The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)
August 1, 2008
A day at the EAA
To answer your first question, no, I did not witness the fatal plane crash that occurred Thursday morning short of the east end of Wittman Regional Airport's east–west runway.
That is the second time I've missed a plane incident in the three times I've attended EAA. One other time, I came home from Oshkosh to find out that an emergency landing had occurred while I was on the flight line (and a Green Bay TV station had caught it on tape). And this had happened without my noticing that either.
That's easier than those who have not been to Oshkosh might think. The AirVenture is so spread out that, as EAA's Web site notes, "Just truckin’ around the grounds can add up to several miles over the course of one day. ... Although many have tried, it is literally impossible to see everything in one day, much less a week."
Someone with an interest in mechanical things but no interest in flying things would still find the AirVenture fascinating. There were torn-down engines everywhere so that would-be owners could see for themselves how the planes run. There were interior and cockpit mockups for pilots to try. It's not quite as expansive as the Iola Old Car Show, which seems to have enough parts with which to assemble an entire car on-site, but then again airplanes are more expensive than cars. (For that matter, there were several manufacturers offering car engines that could be installed in airplanes. The newest trend in engines appears to be plane engines that can run on diesel or kerosene.) And, for those really not interested in airplanes (why such a person would go to EAA is a good question), Ford, a major AirVenture sponsor, had cars and trucks, including its new F-150 pickup and several Mustangs (matching all the P-51 Mustangs in the Warbird section), and Oshkosh had, of course, airport fire engines.
The difference between car construction and airplane construction is apparent if you look hard enough. Planes have exposed rivets and screws on their outside, and that doesn't cut it in the automobile marketplace. On the other hand, there is certainly a higher standard for engines in aviation than in automobiles; if you car's engine quits while you're driving, you're stranded; if your plane's engine quits while you're flying, that's an order of magnitude more serious. Many planes also have pressurized cockpits, and if the air's thin enough to need a pressurized cockpit, then that's pretty thin air for the plane's engines too.
The difference between Iola, which I attend almost every year, and Oshkosh is that the only car demonstrations at Iola are cars entering and leaving the grounds. So many planes take off and land that, not only is Wittman the busiest airport in the world this week, another plane taking off gets almost blasé after a while — that is, until your teeth rattle with an F-16 or F-18 military jet lighting up the afterburners.
The spirit of AirVenture is that all planes are cool, whether they're to your taste or not. The V-22 Osprey pictured at the top combines facets of helicopters and propeller planes. The fact that the Osprey is rather controversial in military and political circles wasn't mentioned, and what would be the point of mentioning that at an air show?
The craziest thing there was unquestionably the Martin Jetpack, billed as "the world's first practical jetpack." I wasn't there for its debut Tuesday, but I am so far failing to imagine the circumstances under which I would strap on something that can, according to its creators, hover up to 8,000 feet, even if it includes a ballistic parachute. (It is considered, believe it or not, an ultralight airplane. I've been in an ultralight before, and it was a great experience. That ultralight, however, had wings.)
Perhaps the most interesting facet for a business person is the promotion of business travel without depending on airline schedules and getting frisked in a very personal way in airports. There were displays for more business jets that I ever knew existed. Two of the more interesting ones were the Eclipse 400 and 500, jets that are supposed to be less expensive and easier to operate than their competition. (The National Business Aviation Association will tell you that the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 not only provides tax benefits for companies that buy airplanes this year, but may provide tax benefits as well for companies that upgrade existing aircraft or buy fractional shares in airplanes.)
I spent a lot of time in the Warbirds section. I am interested in World War II history, and the aforementioned Mustangs were plentiful, along with trainers, cargo planes, and even bombers, with B-17s and B-25s lumbering overhead. There were even old jet fighters, although, of course, the federal government is working hard to eliminate vintage jets from air shows due to noise regulations.
I had seen my favorite World War II aircraft, the Chance Vought F4U Corsair, before today, but I'd never seen it fly before today. The Corsair is an enormous plane that appears to be an engine (initially of 1,850 horsepower) with (bent) wings at first blush. Walk up to one, and you realize how interesting taking off and landing one of these things must be when you can't see anything, including the runway, underneath you. That was why the Corsair, designed for aircraft-carrier operation, didn't see action on aircraft carriers initially. The Marines, however, took one look and decided that the Corsair suited their island-based fighter operations just fine.
The U.S. Navy determined that Corsair pilots shot down 11 Japanese opponents for every Corsair shot down. When you are a fighter pilot, it is a good thing for your plane to be called by your opponent "Whistling Death," as Corsairs were called by the Japanese.
All you have to do is look at those vintage planes to realize that their pilots and crew were made of sterner stuff than us 21st-century wimps. Creature comforts were nonexistent on the C-47, the military counterpart of the ubiquitous-at-the-time DC-3. The B-17 looked in the air as if a car could outrace it down a runway, and these were, remember, the targets of the best fighter pilots Nazi Germany had. Rides were offered in a slightly older plane, a Ford Tri-Motor; I saw that plane once on a windy day, and it looked as if it wasn't moving at all in the air. Rides also were offered on a Korean War-vintage Bell 47 helicopter, built in the days when it was perfectly natural for a helicopter to have all of its parts visible to all.
The only thing that bugs me about EAA is the fact that my exit to and from U.S. 41, the Wisconsin 44 exit, has been closed all week, and the alternate interchange, Ninth Avenue, is, to put it charitably, a mess. I'm not sure who's responsible for that (I'm guessing more law enforcement than EAA specifically), but it is somewhat aggravating. Yes, people who live in the Lambeau Field neighborhood are inconvenienced too on game days, but not for an entire week.
Nevertheless, the AirVenture is a huge benefit for this area. Even if you don't actually go to the show, the planes roaring overhead (or, in the case of Friday, rocketing overhead) are quite a visual and aural show by themselves.