” Pelton said. If you had fun this past week, thank a volunteer!

Thanks for coming — or coming back — to your convention. See you next year, July 24 through July 30, for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017!

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