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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.

  

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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh


Volume 9, Number 8 August 3, 2008     

Writer discovers you can come home
By Peter Lert

Up until the early 1990s, I made a living of sorts as an aviation writer, and I came to Oshkosh religiously (just plain "Oshkosh" in those days, "AirVenture" was yet to come). That’s the right adjective, too; I know "the homebuilders’ mecca" is a cliché, but the faithful made the pilgrimage every year.

My life changed, as lives do; writing gigs tapered off, and I drifted away from sport aviation and homebuilding (and, regrettably, from friends with whom I had warm relationships even though I only saw them once or twice a year). I found honest work, first in Colorado and more recently flying as an air-ambulance pilot in California. Then, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Mary Jones, longtime Oshkosh friend and now senior editor of EAA Sport Aviation. Would I be interested in meeting David Hipschman, EAA’s new director of publications, on his impending trip to California, to discuss the possibility of returning to the faith and writing for EAA magazines, and possibly for Air Venture Today? David and I met, decided that we had similar backgrounds, values, and twisted senses of humor, and last Sunday night I showed up for my first Oshkosh…excuse me, AirVenture…in 14 years.

It’s like I never was away. It feels the same. And yet it’s also very different.

It’s much bigger. Maybe not in sheer number of planes on the field; that probably peaked back when a gallon of gas cost less than a Zaug’s bratwurst. But it feels as if there are many more displays, spread over a larger area. In 1994, I felt overwhelmed by the number of vendors in the two big display buildings; now, those buildings have been relegated to secondary uses, and it feel as if both of them would fit in any one of the five display hangars. Even then, vendors spill out into adjoining tents and plazas. I’m more overwhelmed than ever.

The planes are different. I’m not even considering the traditional airframe manufacturers, who now cover the whole range from Cessna’s new and relatively affordable SkyCatcher LSA to multi-megabuck turboprops and even jets from all the major players. And from some new major and would-be major players, too. Fourteen years ago, a "very light jet" was something you put in the carburetor of an ultralight’s two-stroke to make it run leaner. Now it’s something that looks like what young Buck Rogers wants to find under his Christmas tree, and prices start somewhere on the far side of a million dollars. No question that the VLJs and personal jets—some of them, anyway—will succeed. But how many of us coming to AirVenture are ready to spend that kind of money? Will that kid dribbling ice cream onto the carpet of the Eclipse grow up to buy one? At least there are some EAA connections. Years ago I flew Dale and Alan Klapmeier’s first VK-30 Cirrus—a kit-built composite pusher with a big, roomy cabin. In the interim, they’ve been building the wildly popular Cirrus SR20 and SR22 production singles. Now they’re back with another big, roomy composite pusher. Back then, I thought $30,000 for a basic kit was expensive. Now Dale and Alan’s jet costs a million dollars…but it’s already built, and the pusher is a jet.

Back then, $100,000 would have been considered expensive to build a high-performance kit—for that amount (plus years of work), you could have something like a Glasair III, complete with engine and instruments. Now, the same $100,000 will buy you one of quite a few different light-sport aircraft (LSA)—with much less performance, but already built, and flyable with less training. It seems to me that people are returning to the old ideal of simple flying, aviation for the pure pleasure of launching into the vast ocean of air—not necessarily to fly far and fast, just to fly.

Of course, that’s what launched the ultralight movement, back in the 1980s and early ’90s, and that’s one homecoming that seemed a bit sad. Fourteen years ago, the ultralight area at the south end of the show was, literally, humming with activity. Every morning, and every evening after the show, that airspace was a veritable beehive of activity, with ultralights everywhere one looked, and takeoffs and landings every few seconds. This time, I never saw more than a handful of ships in the air—usually only two or three—and there were far fewer vendors.

Ultimately, though, it’s clear that the underlying spirit, the shared love of flying, the shared search for the freedom of flight, is as strong as ever. And what meant the most to me was to be recognized and greeted by old friends I thought I’d lost, friends who seemed as genuinely glad to see me again as I am to see them.

It’s great to be back.

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