August 01, 2005


The EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) hosts the world's largest airshow in Oshkosh, WI, every year. More planes are present at this show than any other. People fly out in their own planes from all over the world and camp under the wing on the field, or stay in dorms etc. in the nearby area for the week, just to enjoy the great harmonic convergence of flying enthusiasts.

I made it out (pic) in a Beech-18, also known as the C-45, a WWII "Warbird" with a bunch WWII buffs from my area. We had a great time and then I peeled off to Chicago for a consulting gig and a family reunion, before heading back to Oshkosh for the ride home. The Twinbeech is a fun old plane. It's got twin supercharged nine cylinder radial engines, pumping out 440hp each, and is great fun to use for straffing run over farmer's fields in the Midwest and it's fun to barrel roll too.

The Show: There is a Seaport, an Ultralight field (small flying craft that you can operate w/o a license), and literally the busiest airport in the world. They handle more traffic in that week than any other airport on the planet. Flying into Oshkosh is an adventure in itself. Unlike most airport approaches, Oshkosh is so busy that if pilots talked on the radio the frequency would be overwhelmed with chatter. Instead you visually self-sequence yourself in between planes and the controller comes on and says "Yellow Cessna rock your wings (you rock your wings but don't transmit back). Yellow Cessna follow the blue twin on the "Ripon" approach (or whichever) for runway 27". Later you will be told to land short or long, or even in the middle, on your assigned runway so that they can land other planes behind and/or in front of you. "Green Piper turn right off onto the grass NOW!" is not an uncommon command from the controllers as they clear a plane off the active runway to make room for one coming in right behind it.

Once there you get to see pretty much every cool plane that private citizens can own. There are old WWII Warbirds, new jets, experimental aircraft of every size and shape, Ultralights (including a backpack with a fan on it that you can use with a parachute to go cruising around your neighborhood at 20 knots). Even Space Ship One made several flybye's and then landed for the show -- the first private space ship (see previous post). One of my favorite things at the show was the old nose art from WWII planes (note the nose art on Space Ship One). It harkens back to a better time when there was great work to be done and you were allowed to have fun doing it.

General Aviation Industry: The big focus of EAA is, as you might expect, experimental aircraft. The incumbent aircraft manufactures have it pretty good, the FAA requirements to certify a new plane cost about $50M. So the big/old/dumb companies have a $50M barrier to entry baked into their business models ... so they ship crap. A new Cessna 172SP, which is the exact same thing they've been building since 1956, only with 180hp instead of 160hp, but with more than enough weight increase to negate the increase in power, now goes for a quarter of a freakin' million dollars. It's slow. It's underpowered. Its aerodynamics are laughable. It's made out of metal. It's a flying joke, I know because I fly it. Yet they can't make enough of them because there's nothing else to buy -- all thanks to the US Government's interference with industry.

But wait, you can build your own experimental aircraft. Experimental aircraft don't have to go through the $50M government goat-rope. For the price of a Cessna 206 (310hp, cruises at ~140knots, same crappy 1950's design) you can custom build a Lancair Propjet Now you're talking about a carbon fiber frame, dual (safer) wing spars, a 750hp turbine engine (instead of less reliable pistons), a pressurized cabin, full leather, real seats, glass panel, side-stick control -- and it cruises at well over 300 knots. Sh!t yeah, sign me up. Safer, faster, better in every way; you just have to have a sign that says "experimental" on it and ... you have to build 51%+ of it yourself.

If we could get the government out of the way, and let professionals build experimental aircraft for purchasers (which would be safer than Harry Homeowner trying to build his own plane anyway), the general aviation industry could have life again. Instead, the incumbents, with the paid lobbyists, don't want it the industry to have life again. They want to ship turds at $250k each. Seriously, would you want a new car that was as safe and performed as well as a 1950's car? If you're buying a plane then that's what you're stuck with.

Family reunion: While in the Chicago area I got a chance to attend a family reunion. The usual assortments of in-laws and out-laws were there ... and even though you can pick your friends but not your relatives I have to say that I lucked out. It was a great bunch of people and we had a great time. Take a look at the clan: then and now

Posted by rick at 02:31 PM