AirVenture Oshkosh 2014 has just concluded, an excellent week with big crowds and the kind of cool temperatures the organizers pray for. Steve Brown and I spent a few days exploring opportunities for CAF and the National Airbase project. We had very productive meetings, and got some exciting projects moving.
Having a golf cart is invaluable in getting around the huge site for meetings. The Oshkosh tradition is that, if you’re privileged enough to have a golf cart, try where possible to stop and give rides to pedestrians. Steve picked up one gentleman making the inward trek from the parking lots. “Where are you headed?” we asked. His weary face brightened: “The warbirds… I love those warbirds!”
This is not an unusual reaction. Every year EAA does a survey of the reasons people visit AirVenture and the warbirds are consistently ranked #1. I’ve sometimes heard it said that interest in World War II will dwindle as the “greatest generation” dies away. I disagree, if anything, the interest seems to be growing through the descendants of those who participated. And the aircraft we fly have an enduring public appeal.
Anyway, here’s a quick review of a few things that stood out for me at this year’s Oshkosh.
1. Warbirds in Review
I’ve been saying for a long time that the Warbirds in Review program is one of the best things at Oshkosh. Under the leadership of Connie Bowlin it just seems to get better and better each year. The basic idea has always been to pair incredible airplanes with interesting people. But the program stepped up a level in 2014 with a new format that made the whole thing feel more like a “show” experience. The (excellent) living history group got involved, there were live singers doing period music and a three-camera setup feeding into a jumbotron. We have been thinking of similar things for the CAF National Airbase, and seeing the packed bleachers at Warbirds in Review encourages us to continue in this direction.
Whatever you think about ICON it’s hard to deny the little amphibious LSA has been masterfully marketed. I spent time in their tent studying how the airplane was displayed. Why? Because of the way they use sound, light and video around the aircraft to create a powerful, dramatic atmosphere. The more I’ve worked with aviation museums, the more I’ve come to believe in the importance of techniques like this to impact the visitor experience. ICON do it really well.
3. Growler Simulator
I queued for 40 minutes in the hot sunshine to get inside an enclosed 18 wheel trailer that had been brought in by Boeing to build public support for federal funding of their EA-18G Growler. It was billed as an exciting flight simulator experience. The reality? A complete waste of time! Sometimes you can learn by observing how not to do something, this was one of those times. It also reinforced what a good job the CAF Red Tail Squadron has done with the “Rise Above” traveling exhibit. They did not have the budget and resources of Boeing, but did an infinitely better job.
4. Dick Cole's flight in Miss Mitchell
CAF was well-represented at Oshkosh with Diamond Lil taking pride of place on the central display ramp and several other CAF airplanes present too. It was nice to see Gunfighter participate in the missing-man tribute to EAA’s founder Paul Poberezny, and I was impressed by the industrious T-shirt sales operation around Devil Dog. But as a CAF highlight it’s hard to top the emotional flight that 98 year old Dick Cole who to a ride in the Minnesota Wing’s B-25.
5. One Week Wonder
I thought this was the best thing at the whole event. It began with a good idea – build an entire airplane in public, in just seven days. And the project was superbly executed. What I liked best was how the team took time to educate and involve the public along the way. For example over 2,500 people (including hundreds of kids) actually put a rivet in the airplane and signed their name next to it. We’re cooking a set of ideas about how to do public aircraft restorations at the CAF National Airbase. Some museums have tried this in the past but I don’t think anyone has ever nailed it cold. The One Week Wonder gave some very helpful clues. Maybe next year EAA could try building a WW2 bomber in 24 hours… it’s been done before.
This interesting new company were doing a proof-of-concept demonstration, streaming live HD video from airborne aircraft to the internet, where viewers can take a “virtual ride” choosing from several camera views. Steve and I saw some of the footage and it was of extremely high quality. We talked to the company and can see some interesting uses of this technology. For example, I’d like to see the CAF National Airbase as a hub for distance education, serving educational programs into schools all around the country. The majority of schools in the USA are now tied into distance learning networks that allow this. And how cool would it be if classes could fly along in an airplane and even talk to the crew? If this sounds far-fetched I can tell you that several aquariums are already taking school classes under the sea with scuba divers. And we now have a technology that allows us to do it in the air.