Bad weather may have cut public attendance, but it did not dampen the enthusiasm of exhibitors at this year's convention and fly-in at Oshkosh

David Higdon/OSHKOSH

AVIATORS BY THE tens of thousands renewed their love affair with aviation during the 44th annual Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Convention and Fly-In in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on 1-7 August. They found plenty of new products to look at - plus some things old made new again.

There were new aircraft, new avionics, even a new way - US Federal Aviation Administration-approved, of course - to receive instrument-approach plates by computer CD-ROM technology from Jeppesen, the oldest name in charts. With all, which was new and different to see and buy, Oshkosh also retained some of its old, reliable traits: the afternoon airshow and the bad weather, which cut off access for many pilots. Total attendance during the week dropped by some 30,000 to about 800,000, compared with 1995.

Oshkosh is as much about people as it is about aircraft, and this year saw the return to the flightline of airshow legend Bob Hoover, performing his classic routine of energy management in a Rockwell Twin Commander for the first time since winning back his medical certificate from the FAA after a three-year struggle. The loss of Charlie Hilliard, killed in a freak taxiing accident with his Hawker Sea Fury at the EAA's Sun 'n Fun fly-in earlier this year in Lakeland, Florida, was marked by exhibitors and visitors alike.

Politicians even got into the act, with US Senator Jim Inhoffe, the only member of the US Congress to pilot a private aircraft around the world, applauding the success of the product-liability reform signed into law by President Clinton two years ago. "We're building aircraft again in America," he declared. Inhoffe was at Oshkosh to seek support for his efforts to remove the FAA from the control of the US Department of Transportation.


The most visible result of the liability-relief legislation acclaimed by Inhoffe was Cessna Aircraft's return to Oshkosh with piston-engined aircraft to sell for the first time in more than a decade. The company's opening-day announcement of prices for its new 172 and 182 piston-singles kept visitors talking for the show's remaining six days.

Cessna drew a standing-room-only crowd to hear the news: $124,500 for the basic visual-flight-rules 172 Skyhawk; $190,600 for the baseline 182 Skylane, an instrument-flight-rules (IFR)-equipped aircraft complete with auto-pilot. AlliedSignal Bendix/King is the sole avionics supplier on the new singles, while fuel-injected engines from Cessna's Textron sister-company Lycoming are the sole power plants on offer: a 120kW (160hp) IO-360 for the 172; and a 170kW IO-540 for the 182. Two optional avionics packages - at $10,000 and $15,000 - give the 172 IFR capability; one $8,900 package fills out the 182's IFR panel. The only other options are wheel spats priced at $1,200.

Across from Cessna's stand was a largely empty Raytheon Aircraft exhibit, normally stocked with the company's piston and turboprop products. This year Raytheon eschewed Oshkosh for budgetary reasons. Instead, Raytheon dealer Stevens Aviation staffed the display and featured the 3,000th Beech A36 Bonanza piston-single. The custom-finished A36 was about mid-way through a six-month marketing tour of US Raytheon dealers.

Importers promoted two new factory-built aircraft, one an Italian design built in Russia, the other a German sport plane.

Columbus, Ohio-based Century Aerospace is now test-flying Eurospace's F.15F Excalibur - a four-seat, retractable-gear, piston-single built in Russia to the original design by Italy's Stelio Frati, creator of the SIA Marchetti SF.260. Century plans to import airframes made by Sokol, in Nizhniy Novgorod, and equip them with US-made engines, propellers, wheels, brakes and avionics. Powered by a 225kW Teledyne Continental IO-550, the 175kt (325km/h)-cruise aircraft will carry a price of about $225,000 when available in 1997.

Century also showed off a full-scale mock-up of a single-engined business jet, dubbed the Century Jet, which is scheduled to enter flight tests in 1997. Powered by an 8kN (1,900lb)-thrust Williams-Rolls FJ44-1 turbofan, the aircraft is projected to cost $1.85 million.

