EAA AirVenture 2017
Oshkosh Wisconsin and 590,000 of my friends…
Report and photos by Jeremy D. Dando
December 9, 2017
Welcome to big enchilada 2017!
This was my seventh AirVenture and my second photographing and writing for Aviation Photography Digest. As you may know EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is the annual gathering of EAA members and their aircraft in central Wisconsin. You may think Wisconsin is just about cheese curds and the Green Bay Packers football team, but for one week in July it is aviation Mecca.
I made a short list of what I wanted to see each day and was on the grounds by 0730 each day. At the close of the week, I had an amazing week of chatting with friends old and new, wandering around and sitting in some amazing aircraft. Even though I covered my daily highlights, I certainly did not see all of the grounds or airplanes! Totals for the week were 590,000 visitors, 10,000+ aircraft flew in, 2991 show planes. My pedometer was over 112,000 steps for seven days and my computer hard drive was bloated with 9000+ new images.
The theme for this year’s EAA AirVenture was bombers and my oh my did it deliver! It was the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raiders, DOC was scheduled to be there and an Air Force bomber parade was scheduled for the Saturday airshow.
Although the vast majority of the aircraft at Oshkosh were private, the military was well represented this year. There were a few planes that I have never seen, let alone see fly. We were treated to some of the oldest aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory (60 year old bombers and tankers) and it’s latest 5th generation fighter, the F-35A. It was somewhat ironic that the Captain’s and crew’s of the B-52 and KC-135 were typically twenty years younger than the aircraft they flew.
It was not just the Air Force bringing out their aircraft, the Marines, Navy and Coast Guard all represented and even the RAF sent one of their A-400’s across the pond to this year’s show.
This year was the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raiders and the aircraft associated with them is the North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bomber. The good folks at the EAA had hoped for 16 of the B-25’s to fly in. When dealing with 75 year old aircraft the opportunity for maintenance issues that impact airworthiness is fairly likely. But none the less a total of 15 B-25’s were on the grounds, 14 of them were airworthy. The sole exception was the EAA’s Berlin Express which is undergoing restoration and was towed out from EAA hangars. With names like; Miss Mitchell, Lady Luck, Hot Gen and Georgies Gal I should have been dressed in khakis and carrying a Graflex Speed Graphics camera, but luckily for our readers I was “armed” with my trusty Canon and a variety of zoom lenses to capture the “historic images” from AirVenture.
I tried to spend time with each B-25 in attendance at this year’s show and came up a bit short. I did get to chat with 10 of the 15 B-25 crew’s. Each aircraft crew had it’s own personality, perhaps it is represented in the plane, or perhaps the crew’s personality matches the plane. Each plane has different color scheme and squadron markings. The Air Force, Marines and Canadian Air Force were all represented. It was great to see Berlin Express, this is the B-25 that is being restored by EAA volunteers. This aircraft has a special connection to my home state of Minnesota. My local EAA chapter 237 has restored the glass nose and sends weekend work parties to Oshkosh several times a year.
It was great to see the various models of the B-25 and see the evolution of the aircraft throughout the war. I learned about the different carburetors and intakes, short stacks, cheek guns and collector manifolds I also crawled in/around and through these great 75+ year old aircraft. The aircraft played many different roles throughout the war including; executive transport, bombing, ground attack anti-ship/ submarine patrols and reconnaissance.
All had the trusty Wright Twin Cyclone engines, spinning big props barely 10 feet away for their crew. It is no big surprise the many of the pilots and co-pilots suffered hearing loss in their “outboard” ear. I was able sit in the flight deck of Barbie III during an engine run up while the crew was troubleshooting a finicky #2 engine. The sights, sounds, vibrations of this five minutes enveloped my senses. I think if I was there for a 4 hour mission they would have been bludgeoned into numbness. Luckily the crew quickly diagnosed the problem as a bad magneto and got to work to fixing it in a jiffy.
For me one of the most impressive B-25’s was CAF’s Minnesota Wing’s, Miss Mitchell. The attention to detail and the amount of restoration is truly amazing. The period correct radios are installed, including the trailing antenna. The radio system includes a tuneable antenna, in that the radio operator unreels a length of the 200ft wire antenna to the appropriate length for the desired frequency that he needs to communicate on. Also a morse code key was present, looking ready to send out top secret messages regarding the success of it’s latest bombing missions.
Perhaps the best part of the AirVenture was that the aircraft are not just static displays. On Saturday we got see 10 of these historic aircraft in the air at the same time. Not to often that one can get a picture of a B-25 with a B-29 or another B-25 in the background!
