AINsight: By Gosh, It’s Oshkosh!

 - July 30, 2021, 11:11 AM
EAA AirVenture visitors overwhelmed Mike Patey's latest envelope-pushing design, Scrappy, a highly modified CubCrafters Carbon Cub EX-3 with a 600-hp Lycoming engine, drooped ailerons and double leading edge slats, and a unique variable-suspension landing gear. (Photo: Matt Thurber)

Pent-up demand for meeting old friends, seeing the latest aviation technology, and hanging out under the wings of aerial behemoths and other flying machines made for perhaps the largest-ever EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The show, which will end this Sunday, has been a doozy by all measures.

With ticket sales exceeding 2019 levels, the number of aircraft that showed up put pressure on the parking volunteers who were trying to find space for all the arrivals last weekend. Well more than double the number of aircraft that arrived during the first three days of the last show in 2019 came during this year’s first three days. Aerial views of the show site at Wittman Regional Airport reveal an extremely busy venue, with half a dozen rather large airplanes on Boeing Plaza, including the DC-8 operated by charity Samaritan’s Purse, a UPS 747, a Boeing 737 Max, an Airbus A400M airlifter in Luftwaffe livery, a U.S. Air Force C-17, and the Orbis eye charity’s massive DC-10.

There was plenty to see that was new this year, some of which was put off by the cancellation of last year’s AirVenture due to the pandemic. Although patrons were advised that masks were recommended at indoor events and in exhibit halls for the non-vaccinated, it was rare to see covered faces.

With so many events canceled during the pandemic, it wasn’t surprising to see the huge crowds at this year’s AirVenture. Clearly, people were eager to get out and witness a big airshow, and even some people from outside the U.S. showed up. One German attendee told me that due to restrictions still in place for travel to the U.S., he had to fly to Mexico and quarantine for two weeks before coming to the U.S.

While there were some eVTOL/urban air mobility exhibitors two years ago, more arrived for the 2021 show, and this year two electric aircraft took to the sky during the afternoon airshow on Tuesday. Although the flights were short and missed by many people who happened not to be watching at that time, they marked a milestone in eVTOL development and showed that these companies are serious about their work.

The first to give an aerial demo was the Volocopter X2 prototype, which took a four-minute tour over the flying display area. Volocopter brought two machines to Oshkosh, the X2 and the VoloCity two-seater, which wasn’t flown but was prominently displayed next to the X2 in an exhibit at show central. This was the first flight of a Volocopter eVTOL aircraft in the U.S.

Perhaps the oddest-looking flying machine at Oshkosh was Opener’s Blackfly, a single-seat, ultralight-qualified eVTOL vehicle. Just after the Volocopter demo, the Blackfly made its first-ever public flight, in front of the Oshkosh crowds. The piloted vehicle made two ascensions within a few minutes, climbing about 100 feet and changing attitude so attendees could get a good look at the unusually shaped machine.

The two vehicles represent opposite ends of the electric aircraft spectrum. Opener is targeting the market for a personal air vehicle that can carry a single person up to 25 miles. The Blackfly is expected to cost as much as a sport-utility automobile, according to the company. No pilot license or certification is required, as it meets FAA ultralight regulations.

Volocopter, on the other hand, is building a transportation machine that can carry people on short flights up to 22 miles in busy urban areas, bypassing traffic on the ground and saving a lot of time.

Other eVTOL and electric aircraft exhibitors included TeTra Aviation, VoltAero, Aska, Pipistrel, Bye Aerospace, and Luminati.

There are plenty of competing eVTOL projects, but it was fascinating to see two of these aircraft fly in public and also to realize that the designers of these eVTOL vehicles are pushing the envelope in small aircraft design, especially in terms of fly-by-wire flight controls, electric power, and eventually autonomous operation. This envelope-pushing is precisely why the Experimental Aircraft Association and the AirVenture show exists: to welcome the dreamers who are willing to put in the effort to develop radical new technologies that may someday find their way into more conventional aircraft or springboard entire new industries.

As manned aircraft design isn’t changing much now, it’s somewhat rare to see something truly new, but Oshkosh is the place for such unveilings and this year was no exception when Mike Patey and his “Scrappy” piston single-engine airplane arrived. Scrappy is a blend of an existing Super Cub-like utility taildragger (a CubCrafters Carbon Cub EX-3) and Patey’s ideas on how the airplane can be improved. Given his influential social media presence and eager way of explaining his design ideas, it’s no wonder that hundreds of show-goers gathered around Scrappy when it was parked in front of the Garmin exhibit. What makes Scrappy unusual is not just its 780-cu-in, 600-hp, highly modified Lycoming eight-cylinder engine driving an airboat-style propeller, but the wing design, with dual slats on the leading edge and a complex flaps-and-drooping-aileron arrangement on the trailing edge. Watching Patey’s videos of the wing design is like peeking into the mind of a passionate designer trying to eke out every last bit of performance from the airplane, which looks as if it could land inside a fenced-off tennis court, probably without even hitting the net in the middle.

Textron Aviation brought nearly its entire model lineup to Oshkosh, but the airplane that drew the most onlookers was the Cessna SkyCourier twin-engine utility turboprop, making its public debut. Test pilot Todd Dafforn flew the SkyCourier—serial number one in cargo configuration—to Oshkosh for just two days; then he had to bring it back to Wichita to rejoin the flight test program in preparation for certification later this year.

Perhaps the biggest news this year was the announcement that the FAA has issued a supplemental type certificate (STC) to General Aviation Modifications, Inc. (GAMI) for its new 100UL high-octane unleaded avgas. The initial STC covers Lycoming-powered Cessna 172s but will be expanded under the approved model list process until all Lycoming and Continental piston engines are covered, which could take about nine months, according to GAMI. The new 100UL fuel is a drop-in replacement for avgas and requires no modifications to the aircraft or engine, and it can use the same fuel delivery infrastructure and be mixed in any quantity with the current leaded 100LL avgas. Avfuel has signed on to distribute the new fuel. If all goes as planned, the removal of lead from avgas will be one of the most significant improvements in general aviation history.