Connecticut-based FlightStar, meanwhile, plans to bring the two-seat C-42 Cyclone from Germany and certificate the aircraft to the US sport plane standard created three years ago when the Quicksilver Enterprises GT500 first won approval. FlightStar's president says that the 90kt-cruise Cyclone will carry a price of $39,500, complete with Rotax 912 engine and BRS ballistic recovery-parachute system.


On the exotic-aircraft front, legendary designer Burt Rutan arrived in his latest product, an asymmetrical twin, dubbed the Boomerang. A 150kW Lycoming IO-360 is mounted in the nose of the main fuselage - and a 155kW version in a long parallel boom on the port side. Pressurised for high cruise altitudes, the Boomerang can achieve 270kt and exhibits no thrust asymmetry with one engine shut down, Rutan says. Whether there ever will be more than one Boomerang is an open question. Rutan says that he enjoyed being the only VariViggen owner for years after first flying that aircraft in 1972. "I'm going to enjoy this one by myself for years," he says. Zenith Aircraft showed off a rarity, even at the home of homebuilts: a twin-engined kitplane dubbed the Gemini. Power for the two-seater comes from two 60kW Jabiru four-cylinder engines built in Australia. Flight tests are under way in Mexico, Missouri.

Homebuilt designs dominated the main display area at Oshkosh, as usual, but the aircraft generating the most conversation was parked among those of the International Aerobatic Club - a Curtiss Pitts-designed biplane called the Pitts Model 12, and looking like a Pitts Special with a huge cowling round an equally huge 225kW Russian nine-cylinder radial engine. Nicknamed the Monster Pitts, the aircraft is available with computer-generated plans from Mid America Aircraft of Wichita, Kansas. The tandem-seater has a cruise speed of about 160kt, a climb rate exceeding 3,000ft/min (15.2m/s), and a roll rate of about 320¡/s. Kits to build the Monster Pitts should be available later in the year, according to the company.

Kitplane designer Jim Bede was back at Oshkosh promoting a deal to put his jet-powered BD-10 into production in Canada as a $2 million military trainer. The single-engined aircraft is to be built under licence by Monitor Jet of Woodbridge, Ontario, he says. The BD-10 has a chequered history. Designed as a kitplane, it fascinated better than it sold and was licensed for production to Peregrine Flight International, then sent into limbo when two Peregrine prototypes crashed and killed the test pilots. The Monitor Jet Trainer, as the BD-10 will be called, is to be built at an as-yet-unidentified site in Canada, says Monitor Jet president Phil Nelson.


As usual, new gadgets and electronics were plentiful, most of them evolutions in hand-held global-positioning-system (GPS) technology. Moving-map displays were the major advances, but Jeppesen announced something entirely new for the aviation community: a worldwide chart database - complete with terminal charts, standard departures and arrivals, approaches and airport information, a chart legend and glossary, chart NOTAMs and related information - all on a single CD-ROM.

In the USA, Jeppesen's Jeppview electronic-manual service costs $330 for the viewing and printing software, plus $120-510 to receive updates every two weeks on a new CD. The $510 subscription covers, all of the continental USA, about $100 more, than the familiar paper-based system.

Linked to a capable colour-printer, however, and the only paper needed in the cockpit is that which the pilot decides to print.

The CD-based system should be but a start in Jeppesen's integration of computers and charts, with the company's purchase of MentorPlus Software. Products to emerge from Oregon-based MentorPlus in the near future include flight-planning, aviation-training, logbook, and moving-map software, which works with GPS and map and navigation systems configured to work together.

The US Customs Service used Oshkosh to unveil its new General-Aviation Telephonic Entry (GATE) programme to streamline cross-border private- and corporate-aircraft traffic between the USA and Canada. By pre-qualifying as GATE participants, pilots can report landing at most airports by telephone without facing interviews in person with customs or immigration (Flight International, 14-20 August).

Source: Flight International