The first gathering started in 1953 as a small part of the Milwaukee Air Pageant. That original EAA fly-in at Wright-Curtiss Field was attended by a handful of aircraft, mostly homebuilt and modified aircraft and fewer than 150 people registered as visitors. The Milwaukee Air Pageant faded away but the EAA fly-in grew quickly and by the late 1950’s had outgrown the Milwaukee airport and in 1959 the event moved to Rockford, Illinois where it would stay for the next decade.
By 1969 the EAA Fly-in had now outgrown the Rockford facility and it was then that aviation legend Steve Wittman, who had been an EAA member since 1953, suggested the airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It had acres of ground and two runways that didn’t intersect so would allow more traffic. There was no infrastructure, but the EAA volunteers stepped forward and within six months the field was ready for its next fly-in….the rest as they say is history.
Airventure was born and this year saw over 10 000 aircraft attend, even overflowing to surrounding airfields in east-central Wisconsin. Over 500 000 visitors walked through the gates, 790 commercial exhibitors, 917 media and 2081 registered international visitors from 69 nations made their presence known this year.
Of the over 10 000 aircraft that flew in 2649 of them were showplanes this included 997 homebuilt aircraft, 1050 vintage planes, 303 warbirds, 122 ultralights and light-sport aircraft, 91 seaplanes, 40 rotorcraft, 38 aerobatic aircraft and 8 hot-air balloons.
A few highlights this year included NASA’s Martin General Dynamics WB-57F high altitude aircraft. Based at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, the WB-57F operates in NASA’s High Altitude Research Program. The aircraft provides unique, high-altitude (up to 70,000 feet MSL) airborne platforms to United States government agencies and other customers for scientific research, advanced technology development, and testing around the world. The WB-57F aircraft are descendants of the B-57B – a license-built version of the English Electric Canberra – that were operated by the Air Force and Air National Guard from the early 1950s-1970s, and RB-57D aircraft operated by the Air Force from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s.
“The WB-57 shows the brilliance and longevity of the innovation that came from the early jet era,” said Jack Pelton, EAA chairman of the board. “The addition of this aircraft on our main plaza again shows that you’ll discover a collection of aircraft each year at Oshkosh that you’ll see together nowhere else in the world.”
The current variant is derived from the Martin/General Dynamics RB-57 Canberra, a highly specialized strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed by General Dynamics in the 1960s from the Martin B-57 Canberra tactical bomber. The Air Force bought 21 WB-57F aircraft, which were built by General Dynamics from existing B-57Bs and RB-57Ds. The airplanes’ ability to reach altitudes over 65,000 feet, carry payloads in excess of 4,000 lbs, and its triple spar wings made it a very capable high-altitude platform. Missions included everything from weather reconnaissance for Apollo space launches to sampling radiation in nuclear weapon test plumes. The aircraft had been in storage for over 40 years and made its first flight in 41 years in the summer of 2013, setting a record for the longest an aircraft had sat in the Bone Yard before returning to flying status. Since 2000, the unique performance capabilities of the WB-57F aircraft and increasing costs associated with the ER-2 program have resulted in NASA allowing multiple customers to use the WB-57Fs for atmospheric and satellite sensor research.
Another military first this year was the performance by the Marine Corps Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor team. The aircraft has both VTOL and STOL capability. It is designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft. The United States Marine Corps began crew training for the Osprey in 2000, and fielded it in 2007; it is supplementing and will eventually replace their Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knights. The Osprey’s other operator, the U.S. Air Force, fielded their version of the tiltrotor in 2009. Since entering service with the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force, the Osprey has been deployed in both combat and rescue operations over Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Libya.
The highlight of the entire week must have been, without a doubt, The US Air Force’s display team, The Thunderbirds. Led by Lt. Col. Greg Moseley, an F-22 Raptor pilot from Texas they arrived in style the day before their first performance tearing up the sky for 45 minutes as they marked out references, display lines and their own show centre. Their display is nothing short of impressive and the F-16 makes everything happen really fast. Their sneak passes are low and loud and always catch you off guard resulting in screams of excitement from the crowd line. The display is narrated from start to finish by Thunderbird 8, Maj. Michael Fisher and as he states, the display is designed to not only show off the skills learned by USAF pilots but to showcase the F-16. With a 30 000 ft per minute rate of climb and 29 100 pounds of thrust the F-16 makes for an awesome display. Their Calypso and Reflection passes provide for excellent photo opportunities but their head on passes are near to impossible to capture as the closure speed is too fast to try and capture both aircraft in a single frame, but it was fun trying…
After their display, they naturally come to meet their fans and sign autographs. Thunderbird 3 Maj. Caroline Jensen, the only female pilot in the team was a huge hit with the crowd.
Aerobatic displays abounded as all the big names took to the air, David Martin, Patty Wagstaff, Rob Holland, Sean Tucker, Kirby Chambliss and Matt Chapman to name but a few. However, the routine of Melissa Pemberton and Skip Stewart called “Tinstix of Dynamite” topped any aerobatic duo display I have seen. Pyrotechnics, two massive walls of fire and some incredibly tight flying provided a heart stopping performance which ended with Melissa and Skip in a low level formation knife edge pass along a wall of fire.
Formation aerobatics by the Aerostars, The Aeroshell Team, The Geico Skytypers, The Trojan Horsemen and a pretty unique idea of taking four top aerobatic names and putting them together with their own aircraft in a 4 ship display that was truly impressive.
A few companies also showcased their products, such as Honda, flying their new Hondajet, Cirrus brought out their Cirrusjet and Sonex and Beech each strutting their aircraft.
