From The South Ramp --Hank Bruckner:
Hana is always one of the highlights of the flying year in Hawai'i. We usually try to arrive on the preceding Friday, and then leave on Sunday. That gives us time to host the fly-in and sightsee, including a ritual trip to Kipahulu to pay our respects to Charles Lindbergh. The drive is spectacular, and I find it spiritually soothing to reflect at his gravesite in such a serene and beautiful setting. Hana provides a chance to share all that beauty with good friends, and I highly recommend you all make an effort to get there, especially for the next fly-in. The trip there is beautiful, regardless which island you come from, and the destination is so very worth the effort.
It isn’t only the aviation, of course. It’s the people—many that we only see there, and those good friends from here that we meet there and share the experience with. Bud and Gladys deserve special mention, and probably, an award. Every year, their RV becomes an oasis and support base for seemingly countless folks who stop by to eat and drink and park their stuff. It’s a great place to gather after the airshow and socialize (prior to going to Parnell’s) and Bud and Gladys always are the consummate hosts. Thanks, guys, Oshkosh just wouldn’t be the same without you! Oshkosh was replete with fortunate, chance encounters, such as running into Ed Lu (the astronaut, for you new folks) walking down the road past Bud and Gladys’ RV, or Ute Hoelscher at the daily air show. And, of course, Oshkosh is a celebration of aviation.
This year, the theme was aviation firsts, and special attention was given to those who had participated in any number of firsts: first through the sound barrier, first to reach Mach 2, first to fly around the world unrefueled, first around the world in a balloon, first African-American fighter group, first female space shuttle commander…
Some 750,000 folks visited—down considerably from previous years
(more on that later) and about 10,000 aircraft flew in (more on that later,
too), including over 2,400 show planes:
AirVenture 2001 saw a repeat of the CASPA Challenge, wherein a select group of five airshow pilots “compete” for a trophy. The “judges” are picked from the audience and are therefore non-professional and untrained, so the wow-factor gets heavy play and it becomes a bit of a beauty contest and certainly not an aerobatic competition. Having said that, it was streamlined this year to eliminate the compulsory maneuvers round and went right into the 4-minute Freestyle and then the championships. During the Freestyle, each competitor had four minutes to put on a show that tended to be fast and furious. That kept the pace of the airshow high, which certainly adds to the entertainment value. Unfortunately, for the championship round, EAA continues to have two competitors fly at the same time, making it impossible to enjoy, or even watch, both. Obviously, neither can the “judges”. Now here’s the problem I have with the whole concept. These aren’t true aerobatic competitions with trained judges and an aerobatic box with a floor. In sanctioned competitions, even the unlimiteds have a floor (only 328’, but that is still way above a Level III or IV waiver). It boils down to a group of professional airshow pilots trying to outdo each other, with no floor except actual ground level, and the primary judging criterion being how much noise the pilot’s respective fans make to influence the judges. So, Gene Soucy will never win, regardless of how well he flies (and he does fly well), because he just isn’t snazzy enough. Sean Tucker wins a lot, and deservedly, because he is still the most dynamic airshow performer out there. And that’s the problem. People try to outdo him, and that can get dangerous. A couple of years ago, we watched one young hotshot—who was very good—almost eat dirt and his instrument panel when he got into an accelerated stall pulling too hard to avoid the ground on a too-low recovery. He recovered just in time and hopefully learned a lesson. You can only tie the record for low flying.
Notwithstanding all the above, the aerobatic flying was absolutely superb. I took some 2 ½ hours of video (which I’ll edit down) so those of you who didn’t make it can get an idea of the airmanship that was displayed. Sean Tucker was in his new Oracle livery—RED. Not just red, RED. It just doesn’t get any redder. Looks good, too. He’s kept his routine fresh with new maneuvers and is still on top. This year, I finally got to hold the pole for his ribbon cutting, (along with Pete and Jan and Gert), and that’s an amazing experience. When he comes by, thirty feet away from you, inverted or in knife-edge flight at some 200 knots, ten feet off the ground, you see, hear, feel, and even taste it (that’s probably the Corvus oil).
Mike Goulian, recently moving to a CAP-232 from an Extra 300, was doing some of the most excellent flying I’ve ever witnessed, showing the capabilities of his new mount to tremendous advantage. Kirby Chambliss and Matt Chapman and, of course, Patty Wagstaff did their fine acts as well. The CAP-232 is the current world-beater. Apparently, you either fly that or a Sukhoi at the Worlds, although the Zivko Edge 540 is beginning to make its mark there as well. Extras are almost also-rans! Pinnacles are sharp, however, and it’s tough to stay there long. Speaking of Sukhois, Nikolai Timofeev, a former World Champion, put on daily exhibitions in his Su-26 that were awe-inspiring lessons in absolute control mastery. He deserves every trophy he’s ever won. What a privilege to watch!
