EAA AirVenture reinforces composites' place in aerospace

The Experimental Aircraft Assn.’s latest AirVenture 2009 in Oshkosh, Wis., attracted its largest crowd ever, say organizers, proving that passion for aviation is alive and well despite the economy.

The Experimental Aircraft Assn.’s (EAA) latest AirVenture 2009 event attracted its largest crowd ever, say organizers, proving that 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 CompositesWorld’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.”

Some preliminary figures released by EAA included 2,652 showplanes, the most since 2005; an estimated 750 exhibitors, up at least 30 from the previous year; and more than 2,000 registered international visitors from 75 countries. True to form, Wittman qualified as the world’s busiest airport during the event, handling 3,223 operations on Wednesday July 29th – 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.

AirVenture 2009 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/544,310 kg takeoff weight — the Airbus A380 made its appearance on Tuesday, July 28 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, aka Mother Ship Eve, which arrived on Monday, July 27 for its world public debut. The largest all-composite aircraft, 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 Virgin Galactic discussed their commercial space initiative in a packed, standing-room-only presentation. Later, standing under the WhiteKnightTwo’s wing, the pair announced a new strategic partnership agreement with Abu Dhabi 's Aabar Investments group. 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. It will also gain 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 present in abundance. In addition to several material workshops for homebuilders of composite kit planes, exhibitors showed off many composites-intensive craft. The HondaJet, with a composite fuselage, was part of Honda’s huge tent display of its product range, and Hawker Beechcraft showcased its Premier 1A jet with full composite fuselage barrels made via automated tape layup. Cessna, in a larger display near the front gate, attracted visitors with 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 that it plans to close the Bend, Ore., facility and move the final assembly of the Corvalis to Independence, Kan., by Oct. 1. Approximately 40 people will make the transfer from Oregon to Kansas, says Cessna in a company statement.

Also on hand was the Predator B unnmanned aircraft from General Atomics, in a display of U.S. Customs and Border Protection capabilities. The all-carbon composite Furio kit airplane was on display at the Scion Aviation (Ft. Collins, Colo.) booth, which offers prototyping, tooling and design services for composite builders. The all-composite Extra acrobatic airplane, produced in Hunxe, Germany and distributed in North America exclusively by Southeast Aero (St. Augustine, Fla.), was another eye-catching beauty.

Evident was progress toward electrically-powered aircraft — one example was the Yuneec 430, an electrically-powered light sport aircraft (LSA) produced by Yuneec Intl. Ltd. (Herts, U.K. and Shanghai, China). Several forums were devoted to greener powerplants and the gradual shift away from aviation internal combustion engines which have few if any pollution controls. Also on hand: several manufacturers of flying cars, or road-going planes, including the Terrafugia Inc. Transition (Woburn, Mass.). The car/plane just completed its flight testing, says the company.