EAA AirVenture Stages Surprising Finale

By Scott Spangler on July 26th, 2018

AV3-197After its unusual start, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh returned to its predicable ways as the week passed the halfway mark. But is was just setting us up, out of the west, just above the trees and behind the backs of everyone facing the flight line for the National Anthem, came six blue and yellow F-18 jets arranged in the U.S. Navy Blue Angels’ rock solid delta formation. Everyone was like “Whaa….where’d they come from?” Reversing course, the Blues executed there Delta break, then rejoined in the delta and disappeared to the west just as magically as they had appeared. Clearly it was a well-planned (and timed) fly-by on their way to some other destination.

The second surprise came at AirVenture’s Press Headquarters on Thursday morning. On the media side of the event, this has not been the year for big announcements, and when there is a significant announcement, the orator shouts it from the stage early in the week. In other words, I wasn’t expecting much from the National Air & Space Museum’s presser at 0900 on Thursday morning. And then I saw Sean D. Tucker’s Oracle Challenger III parked in front of the press headquarters. Searching my midweek addled brain for any memory of another airplane so parked over the past 30 years I came up blank.

AV4-12 Let me cut to the chase. Air & Space is commencing a top-to-bottom makeover of the the visited museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In the transformation of its 23 galleries, the museum will dedicate one of them—We All Fly—to general aviation, thanks to a $10 million gift from the Thomas W. Haas Foundation. And the Oracle Challenger III will soar above the portal to that gallery.

Tucker said he is closing out his solo air show career this season and is in the process of putting together a four-ship air show team and the sponsorship needed to make it work. While he’s gathering the second half of the necessary sponsorship, he said he would “campaign” the Oracle Challenger III to promote its new home, and then he will deliver it to the museum.

My final surprise was learning about an era of aviation I know little about, and to learn about it from roaring, burping, castor oil spitting engines that are a century old. Knowing that the crankshaft of a rotary engine is bolted to the firewall and that the prop is bolted to the crankcase and radial array of cylinders that spin as a unit is one thing. To see them actually operate is another. And I have a new appreciation for torque.

AV4-56Kermit Weeks brought three of his World War I airplanes to Oshkosh, the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Snipe, both with 80-hp and 230-hp rotary engines, and an Albatross, with a water-cooled Mercedes engine. All the engines are original, and their airframes are exact recreations created by Peter Jackson in New Zealand. Before starting each engine, Weeks explained the operating idiosyncrasies  and operating parameters. For example, the 230-hp Bentley rotary on the Snipe burned about 13 gallons per hour of fuel, and about 3.5 gallons of castor oil, a vegetable-based lubricant. That’s important, because it doesn’t mix with the mineral based fuel, said Weeks. The lubrication system is one of constant flow; what friction doesn’t consume gets flung out of the engine, liberally lubricating the pilot and airframe. “It’s my beauty secret,” said Weeks. “Another benefit of the system is that you never have to change the oil. You just add more before every flight.”  Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t allow any such excursions, and that was certainly no surprise. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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