Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oshkosh - Day 4: I've been thrown out of worse pan-selling shows than this

The oddest moment of Oshkosh this year has nothing to do with aviation at all. A lot of AirVenture actually has nothing to do with AirVenture at all, in fact. AeroShell Square, which is show center, surely is about to renamed Ford Square at the rate that company is taking over things here.

But I was putting together a short multimedia piece, perhaps for my day job, on the sights and sounds of AirVenture, with a perspective on the non-aviation aspects of it. There's people selling ladders, there's Jerry's one-man band, there's the guy with the Flintstone-looking plane that putt-putts around the grounds (the woman who dressed up as a Norse-like cavewoman who would stand on the top and wave is gone, though.

And then there's the Fly Market, where all sorts of interesting characters hawk their wares. Take this guy, for example, the Healthy Gourmet. Apparently he chose that name because The Paranoid Cook was already taken. He was in the middle of his snake oil sales speech sales presentation for, I think, pots and pans when he saw me standing -- not under his tent but in the walkway between booths, taping his talking snake oil pitch sales presentation to a group of women who looked like they were about ready to buy some snake oil overpriced pots and pans to help burn dinner in.

"Hey, you can't record, this is a copyright presentation," he said. Apparently, or so I thought initially, there must be a big market in bootleg tapes of snake oil salesmen pots-and-pans salesmen, standing in front of a suckers little old ladies who actually believe the sign at the front of the room that says "As seen on TV" (but, buddy, not on the Internet!).

I'm used to people not wanting to be taped and so I responded in the way we're taught in obnoxious reporter school. "OK," I said.

So then I took out my camera and took a picture of him and that got him all flustered. He turned to his security force, pointed to me (still standing outside out on the "sidewalk" and said, "Can you....?" not finishing the sentence but I'm pretty sure it wasn't going to but I'm pretty sure it wasn't going to be "... show this dashing young man how well these pots and pans braze chicken."

His security force turned out to be, I believe, his wife, who was charming. I showed her the media credentials hanging around my neck and said "I'm a reporter and I'm credentialed by EAA to come in and tell the story of AirVenture and this is a story I'm doing about the sights and sounds of Oshkosh. "Oh, that's fine," she said. "We've had some problems in the past so...."

Some problems in the past? Hmmmm... is there a Healthy Gourmet competitor out there chasing the guy around from town to town stealing the guy's pitch? Did NBC Dateline catch the guy in some pots-and-pans-salesman sting?

The jet pack

There are lots of airplane wannabees here. Business that have come up with some design for some product that's never going to end up on the market, that has enough venture capital money, I guess, to buy nice shirts, slick marketing kits, and afford a nice booth at Oshkosh. Many of them will draw a crowd, but I'm betting they'll never end up in production.

Here's one. The jet pack. Everyone's talking about. As I understand it you fill it up with gas, strap it on, and fly to work, as long as work is less than a 20-minute jet-pack ride away.

Everyone wanted to see it perform today and -- as the story goes -- they fired it up after an extensive delay, it lifted the guy off the ground a couple of feet, and then settled back to earth.

"Thanks for coming," the guy said.

I'm thinking he and the pots-and-pans guy should meet.

Coming soon: Judging an RV

I couldn't get any of the homebuilt judges to talk to me about judging although I went and found Bob Reese, who is in charge of such things. Bob looks about 45. He's 70, he told me. He pointed out his associated who's been judging for 27 years; he looked to be about 35. He's 51. Clearly there's something of a fountain of youth in this homebuilt airplane judging business.

Bob cleared up for me once and for all, the question of whether covered rivets is a no-no for metal airplanes. It is. If you're going to build a metal airplane, like an RV, and you want to compete for a prize at Oshkosh, do not the rivets. Also, you can't win anything with a great paint scheme. "That doesn't impress us," Bob said.

And so armed with my trusty tape recorder, a camera, and the judging guidelines from Bob, I picked out an RV and went over it closely. It was a wonderful airplane, the construction is clearly better than mine can every hope to be.

I gave it a 8. It'd gotten a better score if he hadn't covered the rivets.

Look for a little multimedia slideshow on the subject soon.


This is James Clark of South Carolina, one of the really interesting people on Planet RV. I ran into him today as he was preparing for a formation flight over Oshkosh. He's a really good guy and I was pleased he remembered me. We've chatted online before and he was kind enough to come to the BBQ last year. The EAA's magazine, Sport Aviation, just did a large article on him. I'd like to think if I hang around, even for a few seconds, with brilliant people, some of it will rub off. It's obvious already this week that this is a flawed dream, but it's a dream nonetheless. Read the article, his is an amazing story.

