EAA AirVenture’s hidden gems

EAA AirVenture is so immense that it’s physically impossible to take in every exhibit, workshop, aircraft display and flying attraction during the annual seven-day extravaganza in Oshkosh, Wis.

The Airbus A220-300 (formerly Bombardier CS300) had a significant presence at EAA Airventure Oshkosh 2018. Warren Liebmann Photo
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This year’s event was no exception, with 601,000 people in attendance and 11,000 visiting aircraft filling Wittman Regional Airport and several surrounding airports.

AirVenture celebrations included the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force and the 80th anniversary of the North American T-6/Harvard trainer, which included a mass fly past by more than 50 Pratt & Whitney R-1340 powered trainer aircraft on the opening day.

Canadian Innovation

This year’s AirVenture highlighted Canadian aerospace innovation, but the country of origin wasn’t always obvious to the casual observer.

For example, both the single-seat Opener BlackFly electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and 130- to 160-seat Airbus A220-300 jetliner originated in Canada but are now marketed by entities based in California and France, respectively.

On Oct. 5, 2011, Marcus Leng test flew an eight-rotor tandem-wing aircraft on the front lawn of his house in Warkworth, Ont., to prove that electric vertical flight was possible.

He went on to develop and test the first BlackFly eVTOL aircraft (unmanned) in Ontario before relocating the company to Palo Alto, Calif., in September 2014 where he secured additional financing from Silicon Valley investors such as Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

Opener displayed three generations of eVTOLs to AirVenture including the original Canadian proof of concept aircraft (known as the SkyKar Rebel).

At the other end of the spectrum, the one-day display of the new Airbus A220-300 was a bittersweet moment for the many Canadians in attendance.

Bombardier has always shunned Oshkosh–North America’s largest airshow and the world’s largest gathering of pilots–but Airbus wasted no time flying the former C Series to Oshkosh immediately after the Farnborough International Airshow.

Viking Aircraft

The CEOs of Canada’s two leading general aviation aircraft manufacturers were especially upbeat at this year’s AirVenture show.

A Viking CL-215 rests on the ground at Oshkosh 2018. Kenneth I. Swartz Photo

Viking Aircraft CEO Dave Curtis was pleased with the positive response the company received to its first-time exhibit after testing the waters last year with a Twin Otter Series 400 incorporated into the display of Wipaire, the float maker.

Rob Mauracher, Viking’s executive vice-president of sales and marketing, was even more upbeat.

“The brand exposure has been great and we’ve seen a huge amount of interest in our company and our products. We’ve met more than 1,000 people and we’re definitely coming back next year.”

Viking had a CL-215 on prominent display in the Boeing Plaza and a DHC-2 Mk II Turbo Beaver, with George Neal’s former DHC-1 Chipmunk displayed nearby.

“Wildfires are increasing around the world and there is a place for water-based scoopers in the firefighting toolbox,” said Mauracher.

Longview Aviation Asset Management (LAAM) has formally launched production of the CL-415EAF (Enhanced Aerial Firefighter) turbine conversion of the piston CL-215. To this end, LAAM has bought 11 CL-215s that will receive a number of upgrades not found on the earlier CL-215T conversion. Viking and LAAM are separate subsidiaries of Longview Aviation Capital.

These include a new cockpit avionics suite, air conditioning, an expanded flight envelope, increased landing and takeoff weights, and optional mission equipment.

Viking hopes the CL-415EAF will be a bridge to the launch of full-scale production of an all-new amphibian.

Diamond Aircraft

Diamond Aircraft returned to Oshkosh under 100 per cent ownership of Wanfeng Aviation Industry, part of the Wanfeng Auto Holding Group of China.

This Diamond DA42 painted in LIFT colours was part of the company’s major presence at Oshkosh 2018. Kenneth I. Swartz Photo

Under the new ownership structure, Diamond will be managed by CEOs running complementary aircraft factories in Canada, Austria and China.

The fresh investment comes at a good time, said Scott McFadzean, CEO of the London, Ont., factory that is also responsible for aircraft sales and support in all of North and South America.

McFadzean said demand for Diamond’s products from the owner/pilot and flight training market is increasing, highlighting the recent record sale of 50 aircraft to Republic Airways’ Leadership In Flight Training (LIFT) Academy, which will begin training in September in Indianapolis.

LIFT selected the Austro Engine jet-fuel piston-engine (diesel) powered Diamond Aircraft DA40 NG (42 aircraft) and DA42-VI (eight aircraft) as the flight school’s fleet, along with Diamond flight simulation training devices, all of which were displayed in LIFT colours at AirVenture.

McFadzean said the pilot shortage is forcing U.S. regional airlines to create flight schools to train their own pilots, and he believes others will follow Republic’s example.

Last November, Diamond successfully transferred the type certificate for the single-engine DA40 NG and twin-engine DA62 from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to Transport Canada and launched production of both diesel models in London, with 25 and 10 Canadian-built aircraft, respectively, delivered to date.

More than 1,200 Lycoming-powered DA40s were produced in London, but this is the first time the diesel-powered DA40 NG has been produced in Canada.

DA40 demand is so strong that employees in London are assembling aircraft in Canada, producing DA40 NG airframes for the European factory in Vienna and preparing to re-launch production of the Lycoming-powered DA40 XLT after a considerable break.

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To support growth, Diamond has hired 100 new employees in the past nine months and is seeking a lot more, especially those with composite manufacturing experience.

The Hadfields

The informal Canadian ambassador at this year’s show was former NASA astronaut and Royal Canadian Air Force pilot Chris Hadfield, who greeted hundreds of visitors to the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) booth.

The Airbus A220-300 jetliner originated in Canada but is now marketed by entities based in California and France, respectively. Kenneth I. Swartz Photo
Airbus wasted no time in bringing the A220-300 jetliner (formerly the Bombardier C Series CS300) to Oshkosh. Kenneth I. Swartz Photo

Hadfield was accompanied by his brother Dave, who flew the Vintage Wings “Roseland” Spitfire IX to AirVenture from Gatineau, Que., on the first leg of a cross-country journey to 19 Wing Comox., B.C.

Restoration of the aircraft, now painted in wartime 442 Squadron colours, began at Comox more than 20 years ago.

Hidden Gems

There were more than 700 jam-packed rows of aircraft ringing Whitman Airport during AirVenture, including many hidden gems waiting to be discovered by knowledgeable aviation enthusiasts.

One such example with a Canadian connection was the EAA Museum’s own Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter “Marge” which was imported to Canada in 1951 and flown by Spartan Air Services Ltd. in Ottawa from 1952 to 1956 on high altitude aerial photo mapping contracts.

Aviators who were around in the early 1970s will recall the huge auction of automobiles and equipment and 43 wartime RCAF aircraft that occurred on  Labour Day weekend on Ernie Simmons’ farm in Tillsonburg in southern Ontario.

Among the 36 North American NA-64 P-2 Yale trainers and seven Fairey Swordfish biplanes sold that day was the prototype Yale built for the French Armée de l’Air, sold to the RCAF, purchased at the Simmons auction, restored and hangared for more than 30 years unflown until reactivated and flown in wartime French colours to AirVenture.

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