The annual extravaganza of all things aviation came to Wisconsin last week, as aircraft enthusiasts flocked to the Air Venture Oshkosh. We found the new (Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner), the old (the last flying B-29) and the record setters (Sikorsky’s 290-mph chopper demo).
The Last B-29
The last flyable WWII B-29 bomber, Fifi, landed here amid much fanfare after a $1.2 million engine retrofit. B-29s were used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Boeing, Bell and Martin together built 3970 B-29s between 1942 and 1946, but the aircraft suffered from frequent fires caused by overheating and fuel-injection leaks on the original R-3350-57 engines. This problem grounded Fifi in 2004. It did not return to the skies until last year, after it was refitted with newer versions of the R-3350 that are carbureted, run cooler and have plenty of reserve power–ensuring that Fifi will be thrilling air-show crowds for years to come.
Cessna Corvalis TTx
Cessna brought its new Corvalis TTx cockpit mockup to Oshkosh this year. The system features twin 14-inch screens with a 16 x 9 aspect ratio and up to 16 million colors. The multifunction display is customizable and can be split into various panes and uses a touchscreen with an infrared matrix for better durability and reliability. The G2000 can be equipped with the optional GSR Iridium satellite phone and data link system providing voice, text, email and world wide weather reports.
The U.S. Air Force Academy has decided that the Cirrus SR20 is the best plane for finding out whether a cadet has the right stuff to go on to full-fledged pilot training. So it is taking delivery of 25 of them, and the aircraft will be designated the T-53A. The aircraft looks like a regular SR20, but with no wheel pants and no back seat. Removal of the latter saves about 60 pounds, a critical consideration at the high elevation of Colorado Springs, home to the academy.
Sport Copter Gyroplane
Sport Copter markets its futuristic gyroplane as a low-cost alternative to helicopters for law enforcement. It is currently being offered in kit form (without the engine and drive propeller) for $65,000. The Sport Copter takes off in as little as 50 feet and lands like a helicopter. Power comes from a single Lycoming IO 360 engine that makes 200 hp and flies at up to 120 mph while burning just 8 to 10 gallons of fuel per hour. The Sport Copter can climb up to 18,000 feet, cruise for up to 300 miles and carry a payload of 500 to 600 pounds.
Cessna 310D (Sky King)
“Out of the blue of the Western sky comes–Sky King!” That was the famous refrain of Sky King, the children’s television show that ran from 1951 to 1962. The show chronicled the adventures of a flying Arizona rancher and his niece, Penny. It starred Kirby Grant and Gloria Winters, as well as this 1960 Cessna 310Dóthe last of three planes that the show’s creators used.
All the way from Auckland, New Zealand, Composite Helicopter brought its first all-carbon fiber and Kevlar fuselage to Oshkosh this week. The 135-knot single-engine helicopter is about as big as a twin-engine Eurocopter EC-135, but when it goes into production it will be priced lower than a much smaller $800,000 Robinson R66. The composite pieces are very large and that makes assembly a snap, so to speak. Composite plans first to offer the KC518 “Adventourer” as a $337,000 kit with a $40,000 “fast-build” option, and then later to offer a fully factory-built model for $795,000.
The last flyable aero car made its way to Oshkosh this year. Previously owned by actor Bob Cummings (and with a passenger registry that once allegedly included Marilyn Monroe), it is currently owned by Ed Sweeney and usually found on display at the Kissimmee Air Museum in Florida.
Aero cars were first certified in 1956, and only six were built. They can drive up to 60 mph and fly at speeds of 110 mph. The Aero car was invented by Moult Taylor and features foldable wings and a tail section that is towed behind the car portion of the craft.
Now officially retired from flight after setting a helicopter speed record of 290 mph last year, Sikorsky’s X2 compound helicopter tech demonstrator is making the air-show circuit. Sikorsky is using the helicopter as a marketing tool as it ramps up to build two larger prototype aircraft for the Pentagon’s future consideration, part of the program to create the X-97 Raider. The Raider will share the X2′s critical technologies: rigid coaxial rotors, beefed-up transmission and a rear-mounted thruster propeller. Sikorsky envisions making the Raider available in both attack and troop-carrying modes, with manned and unmanned pilot capabilities.
Ninety-two-year-old Col. Charles McGee poses at Oshkosh next to a P-51C “Red Tail” Mustang similar to the one he flew as one of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen in WWII. The Army Air Corps 332nd Fighter Group, composed entirely of African-American pilots, painted the tails of all their aircraft red. During the war they flew cover for lumbering B-17 bombers, inflicting heavy losses on the Germans.
This 1944 P-51C is one of only four left in existence; it was used as a training craft at several U.S. bases and did not see combat. The Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing restored the P-51C and painted it to look like the famous Red Tail to commemorate the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Ted Williams’s popular 1960s twin-piston speedster had no margin for error to accommodate pilots whose hubris outran their abilities. The model’s current steward, Aerostat Aircraft, now has plans to bring it back as an even faster jet. For this show, pilots flew a prototype fitted with twin under-wing Pratt & Whitney PW615F turbofans, clocking 400-knot speeds along the way. Aerostat president Steve Speer thinks the airplane will eventually have an 1100-nautical-mile range and be able to cruise as high as 35,000 feet–but first he needs to raise the estimated $50 million needed to put it into production.
Burt’s chariot. Aircraft design guru Burt Rutan arrived in Oshkosh aboard one of the six Beech Starships still in service, this 1994 one owned by California investor Robert Scherer (seen here). Rutan developed the proof-of-concept Starship; this and many of his other futuristic designs were celebrated in Oshkosh as a tribute to the recently retired legend. Beechcraft spent an estimated $1 billion developing the all-composite pusher turboprop in the 1980s, but sold only 50 copies. In 2002, Beech bought most of them back and destroyed them to spare itself the cost of product support. Scherer acquired the spare-parts inventory and extra fuselages and defiantly continues to fly his airplane and support the handful of other Starship operators.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Boeing invited the public to take a look inside its soon-to-be-certified 787. In airline configuration, the mostly composite aircraft will seat 210 to 250 people with a range of 7650 to 8200 nautical miles. Boeing has more than 800 Dreamliners on order with a value of $132 billion, making the 787 the most successful commercial aircraft launch in history, and for good reason: The composite construction and new GEnx turbofans make the Dreamliner up to 20 percent more efficient than the aircraft it will replace. Passengers will also notice a greater sense of interior spaciousness thanks to larger windows, LED mood lighting, and larger overhead bins.