Sometimes we are so busy reminiscing about what we no longer have that we fail to see the good stuff we have right now. There are certainly lots of examples of this in life, and if I were paid by the word I would give you several. While it is true that things change, for better or for worse, sometimes things are just different.
A tricycle gear Kolb? You had to be on the Farm to get a first look at it.
The Farm (the ultralight area on the south end of the AirVenture grounds at Oshkosh) certainly has gone through a lot of changes over the past few years. I remember my first AirVenture many moons ago (well over 200 moons ago, actually), and I can’t recall for sure whether I ever left the Farm that year. I was there to help a manufacturer represent aircraft, but I spent my free time watching the flying, visiting booths and chatting with other ultralight pilots.
Of course, the mid-1990s were something of a renaissance era for ultralights. The bad press of the ’80s had begun to fade, two-seat trainers were becoming popular, and powered parachutes and powered paragliders were just getting their game on. There were a lot of manufacturers-some seasoned and some upstarts-keeping the pattern full. All of that activity attracted plenty of visitors to the flight line, too.
Despite that the Farm is located quite a distance from the main show grounds (this was before the show was even called AirVenture), it was the place to be before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. when most of the other booths and activities were closed.
Introductory flights in powered parachutes were available for those interested.
The booths on the Farm were usually open early because vendors showed up to push their aircraft to the flight line-no tugs on the Farm!-and go flying. The skies stayed full with all kinds of wings: fixed, parawing and delta. You could not find a place that had more concentrated flying activity. People stood up against the fence five deep or more to see what was going on. Ah, the good old days.
The Darker Side of Light…
Sadly, there have been a lot of pressures on the light end of flying. A tougher economy and the Sport Pilot rules have tag-teamed the industry, discouraging some pilots, instructors and even manufacturers from continuing with the sport. This has been reflected in the numbers of both vendors and visitors to the Farm. With fewer vendors showing up at the Farm, visitors have been discouraged from making the trip. Less show traffic discourages vendors from committing time and resources the following year.
Additionally, some of the new SLSA importers may not want to display in the ultralight area. This means that a runway otherwise ideal for use by many STOL-style aircraft is underutilized. In fact, as the numbers of manufacturers of Light Sport Aircraft grow, they are increasingly scattered over the AirVenture grounds. It makes sense in a way. If a vendor’s goal is to get as many people visiting his booth as possible, it’s better if it is located where the crowds are. But that also means if you are a shopper and your mission is to see everything in the Light Sport world, you’re going to have to work at it.
Jeff Goin taxis to the side of the runway showing off one of powered paraglider pilots’ favorite tricks, the foot drag.
…And the Lighter Side of Dark
So what are we left with? The answer to that is still one of the best cross-sections of ultralight and Light Sport offerings in the Midwest. There aren’t nearly as many manufacturers as in years past, but there are still a lot of regional companies, with national sales, that display at the Farm. It is the only place I know where you can see ultralights, airplanes, powered parachutes, powered paragliders, trikes, hot air balloons, Experimental helicopters and gyroplanes all fly in one day, off of one field. That is still something special.
While every category of aircraft flew at least once during the event, not all categories had a vendor selling goods. The two most noticeably absent were foot-launch powered paragliders and weight-shift control trikes. But not all was lost. You could still visit with pilots and trainers knowledgeable in the categories, so it is still a good place to do research.
The Farm Roundup
If you were shopping for gyroplanes, airplanes or powered parachutes, there were enough vendors to provide relief. And some even had new wares.
Kolb Aircraft displayed its first-ever trigear airplane, though it was really more of a quad since they still couldn’t quite leave off the tailwheel. Valley Engineering also debuted its first trigear airplane. Belite showed off a new welded aluminum frame and some lower pricing.
The German company AutoGyro made its AirVenture debut with three models: the tandem, open-cockpit MTOsport, the tandem enclosed Calidus and the side-by-side enclosed Cavalon. Sportcopter, an American company, was also displayed in the main area.
Experimental helicopters seem to be gaining a following on the Farm. A number of helicopters were stationed on the flight line, and the daily rotorcraft demonstrations seemed well-attended.
For electric flight fans, the Farm was the must-see place to catch the electric Lazair in flight. Dale Kramer, the designer and builder of the Lazair, was bitten by the electric bug through his new model aircraft hobby. He reworked an airframe and outfitted it with off-the-shelf components that turned the tiny twin-engine ultralight into an aircraft with a reported 1.25-hour endurance. Kramer flew at every opportunity and stayed nearby for a good part of the day to talk to anyone interested in the project. (See Dean Sigler’s full report on the Lazair.)
Troopers, Kramer and his wife, Carmen, spent time on the field without the benefit of shade, because the wings are covered with clear Mylar. He wasn’t there because he was selling something; he was there as the ultimate enthusiast. Along the way, he scooped up two awards for his reworked Lazair: Antique Ultralight Champion as well as Best Ultralight in the seaplane competition (yes, the Lazair was on floats, too).
The electric Lazair was one of the stars on the Farm.
The EAA show organizers have done a lot of things right in the ultralight area, and they seem to be turning it around. They’ve invited the Balloon Federation of America not only to have a booth, but to inflate its balloons both morning and evening when possible. This not only attracts balloon enthusiasts, but also draws people like me who like big, colorful flying ships.
Keeping aircraft flying from early in the morning to mid-afternoon also helps. Starting with the parasports early in the morning, then moving to fixed-wing and trikes, and finally letting rotorcraft take over during midday seems to be a great formula for keeping the eye candy dangling.
There is always room for improvement. An "Express" tram would be a convenient way to get people from the main area to the Farm. If a dedicated tram station were established in the main area with a tent, a Farm schedule of events, and nice graphics, it would probably increase attendance in the ultralight area. An increased number of visitors would mean an increase in vendor displays. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but it would help promote the most entry-level point of aviation, and that would be good for the entire industry.
After the airshows end, the real flying begins down on the Farm!
Roy Beisswenger is the technical editor for Powered Sport Flying magazine (www.psfmagazine.com) and host of the Powered Sport Flying Radio Show (www.psfradio.com). He is also a Light Sport repairman and gold seal flight instructor for Light Sport Aircraft as well as the United States delegate to CIMA, the committee of the Fdration Aronautique Internationale (FAI) pertaining to microlight activity around the world.