Back from Oshkosh

From The South Ramp --Hank Bruckner:

September 1998

--Hank Bruckner

Well, I guess it had to happen eventually. After all these years, we finally had to cancel the Hana Fly-In for weather. Of course, the fact that the weather was nearly perfect didn't help any. We loaded up the Seneca to head out on Friday. There were widespread rain showers, and no reports out of Hana at all, so we filed IFR to Kahului, aiming to cancel and proceed VFR down the north shore of Maui. Kahului was VFR, but the north shore was closed out. So, we tried the southern route, around the east end. Almost worked, too. Almost. We got as far a Kailio Point, about 12 miles out, only to run into heavy showers again. A brief sucker hole beckoned, tantalizing with a view of Kipahulu under the muck. Helicopter pilots were reporting that they hadn't been able to get into Hana all day, and we turned around, just in time to see the sucker hole close up completely. So, IFR back to Honolulu, planning to try again Saturday. Saturday morning, FSS indicated a second shower band was evident on the satellite photo, just off shore, poised to dump on us as badly as Friday's had. Having seen the latter first hand, I decided the prudent thing for all concerned was to cancel. Naturally, the second shower band stayed off shore and dissipated, leaving the route to Hana wide open. Oh well. At least, we have next year's trophies (I'll need to change the date) ready. See you at Port Allen for the Poor Man's Fly-In (probably needs a new name--any suggestions?) on the 19th.

Although summer is about done, the memories of Oshkosh continue to shimmer in my mind. This year marks the greatest attendance figures (855,000), most showplanes (2,743) and near record total aircraft (about 12,000). This also marks the first year the brand-name title of "AirVenture" was used instead of "Oshkosh". Seems the marketing division has taken an increased role in the overall scheme of things. Prices are up, you now have to pay $5 for a schedule, even if you just bought a week-long admission band, and there is more of a mercenary air to the place. Moreover, the traditional round white-on-blue Oshkosh pins and patches have yielded to a new AirVenture design that is rectangular, white, and de-emphasizes the year. Naturally, all the old '93 patches and pins were snatched up by folks, like Gladys, who converted them to '98 patches and pins. In my pique, I fired off a letter to Tom Poberezny expressing my dismay and offering an alternative design that would incorporate the new trade-marked AirVenture and still carry on the blue background and prominent year on a round pin or patch. Surprisingly, I received an answer from Tom, within a week, promising to look into the issue. Now that I got all that off my chest, so much for the down side.

The up side, which still far outweighs the negative, is, well, people and airplanes and flying and merchandise and food and people (again), and, 'case I forgot, airplanes. For us, Oshkosh is largely about people. Oshkosh provides the venue to be reunited with good friends who have moved away from Hawai'i, renew friendships with people we've met there, and meet new friends whose bond is this thing we call aviation. Bud and Gladys were there, of course, providing their gracious brand of hospitality (and cool shade!). Carol (Operations Inspector, no less) and Richard (master engineer and inventor) made it for the weekend, although our time together seemed altogether too short. Smitty and Roberta stopped by the RV (been a while!), the Minen's shared airshow viewing with us, and we saw several more of you wandering around like the proverbial children-in-the-candy-store. We didn't get to see Ed Lu and his new (to him) RV-4. I guess it's easy to miss someone among several hundred thousand folks. Our good friend Jack Atkins, from Gun Barrel City, Texas, was there in his RV-6A again, and, again, generously provided several of us with some unforgettable flight time (that RV-6A handles like dream!) And, of course, there's Ellen, from Parnell's. (For those who don't know, Parnell's is a tavern with possibly the best baby-back ribs on Earth.) She always treats the Hawai'i contingent especially well--brought us her own home-baked apple pies, as an example--and as a result, Linda and I ate there four of the five nights we were there! This year, Jack arranged to take her flying in his RV-6, and to characterize her reaction as excited would be an understatement. Ellen is one of those rare people that just make you feel good to be around, and Parnell's has become one of the highlights of our annual pilgrimage.

