Hangar Talk: Editorial
Oshkosh '97: Avbuzz and Engines
by Craig Peyton
To achieve the proper level of mind numbing Oshkosh av-buzz it's important to fly in and camp out. From the Ripon checkpoint, to final, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other aircraft, you definitely know you're not doing touch and goes at your local strip. Your brave webmaster Yonatan and I thought we were going to be blown back to New York during Sat. night's thunder storm. Waking up during the 15 min., 5AM mag check on the plane 10 feet from your head, more sleep is out of the question.
To the casual observer not much has changed from years past... Pilots and pilot wanna-bes from every level of involvement converge for one week of all out av-lust. You cannot escape aviation; the noise, smell, and even taste is in the air. It's a good thing to be obsessed with flight, otherwise you might start to notice the rip off food prices, (the 4.00 glass of lemonade was a good deal) endless waits for busses, long lines, and youthful army troops directing you every which way. This dedicated homebuilder EAA gathering has evolved into one serious world class event. Nowhere can you find such a mix of humble grassroots aviation, GA, Military, astronauts, showmen, ultralights, and FAA big shots.
Engines were making news at Oshkosh this year. NASA's "GAP" (General Aviation Propulsion) program is helping fund efforts to develop low cost diesel and turbine engines for GA. New engine design is the #1 hope to breath new life into GA. The public's already low opinion of GA will not tolerate us burning leaded fuel and running noisy engines much longer. Slow turning props burning low flame point jet or diesel fuel will make flying safer, cheaper, and quieter. Burt Rutan was talking up his "V Jet" design as the new GA platform. This cool looking mini jet running on the Williams High-bypass turbofan engine had many pilots I spoke with wondering if Burt was getting overexposed to epoxy fumes. Most felt there was no way this little "Jetsons" hotrod was going to be replacing our aging fleet at anywhere near affordable prices. The cards people were filling out at the Williams tent seemed to indicate this was going to be a 400K ++ little "V Jet". (Of course I would be happy to volunteer test flying one)...
The near term (like something we can get before we all die) possible savior of GA was at Oshkosh and caused great frustration. I'm referring to the brilliantly designed "Zoche Rotary Diesel". Michael and son George Zoche have an engine that could cause an explosion of retrofitting and new designs. Manufacturers have even been visiting Germany to try to get the ball rolling. The engine is simple, burns clean, is very fuel efficient, and right out of the box has a TBO 50% higher than the best IC engine currently running. Their 300 HP diesel weighs the same as a 200 HP Lyc IO 360 and burns 1 GPH more an hour in cruise. Why won't Michael Zoche get this on a flying aircraft? While I admire his unbending determination to only allow a fully certified engine fly and not to have his first customers be "beta testers", we need the stuff now. There might not be much GA to save another few years down the road. Burt Rutan publicly said at the show, Zoche "blew it" and "waited too long". The Zoche engines he wanted on his "Boomerang" could have helped light the fires of a real turnaround that brings everyone in, certified and homebuilt owners.
Michael Zoche claims he is at least 10 years ahead of The Renult Diesel and GAP, and feels the 2 year wait for a production run is no big deal... Well, the "Spirit of Saint Louis" was designed and built in less than 90 days. Meanwhile, sales were strong at Oshkosh this year. Even the less than thrilling "New 172's" were moving. Airframe and avionic manufactures were upbeat and busy selling while the heavy iron gang were doing their best to keep WWII alive overhead. The non-flying crowds got their fill of the flying circus, with Sean Tucker hanging impossibly on his prop and the Harrier Jet's hovering noise waking up the dead for miles around. Patty Wagstaff's aerial precision looking almost computer generated while the B2 looked like a stealthy hallucination.
The EAA, who runs the event, has allowed Oshkosh to blossom into a unique experience. There is so much of everything that you are forced to be selective. Between the exhibits, airshow, forums, the tradeshow, and airplanes themselves, there are years worth of information waiting for you. The glory of Oshkosh is viewing the flocks of homebuilts that fly in. Nowhere on Earth can you see such a selection of people's desire to fly manifested in endless creative forms. When I walk past rows of LongEasys, Glasairs, Lancairs, RV's, Seawinds, Pulseairs, Kitfoxes, and countless other 1 of a kind and kitplanes, I know I am seeing the future of aviation. The effort each of these flying machines represent boggles the mind. Any one plane is a full story of dreams, heartbreak, hope, and joy.
The committed builders are at the forefront of the next wave of change. They can experiment with engines, airframes, and avionics, without the certification problem. Many vendors at the show cater to their needs as their numbers grow every year. As much as many dream of building, most of us don't have the combination of time, money, space, and personal skills to manufacture aircraft in our homes. The kit companies know this and some are making the very expensive move to certify new designs. Lancair's "Columbia 300" combines much of the innovation of the Lancair 4 in a fixed gear design. The 190 knot cruise speed causes heart flutter to many of us tin can drivers, and changes that weekend trip concept significantly. The bad news is most of the high performance stuff we dream about is still priced sky high. Hopefully with volume sales, airframes tweeked out by computers and glass cockpit displays might get less expensive on the next generation of aircraft. The big problem is new engines. It's embarrassing to be flying a mag driven 4 banger at the dawn of the next millennium. Soon all aircraft owners will have to register with the heritage society for preserving ancient engine technology.
With all the excitment and hype, I wonder how many of the non-pilots walking away with a belly full of grease, ringing in their ears, sore legs and sunburn could feel the elusive spirit of aviation, and get excited about it, in a personal way. To see it as more than the big show overhead and hopelessly out of reach. I hope they looked into the eyes of a proud homebuilder, watched someone polish the wing of a lovingly restored bi-plane, understood the curve of a perfect loop .......It was all at Oshkosh this year...the vibe was in the air, as our aerial community looked for new updrafts to take wing on.
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