In 2012, A Grumman Wildcat was raised from the bottom of Lake Michigan. The lake has numerous wrecks scattered across it as a result of the training that was undertaken during the Second World War with students ditching their aircraft. Many have been raised over the years with some being restored to flight and others ending up in museums. The one that was raised in 2012 was the subject of a piece I put together for Global Aviation Magazine.
The airframe was moved to a hangar under the control of Chuck Greenhill (who had financed the recovery) at Kenosha Airport after it was raised from the water and this was where I got to see it. Opening the hangar door was quite a shock because the smell was pretty overpowering. The airframe was covered in various creatures that had attached themselves over the years and they were not doing well in the air of the hangar. It was a tough smell initially. You got used to it a bit and having the hangar door open helped to get some fresh air in there.
The airframe was in several parts. The wings were laid out in place and the tail section, which had separated at some point during the accident, was laid out behind it all. Obviously, there was lots of damage to the aircraft given that it originally had crashed and then spent decades underwater. The recovery process was delicate to avoid inflicting any further damage.
The airframe remains the property of the US Navy. It was originally going to go to Pensacola for restoration but ended up going to the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo MI in the end. It is currently undergoing restoration there.
This plane is a great example of what an imaginative mind can achieve when combined with an understanding of aerodynamics. It is one of the products of the talent that is Burt Rutan. When Burt ran Scaled Composites, he specialized in creating aircraft that were out of the ordinary and yet capable performers. The Boomerang is an asymmetric airframe that provides twin engine performance with more benign handling in an engine out configuration. I came upon it during a visit to Oshkosh for Airventure.
The owner at the time was very happy to share his aircraft with anyone who was interested and, given the unusual nature of the plane and the fascination people have with Rutan’s creations, he was never short of visitors. I didn’t spend much time with him but, while I was there, I was struggling to find angles to shoot the plane from to emphasize what makes it special. Getting it in flight would have helped but it was fun checking it out while it was on the ground.
I was talking with a longtime friend of mine about some stuff recently and it got me thinking about a project he had worked on a few years ago. He was heavily involved in Adam Aircraft based out of Centennial Airport south of Denver. The company had two projects; the A500 twin piston and the A700 twin jet. The company ultimately folded with only about half a dozen of the A500s delivered to customers and the A700 still in flight test. I was wondering whether I had any shots of either type.
I did make a visit to the company while he worked there and got to walk around the flight test hangars. Sadly, no cameras were allowed so I don’t have any images of the work the company was doing. That is a big shame. However, I did come across A500s twice. One time was at Oshkosh where a couple of the planes were on display together. Later I also saw one parked up at Palwauckee (now called Chicago Executive) where it had a cover over the fuselage. I believe some are still flying but, without manufacturer support, I imagine they are not cheap to keep.
The Wings Over Waukesha air show was recently held in – you guessed it – Waukesha. I covered it for Global Aviation Resource and, rather than duplicate everything here, why not head over to their website to see the original piece. Here is the link.
You can’t cover Oshkosh this year without mentioning the Piper Cub. This year was the 75th anniversary of the Piper Cub and they came to the fly-in en masse. There was a mass arrival the weekend before the show started but I didn’t get there in time to witness that. However, the parking had been set up to give the aircraft prominence. They also made an effort to give those aircraft painted in the original Piper yellow parking together to emphasize the effect.
I wandered down to the Cub parking in the evening. I had been hoping that the late evening light would pop out nicely and illuminate the ranks with a warm glow. Sadly,m the light never really cooperated. It always lurked just behind a cloud. However, the lines of Cubs were certainly something to see. It was tricky finding an angle that really showed just how many there were. Just trust me. There were lots of them!
If you are at Oshkosh for a few days and the huge numbers of people and the hot temperatures are getting to you, it is time to take a break. There is no better place to do this than the seaplane base. A short bus ride from the main bus location will take you down to the lake-shore. Here the place of things is a little bit more relaxed. There are plenty of people around still. however, you can sit by the water and allow the pace to slow down quite a bit.
There are many planes already moored up but the traffic in and out always seems to be enough to keep you amused. When the aircraft arrive they will head to the dock and then will be towed out to a mooring location. When they head out it is anyone’s guess what they will consider to be the best departure route so they might power up close in and take off or taxi out a long way before aligning themselves for departure.
We did have a little extra interest with a Beaver that had a hard time getting airborne. A very pretty looking aircraft, it taxied out and made its first effort at getting airborne without success. it then tried several more times in differing directions but I never saw it actually get on to the step. Eventually they taxied back in. No idea what the problem was and how they fixed it but hopefully they did.
Up to now, I have barely mentioned the flying display. Every afternoon, there is a combination of demonstrations by manufacturers and performances by airshow acts. The elements of the show vary during the week with some days being more focused on jets or warbirds and others in lighter aircraft. There is also a night show on the Saturday evening although I had headed home before then so didn’t get to see it.
I did get a pass to the ditch for the flying display on one day. This is an area between the taxiway and the runway which puts you a lot closer to the performers and you obviously don’t have anyone between you and the show – unless Duggy the DC-3 gets parked in an awkward spot of course!
I took a bunch of shots during the display of course – that was why I was in the ditch. I won’t even try to cover it all (and more of them will be included in the GAR coverage). However, here are a few as a taste of what was flying.
A big part of the Airventure experience is the trade stands that are available. There are a lot of plane owners visiting the event and these are people that are known for constantly tinkering with what they have. They are also willing victims for the next thing in their aviation collection.
Consequently, every level of need is catered for. There are stands selling everything you could possibly want from someone who will embroider your plane’s registration on to a baseball cap or shirt through to someone selling you a business jet. Having a walk through the manufacturers’ stands is a good way to spend some time. A really good time to do this is during the flying display. This is a time when many people are off watching the flying and you can get a bit more space.
Cockpits are often powered up in the aircraft. Having a look at the interiors is a also a good idea. Some of the newer designs are vying for the attention of the visitors so might have stands that are more fancy. The less well established manufacturers are also more likely to make an effort to show you their wares. It is interesting to hear from them what their expectations are for the week. Some will sell many aircraft. Others won’t sell anything but may make that first contact with someone who will ultimately prove to be a customer. One thing is for sure, it is a greater concentration of aircraft owners than you will find pretty much anywhere else!
This piece is a shorter one but it summarizes a lot about what Oshkosh is like. I was walking around the show site on my first day there when I came across the Rutan Boomerang. This aircraft is now in private hands but was restored as part of the Rutan celebrations the year before. It is an unusual asymmetric configuration aircraft that looks very interesting. It had actually been in the race ahead of Airventure.
I wandered up and grabbed a couple of shots as the owner was chatting to a few people. He immediately asked me if I would like to get some interior shots. I was wearing a media badge but this was certainly not something I excepted and I was very grateful. He then cleared out his stuff, tidied everything up and even asked how I wanted the hatches configured. What a great guy.
This level of accommodation and willingness to share in the aviating experience is something that never fails to impress me about aviation in general. Many thanks.
One group that always gets a lot of attention at Oshkosh is the warbirds. A separate area is set aside for them where the aircraft can park but also where their people can camp. It seems to be a well developed operation with its own marshaling and security arrangements. I guess when the aircraft are valuable and in demand, they need a little extra attention.
Despite that, it is still a very relaxed area to visit. The aircraft are parked up and you can walk freely in amongst them. Often people are working on the planes and they fly quite frequently during the days (and more often the evenings when photo flights are common). As they taxi in and out, the volunteers keep you just safely out of harms way but they are aware that everyone wants to get a picture. A good balance exists.
The best time to visit is either early in the morning or late in the evening. Not only is the light better then, the number of visitors is much lower so you can have a lot of time to yourself and people are not in your shots most of the time. It is worth making repeated visits. My first trip across had a few aircraft around but it was noticeable how many spaces there were. however, a couple of days later, the ranks of vintage aircraft had swelled and there was much to see that was new.