AINsight: Wittman’s Field of Gold

 - July 18, 2019, 6:17 PM

Aviation enthusiasts will be navigating towards the little town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, over the next several days, eager to absorb the delights of aeronautical technology and acquaint and/or reacquaint themselves with as many of the thousands of like-minded souls as they can meet in the space of a few days in the typically hot summer sun. On hand next week at EAA AirVenture will be more than 10,000 aircraft and hundreds of thousands of attendees. Among them will be the best, the brightest, and the most bushy-tailed aircraft enthusiasts, innovators, tinkerers, and doers.

Celebrating 50 consecutive years at Oshkosh Wittman Regional Airport, the airshow’s golden anniversary is a perfect time to make the pilgrimage to the temporary center of the known aviation universe and absorb the sights, sounds, energy, and probably even a bit of smoke—emanating from tailpipes, hot exhaust nozzles, campfires, and BBQ grills—of the largest-ever gathering of the avgas- and jet-A-burning clan.

Under the inspired leadership of EAA chairman and CEO Jack Pelton, who is once again the aviation industry’s undisputed big cheese and volunteer-in-chief (at least for next week), the Oshkosh airshow will certainly be remembered for all that is at the leading edge of aeronautical innovation—and certainly things other than its official moniker of AirVenture.

Fifty years have now passed since Man first walked on the moon, the graceful Boeing 747 and needle-nose Concorde first took to the skies, and the pioneering Fanjet 500 (precursor to the Cessna Citation, most delivered business jet of all time) lifted off a Wichita runway.

While, at first glance, Oshkosh might seem to be all about the airplanes, the cavorting aero technology displays, in reality Oshkosh is as much more about the camaraderie and contagious energy that is generated when inquisitive, bright-eyed, and like-minded folks gather to see, share, learn, and be inspired to turn their dreams and half-finished “projects” into tomorrow’s flying machines.

As an arena where technologies are incubated, Oshkosh is unmatched. People from at least 87 countries attended AirVenture 2018, a record number that, like some of the aircraft on display, seems to have no ceiling. EAA reports that more than 1,500 forums, workshops, and presentations were conducted at the show last year, attracting more than 75,000 people.

Older and younger, stealthy wealthy or of more modest means, technically savvy, or just simply enthusiastic, Oshkosh attendees always seem to have their cameras close at hand and their eyes and minds wide open. Business and general aviation practitioners, whether soon-to-be or wannabe, will surely be dazzled by the rich diversity of aircraft in aerial displays and across the vast 1,400-acre expanse of Wittman Field, which will once again earn its stripes as the world’s busiest airport by total aircraft movements, if only for a few glorious days.

Almost lost among the crowds will be representatives from companies and organizations seeking new talent, an especially hot topic across the industry, both in the U.S. and abroad. As of June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 3.7 percent U.S. unemployment labor rate, continuing its steady 10-year decline. The unemployment rate in America was last this low 50 years ago, at the peak of the space race and at a time when images and words from the Apollo 11 mission were permanently lasered into many people’s memories.

Thankfully, moonwalk skeptics, science non-practitioners, and stuck-in-the-past disbelievers will once again be far outnumbered at aviation’s Wittman Field of dreams, dreamers, thinkers, and doers.

At AirVenture 2019, hybrid and all-electric air vehicles will be on prominent display, as innovators stretch the realm of what is possible towards that which is soon to be reality and the new normal. No doubt we will soon be able to ask Siri or Alexa to get us our half-inch wrench and Phillips-head screwdriver, which will almost instantly arrive by a virtually silent Amazon Prime Air UAV.

In the expected heat of a Wisconsin summer, a de Havilland Mosquito will be jostling for position with its minuscule namesakes, somewhat clouding the skies but not diminishing the view of and the enthusiasm for what is to many the greatest airshow on Earth. From WWII warbirds to vintage, canvas-clad trainers, from the Airbuses and Boeings to Yakovlevs and Zeppelins, Oshkosh will truly be the place to be for aviation’s up-and-coming Young Eagles, as well as the young at heart.