What is arguably the largest airshow in the U.S., if not in the world, (based on number of aircraft attending), starts on Monday, July 28, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Known as AirVenture 2008, the large gathering of aviation enthusiasts is run by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), an organization devoted to promoting owner-built light aircraft. AirVenture (known just as “Oshkosh” for many years, and still referred to by that name by many pilots) would be considered THE aerospace Mecca by most pilots – a site that you must make a pilgrimage to at least once in your life. In fact many attendees come from all over the world, some of them even flying their light aircraft to Oshkosh from Europe or South America. For a full seven days, you can immerse yourself in all things aviation (and also space, since NASA has their own pavilion). While the emphasis is on light aircraft, you can also see a large collection of restored antique airplanes, plus old and new military planes. AirVenture probably is as close as we get to a national airshow in the U.S. But it is quite unlike the large international airshows held annually at either Paris, France or Farnborough, U.K.. Those shows emphasize the big players in commercial and military aerospace such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, etc. Instead, AirVenture is geared towards the average folk in aviation: the people who like to build and fly their own plane, not only to save money, but just for the pure fun of it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t your share of commercial light plane manufacturers, like Cirrus, Cessna and Piper, with displays at Airventure. There are hundreds of aviation vendor displays, inside and out, plus daily airshows, technical forums, a great aerospace museum right on the grounds, and even activities for kids.
Total attendance typically runs more than 700,000 over the seven days, plus thousands of planes that fly into Whitman Field, located about 100 miles north of Chicago. While the numbers continued to grow in the 90s, setting new records each year, recent years have seen a downturn in total attendance. This is probably due to economic conditions in the U.S., plus the general decline in the U.S. pilot population. I suspect attendance to be down even more this year, especially among pilots flying in, due to the recent spike in oil that has driven aviation gas close to $6 per gallon in the U.S.
I attended my first Oshkosh in 1979 while taking summer courses at Purdue University in Indiana. A classmate mentioned this great grassroots-style airshow up in Wisconsin featuring homebuilt airplanes, and being an aerospace engineering student, it sounded like just the place for a weekend visit. We drove up in his old Rambler and camped right on the airshow grounds in what is known as Camp Scholler. I was blown away by the breadth and scope of aircraft attending, and was also impressed by how well the event was run, with clean grounds and friendly volunteers. I joined EAA on the spot, and I’ve been a member ever since. Even though I can’t go every year, I’ve flown and driven to Oshkosh on numerous occasions. Unfortunately I can’t make it this year, but with the EAA hosting a great web site for AirVenture, you can follow much of what is going on through audio, video and pictures. Their are usually announcements of new aircraft and products every year at Oshkosh, some truly groundbreaking, some more hype that substance. (It remains to be seen which category the Martin jetpack I wrote about early will fit in.) As the week goes on, I’ll try to provide my take on some of these new announcements, so check back to The Aerospace Agenda throughout the week for my thoughts on what is happening at AirVenture 2008.