EAA AirVenture 2003 - Celebrating the centennial

 - August 6, 2008, 10:33 AM

If Paris is the Big Daddy of airshows–high-powered, straight-laced and eminently button-down–then Oshkosh is the Big Mamma, her arms open wide as the Wisconsin prairie, beckoning teeming masses of aviation enthusiasts to their spiritual home in the heartland of America. So what better place could there be than the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture to really kick off the centennial of the first manned, powered flight? To be sure, there have been other events this year celebrating the Wright brothers’ achievement at Kill Devil Hills on Dec. 17, 1903, and there will be more. But the two bicycle-building brothers from Dayton–the patron saints of aeronautical engineers everywhere–hold a special place in the very souls of experimental aircraft builders, for they, better than anyone else on the planet, really understand and appreciate what Orville and Wilbur had to do to build a machine that could actually fly.

So it was not at all surprising that the 51st AirVenture, held July 29 to August 4 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, was dedicated to the Wright brothers and the aviation legacy they have provided us all. Situated in AeroShell Square (the heart of the EAA AirVenture campus, though it still seems a long trek from just about everywhere else at Oshkosh), was the Countdown to Kitty Hawk pavilion. This touring exhibit includes, among other memorabilia, an exact flying reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer. At 10:35 a.m. this coming December 17, 100 years to the minute from the first powered flight, one lucky pilot will, weather permitting, recreate that flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

At Oshkosh, the list of four Flyer pilots was whittled down to two: Dr. Kevin Kochersberger of Honeoye Falls, Va., a 1,400-hour pilot and associate professor of mechanical engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Terry Queijo of Trappe, Md., an American Airlines 767 and 757 captain. Their backups are Ken Hyde, a 33-year veteran of American Airlines and long-time EAA member known for his award-winning restorations who, as president of the Wright Experience, led the effort to build the airplane, and Chris Johnson of Manassas, Va., another American Airlines pilot and a major in the Air Force Reserves.

For the past year, all four have been training in a 1902 Wright glider simulator and in an actual Wright glider under the guidance of famed research pilot Scott Crossfield, the first pilot to reach twice the speed of sound (on Nov. 20, 1953). Crossfield alone selected Kochersberger and Queijo. When asked how he would decide which of these two would make the flight on December 17, he said, “They’ll flip a coin, just like the brothers did a century ago.”

The long training notwithstanding, the pilot simulating Orville will try to limit the re-creation of the first flight to just 12 seconds and 120 feet, the actual duration and length of Orville’s first successful flight. (Wilbur had actually won the coin toss, on Dec. 14, 1903, but plowed into the sand just after takeoff on his attempt, damaging the airplane. On December 17, after repairing the airplane, it was the younger Orville’s turn. On the fourth successful flight the airplane made that day, Wilbur flew the Flyer for 59 seconds, covering 852 feet.)

The centennial theme was ubiquitous at Oshkosh, almost to the point of becoming cliché, but, hey,  why not? Century of flight books, videos, prints, t-shirts, hats, toys and other merchandise abounded in numerous official and unofficial EAA stores. Several manufacturers offered special centennial versions of popular models, including Cirrus Design, which unveiled a version of its SR22 (limited to 100 copies) and Raytheon Aircraft, which showed a special Bonanza (just one, but there might be more). Microsoft introduced its Flight Simulator 2004, which includes the Wright Flyer and eight other historic airplanes, as well as 15 later models. Several vintage airplanes of the 27 taking part in the National Air Tour 2003 flew in and were displayed at Oshkosh. The tour will begin this month on September 8 in Dearborn, Mich., and cover more than 4,000 miles across 21 states before returning to Dearborn on September 24.

One of the more poignant centennial-themed events was an evening program held in Wittman Field’s Theater in the Woods. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey served as the warm-up act, no offense intended, for a talk-show-like panel led by former breakfast-TV host David Hartmann. Interviewed were Stephen Wright and Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandnephew and great-grandniece of “Uncle Orv” and Uncle Wil;” Charles Taylor II, great-grandson of his namesake, who was the Wrights’ mechanic and built their 12-hp engine; Tom Crouch of the National Air and Space Museum and author of the Wright brothers biography The Bishop’s Boys; and Darrell Collins, National Park Service historian at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. If you learn that any of these individuals are being interviewed on TV or elsewhere, don’t miss it.

