eaa airventure celebrates 50 years at oshkosh

September 12, 2019

Since being held at Oshkosh in 1970 for the first time, the annual EAA AirVenture convention has grown to be the largest aviation event of any kind – also dubbed as the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration. Our Turboprop Editor Leroy Cook offers highlights from the show

Because the first Experimental Aircraft Association convention held at Oshkosh, Wisconsin took place in a year ending in “zero”, this year’s show, July 22-27, 2019, marked an even half-century of aviation pilgrimages to the central US. The AirVenture show, as it’s now known, is more than just a gathering of aviation enthusiasts. It embodies everything that attracts us to aviation as a vocation, as a calling and as a lifestyle.

The Oshkosh experience is like no other regularly-occurring affair. Those participating have a single unifying purpose; to amass as much knowledge and direct contact with aviation as possible, in close association with individuals of like mind.

That doesn’t mean the Oshkosh show is one big event on a single stage; EAA AirVenture is actually a dozen sub-sets of interest. Business Aviation is only one aspect of the show, albeit an important one, judging by the size of the chalets erected for the week. Makers of business aircraft, particularly those flown by owners and small companies, such as those from Daher, HondaJet, Pilatus, Piper and Embraer and Textron, display their wares because their customers will be there in huge numbers. Similarly, avionic, engine, modification and support companies seize the opportunity to reveal their latest products.

Thus, business airplanes and associated goods are prominently displayed at EAA AirVenture, along with restored military planes, acrobatic aircraft, preserved antique and classic airplanes, seaplanes, light-sport and microlight vehicles, and the foundational core of the Experimental Aircraft Association, homebuilt aircraft of every shape and size. AirVenture’s huge trade show creates its own field of interest, and even the aviation media has a special niche.

News from the 2019 Show

Approximate attendance for this year’s AirVenture show was 642,000, up 7%, with over 10,000 aircraft arriving, 2758 of them registered showplanes. Aircraft operations averaged 127 per hour during the event, 863 commercial exhibitors attended, and 2772 international visitors registered from 93 countries. Some 5500 volunteers contributed 250,000 hours of unpaid labor to help put on the show.

Among the Business Aviation revelations showing up around AirVenture 2019 was Textron Aviation’s announcement that its big-cabin Hemisphere business jet is currently on hold, a move necessitated because Safran’s Silvercrest engine is undergoing further development. After Dassault was forced to abandon the powerplant for its 5X jet in 2017, Textron hoped to gain market advantage with the cutting-edge advances of the Silvercrest engine, for which the Hemisphere was specifically designed.

Textron had fuselage mockups for the Cessna Denali and SkyCourier turboprops on display at AirVenture. The 19-seat configuration of the utility-twin SkyCourier showed excellent space for people and cargo. FedEx Express has signed an order for up to 100 of the SkyCouriers, which will be able to carry three LC3 cargo containers. Powered by twin 1100-shp PT6A-65B engines, the prototype SkyCourier’s construction is well underway.

The SETP Denali program had a total of six test articles under construction at AirVenture time; the prototype and two production aircraft will be used in the flight test program. The Denali’s first flight was expect to take place later in 2019, to eventually compete directly with the Pilatus PC-12NG. It will be powered by GE’s 1300-shp Catalyst turboprop, built in Prague, Czech Republic.

While at Oshkosh, Textron marked the 50th Anniversary of the Beechcraft Baron 58’s first flight, which took place on July 23, 1969. Still in production as the Baron G58, it is one of the few piston twins still extant in the business aircraft marketplace, often used as an adjunct to its King Air turboprop siblings.

Embraer Executive Jets displayed a Phenom 300E and Phenom 100EV, offering press updates on the state of the business aircraft industry and Embraer’s continued success. Just prior to AirVenture, Embraer delivered its first Praetor 600 super-midsize business jet, to French-based AV’Rent. Certification of the Praetor 500 is expected by year’s end. As with a host of other firms, large and small, Embraer is investing heavily in exploration of Urban Mobility concepts, specifically an eVTOL autonomously-piloted electric quadcopter designed to move taxi-cab size parties over traffic and congestion.

Piper Aircraft has reported robust deliveries of its M-class and Trainer-class airplanes, reaching the highest levels in ten years. At the AirVenture press conference, Piper president Simon Caldecott displayed a 3D-printed part from the turboprop M600’s environmental system, demonstrating cost-saving and ready-availability advantages for parts created by the company’s additive manufacturing center. Caldecott continues to guide Piper on a steady course of matching production rate to market demand, while adding upgrades to existing products.

Pilatus Aircraft has reopened the order book for the PC-24 versatile business jet, recently certified for unpaved runway operations, and at Oshkosh airshow time it had sold 40 of the 80 slots available. For AirVenture, Pilatus’ theme was “Gravel, Grass and Dirt”, in keeping with the versatile abilities of the PC-12NG turboprop and PC-24 jet, and the company’s display featured such surfaces beneath its airplanes.

