A380, WhiteKnightTwo headline EAA AirVenture 2009

The Experimental Aircraft Assn.’s (EAA) latest AirVenture 2009 event, which ran July 27-Aug. 2, attracted its largest crowd ever, say organizers, proving that grass-roots passion for aviation is alive and well despite the economy.

The Experimental Aircraft Assn.’s (EAA) latest AirVenture 2009 event, which ran July 27-Aug. 2, attracted its largest crowd ever, say organizers, proving that grass-roots passion for aviation is alive and well despite the economy. Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis., was filled to capacity, with aircraft, visitors, campers and exhibitors, including HPC’s technical editor Sara Black. The event was, according to EAA president and chairman Tom Poberezny, “A convention that will go down in the record books as one of the best ever.”

According to preliminary figures, EAA welcomed 2,652 showplanes, the most since 2005; an estimated 750 exhibitors, up at least 30 from the previous year; and 578,000 visitors, a 12 percent increase from last year. True to form, Wittman qualified as the world’s busiest airport during the event, handling 3,223 operations on Wednesday July 29 — a 9 percent increase over the Wednesday of EAA AirVenture 2008 and more than 30 percent greater than total operations on the same day at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, normally the world’s busiest airport.

A perennial showcase for composite aircraft, the AirVenture event this year featured some of the world’s tiniest flying machines, weighing less than 300 lb/136 kg, to the world’s largest airliner at 1.2 million lb (544.31 metric ton) takeoff weight — the Airbus A380 made a rare Midwest U.S. appearance on Tuesday, July 28 (top photo), in a stripped-down configuration that the Oshkosh runway could accommodate. More than 10,000 people toured the giant airliner during its four-day stay. Also on the apron was the equally impressive WhiteKnightTwo, a/k/a Mother Ship Eve, which arrived on Monday, July 27 for its world public debut. The largest aircraft to have an all-composite airframe, which will ferry SpaceShipTwo into earth orbit, was designed and built by Scaled Composites (Mojave, Calif.). Designer Burt Rutan and partner Sir Richard Branson of U.K.-based Virgin Galactic discussed their commercial space initiative in a standing-room-only presentation. Later, standing under the WhiteKnightTwo’s wing, the pair announced a strategic partnership agreement with Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments. The deal will see Aabar take an equity stake in Virgin Galactic, which previously has been wholly owned and funded by Branson’s Virgin Group. Branson, Rutan and Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny, CEO of Aabar, signed the agreement, under which Aabar will invest approximately $280 million (USD) and take around a 32 percent stake in Virgin Galactic’s holding company. Aabar has also committed $100 million to fund a small satellite launch capability, subject to the development of a full business plan. Aabar also gains exclusive regional rights, subject to regulatory clearances, to host Virgin Galactic tourism and scientific-research space flights. Finally, Aabar has plans to build spaceport facilities in Abu Dhabi.

Composites were in abundance elsewhere as well. In addition to several material workshops for homebuilders of composite kit planes, many exhibitors showed off composites-intensive craft. The HondaJet, with a composite fuselage, was part of Honda’s huge tent display of its product range, and Hawker Beechcraft (Wichita, Kan.) showcased its Premier 1A jet (lower photo), which features full composite fuselage barrels made via automated tape layup. Wichita-based Cessna attracted had its two Corvalis composite aircraft models (acquired from the former Columbia Aircraft Mfg. Co. and previously dubbed the Cessna 350 and 400). The company announced plans to close the latter’s Bend, Ore., facility and move the final assembly of the Corvalis to a Cessna facility in Independence, Kan., by Oct. 1.

On hand for the first time was the Predator B unmanned aircraft from General Atomics, on loan from Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota, in a display of U.S. Customs and Border Protection capabilities. The all-carbon-composite Furio kit airplane was in the Scion Aviation (Ft. Collins, Colo.) booth, which offers prototyping, tooling and design services for composites manufacturers. A real eye-catching beauty was the all-composite Extra acrobatic airplane, produced in Hunxe, Germany and distributed in North America exclusively by Southeast Aero (St. Augustine, Fla.).

Progress toward very lightweight electric-powered aircraft was also evident. One example was the Yuneec 430, an electric sport aircraft (ESA) produced by Yuneec Intl. Ltd. (Herts, U.K. and Shanghai, China). Several forums were devoted to greener aviation powerplants and the gradual shift away from internal combustion engines, which, in contrast to cars, have few if any pollution controls. Also on hand: several manufacturers of flying cars, including Terrafugia Inc.’s Transition (Woburn, Mass.), a “roadable aircraft” that completed flight testing just before its appearance in Oshkosh.