Administrator Draws SRO Crowd

With EAA estimating attendance at three-quarters of a million, it was not unusual to find crowds at this year’s AirVenture, although seasoned Oshkosh attendees question the magnitude of EAA’s attendance figures. But it was surprising that Administrator Blakey was able to command a standing-room-only crowd that rivaled that of sound-barrier-buster Chuck Yeager, who spoke before her on July 31 in the venue’s largest open-air forum pavilion. Blakey drew huge applause from her EAA audience when, in her disarming Southern drawl, she announced that the day before she had signed off on the sport pilot rule and that “the final rule would be issued in good speed.” EAA president Tom Poberezny said, “This is a momentous step in the road to seeing sport-pilot and light-sport pilot aircraft become a reality.” Blakey pledged to work hard with the DOT to keep the rule moving forward. After approval by the DOT and Office of Management and Budget, the rule will become official upon publication in the Federal Register.

When pressed for more information about the rule by a sport-plane manufacturer during the subsequent question-and-answer session, specifically about the airplane weight limit that such pilots would be allowed to fly so that manufacturers could begin designing for it, she would not be drawn into an answer. “The rulemaking process gives everyone opportunity to comment and all comments are considered. Then it goes into a closed period,” she explained. “Therefore, I cannot say specifics. I want to do this quickly, but I want to do it right.” As currently drafted, the sport-pilot/light-sport-aircraft rule would allow two-place aircraft weighing up to 1,232 pounds (possibly more) to fly cross-country at a maximum of 132 mph using a pilot’s license that can be obtained with just 20 hours of instruction and no medical examination.

More applause–this time for moral support–followed a question from a representative of the Friends of Meigs, who admitted that saving the lakefront Chicago airport, whose runway the mayor ordered bulldozed at midnight on March 30, was “a long shot.” She asked the Administrator what the FAA’s long-term strategy was for maintaining hometown airports.

“The FAA’s lawyers looked at Meigs from every possible angle,” replied Blakey. “From a legal standpoint, there was nothing the FAA could do to stop the closure of Meigs because of the way the federal funds were applied. This was a wake-up call for us and we’re looking at it closely. You all can help. If you believe there is an effort to close your local airport, let the FAA know right away.” Proposed federal legislation does hold some promise to prevent this kind of action from happening to other airports. The “Meigs Legacy” portion of the FAA reauthorization bill, which had not yet been approved at press time, would assess $10,000-per-day fines on any airport sponsor who closes an airport with less than the required 90-day notice.

When asked about the problems temporary flight restrictions cause general aviation pilots, she reminded the EAA audience that the FAA shares the responsibility for TFRs with the Transportation Security Administration. “We have no control on how quickly TFRs come up and are trying to disseminate the information as quickly as possible.” Poberezny expressed his concern about an increasing number of TFRs during the upcoming campaign season. Said Blakey, “We know most of the violations of the TFRs are inadvertent. I appeal to you all for suggestions about channels through which we can get the word out faster. What would work best for you?”

Although, as she explained, “I try to undah promise and ohvah deelivah,” her replies were more general than most listeners probably would have preferred. Nevertheless, Poberezny praised Blakey for taking “two full days out of her busy schedule to visit Oshkosh and meet with representatives of all of EAA’s divisions.”

“EAA is the bedrock,” she said. “It all begins with general aviation.”

Mixing Business and Pleasure

Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation, announced in Oshkosh that the Albuquerque, N.M. company had completed the fifth and probably final round of private equity financing, for $87 million, and downplayed a landing mishap with the Eclipse 500 flight-test airplane just before the opening of EAA AirVenture. Of the financing, he said, “With our total equity financing of $325 million and debt, we now have all the cash needed to get the Eclipse 500 certified.”

The sole flight-test airplane, powered by interim Teledyne Continental turbojet engines, was expected to resume flight tests within the week, Raburn said, after the right main gear had collapsed during landing after an otherwise routine test flight. He placed the cause of the gear collapse on the fracture of a lug on the right main gear actuator. The test pilot immediately noted the collapse of the gear and held the right wingtip off the ground for as long as possible, down to about 30 knots, Raburn said. Damage was confined to the right wing center flap track and right flap, which held the weight until the runway surface scraped away the lower edge of the flap. Thereafter a skid pad installed on the wingtip for flight-test purposes absorbed most of the impact, and the right wingtip itself was only scratched. “The good news,” said Raburn, “is that the lug failed because of a manufacturing defect, and nine months ago we had already changed the vendor for that part, so now it’s not even an issue.”