Daher Aircraft’s booth proudly showed its TBM 940 and 910 very fast turboprops, along with the Quest Aircraft Kodiak. Daher has announced plans to acquire Quest Aircraft by late 2019, which will expand its line into the utility aircraft market by incorporating Quest’s Kodiak 100 turboprop. Since the differing airplanes compliment, rather than compete with each other, the strength of the combined fleet is eagerly anticipated by the Daher sales team. The flagship TBM 940 was recently introduced with autothrottle capability and an automated ice detection system.

Blackhawk Modifications was celebrating the supplemental type certification of its XP-67A engine upgrade for the King Air 300, and company officials we spoke with were pleased with the refitting business they had seen for turboprop business airplanes. With new avionics, interior, engine and paint, an older King Air can be placed into service for a fraction of the cost of a new airplane from the factory, with matching or exceeding capability.

Just prior to Oshkosh, Honda Aircraft Company added Transport Canada type certification to its list of certifications. Now delivering the Elite upgrade package on the HondaJet, the company is building an additional 82,000 square feet of space at its Greensboro, North Carolina plant, at a cost of US$15.5 million. Announced at AirVenture was a 15-plane order for HondaJet Elites by Hawaii’s Wing Spirit charter company; the aircraft will be used for inter-island charter and medical flights.

Epic Aircraft had its usual large display on the main entranceway at AirVenture, where owners of early kit-built experimental category Epic Aircraft would logically be in attendance. Continuing to pursue full FAA certification, Epic is anticipating receiving FAA type certification in the fall of 2019, with first deliveries following shortly thereafter. Six to eight airplanes are expected to be delivered in 2019, with double that amount in 2020; the eventual goal is to roll out one airplane per week. A big 8,000-pound single powered by a 1200-shp PT6A-67 turboprop, the Epic 1000 is to cruise at 339 knots, yet stall at only 68 knots.

Sights Seen at EAA AirVenture 2019

Many, many seminars and presentations about manned and UAV electric-powered vehicles took place at AirVenture, which is widely known as a hotbed of innovation. The BlackFly eVTOL first-generation prototype was donated to the EAA’s museum during the show. Dubbed a “personal aerial vehicle” by its developer Opener, it requires no license or special skills to operate.

Because the Oshkosh show is a public event, attendance is boosted by focusing on major aviation anniversaries and themes. For 2019, extra attention was paid to the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, June 20, 1969, when the world was riveted on two American astronauts walking on the lunar surface. Command module pilot Michael Collins took the stage at the show, reminiscing over the events that catapulted him into the limelight a half-century ago.

Boeing’s 747 jumbo-jet was introduced 50 years ago, and United Parcel Service brought one of the latest 747-8F freighter versions to the show to mark the occasion. Powered by GEnx2B-67 engines, the huge UPS cargo-plane towered over a queue of touring attendees. Boeing was having less success with introduction of its 777-X twin-engine widebody, announcing that it was unable to meet its first delivery schedule due to GE’s continued struggle to certify the GE9X engines for the advanced Triple-Seven. First flight is now anticipated for the second half of 2020.

Historically, this past summer marked the 75th Anniversary of the World War 2 invasion of Normandy, as the Allies began a long push on June 6, 1944 to drive Nazi domination from Europe. Some of the DC-3 airplanes that had participated in “Daks Over Normandy” a month earlier were in attendance at Oshkosh, having flown back across the North Atlantic via the “Blue Spruce” route used in World War 2. Oshkosh, of course, is home to Basler Turbo Conversions, where DC-3/C-47/Dakota aircraft are stretched and re-engined with PT-6A turboprops, continuing its long service.

One of the oft-heard remarks at AirVenture is “Only at Oshkosh.” That comment is uttered in conjunction with seeing and touching something that will not be seen in any other public venue. For instance, I talked with the copilot of a New Zealand-based Piper Comanche single-engine piston plane that was in the middle of a flight around the world, the trip of a lifetime. Flying in the daily airshow was the only flying XP-82 Twin Mustang, a painstakingly restored fighter plane that was developed late in World War 2, used in the UN’s Korean war for ground support. This being dubbed “the year of the fighter” by the show organizers, special attention was paid to military fighter planes, past and current; the thunder of F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II jets accompanied P-51 Mustang fighters in “heritage flight” demonstrations.

The afternoon airshows at Oshkosh, provided pro-bono by the best performers in the industry, cannot be duplicated anywhere else. However, they are preceded by “showcase” flying by non-aerobatic presenters, where one can see new or newly-restored, often unique, airplanes in the air. Over the last 50 years, the Oshkosh public has seen the Beech Starship, the Williams V-Jet, a Howard 500, Learjets and HondaJets, cruising around the showcase pattern.

Enjoying excellent weather conditions and strong participation, the 50th Oshkosh airshow will go into the record books as memorable in most aspects. Business viation continues to be a strong presence at AirVenture.