Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Keeping Amateur Aviation Afloat

On the third day we went out to the seaplane base where there was a field for amphib parking and then a couple rows of float planes anchored in a little lagoon. I expected there to be more but some had already left and the price of fuel kept some away. We watched a few aircraft taking off and landing on the water. It was fairly windy and the choppy waves made it challenging for the airplanes to get on the step, where drag with the floats in the water is reduced sufficiently to accelerate to flying speed. It's an opportunity for the watching pilots to stand around and authoritatively tell each other what the pilot who is trying to take off is doing wrong. This sort of thing is a mainstay of aviation.

The Oshkosh event is officially the EAA Airventure, that is the annual convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association. The Experimental there refers not so much to Boeing testing the first B787, but to the MacGyver spirit that caused the Wright Brothers and hundreds of other inventor pilots to put things together in their backyards and basements. The classic ultralight airplane in my mind is made entirely out of things that you could find in a garden shed. It is powered by an engine from a lawnmower or a weedwhacker. You sit in a lawnchair. The propeller is possibly the trickiest thing to homebuild. There's a company called Warp Speed that seems to make most ultralight propellers. I was disappointed by the low number of true ultralights on display at the show. My friend, who used to be a dealer for light sport planes, theorized that the light sport plane has killed the ultralight. An ultralight dealer I know said that the EAA killed the ultralight, via their lobbying for the the LSA category. Because any homebuilt bigger than the tiniest ultralight now has to be inspected and approved by the FAA, the true whacko libertarians aren't building airplanes anymore.

Anywhere you go, you can certainly find plenty of rugged individuals with theories that "they" say make no sense. But at Oshkosh the individual is standing next to a Piper Cherokee that has painted on the door the list of speed competitions it had won for its category.

Or perhaps the ultralight is alive and well, but Oshkosh is no longer a hospitable environment for them. The Fly Market was originally a buy and sell are of new and used airplane parts, or chunks of airplanes (or entire airplanes cut in half with a skill saw--to relieve the original builder of any liability from someone attempting to fly an airplane sold for scrap). Now it still has some of that spirit, but there's a lot of trinkets and cookware and the other things you see at standard flea markets.

I have pictures now, but blogger tells me they cannot be uploaded due to an internal server error, so they will have to wait.


Anonymous said...

It appears that many of the "traditional" ultralights, like the Kolb series, have moved over to the LSA category. Having the LSA certification attached to their airplanes makes them much more attractive to potential buyers.
It makes sense, would you want to buy an aircraft that has only been tested by "the guy who makes them in his garage"? Standards of certification are a good thing for anyone looking to purchase an aircraft that is ready to fly. If you want a true ultralight, you can still build one. I believe now that the reason so few of them were at Oshkosh is the price the EAA charges for exhibition space. It's more than some ultralight kits are worth!

When I was operating my ultralight school, I was praying for the day that transport would bring in a sport pilot equivalent here, so I could drop the "ultralight" name from my aircraft. From some reason, the word conjures up visions of weed-whacker engined flying lawnchairs! :)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Afloat, while you were hobknobbing at the biggest airshow on the planet Ottawa had their Red Bull flugtag. A certain blue skinned pilot was missed.... ;)

I think you went to the better show overall though!

Anonymous said...

Haven't been to Oshkosh since 1984, when I came transatlantic in a Cherokee and wowed them with a German registration :-)

Hopped solo via Cambridge (UK) - Stornoway - Iceland - Greenland & Canada (two stops).

Oshkosh is always an attraction though, so manbe Hans and I will try the trip in his Mooney next time.

Anonymous said...

Keeping the spirit alive - there are still intrepid aviators 'out there' ... harder and harder to beat out the bureaucrats and government agencies working so hard to "protect us" from ourselves...

For example: