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AirVenture dubbed a ‘huge, huge success’

After a coronavirus pandemic-induced year away from “The World’s Largest Airshow,” thousands of pilots celebrated a spectacular week of all things aviation during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 26 to August 1.

Michael Goulian performs in an Extra 330SC during the EAA AirVenture afternoon airshow. Photo by David Tulis.

“We’re back. We’re finally back,” said EAA Chairman of the Board and CEO Jack Pelton during a wrap-up news conference after 608,000 aviators and aviation enthusiasts swarmed the grounds at Wittman Regional Airport.

“I think this is the resurgence [of aviation] and what we’re going to see in the years to come,” he added. “We had 16,000 to 17,000 airplanes on the grounds” and “didn’t turn anybody away.”

Pelton seemingly was in multiple places at once: meeting with FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, attending rulemaking updates with AOPA President Mark Baker, participating in fuel innovation announcements, and greeting outreach organizations and attendees swarming Boeing Plaza during a salute to humanitarian organizations.

“[It] was a great AirVenture and certainly coming off a pandemic we’ve had a lot of challenges,” Pelton said. “It’s almost unbelievable.”

AOPA President Mark Baker interviews EAA CEO and Chairman of the Board Jack Pelton during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis.

He was not as kind to Dickson, an airline captain with “zero general aviation experience.” Dickson and the FAA’s interpretation of flight training compensation are at the heart of a stifling directive that affects thousands of owners of experimental, limited, and primary category aircraft. The FAA indicated that flight training in standard category aircraft and light sport aircraft is not impacted.

Though Dickson held out an olive branch during a Meet the Administrator opportunity saying the letter of deviation authority process is “really easier than sending in an address change for your pilot license,” it did not resonate with EAA, AOPA, or other GA organizations.

“The training [application process] is the biggest embarrassment I’ve seen by a public agency,” Pelton said. “For them to make a reinterpretation of that is just embarrassing.” He predicted that “turning around” the predicament would be “a rude awakening. We’ve got a lot of educating to do.”

On a brighter note, a donation by the Boeing Co. offset the entrance fee for youth 18 and under and drove attendance levels for young people to new heights. “Hopefully we got them excited about what’s going on” in aviation and aerospace, Pelton said. He vowed that EAA would “do the 18-and-under forever, as long as I’m here. It’s something we’ll have to do” to keep aviation interest high on the list for young people.

Corporate jet pilot Kim Kissh experiences an aerobatic flight with the Phillips 66 Aerostars airshow team to help promote I Hart Flying Foundation flight training scholarships for women. Kissh enjoyed the experience so much that she vowed to begin aerobatic training as soon as possible. Photo courtesy of Phillips 66 Aerostars.

“This is so awesome,” shrieked Kim Kissh, a corporate pilot who normally commands a Gulfstream G550, as she performed a loop with the Phillips Aerostars during a flight July 28 promoting scholarships for women through the I Hart Flying Foundation. “I’m signing up for aerobatic lessons as soon as I get home” to Illinois, she vowed. The flight occurred on what would normally be the group picture day for EAA WomenVenture, but crowd capacity limited to 50 in the aftermath of COVID-19 protocols scratched the photo opp.

Aviation job recruiters and attendees at the career fair were “so excited and geeked out to be back” that they were line dancing to the Electric Slide and the Cupid Shuffle, said JSfirm.com Executive Director Abbey Hutter. She noted an increase in career activity over 2019, the last time AirVenture was held live. When they weren’t dancing or talking to potential career pilots, Hutter and her teenage daughter, Katie, joined others spontaneously breaking into sing-alongs of Sweet Caroline. Hutter said the jovial atmosphere was another example of the enthusiasm shared all week by attendees, exhibitors, and airshow performers.

A mad scramble in the face of menacing thunderstorms canceled the traditional Wednesday night airshow July 28, and some of the 12,000 campers were temporarily evacuated to the EAA Aviation Museum on the west end of the show grounds, but there were no reports of any damage, except for soggy tents and wet clothes.

There were four minor airplane incidents including a Boeing Stearman nose-over that temporarily closed arrivals July 24, an ultralight long-landing, a deer running across the runway, and two airplanes that collided during taxi. None resulted in injuries.

Pelton said that despite a few challenges, EAA AirVenture “was a huge, huge success. We had a great week of support” from airshow performers, volunteers, exhibitors, and attendees, “and I couldn’t feel better about it.”