One of the most entertaining acts this year was the Aeroshell Team and their four thundering T-6s. They do some beautiful, noisy, and tight formation flying, filling the sky with swirls of smoke and sound. Sadly, Delmar Benjamin has decided to retire the GB replica he’s been flying for many years and this year’s AirVenture was its last. It’s going to the Smithsonian, to be seen, but not heard. I’ll miss his perfect slow rolls and knife-edge climb.
Oshkosh serves as a showcase for a huge variety of aircraft. This year, they ranged from a 1927 Avro and the Vimy replica to the B-1. At practically any time of day, you can look up and see some marvelous piece of history or perhaps the future winging its way past the multitudes. One such treasure was the only flying Boeing 301. A cousin to the B-17, it was the first pressurized airliner and flew in the late ‘30s. This example is finished in gleaming, polished aluminum and is absolutely breathtaking. The replica Vickers Vimy bomber made it this year, in spite of BMW’s attempted legal hurdles. The original made the London-Sydney race in 1929 and some other notable flights, and this replica has replicated them. Powered by BMW engines, the company was afraid of liability flying in the U.S. and tried to ground the airplane in the courts. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful and the huge collection of wood, fabric, struts and wires graced us with its ungainly but stately flying. It is a real drag queen, in an aerodynamic sense, of course, and very challenging to fly, with its tremendous adverse yaw and woefully insufficient rudders, virtually nil forward visibility, and minimal crew protection from noise or the elements. These guys flew it thousands of miles. Cool.
Oshkosh always draws a wonderful collection of prominent speakers to its forums and evening programs, covering virtually every facet of aviation. I always enjoy Burt Rutan share the contents of his huge mind. He truly is one of the greats. We also got to listen to Bud Anderson and Chuck Yeager chat and reminisce. Living history. Scott Crossfield, Eileen Collins, Charlie Precourt, Bertrand Piccard, Hoot Gibson are just a few of the wonderful many who shared their experiences. Again, cool.
At Oshkosh, the plusses greatly outweigh the minuses, but some of the latter are disturbing. There were definitely fewer people this year than in the past, and weather wasn’t a major issue. Although that made it more pleasant for those that attended, the reason(s) behind the drop should be explored. I’m sure the EAA managers are kicking this around, too, since fewer people means less money. Here’s my take, for what it’s worth: in an attempt to get bigger and better and richer, AirVenture has also gotten too expensive, too impersonal, and too far from its roots. The fact that only a quarter of the show aircraft were homebuilts was surprising to me. I firmly believe that some shrinkage would be a good thing. Fewer people meant less crowding, easier access, and easier viewing all around, and that is just fine with me. However, AirVenture should find its natural level and not be sized by driving folks away. Make things too expensive and people will stay away in droves.
Food is a case in point. There are many food outlets. This year, we had our obligatory “brats” (bratwurst, aka big hot dog). Two brats, one small bottle of water = $10! Hamburgers were worse.
The Fly Market—John O’Toole’s favorite hang out—was smaller than I ever remember it being before, with considerably less variety. Apparently, the emphasis has been in getting vendors/exhibitors to pay the bigger bucks for space in the large exhibit halls, and this has come at the expense of the typical small vendor who can’t afford the inside spaces, and the variety of goods was definitely down from previous years. Whose loss? Everybody’s.
This year, there were several Oshkosh-related fatal accidents—people dying en route to or approaching Oshkosh—and one landing accident that only wrecked an airplane but didn’t kill anyone, as well as many instances of poor flying and poor judgment that could have led to disaster were it not for skilled controllers and luck. The Oshkosh NOTAM that details the arrival procedures is published way in advance and is readily available to all who want it, yet many seemed oblivious and put others at risk in the process by either not knowing the procedures or just not following them. They may even end up causing more restrictive rules for everyone. And, they may have contributed to at least two deaths. I hope this year’s record was an anomaly and not symptomatic of a greater malaise brought about by under-trained pilots, unthinking pilots, and pilots who just don’t fly enough to be safe. (If you want to read a real eye-opener on the subject, get on line with AVWEB and read Rick Durden’s article, “Yes, Pogo, the Enemy Is Us.”) It’s “Must Reading”, especially if you ever plan to fly to Oshkosh. So much for the down side
Of course, the Bottom Line is still this: Oshkosh (AirVenture, if you must) is still the best aviation event in the world. And, Parnell’s still has the best ribs and waitresses around. See you there next year!
Where We’re At
Closing Your Flight Plan
AGL vs MSL
Be careful out there.
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