Waypoints:

A grand view of the Deep South

September 1, 2009

For probably the hundredth time, somebody mumbled the lame joke about how someone should do something about all that airplane noise and questioned how we were supposed to get any work done with all the distractions. This time, though, rather than your average gaggle of P–51s, T–28s, or F–16s, the distraction was big—really big. The gynormous (thank you, Jill Tallman, for the word) Airbus A380 cast a shadow across the entire EAA AirVenture grounds as it passed over-head and made a few steep turns for the crowd. I was in a meeting with luminaries from the light sport aircraft industry when the world’s largest airliner made its arrival at the world’s largest aviation event. Needless to say, we accomplished very little as we craned our necks to see the big airplane as it descended out of sight, ultimately to settle onto Runway 36 in a stiff crosswind, tires smoking—all 22 of them.

This was my twentieth visit to the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, event. I admit that in several recent years, I wondered why I was there. It seemed a bit like Groundhog Day for a few years in a row, but for some reason this year was different. I was anxious to go and sorry to leave after a longer stay than usual. Every day of the show seemed to generate a new level of excitement—some new big (or small) thing happened at just the right frequency to keep the crowd excited. And what a crowd it was. Attendance was up 12 percent compared to last year, according to EAA. At that, about 578,000 people passed through the new entrance gates to an improved and larger exhibit area. More than 10,000 aircraft flew into Oshkosh and surrounding airports for the big fête, including my Bonanza, which touched down at Appleton the day before the show started. We left five days later, wishing we could carve another day out of the schedule.

Maybe it was the recently announced collaboration between AOPA and EAA that made it an especially rewarding show. Or maybe we were all just tired of sitting around grumbling about the economy and ready for a little fun and relaxation among a phalanx of airplanes and the people who love them.

The A380 with its wingspan nearly as large as a football field was the biggest hit of the show; take a tour of the aircraft online. But other curiosities abounded, including WhiteKnightTwo, the twin-fuselage quad jet that will carry the first civilian commercial space travelers out of the atmosphere. At the other end of the size spectrum was the tiny Yuneec two-place electric airplane that would get lost in the gear wheel of the A380.The Chinese-built Yuneec e430 can fly for up to 1.5 hours behind a 40-kilowatt (54 horsepower) brushless electric motor powered by three lithium polymer battery packs. The price is expected to be about $90,000 when it becomes available in 2010 (see “ Proficient Pilot: Look, Ma! No Gas!”).

Read all about these amazing airplanes and the other announcements from Oshkosh—as well as see our video coverage— on AOPA Online.

The upbeat mood of attendees was especially welcome as we head into the fall aviation events, such as the National Business Aviation Association convention and AOPA Aviation Summit. The business aviation crowd has taken a beating from the White House, Capitol Hill, and the general media over the past 12 months, so it will be interesting to see how the NBAA show rebounds.

AOPA’s Aviation Summit, scheduled for November 5 through 7 in Tampa, is shaping up to be an all-new experience with attendees having the ability to interact with key decision makers in industry and government who affect the future of general aviation. For more on the changes to AOPA’s annual convention, see “AOPA Aviation Summit: Shaping Aviation’s Future.” I look forward to seeing you in Tampa.

Editor in Chief Thomas B. Haines has made the visit to EAA AirVenture 20 times in aircraft from Piper Saratogas and Beech Bonanzas to the Concorde. E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org; or follow him on Twitter.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.