But this picture here, well, this is what we call "the money shot" in the business. The formation group, I guess, had purchased these hats -- probably from a hat salesman who also didn't want to be recorded or photographed. James said he'd probably look pretty silly in it but I asked to take his picture at which point he gave us a sample of some South Carolina stylin'.

Though the picture is a keeper, it'll grace the top of RV Builder's Hotline this week, I can attest that not only does James' brilliance not rub off on me, neither does his style.

The story behind the story

Meet Jack Beck, his wife Marmy Clason, and Jack's sons, Peter and Johnathan. They're from Germantown, Wisconsin. I sat and chatted with them about the 9A they're building and, well, wow. What a heck of a story! It's so good of a story that I'll probably use it on MPR's News Cut, my day job. It's amazing really that behind every interesting person is an interesting story. It's what makes News Cut go. But I'll be putting the story in the RV Builder's Hotline next week. It involves a leap of faith into homebuilding. The bigger story is one fine people they are and the values that the kids have touched lives as
far away as Nepal.

Going with Trio

Who wants to buy my TruTrak wing leveler system? I bought it for something like $1,500 a few years ago. The servo is installed; everything else is still in the box. I'm going to upgrade to the new Trio product that's shipping in September. You know, it looks like a great product, I know they're great people. Why would I not want to do business with them?

Reamer tips

I stopped over to the ATS Tool booth to talk to owner, Des, about the proper technique for reaming out holes with a, get this, reamer. For the record, I want to step back a couple of years and ream the holes correctly, which is, as he pointed out, by hand, not in a slow-turning (or any other turning) drill. That is all.

Mine is smaller than yours...

I've selected those components I'm willing to pay a premium for, and I'm getting better at putting out of my head, those products that I simply do not need. I do not need to have an IFR capable airplane. I have talked to many IFR pilots here with IFR capable airplanes and the one common theme is, "I don't fly IFR enough to make the investment worth it." Bingo. Anyway, you know those stick grips with the buttons for trim (I have manual trim), autopilot, flaps, DVD, and machine guns that look like the head of one of those jumbo golf clubs? I didn't buy one of those. I bought two grips today with a simple push to talk button. I think even I can install it.

I did stop by the Dynon booth today and I was about to buy, but decided I want to hit the Grand Rapids Technology booth first. Stay tuned.

The Mustang accident

(Turn down your audio for the first 60 seconds here while the ANN boss provides the usual puffery about the news media not knowing anything about aviation. What horse crap!)

In his very fine Oshkosh daily e-mail yesterday, Bob Miller, who writes a weekly newsletter called Across the Airwaves, talked about going to the NTSB booth to leave some criticism that the NTSB focuses too much on mechanical factors, and not enough about human factors, when issuing reports on accidents.

The irony here is that the NTSB display at Oshkosh, is all about the human factors that went into one of the most spectacular accidents ever -- the crash of a couple of Mustangs a year ago.

It's a gripping display that discusses the human factors of the accident; that is, how long does it take for a human to react to events.

There's a forum on the subject the NTSB is holding, I think Thursday, on the crash. If there are comments left here that expresses a desire for me to go, I will.

The future of AirVenture

Today I stopped in to the EAA booth to hear more about the plans for the future of the AirVenture grounds. I believe an RVer -- Dave Klages -- heads this committee.

I don't envy him and here's why. Something has got to be done about the tremendous vehicle traffic on the grounds. People are walking around looking up of course and sometimes that includes the truck drivers, Gator drivers, and golf cart drivers (of which there are too many). Put bluntly, it stinks. The new plans call for a vehicle-free area (except for golf carts). That's a step in the right direction.

On the other hand, I worry about what they'll do about Camp Scholler. I think EAA is on thin ice here. Granted Porta-Johns, and taking a shower with a kitchen sink hose isn't all that great, most people will say publicly. But, you know? That's part of the Oshkosh experience and this week I've talked to lots of young adults who say they haven't been here since they were kids and they're trying to recapture that.

The words I heard too many times on the subject at the booth was this one: luxury. Luxury showers for one. Is a luxury campground far behind? At its essence, it needs to be a campground and while I get the fact that a lot of spouses don't want to come because of that and while I understand the need for more electrical hookups for those who use generators now, it really wouldn't take much to disturb the equilibrium of the Camp Scholler eco-system.

Aviation is already trying to fight the perception that it's a rich person's game. Even in the RV community, let's admit the obvious: an RV-10 driver really doesn't have that much in common with the RV-12 builder. They're beautiful airplanes that are more Cirrus than Cessna and that's great.

