Thom Patterson CNN
Five ‘Wow’ Aviation Moments at the Oshkosh Air Show
July 24, 2015
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  • They call it the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture. But for some, it’s so famous, it’s just “Oshkosh.”

    Never heard of it? It’s kind of like an aviation buff’s Disneyland. Or maybe Comic-Con.

    I’m one of those buffs. This is my first visit to Oshkosh. And I can tell you it’s a weeklong orgy of aircraft, with about 500,000 avgeeks and 10,000 planes stirring up a delirious mix of aviation and overstimulation.

    Iconic and experimental aircraft are everywhere. Breathtaking aerobatic performances happen every day. There’s something cool to see at every turn. My head feels like it’s on a swivel. Come to think if it, my neck hurts.

    Like Disneyland, it’s a fantasy world for aviation geeks. And like at Comic-Con, some of the planes have become heroes in the aviation community, just as iconic as Spider-Man, Superman and Batman.

    Unlike Comic-Con, there’s not a lot of cosplay here. But some pilots do walk around in their flight suits.

    For folks who’ve never been to Oshkosh during airshow week, let me offer a few basics:

    1. Usually, some kind of machine is flying overhead.
    2. This forces nearly everyone to constantly look up.
    3. Folks not looking up are probably looking down, using their smartphones.
    4. Because of A, B and C, a lot of people have been bumping into each other.

    So, in cased you missed some of the action this week, here are five things that wowed ’em at Oshkosh:

    1. The arrival of the world’s newest airliner, the Airbus A350XWB


    It was enough to pull gawkers out of their lawn chairs and on to their feet.

    Direct from Airbus headquarters in France, the world’s newest airliner emerged from the clouds Monday afternoon. The Airbus A350XWB tour of the Americas arrived at Oshkosh all decked out in black, white and gray.

    At the controls: British Airbus test pilot Frank Chapman, who put the plane through its paces. High-banked turns and low passes thrilled the hundreds of aviation fans who crowded along a runway at Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport.

    This thing announced itself with the roar of a pair of Rolls-Royce engines. After the A350 landed, the crew displayed an American flag out the cockpit window, prompting applause from the crowd. Chapman really knows how to make an entrance. And he should! Two years ago, Chapman wowed the crowd when he landed an Airbus A380 — the world’s biggest airliner — on this same narrow airstrip.

    1. Military wows


    Military planes brought thrills. The Air Force F-22 Raptor and the newer F-35 Lightning II showed off their dynamic flying abilities.

    But neither fighter jet could hold a candle to the July 17 entrance of a gigantic Air Force B-52 Stratofortress for the first time at Oshkosh.

    “Loud as hell,” said one who watched the thing touch down.

    As the pilot, U.S. Air Force Reserve Maj. Jeremy Holt, put it: “It was pretty cool, actually.”

    These bombers are so big, they hadn’t been allowed to land here since the airshow started more than 60 years ago.

    This thing has a wingspan wider than the height of the Tower of Pisa.

    In fact, 6,000 feet of lights had to be removed from each side of the runway to make room. Even then, the plane was nearly too wide to fit its “tip gear,” wheels located near the end of the plane’s huge wings. Those wheels had only about a foot of clearance on each side of the runway, Holt said.

    And the runway is 3,000 feet shorter than B-52 pilots are used to landing on. That can be a problem, especially when you’re at the controls of a 185,000-pound airplane. To avoid running out of runway, Holt touched down at an extremely low speed, about 145 mph.

    He admitted that he brought the nose up a little late just before touching down. “Other than that, it was uneventful.”

    The crowd disagreed. This landing was most certainly an event.

    Another military aircraft that grabbed attention: the world’s only flying B-29 Superfortress. Almost 70 years after the last one rolled off the assembly line, “FIFI” is still in the air. The B-29 model will always be known as the only plane to wage nuclear warfare. In 1945, this type of aircraft dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, marking the end of World War II.

    3. Super glider aims for the edge of space


    When Oshkosh visitors heard about what Jim Payne wants to do with this plane, they got really interested.

    A super glider called Perlan 2 will attempt to set a world altitude record for a piloted, fixed-wing aircraft in sustained flight. How high? Between 90,000 and 100,000 feet, higher than the famous U-2 and SR-71 spy planes.

    But gliders have no engines, so how is that actually possible?

    Chief pilot Payne gave me a better understanding of how the 1,800-pound plane works.

    First, the glider is towed into the air over South America by a powered aircraft. Then the Perlan detaches from the tow plane and begins riding wind currents called the stratospheric polar night jet that will push the plane’s wings higher and higher. At 100,000 feet in the air, stars are visible even during the day. “It’ll be a lot of fun, that’s for sure,” Payne said.

    4. A ‘Jet Ski with wings’


    Pilots and tech types were buzzing about this thing all week.

    Imagine owning a small, floating, portable airplane not much bigger than a recreational boat. Its wings fold. Plop it on a trailer, and you can tote it to your favorite lake or airfield for an afternoon of fun in the air. That’s the idea behind the ICON A5.

    “How would ya like to have one of those in the garage?” I heard one Oshkosh attendee ask over my shoulder.

    Save your pennies, pal. A tiny personal airplane like this will cost you about $190,000.

    5. The Oshkosh debut of Goodyear’s new ‘blimp’


    Oshkosh attendees got their first look at the new generation of Goodyear “blimps.”

    Like a lot of superhero movie franchises lately, this icon has undergone a radical reboot.

    Goodyear is replacing its fleet with Zeppelins, made by the same German outfit that built the famous Hindenburg airship.

    Goodyear’s “Wingfoot One” is longer, faster and more nimble than the older Goodyear blimps. These Zeppelins have three engines instead of two. They hold more passengers and — unlike their predecessors — have onboard restrooms.

    Technically, these things don’t qualify as blimps. They’re actually semi-rigid airships because the giant “envelope” of helium that keeps them flying has an internal skeleton.

    The three-aircraft Goodyear fleet is expected to be all Zeppelins by 2018.