Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oshkosh Diary - Wednesday July 29, 2009

It was a real thrill to see a skywriter write "Welcome, RV airplane builders" today. Unfortunately, the school levy up here failed recently and he spelled it wrong.

One of the interesting things about Oshkosh -- at least for aviation types-- is every morning you step out of your tent and into your screensaver. Most of the EAA monthly screensavers through the year are images shot during this week. This morning, I'm sitting at the campsite watching the powered parachutes flying overhead; every now and again a bird will join the procession.

I've generally been unable -- and probably will continue to be unable -- to provide significant updates here because the wiFi at AirVenture simply isn't very good. Last evening I parked under the gizmo that provides it and I still couldn't get online. It's free, so we really have no right to complain, and in the big scheme of things it's a small complaint. But the EAA probably should stop advertising "free WiFi" to entice people to camp until it reaches a certain level of performance.

Even at the press office, the system is so overloaded, many of us can't file our stories and accounts. OK, EAA. You've worn me down. I'll gladly pay for wiFi that works rather than free wiFi that doesn't. You know what would be great? If Ford or Honda or any of those big conglomerates that EAA is now synonymous with would get into the broadband business.

Yesterday was a combination of work and play. I documented -- slightly -- my lunch with Lane Wallace. I then interviewed Joe Balzer for about a half hour. He's one of the Northwest Airlines crew members of a 727 flight from Fargo to Minneapolis in 1990 who flew drunk. He did prison time and now he's written a book. I have the interview on tape and at some point I'll bang out a story for the day job and post it here as well.

Then it was off to dinner downtown with my friends from Trio Avionics -- Jerry Hansen, Chuck Busch, Sid Tolchin, and Paul Ross. This is always the highlight of my stay at Oshkosh and one of the highlights of the year. They're fine people and I enjoy their company, partly because they're among the few that enjoy mine. I've decided, by the way, to take the TruTrak single-axis autopilot out of the RV-7A project and replace it with the Trio Pro Pilot autopilot. It's robus, can do more things, perhaps, than an around-the-patch flyer like me need it to do, but it comes from a good company with good people and because it does, I have no qualms about flying with it.

By the way, they said business -- which is mostly indicated by the number of people who stop to talk -- has been very good and this is the emerging theme of AirVenture this year. It may confound the economists but business is booming here. The airport was closed to any more incoming arrivals on Monday because there's just no place to put them. The campground is packed solid and people here apparently have money to spend.

Now one can argue -- as I have -- that aviation is for people with money anyway, but even comparing apples to apples (previous years of AirVenture), this is a significant uptick in the economic reality here. Jerry attributed it to a couple of things including the fact that there are a lot of airplane builders like me who have reached the point in the project where there's simply too much invested in it -- time, money and emotion -- to quit, no matter what the economic reality is.

Back at the campground last night, a steady trickle stopped by for "happy hour." A group from Massachusetts caused -- then cured -- a case of homesickness (you can do that to me with a Boston accent). A nice couple from The Netherlands also stopped by. They're building an RV-7A, and learned to fly at the same time. And the "RV compound residents" like Paul Trotter, and Chris Stone and John Porter were there. So we had about a dozen people and that was great fun.

And this evening will try to increase that with the RV Family Reunion Piece of Grass 2009. I've bought watermelon (I always do at these things and nobody ever wants any) and a cheap grill from WalMart and we're encouraging RVers to simply stop by and sit a spell. No big BBQ. No door prizes. People come simply because they want to sit around and make up lies about our homebuilding prowess.

So today I'll mostly hang around the campground, buy some firewood (it feels like the '40s here at night), and get things ready.

Then this evening, I'll take a bunch of pictures and make my own screensavers.

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