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1998: Day 3
Ahhh...this place is pure aviation.
I awoke at 6:00 am this morning, well-rested and refreshed...to the sound of a Rolls-Royce Merlin, as a P-51 flew overhead. Where else in the world can you experience this?
I wandered the half-mile over to the showers, and while there were no lines, it was definitely more crowded than yesterday. The water was distinctly lukewarm. After our breakfast (oatmeal again), we headed off to the stores at the end of the camping area (Wal-Mart and Piggly Wiggly, a grocery store) for some supplies (sunblock) and food. Taking us there was a school bus provided by the EAA and sponsored by Nestle - a 25 cent donation would get you a ride anywhere in the very large camping area.
Once our shopping was complete, we once again headed out to the flight line, starting with the "Warbird" (military aircraft) area. There were now eight P-51's parked there. The P-51 is my father's favorite airplane of all time, so we spent a great deal of time looking at them. I got speaking to one of the crew chiefs, of the "Gunfighter" Mustang, and he allowed me up into the cockpit. I marveled at the small space afforded the pilot. While today's airplanes exude ergonomic planning, the Mustang cockpit is small, not very comfortable, and all business. I was also made quite aware as to the reason why the not-so-tall pilots were selected for fighter training, while taller pilots were sent to bomber & transport training. Having the opportunity to sit in this airplane is one of the great benefits of showing up early to Oshkosh - the general public would never be allowed to do this during the actual convention.
Off to one side of the warbird area was a large C-82 transport aircraft. This is the last flying C-82 in the world. This aircraft was featured in the film "Flight of the Phoenix", starring Jimmy Stewart, where a C-82 transport crashes in the desert, and the survivors use the remaining parts to build a new airplane and fly out of the desert. This particular C-82 had a crude turbojet engine on its roof, visible in this picture. This engine was added to the the C-82 late in its production life, and was used to provide extra thrust for takeoff (JATO, or Jet Assisted Takeoff).
A Lockheed C-141 Starlifter arrived, so we had a look at the immense cargo hold, and talked to the friendly crew. This particular Starlifter was the first aircraft into Hanoi at the beginning of the airlift to get Americans out of Vietnam, and as such, has "Hanoi Taxi" painted on the side of it. Just then, we were startled by the sudden, extremely loud appearance of a pair of F-104 Starfighters overhead, running in full afterburner. The 104's landed, using every inch of the available runway.
There were row upon row of warbirds, especially AT-6's, which we decided to tour through later. Instead, we ventured into the homebuilt area, which is really what EAA is all about. There were row upon row of Quickies, Long-EZ's, Cozy's, and other canard airplanes, as well as many Lancairs and Glasairs.
One of the most amazing aircraft that we saw was the CarterCopter. This modified gyrocopter was probably the most innovative thing I saw during the entire visit to Oshkosh. Designed from scratch by a former NASA aeronautical engineer, it is a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle with a pressurized cockpit holding five occupants, projected cruise speed of over 500 mph, and ceiling of 35,000 feet. This revolutionary aircraft uses a non-powered autorotating composite rotor to provide lift during takeoff and landing, as well as during the transition to forward flight, and a composite wing to provide lift during cruise. During the cruise portions of flight, the rotor is unloaded, and remains stable due to hundreds of pounds of depleted uranium in the rotor tips. The pusher prop is a hollow composite with a single carbon fiber I-beam spar, which is flexible to torsional stress, allowing the prop pitch to be controlled without any moving parts. The CarterCopter is scheduled to begin its first test flights shortly after Oshkosh, and if it works, will revolutionize general aviation. The only flaw in the design that I could discern is the tail booms - if the aircraft comes in with any forward speed at all, when the pilot pulls back on the cyclic control to slow it down, it will tilt back and the booms will contact the ground before the landing gear. I was told by one of the people at the booth that they are aware of this problem and are working on it.
Someone ran past us in a panic, and we asked what was going on. They said that apparently there was a P-51 that was having gear problems, and they were going to try to land. It turned out to be "Old Crow," the Mustang belonging to former astronaut Bud Anderson. We went out to the runway, and sure enough, in came a P-51 with the right main gear retracted. It was accompanied by another P-51 flying chase. It came down and bounced on the one extended wheel, trying to jostle the stuck gear down into place. When this didn't work, the pilot yawed the aircraft to get as much of the wing into the wind as possible, creating drag and slowing it, and at the same time cut the engine. The Mustang slowly came down on its right wingtip, and immediately started to groundloop to the right. It went off the side of the runway, eventually turning a full 270 degrees to the right, coming to rest pointing towards us. The pilot did a tremendous job getting it down - if it had nosed over and flipped, there was a good chance it would have killed her. As it was, the damage was restricted to the right flap, right wingtip, belly scoop, a dent in the right leading edge, and the propeller. The propeller tips were all bent back, indicating that it was still turning at the time of impact, so it's fairly likely that the engine will have to be torn down and rebuilt as well. My father was very upset - he said, "of all the airplanes this could have happened to, it had to be the P-51. It just makes me feel sick to see that happen to that airplane." That said, it could have been a lot worse - the airplane is repairable, and nobody was hurt.
After all of this excitement, we decided to go watch a different kind of excitement - the arrival of the general aviation aircraft. During the convention, Oshkosh becomes the busiest airport in the world. We sat near our campsite, at the edge of runway 9/27, and watched them come in, while listening on the radio to the excellent controllers efficiently moving traffic safely in and out of the airport. On runway 27 alone, airplanes were landing every ten to fifteen seconds, on three different parts of the runway simultaneously, and at one point I counted over fifteen airplanes on final for the same runway at the same time! The controllers were just unbelievable in their efficiency and professionalism, and there is a lot to be said for the pilots, who were landing in very gusty conditions.
Some damage that did result from the gusty weather was to our tent - one of the fly retainers was ripped from the fabric, and one of the fiberglass poles had broken. We got out the tools, and managed to sew the fly retainer back on (using a pair of pliers and some stainless steel aircraft lockwire as thread), and mend the fiberglass pole (with ubiquitous duct tape aka 100-mile-an-hour tape).
Dinner came, and having realized that we came equipped with canned food but no can opener, we attempted to find one at Wal-Mart. Apparently we were not the only visitors with this problem, as Wal-Mart was sold out of can openers. We bought a small tool that could be used to puncture tins with small holes, and with some work, we used this to open our cans. As we were eating our dinner, a P-51 took off, then came back and did a full-throttle low pass directly overhead. My father remarked, "That alone was worth the trip here."
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