For many years FIFI was the only flying B-29, but this year AirVenture was honored to have DOC also. I spent a few minutes inside DOC and for me the highlight was the “Hobbs meter” that had 33.7 hours on it. The Hobbs meter is a tribute to all the efforts of all the volunteers and their effort to totally restore this 73 year old airframe. I was really impressed with the fit and finish throughout the airplane. The effort to bring this giant aircraft back to flying status has amazing and all the airshow attendees were treated to several flights throughout the week and even a formation flight of both B-29’s.
The bomber parade was a thing av-geeks dream about; B-1, B-2 and a B-52 all gracing the skies above Oshkosh. The aircraft were something to behold, totally different is size, shape and speed, but one mission, deliver ordinance on time and on target. It was an awesome experience to see and photograph these defenders of our freedom!
The Navy had one of their P-8 Poseiden aircraft at Boeing Plaza on show center. This aircraft has a multi role functions of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and shipping interdiction, along with an early warning self-protection (EWSP) ability, otherwise known as electronic support measures (ESM). The airframe is a homologation of the best parts of Boeing’s workhorse 737 (plus a few extra parts). Imagine you took a 737-800 frame, -900 wings and then added a few extra features like rotary sonobouy launchers and a bomb bay then you would have the P-8! The flight deck looks like most of commercial 737-800/900 flight decks that I have visited, but if you look closely you might catch a glimpse of the torpedo launcher button.
The mighty Buff was also on the field. We had airframe 60-0015 on static display. This is a really big ugly fat fella. With a bomb load of 70,000 pounds, the ability to fly 8000 miles and in-flight refueling capability this B-52H was part of the aptly named “Long Rangers”
On the flight deck it was mix of a whole of steam gauges and dials and switches with some modern technology mixed in on the lower level at the navigation station. Captain Will Hacker informed me that the all stations are equipped with ejection seats. While this is great for the crew while flying it made a bit nervous since the two positions in the navigation bay eject downwards. Nothing like sitting in a rocket power seat that ejects you downward when you are only 20 off the pavement, if I pulled the wrong level it would truly be a “Wiley E. Coyote” moment. Luckily I survived the navigation station and soon was sitting in the left seat that seats high of the ground and I could a bit of feel for massiveness of this airframe. Anytime you have eight thrust levers you know you will have your hands full flying a plane.
In keeping with the bomber theme the mighty B-1 aka The Bone amazed the airshow crowds. This supersonic bomber is powered by four General Electric F101 afterburning turbofans. We got to experience flybys in both swept and straight wing configurations. It was the star of the twilight airshow.
Although very sleek, powerful and capable it is a bit of an older airframe now. Most people are unaware the these aircraft are 31+ years old, with the 100 of the B1-B airframes produced between 1983 to 1988. The cockpit of the B-1B is not as spacious as a B-52, but it is all busy in the pointy end of this supersonic bomber.
The Navy Blue Angels were in town at the end of the week and delighted the crowd with precise and exacting displays of formation flying with their Boeing F-18’s
As some of you know I have a special spot in my heart for the cargo planes. These guys are often the unsung heroes of an event. They do not have movies made about them, they are not sexy or glamorous, but they are the backbone bring supplies, equipment and people. In a similar theme the air refueling platform or “tankers” play vital role in keeping aircraft in the air, and on target. As a wise man once said “Nobody kicks ass without tanker gas”. We had the KC-135, 57-1514 from the ANG 128th in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Captain Ryan Flack and Bill Peters were kind enough to walk me though the aircraft and point out all the details of what it takes to fly the boom and pump thousands of pounds of jet fuel into thirsty fighters and bombers.
The KC-135 is similar to the Boeing 707. This airframe was originally delivered in 1957 with the “state-of-the-art” J57 turbojets. Lucky for us this airframe has been through the re-engine program that upgraded powerplants to the CFM-56. Yes this aircraft sports four of the same type of engines as the Boeing 737! When asked about the nuances of flying an airframe that is 20+ years older than himself, Captain Flack mentioned that it is a lot like a classic car, you have “ good feel and feedback. You need lots of input” to get things done. When full, the airplane handles “like a fat guy getting out of a bean bag chair”. Also the ground clearance of the inboard engines makes crosswind landing a bit interesting. You need to bring your A game and land in a very flat orientation, no dropping the upwind wing or you could scrape an engine fan cover.
The jet warbirds kept the AF history flying. This year we had a three ship formation flight of F-86 Sabres in the air. The real star was the F-86A, N48178 that had been repatriated to the States and after some restoration by the good folks at Heritage Aero she graced the skies above Oshkosh. N48178 is the 50th A model off the production line. It spent 1990-2014 overseas in the United Kingdom with the Heritage Apple Trust.
AF Heritage Flight
The Air Force Heritage Flight was one of the crowd favorites at AirVenture. The Heritage Flight showcases aircraft in the current air Force inventory with historic aircraft. Throughout the week we had various combinations F-35’s, A-10’s and P-51 Mustangs. Major Will “D-Rail” Andreotta was once again piloting the F-35 throughout the week.