Well, let's talk airplanes a little. Plenty to choose from. One highlight was the little Leopard personal jet from Great Britain. Powered by two small Williams fans and smaller than a C-172, but holding the same four people, this one is a class ride! Last year's hit, the RV-8 was there with a nosewheel (RV-8A). The Legend, growling with its large-bore V-8 and P-51-like belly scoop last year, was sporting a turbine engine this year, as was a P-51 look-alike. Wandering around the Warbird ramp, I counted 16 real P-51s parked (more were up flying), four F-4U (and/or FGD-1) Corsairs, two Spitfires (still my personal favorite), three P-40s, a P-47, several B-25s, an A-26 Invader, an extremely rare B-26 Marauder, the huge, ungainly Shackleford, a dozen or so T-28 Trojans and, lest I forget, over 60 T-6/SNJs! Not to mention all the T-34s, Vibrators, a few Skyraiders and a growing number of O-1/L-19s and O-2s from the Vietnam era. And, there were Catalinas, C-1s, a P-2, CODs, a couple of AN-2s, several YAKs and so many more. There's a whole lot of history out there--living, pulsing, growling, purring, or just silently evoking amid each unique aura. As I walk, it swirls around me, enveloping my mind and filling me with awe. Yeah, they're just metal and plexiglas and paint. But each one is filled with the fear and sweat and terror and exhilaration and joy of the ones who flew it and fixed it. Sit in the cockpit of a B-25, gaze along the slender lines of a Spitfire...you can feel the presence. Then, there were the jets--Czech jets, Russian jets, Chinese jets, Spanish jets, Yugoslavian jets, British jets, and American jets. Tragically, a CASA Saeta twin-jet trainer crashed onto a residential street in Oshkosh, just shy of the airport, killing the passenger. This was the first such fatality at Oshkosh. Production aircraft were well represented, with Piper, Cessna, Raytheon (Beech), Mooney, Aviat, Cirrus all displaying their latest models (that Seneca V looks and smells even better up close!). You can still get one heck of an airplane for a half-million... All the major (and most of the less major) kit manufacturers had their present and future designs. I couldn't begin to cover the incredible variety available to the homebuilder--from 20 to 350 knots, wood and fabric to carbon fiber and kevlar. With over 2,700 show planes, not including the manufacturer's displays, there was a lot to look at, visually caress, and otherwise behold. A major attraction has always been the Classic and Antique parking area, and this year's STAs, PT-22s, Tiger Moths, Staggerwings, Mailwings, Wacos, Stearmans (Stearmen?), C-195s did not disappoint.

The flying, of course, was superb. Each day, the airshow opens with the Liberty Parachute Team (mostly older folks, by the way) and the National Anthem. The Liberty guys deploy Old Glory, accompanied by other flags, such as the POW symbol. As they descend, streaming smoke, flags waving proudly, they are circled by someone like Bob Wagner in his 1929 Waco, and it's hard not to feel the patriotism welling inside. Each day, and especially on the weekend, the warbirds put on some really emotive flying, complete with pyrotechnics. It's hard to describe the sound of Merlin Music, Allison Aria, Wright Symphony and Pratt & Whitney Rhumba as the great formations and multiple passes filled the skies. And then, it's Airshow Time! This year saw a greater emphasis on high-performance aircraft like the Extra 300 and SU-29, especially since Gene Littlefield and his big old round-engined, smoke-belching biplane retired. Bob Younkin again demonstrated what can be done with a Beech 18 in the right hands. The French Connection had to omit their signature mirror image, canopy-to-canopy 360-degree turn to avoid no fly areas east of the show line, but their close formation snap-roll was a real heart-stopper and their lyrical routine retains its smooth majesty. This year, two of the most dynamic airshow performers--Sean D. Tucker (Challenger Special Pitts) and Patty Wagstaff (Extra 300)--did a magnificent dueling duet, as well as their own solo routines. They, too, just seem to get better and better every year. Gene Soucy (Extra 300) and Bob Davis (Sukhoi) were excellent, and I always enjoy watching the mastery of Wayne Handley (Raven). Wayne is probably the father (grandfather?) of the gyroscopic maneuver, and taught the likes of Sean D. Tucker how to make an airplane do seemingly impossible things. Speaking of elder statesmen, Bob Hoover still has the touch, putting his Shrike Commander through his famous Energy Management routine flawlessly. The Northern Lights (Extra 300s) has become a premier airshow act, back to four aircraft following #4's training accident earlier this year. Delmar Benjamin continues to delight crowds with his GB, as does Bill Beardsley in the Bud Lite BD-5J Microjet. Oscar Boesch flew an elegant, swirling glider routine, a reminder that quietly turning potential energy into kinetic energy can be a thing of beauty. (If you are interested, I have about 40 minutes of air show highlights on tape).

Oshkosh is also a place to hear the famous, gifted, clever, knowledgeable, and funny speak on subjects ranging from how to bend sheet metal to what it's like to fly hypersonic test aircraft, and just about everything in between. This year, I elected to spend more time wandering around flying machines and didn't attend any of the seminars. Too many things to do and too little time...There's always next year.

Interestingly, EAA's founder, Paul Poberezny, has begun a new, grass-roots, back-to-basics organization, the Sport Aviation Association (SAA). This was an idea of his that has been germinating for years, and he signed up quite a few new members (including us) at the Convention. If anyone is interested, an application form can be found elsewhere in this issue. SAA has a good magazine and is not an alternative to EAA; rather, it's a re-focusing on aviation's roots.

So, there it is. Oshkosh, now known as AirVenture, is still the foremost, largest, most exciting, and best-run aviation event there is. Hope to see you there next year. (Check out my web page for Oshkosh photos at www.flyhawaii.com).

Meanwhile, back on the ranch...Flight 2000, the FAA program to equip aircraft with some neat stuff to demonstrate the Free Flight concept has run into funding problems. The good news is that it has been recognized as a legitimate Program; the bad news is that it got less than 10 per cent of the funding requested. Look for a drastic redesign. Don't be surprised if Hawai'i is dropped as a test site entirely. A current draft proposal does just that. Maybe you should go ahead and get that GPS on your own.

