I’ll be at EAA AirVenture, which marks something like 25 consecutive years that I’ve spent a week in sweltering mid-summer Wisconsin heat with a few hundred thousand other airplane nerds.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my complaints about AirVenture. It lays the patriotism on thick, which undoubtedly makes the show uncomfortable for the tens of thousands of foreign nationals who attend it. World War II factors heavily into the programming, which increasingly feels out of date and out of touch with what’s going on in the world. Veterans and warplanes should be celebrated and honored here, but the time for WWII to be a central theme of an internationally-recognized air show has passed.
Be that as it may, seeing dozens of P-51 Mustangs, Bearcats, Hellcats, Corsairs, B-17s, B-25s, and the only flying B-29 in the world — Fifi — is a special experience that I never tire of. (To help understand the significance of that, Enola Gay is a B-29.)
Of course, seeing old-school showmen like Gene Soucy perform alongside some of the greatest pilots in the world (including perhaps the greatest, Sean Tucker) is amazing, too. The endless parade of Extra 300s performing bog-standard competition aerobatic routines can get old, but there’s just enough variety to keep it engaging from beginning to end.
Over the past couple decades, I’ve seen an SR-71 land here. And a Concorde. I watched a 787 prototype do a low-altitude, high-speed flyby, and an A380 demonstrate insane 80-degree banks. Walk around long enough and you’ll bump into Harrison Ford or John Travolta, both aviation enthusiasts who usually make the trip.
(Not to say I’m really interested in bumping into John Travolta, but, you know. Still cool.)
Ultimately, AirVenture is about general aviation, and every year I walk away inspired and energized that private plane ownership has a future. I watched the Cessna Skycatcher take shape here over the course of several years, from a design study to a production aircraft. Terrafugia, which has made a lot of mainstream news, always exhibits here, as does Icon.
Even if you’re not a pilot and have no interest in becoming one, I implore you to check out AirVenture at some point in your life — come on Saturday, which is typically the show’s biggest day both for attendance and razzle-dazzle.
Here’s a picture I took at AirVenture back in 2005 of an F-4, an F-16, a P-38, and a P-51 in formation. If you don’t think that’s awesome, I don’t really know how to help you.