At the time of the mishap, the test airplane had flown 18 hours since its first flight with the interim engines on May 15 this year. (It had made its first and only flight with the Williams EJ22 turbofans on August 22 last year. Three months later, Eclipse announced it had terminated its agreement with Williams.) Although the current test airplane is nonconforming from a systems standpoint, Raburn said it is conforming from an aerodynamics standpoint. “We don’t have any need or desire to fly it every day and probably won’t fly it more than 50 hours,” he said, adding that engineers were capturing some six gigabytes of data during each flight. “This means we’re getting five to seven times the productivity out of each flight hour,” he claimed.

Raburn said this phase of the program, with its goal of validating the design, would conclude in late summer or early fall. The company expects to add seven aircraft to the test program before certification, the last two of which are planned to fly 1,000 hours each to build time on the fleet so that upon delivery of the first customer airplane in 2006, some 3,500 hours will have been accumulated. First flight of the first production-conforming airplane, powered by pre-production Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F turbofans, is planned for late next year. FAA certification is planned for the first quarter of 2006 and JAA certification later that same year.

Another young OEM, Adam Aircraft of Denver, displayed an example of its Adam A500 inline piston twin and an interior mockup of the same as Oshkosh opened, but just two days later there was another airplane at its exhibit–the first example of its twin-turbofan Adam A700, which had made its first flight just three days earlier on July 27.

The A700 had about 20 hours of flight time when it arrived at Oshkosh on July 30 following a four-hour flight from Denver with its landing gear pinned down, according to Tom Wiesner, Adam vice president of sales. Landing-gear operation had not yet been demonstrated and the FAA had to approve the flight out of the local area. “We just wanted to show it here and figured we could live with the 160-knot limitation on airspeed,” Wiesner said. The A700 has 80-percent commonality with the A500.

The switch from 350-hp piston engines (Teledyne Continental TSIO-550Es) to 1,200-pound-thrust turbofans (William FJ33s) reduces the Adam A700’s empty weight by about 1,000 pounds while a belly fairing provides room for an extra 100 gallons of jet-A. Pressurization will increase maximum operating altitude from 25,000 feet to 41,000 feet. Price of the A500 is $895,000, while the A700 lists at $1.9 million. Adam expects certification of the A500 this month and plans to begin deliveries in the fourth quarter. A700 certification is planned for the fourth quarter of next year. “It is our goal to be first to market in the [very] light jet category,” said company CEO Rick Adam after the A700’s first flight.

Thunderstorms during the week frequently prompted Cessna Aircraft to cover the mockup of its Citation Mustang very light jet, which Cessna was showing for the first time together with its Garmin G1000 avionics and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F engine mockup. But when the weather cleared, the Mustang mockup, displayed in an open-sided 18-wheeler tractor-trailer, attracted a steady stream of curious onlookers.

Up until the end of last year, Cessna had offered special pricing (with a $10,000 deposit) and preferred delivery positions for Mustang contracts, and just recently began to transfer the 330 or so agreements to standard purchase agreements. New orders made before the end of this month have a reduced first deposit of $60,000 instead of the standard $75,000 deposit. Certification and first customer deliveries of the 340-knot Mustang are planned for the summer and fall of 2006, respectively.

Another Cessna pricing incentive, this one for the Caravan, has resulted in sales of 27 Caravans since the incentive was announced in December. Customers purchasing one of the eligible aircraft can choose between zero-percent financing and a $75,000 discount on the purchase price. “We decided to announce this program to counteract some of the challenges we were facing with the uncertain economy,” said John Doman, Cessna vice president of worldwide propeller sales. The program will be available until all qualifying Caravans are sold, he said. Also for Caravans, Cessna said the company installed more than 20 Bendix/King KDR 510 and/or KMH 880 avionics packages since these became available as factory-installed options for the Caravan some six months ago.

Two GA Manufacturers Bounce Back

While attending EAA AirVenture, Extra Flugzeugbau’s new U.S. management team on August 1 officially assumed control of the formerly bankrupt German airplane company. Ken Keith, CEO and now primary investor in Extra Aircraft LP (as well as an Extra 400 owner), said the recovery strategy includes continuing product development of the two-seat Extra 300 series (the only unlimited-category aerobatic airplane with unrestricted international certification), increasing sales and optimizing production of the four-place Model 400 and certifying the Model 500, the Rolls-Royce 250-B17F turboprop-powered derivative of the 400. Joining Keith, former CEO of Progeny Marketing, a Tennessee-based financial services marketing company, on the management team (which together owns 100 percent of the new company) are Corvin Huber, COO and managing director of Extra’s German operations; Walter Extra, chief design officer and company founder; Ken Weaver, head of U.S. operations; and Oliver Oechsle, a partner in MBB Consult, a German firm specializing in turnaround and business development.