You may recall a General Aviation Issues Paper that GACH sent to the state Airports Division several months ago. We got an interim response, and nothing further, so I met with Mr Morris Tamanaha, the state GA Officer to get an update. There has actually been some progress in some areas--Kapalua, Hana, and Waimea will all get an Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS), in addition to the more sophisticated (and expensive) ASOS that are now operating at Lihue, Hilo, Kona, Kahului, and Honolulu. Of course, these systems are only marginally useful to pilots since we cannot access the data over the radio. I again put in a pitch for an ASOS/AWOS at Lanai, which often has marginal weather. Given that Lanai is a public airport, unlike restricted Kapalua, I'd rather see state money spent where more pilots can benefit. I updated him on the current, unacceptable situation at OGG with Century Aviation. We covered a wide variety of topics, including GA access and treatment at Kona, Hilo, Kahului, and Lihue. I again stressed our position on Kalaeloa (Barbers Point)--that reasonable rates to entice operators out there is the only acceptable way to get GA to move. Perhaps the most positive thing to come out of our session was a commitment to host area pilot meetings at Kona, Hilo, Kahului, Honolulu, and Kaua'i. These meetings would be sponsored by GACH, in conjunction with existing pilot groups, such as the EAA chapters at Hilo, Kona, and Kahului, and the State, and serve to air local issues as well as the broader state-wide and national ones. Morris Tamanaha appears willing to listen and help where he can. Obviously, there's a long, winding stretch of road between hearing gripes and actually doing something about them, but it's still a start. If you are reading this but are not a member--join! There is strength in numbers. Some other things of note: The Congress has again rejected Administration attempts to impose user fees for aviation services. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved record FAA budgets for 1999, rejecting the administration's proposal to split the FAA in two by creating a new performance-based organization (PBO) to handle ATC. Both the House and Senate bills prohibit the FAA from planning or implementing any new user fees, require an independent assessment of the FAA's cost-accounting system, and establishes a process that should make it more difficult to close GA airports. If you ever wondered whether AOPA and EAA are worth your bucks...

Here's an opportunity to have fun, test yourself and your equipment, and maybe win some neat stuff. The Great Hawaiian Air Race will be held the weekend of February 13-14, 1999, and will be open to anyone who wants to enter. You can enter one or both of two races--a handicapped speed race, in which you race against yourself and see by how much you can exceed your handicapped speed; and a proficiency race in which you attempt to come in exactly when you said you would. You don't need a fast airplane to win (a C-150 has the same chance as an Aerostar). You do need some skill and cunning, and there will be some veteran racers here to impart some of theirs. The race is the brain-child of our Greg Marshall, who has campaigned a Piper Lance very successfully on the Mainland, and just might inject a little excitement into the aviation community here. Did I mention $5,000 in cash and prizes? For more information, contact Air Race Central at (808) 373-1889 or e-mail at racepilotgreg@compuserve.com. Or contact me at acrobat@pixi.com, or (808) 836-1031.

The World Aerobatic Championships just ended. The U.S. did fairly well this year. Matt Chapman and Kirby Chambliss came in 4th and 5th overall, with Mike Goulian and Diane Hakala also in the top 10 (9th and 10th). The men took the Silver in the team standings (behind France) and the women came home with the Bronze (behind Russia, and France). The overall World Champion is Patrick Paris (from, where else? France), and Nikolai Timofeev of Russia came in second. Third overall again went to Svetlana Kapanina, also of Russia. Speaking of aerobatics and Russia, Mark Hunsaker's YAK-52 has arrived. Derived from a WWII trainer design (YAK-18), it is a solid, powerful and great-sounding airplane, powered by the same M-14 360 HP Russian radial that drives the Sukhois and the rest of the YAK aerobatic family. It is licensed Experimental Exhibition Category by the FAA, and sports a desert camouflage color scheme (should show up well against our blue skies and waters). A couple of other new additions to the Hawaiian skies are HCC's Katanas. These belong to the government-sponsored flight school.

Wings Weekend was an unqualified success, with about 100 participants. Mahalo to the FSDO Safety Program Managers, Scott Allen and Jim Hein, and, of course, all of you who participated. Unfortunately, the folks who would most benefit are the ones that don't participate in the Safety Program. You all know who you are.

One year ago this month (September 20, 1997), Jim Kincaid died doing what he loved—flying his Pitts. Not a day goes by that something he did or said doesn't fly around my mind. Blue Skies, my friend.

Be careful out there.

In Memoriam

One of the mainstays of aviation in Hawai'i over the past half-century recently embarked on that last journey. Bob Whittinghill, long the owner/manager of Polynesian Airways (Poly Air) passed away in late August after a long illness. Bob was a fixture in our aviation fabric, hanging on tenaciously in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Bob wasn't easily intimidated by government or other officials and stood up for what he believed to be right. He gave a lot and also suffered a lot, but remained active to the end. Bob had been fixing airplanes and helping folks here for a long, long time, and many of you who have been flying in Hawai'i for a while have some fond memories and great stories about the many times he bailed you out of a mechanical quagmire or just plain fixed it for you. To quote Nick Palumbo, Bob was "a critical link in the chain of my life, and for his presence, skill, and willingness to help, I am eternally grateful." Rest in peace, Bob. Blue Skies.

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