Attendees visit the AOPA campus during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Photo by David Tulis. Attendees look at a Bearhawk Aircraft 4-Place built by Rod Caldwell during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis. AOPA members participate in a tour of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital MD-10 at Boeing Plaza during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis. FAA Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Susan Northrup attends an Able Flight pinning ceremony during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Photo by David Tulis. AOPA Associate Editor David Tulis reacts during a loop on a demonstration flight with AeroShell Aerobatic Team slot pilot Jimmy Fordham at EAA AirVenture. Thousands of aviation enthusiasts and pilots flocked to the airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Photo by David Tulis. AOPA Air Safety Institute Executive Director Richard McSpadden speaks at a "When is the impossible turn possible?" seminar on the AOPA campus during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis. Pilots attend a "When is the impossible turn possible?" AOPA Air Safety Institute seminar on the AOPA campus during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis. A yellow Lockwood AirCam is reflected in Lake Winnebago at the EAA Seaplane Base during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Photo by David Tulis. Tom Scott, one of more than 5,000 EAA AirVenture volunteers, pulls a Piper Super Cub on floats to open water for a takeoff during EAA AirVenture. Scott, who is not a pilot, said he loves his job because it affords him the opportunity to work with aviators. Photo by David Tulis. Floatplanes dot the EAA Seaplane Base cove during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis. Samaritan Aviation founder and seaplane pilot Mark Palm, shown flying near the EAA Seaplane Base, is expanding his footprint along the Sepik River in Papua, New Guinea, to celebrate the outreach mission's twentieth anniversary. Photo by David Tulis.  The Van's Aircraft homebuilt area was one of the largest amateur-built parking spots at EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis. Attendees try their hands at flying a True Course Simulations military jet or a Cessna 172 using virtual reality on the AOPA campus during EAA AirVenture. Photo by David Tulis. Ravn Alaska airlines first officer Crystal Frost reacts after winning a “hook ‘em” game at the JSfirm jobs booth in the EAA AirVenture Careers and Education center. Frost said traffic was about 50 percent higher in 2021 than in 2019 for young pilots asking her about aviation careers. Photo by David Tulis. AmeriFlight staff talk with other aviation career specialists in the EAA AirVenture Careers and Education center. Abbey Hutter, the executive director of the online aviation jobs site JSfirm.com, said 40 airlines and aviation businesses with booths at EAA AirVenture saw a constant stream of young people asking about aviation careers. Photo by David Tulis. AOPA's Carlo Cilliers wins a Bronze Lindy Award for his plans-built Hatz biplane during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 31. The two-time champion aircraft builder previously won a Bronze Lindy for a Mustang II. Photo by David Tulis.  The open-cockpit homebuilt Hatz biplane built by AOPA's Carlo Cilliers drew the attention of EAA AirVenture attendees and judges. Photo by David Tulis. A drone frames Utah State University staff setting up a tent at the EAA AirVenture education and career center. Photo by David Tulis. The homebuilt camping area cleared out by the morning of July 31 as smoke from wildfires and the possibility of thunderstorms affected pilots flying into or out of Wittman Regional Airport during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Photo by David Tulis. An EAA AirVenture attendee checks out the Stratos 716X kit-built single-engine jet on display. The price is $2.5 million. Photo by David Tulis. The Stratos 716X kit-built single-engine jet can seat six. Photo by David Tulis. The Stratos 716X kit-built jet can carry six people 1,350 nautical miles at 380 knots per hour. Photo by David Tulis. Attendees watch Dell Coller perform in a Jet Waco biplane during the EAA AirVenture afternoon airshow. Photo by David Tulis. Attendees frame Jeff Boerboon in a jet-assisted Yak-110 as he performs near the brown arch during the EAA AirVenture afternoon airshow. Photo by David Tulis. A Lockheed C-130 Hercules circles during a dusk air power demonstration that opened the night airshow during EAA AirVenture July 31. Photo by David Tulis. Aeroshell Aerobatic Team members Mark Henley, Steve Gustafson, Bryan Regan, and Jimmy Fordham perform during the night airshow at EAA AirVenture July 31. Photo by David Tulis. Aeroshell Aerobatic Team slot pilot Jimmy Fordham, a retired Delta Air Lines senior captain, said performing at night is a lot of fun and not much different than daytime routines. Visibility is aided by the LED lights on the aircraft. Photo by David Tulis. Bob Carlton performs in a SubSonex JSX-2 microjet during the EAA AirVenture night airshow. Photo by David Tulis. Fireworks illuminate an aircraft during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 31. Photo by David Tulis.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Content Producer
AOPA Media Content Producer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: EAA AirVenture, Experimental Aircraft Association

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