Postcard from Oshkosh

Air & Space picks the best of this year’s EAA Airventure.

This 1928 Zenith biplane was a real people pleaser. Caroline Sheen

The best thing about the show this year is that everybody showed up. Despite the price of avgas and expectations for a slow show, the biggest fly-in in the world stayed big. Vendors at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, report strong traffic and sales, the North 40 camping area for private aircraft has been full of airplanes and tents, and the U-2 spyplane, Commemorative Air Force warbirds, famous P-38 Glacier Girl, and vintage DC-3s parked on Aeroshell Square are surrounded by crowds, on this, the last day of the fly-in. Although the EAA hasn’t compiled all visitor statistics, the association reports that international attendance has outpaced last year’s, with 1,657 airshow fans from 64 countries (compared to 1,333 from 56 countries last year).

At the show, the Air & Space team followed the crowds to several airplanes that have caused a stir (click on the photo gallery at right to see a selection). We’re sure you’ll hear more about all of them in the future.

At the WARBIRDS area, not one, but two P-51B Mustangs, the only two B models flying, were constantly surrounded by airplane fans. In July Impatient Virgin made its first flights after more than 60 years, and is one of the few Mustangs flying today that flew combat missions in World War II. In June 1945, the aircraft’s pilot, a member of the 361st fighter group stationed in Cambridgeshire, England, bailed out on a training mission after the engine’s coolant system suffered a failure, and the P-51 crashed miles away from its home base, RAF Bottissham. Located in 2002 in a British farmer’s beet field, the Mustang was restored by John Muszala of Pacific Fighters in Idaho Falls, Idaho, for owner John Sessions (after Sessions reimbursed the farmer for the time his field was not planted while the wreck was excavated). Both it and the other P-51B, which is painted in the colors of World War II ace Clarence “Bud” Anderson’s Old Crow, have the “Malcom bubble,” a sliding canopy the British substituted in the field to increase the visibility of the B Model’s original canopy. Caroline Sheen
The biggest attraction in the VINTAGE area was Addison Pemberton’s Boeing 40C, the oldest Boeing aircraft flying. The Model 40 was originally designed to be an air mail carrier and was later converted for passengers; the model C has room for four (and there were plenty of people at the airshow who would have loved the chance to ride in the elegant leather-and-wood cabin). Pemberton is about to embark on a transcontinental flight retracing early air mail routes in celebration of the 80th anniversary of U.S. air mail flights. Watch this web site for more news of Pemberton and the Boeing. Caroline Sheen
Where else but Oshkosh could you see two 1928 one-of-a-kind aircraft parked side-by-side? Next to the Boeing 40 sat the last remaining Zenith aircraft of six built. One of the dozens of airplane types invented by U.S. builders in the years following Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, the big Zenith biplane (read here about its restoration) was designed as a cargo hauler. Today it’s a people pleaser. Caroline Sheen
In an ultramodern black-and-silver tent, with a theatrical unveiling, ICON aircraft presented its contribution to the latest trend in Light Sport Aircraft:The amphibian ICON5A. The ICON 5A is a two-seat amphibian with retractable landing gear that allows for takeoffs and landings on both land and water. Wings that fold manually (in minutes, according to a spokesman, and easy for anyone who can lift 20 pounds) allow the aircraft to be loaded on a trailer or stowed in a garage. The marketing materials handed out at the ICON tent capture the lifestyle the company wants potential customers to envision: Having just anchored their ICON 5A by the shore of a scenic lake, two fly fishermen wade into the shallows and cast. But the ICON, with its flashy, futuristic, carbon-fiber airframe, looks uncomfortable in the wilderness. It should be flying superheroes around a megacity, sometime around the year 2068. Caroline Sheen
The name “Collaborators” doesn’t quite do justice to the four-man formation aerobatic team showcasing airshow great Sean D. Tucker. In their second year at Oshkosh, the Collaborators stood out from the rest with an unusual act requiring pilots to fly precise formation maneuvers in three different types of aircraft. (Most precision aerobatic teams fly formation in the same type.) “Pretty and precise,” commented someone in the audience. “Classy,” said another. The three other members of the Collaborators—Tucker’s son Eric, flying an Extra 300L, on the master’s left wing; Ben Freelove, flying an Extra 300L as right wingman; and Bill Stein, flying an Edge 540 in the slot position—loop and dive, with smoke trailing, while Tucker in his Challenger II biplane tumbles down through the center. From the Collaborators, don’t look for the loud, dangerous, aggressive acts toward which airshow performances have been trending in recent years. This is new. And better. Caroline Sheen
We could never find a time to take a picture of Carl Unger and his Breezy when they were alone. A perennial delight at Oshkosh, the Breezy has probably taken more passengers on solo joy rides than any other airplane in the HOMEBUILT area. Unger gave rides in the Breezy for more than 25 years. His prototype is in the EAA Museum, but Carl and his minimal, magical airplane still appear at the fly-in. Caroline Sheen
Dude, where’s my car? It’s in the air, actually. Terrafugia, Inc., has developed a light sport aircraft…automobile. Transition, as the vehicle is known, was designed by MIT-trained engineers, and will get 30 to 40 miles per gallon on the ground, 27 in the air, and runs on regular unleaded gas. More than 50 people have plunked down $10,000 toward the $194,000 anticipated purchase price, although Terrafugia has yet to fire the engine. “We’re selling this to pilots,” says John Telfeyan, senior engineering technician. “It’s not a flyable car, but a roadable aircraft.” Although the promotional film boasts that the vehicle has “a lot of James Bond appeal,” we think it looks more like Herbie the Lovebug crossed with SpaceShipOne. Driving and flight tests begin in November, and delivery is set for late 2009. Caroline Sheen