During the photo pass it is interesting to see the size comparison of today’s current fighter with one that is 70+ years old.
I got to spend the day with the team on Friday and was able to get a glimpse into the preparation into what goes into this great performance of dissimilar aircraft formation flying. A great performance starts with the Air show briefing, a sterile performance show box and thoughtfully designed routine. All of the Air Force Heritage Flight team members start their training in the spring time at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Arizona. Here team members practice and work out the logistics for flying supersonic jet aircraft with 75 year old piston airframes. For today’s flight we had the “Silver Oak” Flight. Major Joseph Morrin and Captain Chris Severino flying A-10’s out of Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and Andrew McKenna flying the P-51 Mustang. It was great to chat with the A-10 pilots and hear the pride in their voices about the aircraft and it’s mission to support the soldier on the ground. As the pilots had their pre-flight meeting I spoke with Tech Sergeant James Carvana. As we walked around the aircraft I got the opportunity to get up close with this workhorse of the Air Force. The A-10 is the only aircraft whose mission in the Air Force’s inventory whose role is close air support. It is the only aircraft ever with a 1200 pound titanium “bathtub” around the pilot and critical systems providing protection from ground or air fire. It is the only aircraft with a 619 lb cannon. Alot has been written about the cannon and it was amazing to get up close to it and see how the aircraft was designed around this weapon. That and it was cool to stick my finger in the barrel. A few factoids; The GAU-8 Avenger is a 30mm, seven barrel, Gatling-type gun. It can fire 3900 rounds a minute. A typical round weighs 1.53 pound. The aircraft typically loads out 1150 rounds. In order to keep the aircraft on target, the firing barrel is aligned on the aircraft center axis, this requires the front wheel to located off-center! I learned about TP, API and HEI rounds. All this firepower can be put into a 30 foot radius target at mile. Another great feature for the airshow fans and photographers is the fact the the 23D Fighter Group is the only active duty unit authorized to have “nose art”. The A-10’s had some menacing “shark teeth” surrounding the legendary nose cannon.
Major Morrin and Captain Severino and Andrew McKenna were soon prepared and ready to fly.
AirVenture has the cream of the crop of airshow performers. Kyle Franklin flew several times throughout the week. This year he flew his “comedy routine” with his Cub. As one of my fellow airshow attendees said, “it takes real skill to fly that bad!”
A new act for me was the Twin Tiger Aerobatic team. These gentleman “Titus and Zeke” fly tiger striped YAK-55M’s. Not only do they fly aerobatics, they fly through giant smoke rings! I always enjoy a “non-standard” act, this was the first time I have seen a YAK-55 here in the States.
The Jet Warbirds were well represented this year. Mig’s, A4’s, F86’s, T-33’s all flew in the summer Wisconsin sky.
The good folks at Scaled Composites brought out one of their unique creations, this year Proteus was on-hand to celebrate it’s 19th birthday.
You know you have built a good aircraft when it was designed for a specific mission and 200 flight hour life and it is still flying 19 years and 4000 hours later. This is a truly unique looking aircraft where each facet of the aircraft; fuselage, boat tail empennage and cockpit were designed for a specific mission of carrying sensor arrays for telecommunications equipment to high altitude. Assembly techniques are such that portions of the fuselage are modular and can be swapped in or out depending on mission needs. For an aircraft that was designed to fly to 60,000+ feet she looked a bit ungainly at the pattern level circling Oshkosh.
Until next year
This article only covered a small portion of what EAA AirVenture 2017 was. It is so more than just airplanes. It is a gathering of old friends, it is meeting new friends. AirVenture was bittersweet this year, sure the airplanes are great, but the untimely death of Mr. Vlado Lenoch only two weeks prior really crushed my soul. I had the privilege to interview him at the Duluth MN Airshow. He was participating in the Air Force Heritage flight, he flew the P-51 Mustang alongside the F-35 II. We had planned to get together at AirVenture, little did I know our only meeting would me be spending a few minutes at the memorial in the warbirds area. His loss left a big void in hearts of everyone who knew him.
It has taken me a long time to process the loss of Vlado Lenoch, interviewing pilots after the loss of a teammate and friend was difficult for me. He touched many people’s lives and made them better. His passion for aviation was infectious. In closing, EAA AirVenture reminded me of my love of aviation, my passion for photography and the interesting people you can meet at an airshow. Throughout the week I stopped and chatted with many people; young, old, military, civilian, regular people from all over the world, but each with a store to tell. Aviation is the common thread that bonds us all together, from the newly minted single engine pilot to the high-time 747 pilot. Blue skies and tailwinds, until next year when the sleepy Wisconsin town opens it streets and skies to visitors from around the world.
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