But if EAA is heading toward, as I think Brad Oliver or Chuck Jensen said tonight, a "NASCAR" vibe in the campground, then I think that would be the end of AirVenture as we -- the working crowd -- know it. Let's hope they'll be able to finesse these improvements while maintaining the attraction.

There's much, much, much more than airplanes here.

The following is from earlier today. Let the record show: it didn't rain.

It's a spiritual experience, some aviators say, about coming to Oshkosh. I'm not ready to quite go that far, but in recognition that, yes, AirVenture is a spiritual experience for some people, let us bow our heads in prayer.

Dear Lord:

If I ever start making the old man noises that the guy in the Port-A-Potty next to me is making, please kill me.


This being Oshkosh and all, let me take a stab at this whole "looking at the sunny side of life" thing. It was cloudy this morning, rain of some sort is due, but at least the early morning sun didn't heat up the tent to ridiculous temperatures. Yeah, great, that certainly changes the possibility of a flood-out.

Camping at Oshkosh requires -- nay, demands -- that you suffer through at least one interminable night of rain. There are two problems with this: One is the obvious one that everything you own and were too stupid to put in the car is now useless. The other is the next day people in a camper will tell you, "I didn't have a problem. I'm totally dry." I've got your positive thinking right here, Sparky.

Whether we get that sort of rain today, I don't know. It started out cloudy, the sun has come out, and my wife told me this morning that the weather radio in the Twin Cities went off three times overnight. Maybe -- maybe -- whatever's heading our way went north of us, but that would be very unOshkosh-like.

These experiences of Oshkosh have prepared me a little more since the days when Patrick and I gave up shoveling towels against the tide and headed off to the Mexican restaurant to await our rain-soaked fate.

Are you supposed to spray your tent with some sort of water preservative? Every year I tell myself that I'm going to do that -- if you're supposed to do that -- before the next Oshkosh. Most of the incoming flood comes through the zipper on the door. I'm going to duct tape that up tonight (at least the one on the wind side) and see what happens. I'll have Camp Collins looking like the runup to Hurricane Katrina in no time. And, finally, I'm going to put just about everything in the car except for one pillow and one sleeping bag. I'll let you know what happens.

The other part of the Oshkosh experience is your fellow campers. There's always one guy whose car alarm -- beep.... beep.... beep -- goes off around 5:30 in the morning when he's fishing around for something. Yesterday, I was that guy. I was only good for about 7 beeps, but I was still that guy. Geez.

I've got the crying baby next to me this year. A young couple (obviously) with full camping gear and a crying kid. They've obviously done this before; it's not like most "crying baby families" where it looks like the couple thought it would be a nice get away so they stopped to pick up the Acme model tent and by the end of the first day, the kid is crying and the parents are yelling. This one isn't so bad. The kid is crying but Mom seems to be handling things well. The most upsetting part is, perhaps, that Dad thinks keeping the kid from crying is Mom's work. I give the marriage 6 years.

The ultralights are up flying around this morning so you it's not a washout, at least not yet. One of my goals this year is to spend more time over at the ultralight area, watching powered parachutes at dawn or dusk.

Today's goal is to try to get into one of the composites (fiberglass) workshops just to mess around a little more with the stuff. When Oshkosh is over, I need to tackle the fairing at the front of the canopy. Then I'll go check out some more RVs to see how the smart people do it. My friend, Warren Starkebaum, who camped with me last year and was on the reasons last year was the perfect Oshkosh (except for the rain) was at this stage last year so he shot a bunch of pictures of canopies. You can find the slideshow here.

There's good news and bad news for the wireless system in the campground. The good news is the signal strength is terrific; it's much better than last year. The bad news is getting onto the system fails about 25% of the time, although judging from the reaction of my neighbors, it's 100% of the time this morning (I'm writing this offline). You're usually greeted with:

Sorry, but we're currently experiencing technical difficulties. The present error condition is:

Preparing to reconnect with messaging system.

For assistance, please contact:


Additional information:

AP MAC Address: 00:0e:0c:b9:xx:xx

I'll bet "unknown" is really busy this week! But despite that minor annoyance, EAA is doing a fabulous job here. As usual I hear the "it's too commercial" complaints. I say "so what?" Open a drink, pull up a chair and have a chat with someone building an experimental airplane, and say a little prayer for the folks who aren't here.

More as it happens...

Oh, Ask The Dumb Guy in the Campground has been very light the last couple of days. Are you out there, America? Let's hear from you.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Bob,
    Nina and I looked for you. We decided to make a quick trip this year. I suspect we camped not too far from you but I found your site.
    Did you see the rocket racing demo?
    Hope to see you next year!
    Nina and Lamar