A visit to Oshkosh by a Gee Bee Q.E.D R-6 replica was incredible. Only one example of this huge aircraft was ever built, designed for distance racing by the Granville Brothers, it now stands in a Mexican museum. Jim Moss spent ten years building this replica, but sadly passed away just as the taxiing tests had started. He never saw it fly. In his honour, his team continued the aircraft to completion. The only difference between this one and the original is a modern cockpit, better braking system and would you believe an even more powerful engine. The original was equipped with a 675 hp Pratt & Whitney Hornet. Moss’ replica sports a P&W R-1820 capable of producing a staggering 1420 hp.
The Warbirds segment each day was always something to look forward to as you never knew what they were going to throw at you. During one of the days I recall counting 72 warbirds in the air at once. T-34’s, T-28’s, T-6’s, P51’s, Yak 52’s, P40’s to name but a few formed massive formations as they crossed each other overhead while others performed low level flypasts. You literally didn’t know which direction to turn and what to photograph. The Vietnam War day provided us with 4 x T-33 Shooting Stars, an A-4 Skyhawk , Two UH-1 Hueys and a Bell HueyCobra in the mix, along with BirdDogs, a C337, A1 Skyraiders and more than I can remember.
A fantastic story came out of one the aircraft and its participant. During the Vietnam segment a de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou (C-7) took to air and on board was Bob Schrader, a Vietnam vet who had served as the crew chief on that very airframe during the war. He has a special bond with the aircraft and shows you the patched up bullet holes in the fuselage as you step aboard the static display.
Jet Warbirds day saw amongst others a Mig 17, a Mig 15, an F-86 Sabre, a Super Pinto and the A4 SkyHawk in the air at once.
Wildcats, Grumman Avengers, a Mitsubishi Zero (the real McCoy, not the T-6 conversion), an F-4 Corsair, B17’s, B-25’s and even a B-24 Liberator took to the air.
It’s this for me that makes Airventure so unbelievable. The aircraft that I have only seen in pictures and museums have come to life and are flying right before my eyes and my lens.
Another big story at Airventure this year was the One Week Wonder. The challenge was to build a Zenith CH 750 Cruzer from scratch in 7 days. Around 2500 EAA members all had a hand at different times on different days to build the aircraft and on Tuesday the 5th August, once cleared by the FAA, she flew. Sebastien Heintz, Zenith president, spent most of his time during the convention in the One Week Wonder workshop and decided to stay in Oshkosh a little longer to witness the occasion.
“It came out very nicely, didn’t it?” he said. “The focus of the week was to get it done, but this is a very nice airplane.” Heintz spent most of Monday working with Jeff Skiles on transition training.
“The flight was great,” Skiles said. “The Zenith Cruzer has a lot of performance, and lifts off very fast. Like a rocket ship, really.” It was Skiles first maiden flight of a new aircraft, and on Monday he was thoroughly checked out in another Cruzer as well as a 750 STOL.
Skiles added that he was pleased to take advantage of the EAA Flight Advisor program. “I did some transition training with Zenith, and that was very valuable, but this morning it was very helpful for the EAA Flight Advisor to sort of walk me through things and let me know what to expect.”
“It was built in a week, and it is a basic airplane, but it also has a state of the art engine (Rotax 912 iS) and a touch-screen Dynon panel,” Heintz added. “Nobody builds a plane alone. There are resources out there like EAA, and everyone’s goal is to make building an airplane more common.”
I paid a visit to the EAA Museum and have to admit it was a fantastic experience, the displays are magnificently laid out and I brushed shoulders with Dick Rutan as he was about to address a small gathering of people on his experiences as the commander of Voyager. Voyager’s flight was the first-ever, non-stop, unrefuelled flight around the world. It took place between December 14 and December 23, 1986.
This milestone flight took 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds. The absolute world distance records set during that flight remain unchallenged today. To this day, no aircraft has flown more air miles than the Voyager’s 26,358 statute miles. Not even close. (The FAI accredited distance at 40,212 km)
Apart from the airshow and static displays, were the many forums, lectures and workshops that you could attend from listening to ex SR-71 Blackbird pilots to welding lessons for the home aircraft builder.
For the first time in a while, there was a fatal accident at this year’s event. The accident did not occur during a display, although the pilot and the aircraft had displayed the day before. The aircraft was a custom built Breezy. Unfortunately the male pilot, James Oeffinger of Versailles, Kentucky died from his injuries that afternoon. The female passenger – Jennifer Woloszyk of Elmhurst, Illinois remained in serious condition by the end of the event.
There was also a STOL competition held after the day’s airshow where pilots were taking off and landing inside of 60 feet.
I went over with Neil Bowden’s Air Adventure group, Neil has an awesome campsite setup at Camp Scholler, which is part of Wittman Airport. The facilities are great, Neil’s team go out of their way to make it not feel like camping. Washing is done for you; cooking and cleaning are provided by Neils team. Even the live entertainment in the evenings draws the American campers to our site. The evenings are great, very social as the South Africans sit around, share stories from the day over a cold Bud and a barbeque.
For me, this is definitely the way to do Oshkosh, you right there in the action, you don’t have to worry about catching busses, driving long trips to hotels and you can be in the grounds at dawn and leave whenever you want to. The grounds are huge and whilst there are buses and trams to take you around the airfield I chose to walk everywhere. I walked a total of 175km over the ten day trip. 120km of that was at Oshkosh alone.
Oshkosh 2015 will be held from the 20-26th of July next year. To book contact Neil Bowden via www.airadventure.co.za or 084-OSHKOSH.