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Mon, Jul 25, 2011

Calm Before The Storm ... The Day Before Opening Day

Even Before Airventure Opens, There Is Plenty To See, And People To Meet

By Tom Patton

With all the innovation and air show excitement that fills the week of AirVenture, the day before opening day has become just about my favorite time to be at Wittman Regional Airport. There is a purposefulness among those still scrambling to get their exhibits set up and tweaked for display, but the rest of the grounds have a far more laid-back feel ... like its taking a breather before the show reaches V1 and rotates.


(L-R) Maxine Scheer, Yohn Ylinen, Will Elder, Jorden Spradley

We are, of course, here to work. And with 15 or so staff and stringers at the show, getting everybody "legal" is sometimes a task unto its self. Sunday morning Maxine Scheer, John Ylinen (and yes, that's pronounced "Lenin"), Will Elder, and Jordan Spradley made their way to the registration tent to be tagged and released. Each AirVenture participant and visitor has to have a wrist band, and for those of us here for the week, well it's not a removable item. Properly credentialed, we loaded up onto one of our golf carts which buzz around the Wittman Field grounds for the grand tour, and even before the show gets into full swing, there is plenty to tour.

In the Warbirds area, also known as "Fighter Town", the airplanes run the gamut from a rare MiG-15 and a T-33 Shooting Star to this beautifully-restored 1959 Navion in Marine Corps colors. While developed shortly after WWII primarily for the civilian market, the Navion was adopted by the military as a four-place VIP transport airplane. The description hanging from the prop of this aircraft said that many of the design features North American incorporated into the P-51 Mustang wound up in the post-war Navion, such as the sliding canopy and bullet-proof wing. There are still many of these easily-recognizable airplanes flying today.

AirVenture, of course, draws the unusual as well, and one of the most unique-looking aircraft here could be this 1958 Edgar Percival EP-9. Designed as a utility aircraft for agricultural use, the pod and boom design allowed the aircraft to be fitted with a hopper for crop spraying. It could also be configured to carry four passengers in the main fuselage section, and the clamshell side and rear doors allowed the aircraft to carry standard size wool and straw bales, U.S. gallon oil drums or even livestock. This particular airplane reportedly sat in a barn in Wisconsin for more than 20 years before being discovered and restored. Being a "local" airplane, it has made multiple trips to Oshkosh over the years.

Over in the classic airplane area is a long row of pre-1950 Ercoupes, a distinctive two-place airplane with a two vertical stabilizers. The owner of this 1946 model was more than happy to spend some time with us to describe his airplane. Something of the LSA of its day, this Ercoupe has a polished aluminum fuselage but fabric covered wings. This makes the airplane lighter, faster, and more fuel efficient than the all-metal examples on the line. The fuel system operates from a single fuel pump which moves gas from wing tanks into a center reservoir which gravity-feeds the carburetor. A simple float-and-wire fuel gauge on the cowling lets the pilot know when fuel is running low. If the wire starts go go down, all the fuel from the wing tanks has been used, and the pilot has about an hour to find a suitable landing site. Likewise, in the event of a fuel pump failure, there is about an hour's worth of fuel in the center tank before things get really critical.

There is a lot to celebrate this year at AirVenture. The flying machines range from the most basic ultralight to Boeing's newest airliner, which will be here Friday. There are achievements to celebrate as well, such as the 100th anniversary of Naval Aviation. But a lot of what is Oshkosh is the people. In an hour spent roaming the grounds, we talked with representatives from companies working on electric propulsion systems, proud airplane owners, and regular folks who have come to a place many consider to be hallowed ground. Come to AirVenture for the airplanes, the avionics, the "gee whiz" that surrounds so much of aviation these days.

But stay for the people.

FMI: www.airventure.org

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