The 2011 edition of AirVenture Oshkosh was one for the ages. The weather was beautiful, the airplanes, and there were a lot of them, were spectacular, and the politics were, well, intriguing.
The show got off on a very strange note when AirVenture Chairman Tom Poberezny called it quits by retiring at high noon by the original brown EAA Arch on the very first day of the 2011 show. Poberezny, who had been in charge of EAA from the late 1980s up until that Monday morning gave no specific reason for leaving the show or for leaving the organization. The EAA, for its part, wanted to talk about the event as little as possible. In its daily rundown of the events of Monday, it included a note about Poberezny’s retirement as the third item in its list. Clearly, there was a lot going on behind the scenes.
Somewhat remarkably, the show went on fine from there.
The weather with the exception of some rain on Wednesday and some wind on the final weekend was spectacular, with clear skies and warm but pleasant temperatures. This resulted predictably in massive numbers of airplanes more than 10,000 arriving in Wisconsin for the festivities. The EAA used to count airplanes that landed at Oshkosh and one its few satellite airports, but apparently now it counts airplanes that arrive at any Eastern or Central Wisconsin airport. Which makes sense. How many tourists fly into Green Bay in late July with football players locked out to do anything but go to AirVenture?
Some of the airplanes that arrived were simply breathtaking. Flying got to tour the Boeing 787-800, which was at the show for just one glorious day the futuristic jet left Seattle at 4 a.m. in the pitch dark with a sliver of a rising moon, the pilot told me, to be in Oshkosh in time for getting lots of folks through the interior of the mostly-carbon fiber airliner.
Another big Boeing, this one called FIFI, wowed the crowd all week long. The lone flying B-29 in the world was arguably the star of the show.
Legendary fighter pilot, test pilot and airshow pilot Bob Hoover was there, too, and EAA honored him throughout the week for his accomplishments and his contributions to aviation. (Is there any cooler pilot ever? Rhetorical question.)
There was also a salute to Burt Rutan, the legendary designer of everything from single-seaters to spaceships, who was honored with a program by EAA and with the gathering of nearly a dozen different designs that Rutan had dreamt up over the last 40 years.
Rutan was at the show signing autographs, making appearances and generally looking anything but retired.
According to the EAA, attendance compared to last year was markedly up, by four percent, though last year’s event was streaked by rain and clogged by mud. Friday was a very busy day at the show, possibly due to the arrival of the 787.
But traffic woes beset the show. Arrival patterns for cars coming into the grounds were changed, with about half of the normal capacity to the north of the airport being inexplicably closed off this year, and in other places lanes eliminated, causing huge bottle necks at the entry gates. EAA said that traffic on the Route 41 was backed up a dozen miles in either direction, and it vowed to look into the situation.
Still, AirVenture 2011 was a great show, one of the best ever, and the industry was feeling the love, too. Many of the vendors with whom we spoke reported good sales and stronger interest from customers than in years.
One explanation I heard was that it was a week we all needed, to take our minds off of all the worries in the economy and the world and get back to the good honest business of flying airplanes. Makes sense.
With this year’s show in the books, AirVenture 2012 is already in the planning phases. Expect to see a salute to the Piper Cub, which turns 75 next year, to EAA founder Paul Poberezny and his wife Audrey, as well as a salute to Van’s RV founder Dick Van Grunsven and to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, pilots extraordinaire of World War II.
See the best of AirVenture 2011 in photos.