02 August 2009


For airplane aficionados, the annual Experimental Aircraft Association airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is about as good as it gets. I've always had a tangential connection to airplanes. My father was a commercial pilot. My brother was a private pilot and instructor. My husband is an aerospace engineer and through him, we have several friends who are also pilots and/or engineers.

Cuddly Hubby and I had never been to Oshkosh. Wow! For starters, this is like attending the State Fair, except instead of animals and farm equipment, everything is aviation-related. While lots of people do drive, lots of people also fly to the show. And then they camp. Lots and lots of camping for the week-long event. And more airplanes that you can imagine. I thought I had seen crowds at Dragon*Con. Hah!

There are four parking areas where general aircraft are on display -- ultralight & rotorcraft, vintage, homebuilt, and warbirds. There are also several large exhibit hangers. And there are several venues for presentations. And there are areas for workshops so that if you are building an airplane yourself, you can learn how to work metal or cover the wings or install controls. There is also a main aeroshell square with static displays that change over the course of the event. Nearly every vendor in general aviation has a booth of some kind. And if none of that interests you, you can always just sit yourself down on the flight line and watch the demonstrations all day.

We were there on Tuesday the 28th of July specifically to see the A380 (photo at right). Cuddly Hubby's speciality is acoustics. He had heard that the A380 is supposed to be very quiet in terms of community (flyover) noise; so he wanted to be present when it arrived at Oshkosh. By luck, WhiteKnightTwo also arrived that day. So after some very interesting presentations in the morning, we sat on the flight line and watched two very different but very interesting aircraft show their stuff. And, yes, the A380 is amazingly quiet!

We also returned on Sunday for the last day. That's when I discovered the NASA exhibit. I could have spent a whole day just looking at the cool stuff.
A 3.9 billion-year-old moon rock
A space suit
Interactive maps of the moon and Mars
A small wind tunnel with wing-section models
A full-scale model of a martian rover
And lots of interesting NASA people were there -- pilots and engineers. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the engineers who are solving some amazing problems both in design and manufacture. We also spoke some about the brain drain in the aerospace industry. Good people who have built great stuff and solved complex problems are retiring without having the opportunity to pass their expertise on to the next generation. Talented young people are no longer seeing aerospace as a field worth pursuing. (I spoke to a retired Georgia Tech professor earlier this year who told me that the initial aerospace course is no longer a weeding-out class. Twenty years ago GA Tech had many more prospective aero students than spaces in their program. That is no longer the case.) This is a serious issue if the United States wants to remain a leader in space technology and continue to reap the rewards that come from breaking new ground in science and technology.

It is also good thing that I don't fly, because by the end of the show, I was thinking that building an airplane in my garage didn't seem like a bad idea. Thank goodness nobody had a "knit your own airplane" kit or I would've been doomed!

The EAA website is very helpful. Note to self for next year -- bring lots of water and sunscreen and a fabulous hat. I actually got a little tan on my feet!

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