EAA AirVenture Reset Surprises

By Scott Spangler on August 9th, 2021

With a week to reflect and sort the interactions and activities of EAA AirVenture 2021, my challenge was to quantify why it was the most enjoyable show of this millennium. The easiest quantifier was the people who attended. With few exceptions over the past four decades, Oshkosh pilgrims have always been decent, pleasant people, eager to share their aeronautical passions. But they were noticeably different this year.

They were truly and honestly happy to be wandering the AirVenture acres from the flight line to Interstate 41 and the fences that mark the airport perimeter at the North and South 40. More than a few people, exhibitors and everyday participants, shared their likewise observations with me. And maybe what made the EAAers’ happiness so brilliantly apparent is the cesspool of unhappiness that is the foundation of everyday life, where every interaction is another opportunity to judge, criticize, and complain.

No one seemed to embody the spirit of happiness more than Brigadier General Charles McGee, at 102 the one of last surviving Tuskegee fighter pilots. He was at the Piper media briefing, which announced its participation in the launch of the Red Tail Flight Academy, named in honor of the distinctive markings on the fighters flown by the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. Based at New York’s Stewart International Airport, the Part-141 program will start with six scholarship students in September, increasing to 30 students a year by 2026. The 10-month program will earn its students a multiengine commercial certificate with instrument rating.

Since EAA moved its convention to Oshkosh in 1970, it was easy to see which airplanes were the most popular by the stomped-to-death grass the surrounded them, leaving a green grass shadow of their popularity when the show was over. This phenomenon has always been most apparent in the homebuilt parking area. But not this year! Not only were there no green grass shadows, airplanes never filled this area during the show, which in itself is a surprise. The only stomped to death grass was the pathway that led from the Brown Arch to the Warbirds.

The most intriguing warbird arrived on a trailer from the Air Zoon Aerospace & Science Experience in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It was clearly a Douglas SBD Dauntless, and the corroded radial engine announced with equal force that the airplane had spent a lot of time under water. What an understatement. This rare SBD-1 started its service with the Marine Corps in 1940, and ended up at Naval Air Station Glenview when the Marine scout bomber squadron got new SBD-4s. Just north of Chicago, Glenview was the home of naval carrier training and qualifications for nearly all sea service aviators during World War II. Ensign Herbert McMinn didn’t complete his approach to the USS Wolverine in November 1942. It was recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan in 1994. Learning how it ended up with the Air Zoo is on this year’s to-do list.

Equally intriguing was an OV-10 in Navy livery, and the sign next to it said it was for sale. (It didn’t give a price, so it’s surely one of those “If you have to ask…” situations.) The OV-10 Squadron website said it was the first of seven OV-10s it plans to restore to full airworthiness. Six of the airframes were reclaimed from the National Vietnam War Museum in Mineral Wells, Texas, in 2018. The restored Bronco started flying with the Navy’s light attack squadron (VAL) 4 in 1969. The others are in various stages of restoration at Chino, California.

In a manner of speaking, AirVenture’s most popular airplane was “hiding” in the exhibit area, but there was no grass to kill because Mike Patey’s Scrappy was tied down in a mulch filled display island outside the Garmin pavilion. Let’s just call it a one-of-a-kind airplane that only Mike Patey could conceive and execute. Imagine, a Carbon Cub with an eight-cylinder IO-720 and big bush wheels that points its airboat prop eagerly skyward. Beware, make no immediate plans if you tune into Patey’s YouTube channel to learn more about his project.

In another corner of the outdoor exhibit area was this rotary-wing RV and campsite set up outside the Airbus pavilion. Okay, have any of you rotorheads out there in JetWhine land ever seen a helicopter bike rack before? Can you order one from Airbus, or is it a custom-made bolt-on option?

I found AirVenture’s final surprise in the South 40, which is just a few footsteps from Fond du Lac. Watching the volunteers park incoming airplanes in the last few open rows, I passed what I initially thought was a light station. Wrong again. It was a 21st century Charging Station that not only re-electrified the campers’s devices, it provided internet connections and running water. What more would an AirVenture camper need?

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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