After the last plane took off for home in August, EAA announced it was starting work on a 10-year plan to improve its AirVenture grounds on Wittman Regional Airport. The news release spoke about moving the main gate, new thoroughfares, and improved navigation. It doesn’t sound like much –until you see it first hand.
Last week I tagged along as Steve Taylor, head of EAA’s grounds and maintenance, updated Dick Knapinski, the association’s PR engine, on the progress made. We started on the south side, behind Exhibit Hangars D and B. A Caterpillar D6R dozer was pushing gravel around a 286-by-115-foot hole that was 7-feet deep before they started filling it with 2,000 loads of clean gravel, at 22 tons a load.
This is just one of several underground rainwater run-off cells, Steve explained. Part of the required drainage system, the cells replace open retention ponds, depriving bugs of their breeding grounds–and saving space. Pointing to the wires sprouting out of the gravel, Dick said this is where EAAers will find the Fly Market and AeroMart. This move, and the magnitude of the site improvements, became clear when we arrived at where the main gain used to be.
The gate and familiar, welcoming arch is gone. Before AirVenture 2009 it will be rebuilt 400 feet to the west, flanked by north and south admission buildings that will make for shorter lines. There are three ways to penetrate the side. Straight ahead to AeroShell Square, to the southeast for Theater in the Woods, vintage aircraft parking, and Camp Scholler. It was a 5-minute stroll up the northeast path to the forums area.
Less than a minute later I was in the homebuilt parking area. A line of familiar brown buildings waited patiently until their new sites were ready. As Dick and Steve discussed their new locations for the IAC building, Young Eagles, and all the rest, they made sense. For the most part they are adjacent to the airplanes related to the respective activities, so finding your way around the new site shouldn’t be a problem. And I sure appreciated the shorter distances the new layout provides.
And everyone will have more shady spots along the way. EAA moved 61 mature trees. “We only lost eight trees,” Steve said, because they were too big to move. I found one grove in front of Aeronautica, just south of the FAA building and the new control tower, and another by convention headquarters, in what used to be the golf cart corral. Another cluster of trees were replanted by the Twin Pines food court.
Member comments, thousands of them submitted during AirVenture, helped shape the changes underway, and those to follow in the later phases, Dick said. They helped shape future changes to Camp Scholler, like bike paths and shower house improvements.
Leaving me to explore on my own, and I hoofed it to my usual AirVenture destinations–forums, homebuilts, warbirds, the exhibit hangars and the Fly Market, vintage, and ultralights–thought about the miles I’ve walked and changes I’ve seen since I attended my first convention in 1978. Without a doubt this is the most revolutionarily significant, and the site reorganization as explained makes sense.
The advantages of the new layout are not only geometric, they are psychological. The new AirVenture layout provides short, straight-line walks, and when you can see your destination from the start of your journey, the distance seems even shorter. This point hit home as I followed the southeast diagonal to where the main gate will soon be. From there it was a short jaunt to the AirVenture Museum parking lot. — Scott Spangler