Monday, July 25, 2011

An AirVenture Extravaganza

An AirVenture Extravaganza: "

This year’s AirVenture is certainly one of the biggest and best, with numerous highlights across a broad band of aviation—from the 100th anniversary of naval aviation to the latest developments in electric powered, green flight.

The U.S. Navy is celebrating in force with a number of its modern aircraft painted in historic schemes, while collectors and warbird enthusiasts are joining in with priceless vintage naval aircraft in period colors.

The show is paying tribute to two of the most inspirational aviation legends of modern times: Bob Hoover, whose famous aerobatic displays showed what many thought was impossible, and Burt Rutan, who has taken the homebuilding movement from the drawing board to the record books with the globe-circling Voyager and his all-composite SpaceShip2 for space travel!

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A Zeppelin plies America’s skies for the first time in 75 years as a new version gives rides from Pioneer Airfield. Fifi, the world’s only flying B-29 Superfortress, is scheduled to take part in this year’s display. Boeing will bring its brand-new 787 Dreamliner on Friday, marking the first public airshow appearance of the long-delayed but soon-to-enter service airliner.

Electric-powered aircraft are very much in evidence, having made great strides in the last couple of years. It is evident that they are on the verge of becoming practical within the next five years or so, with new battery and controller technologies that will allow longer endurance at higher speed, and much faster recharging.

Flying cars are also capturing the imagination, and appear to be becoming practical. The latest breed includes the Terrafugia, with its fold-out wings, and the dune-buggy-like Maverick, which carries a parasail in its roof and is aimed for use in rugged terrain, flying into small spaces beneath a ram-air wing similar to those used in powered parachuting. Both have been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation for road use.

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There is a Chinese pavilion for the first time, marking that country’s easing of airspace restrictions and a pent-up demand there for general aviation. Chinese companies now own Epic, Cirrus, Superior Air Parts, Brantly Helicopter, and Continental Engines. They also build the Skycatcher for Cessna plus small Sikorsky helicopters under license, and are in discussions to build business jets with Hawker Beechcraft, Cessna, and Embraer.

Light sport aircraft continue to develop, with glass cockpits that now feature synthetic vision and angle-of-attack based stall warning, as on the new Remos NXT, while some LSA companies, such as Flight Design, are moving into the standard category world, with the four-seat C4 making its debut here in mockup form.

Larger companies are bringing ever-larger displays with huge tents and pavilions, and Rockwell Collins, returning after a decade’s absence, is sponsoring a whole display hangar not to mention the entire airshow. “A few years ago you were one of the Big Boys if you had a 20x40 ft. tent,” reminisced EAA communications chief Dick Knapinski.

But one mustn’t forget where the Experimental Aviation Association started. There are now more than 32,000 homebuilt aircraft in the U.S. alone, representing more than 15% of the U.S. single-engined, piston-powered fleet. And as usual, they flock in the thousands to the annual pilgrimage that many still fondly call “Oshkosh.”


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