Final testing and German certification of the Extra 500, which has been on hold while the company was being reorganized, is planned for the first quarter of next year. FAA approval and first deliveries of the $1.495 million turboprop single are planned for next spring.

Another restructured company, Mooney Aerospace Group (formerly AASI) of Kerrville, Texas, after negotiating changes in funding with its investors in June, announced at Oshkosh a partnership agreement with BAE Systems of the UK, the Kaskol Group of Russia, Venture Industries (an auto-plastics supplier in Detroit) and Foxton Overseas Investments (a private equity investor company). The first new venture will be the manufacture and marketing of a two-seat sport airplane already certified in Spain and currently manufactured by Construcciones Aeronauticas De Galicia. The airplane, some 20 of which are now flying in Europe, will be renamed the Mooney Toxo and priced at less than $100,000, according to Mooney president Nelson Happy. Mooney will undertake all Toxo-related activities from its plant in Kerrville. The company is also considering the development of a surveillance aircraft for homeland security use.

Avionics Buzz

According to avionics innovator Garmin, its GPS-enabled boxes have been installed in nearly three-quarters of all U.S. single- and twin-engine piston and turbine aircraft that have been retrofitted since 2000. At Oshkosh, the Olathe, Kan. company introduced its latest and most capable system, the G1000, which has been selected for the Citation Mustang jet and Diamond DA42 TwinStar piston twin. “Our design goal with the G1000 is to transform the general aviation cockpit by providing our OEM partners with a completely integrated, all-glass avionics system that can be tailored to a broad range of aircraft,” said Gary Kelley, Garmin director of marketing.

The basic G1000 includes a 10-inch primary flight display and 10- or 15-inch multifunction display (a second PFD can be added if desired). Dual radio modules provide WAAS-capable and IFR oceanic-approved GPS, VHF com with 8.33-kHz channel spacing and ILS. Among other integrated components are mode-S transponders, solid-state attitude and heading reference systems, RVSM-capable digital air-data computers, color weather radar, automated flight control system and class-B TAWS.

Boise, Idaho-based Chelton Flight Systems announced it had received approval for installation of its FlightLogic synthetic vision EFIS in helicopters, with the initial STC installation completed on a Bell JetRanger by Hillsboro Aviation of Hillsboro, Ore. Using GPS, aircraft sensors and onboard topographical databases, FlightLogic provides a real-time 3-D view of the world ahead of the aircraft, including towers, antennas, obstructions, traffic and navigation symbology. FlightLogic for helicopters also includes a precision hover display designed to help eliminate dynamic rollover in zero-visibility conditions such as white-out and brown-out, and an embedded terrain awareness and warning system for helicopters, known as H-TAWS.

Powering GA’s Future

Bombardier Recreational Products, which includes Rotax engines, has been sold to an undisclosed buyer by cash-strapped Bombardier of Canada, but officials hope they’ll be able to keep the Bombardier name for a new line of six-cylinder piston engines developed by Bombardier-Rotax in Gunskirchen, Austria. Currently in the final phases of development and certification for both fixed- and rotary-wing applications, the new “V” engines are scheduled for completion in 2005.

Announced at EAA were the normally aspirated V200 and turbocharged V300T models that are targeted for aircraft requiring powerplants in the 180- to 400-hp range. Both will burn leaded and unleaded avgas, as well as automobile gasoline, and will feature a fully redundant and certified engine management system (EMS) that will control all engine parameters. The EMS, according to the company, will include a “true” FADEC that will manage propeller-blade pitch and other elements of engine operation not usually controlled by the EMS in piston aircraft engines.

In other engine news, SMA of Paris, developer of the first certified aircraft piston engine that operates on jet-A, announced that an SMA SR305-230-powered Maule M-9 had logged its first flight on July 18 and one week later made the 800-nm trip from Moultrie, Ga., to Oshkosh. Maule Aircraft was the first OEM to fly with an SR305. Vulcanair of Italy will become the second when it flies the SR305 on its twin-engine P-68, expected this month.

SMA, a partnership of EADS, Renault and Snecma, also announced that Cirrus Design of Duluth, Minn., has selected the SR305 engine for its new SR21tdi project, which will adapt the 230-hp engine to an SR22 airframe. First flight is anticipated by the end of the year and certification within 10 months afterward.