For one week every summer, east-central Wisconsin becomes the site of the greatest spectacle in aviation. EAA’s Air Venture in Oshkosh draws a half-million people from all over the world – including aviation fans and aeronautics businesses from Indiana.
From sun up to sun down, aircraft engines are rarely silent at Oshkosh. Most every flying machine imaginable is here – from World War I biplanes, to home built fixed wings and ultralights, to the newest, fastest, most technologically advanced jets.
“This is just the best place in the world to spend a week if you love aviation,” said Chris Carrier, a 1992 Purdue grad.
He flew commercially for Indy-based American Trans Air, was the chief jet instructor at Purdue for several years and is now a demonstration/instructor pilot for Embraer, a private jet manufacturer. As Carrier stood in front of Embraer jets on display, a biplane took to the sky as part of the daily airshow.
“These are the executive jets that Embraer builds. These are called the Phenoms. The Phenom 100 and the 300. They’re what are considered light jets – meaning that they’re usually lighter than 10,000 pounds, 20,000 pounds and they’re manufactured to fly with just one pilot," Carrier said. "They operate for considerably less than a normal mid-size business jet and they’re what we like to call entry level platforms for customers who might be individual owner/operators who are interested in flying their own jet by themselves.”
Not far away, in one of four large exhibition halls, recruiter Suzanne Coolbaugh-Walker spreads the word about Purdue’s Department of Aviation Technology.
“We have three academic majors – so people who want to fly airplanes, people who want to build, design, maintain, repair airplanes and people who want to manage the business side of things,” she said.
Coolbaugh-Walker says spending the week at Oshkosh is more than just about recruiting students – it’s also an opportunity to network with suppliers and aviation companies.
Companies like Eagle Creek Aviation Services, an authorized service center for Cessna and Honeywell Engine. Company reps flew a Twin Commander Airframe to Air Venture. Jarett Haffner, in avionic sales, says besides performing routine maintenance on about 30 planes a month at its west side Indianapolis facility, they’re also installing the latest technology.
“In the industry we call it a glass panel retrofit - where there’s very large displays," Haffner said. "In this case two 10-inch primary flight displays and a single 12-inch in the center that displays all of engine instrumentation. So you get a lot more information as a pilot. “
Haffner says it’s just part of the makeover of a more affordable and completely restored airplane…
“We’re showcasing this aircraft as an example of what these 30 year old aircraft can look like with new paint, new interior. They’re still very well supported by the manufacturer.”
Haffner credits recent changes in Indiana tax law - exempting parts used during aircraft maintenance from sales tax - to an uptick in business. He says it’s an incentive for pilots from other states – pilots visiting Air Venture - to bring their planes to Indianapolis for scheduled maintenance.
In another massive exhibit hall, a Hoosier company with a long history in supplying metal tubing to motorsports teams is making its debut at Oshkosh this year. AED Motorsports Products president Al Lowe spent the week in Wisconsin introducing his products to new customers.
He visited Oshkosh for the first time last year, and returned this year as a vendor. He says to grow his business he needs to look beyond just racing to new markets like aviation.
“It’s a huge market – it’s an expanding market. Motorsports, in general nationally, is not growing – so, we had to look at other opportunities to apply our products towards," Lowe said. "This industry seems to be healthy. They’re generating younger participants. We also manufacture a product that’s very interesting to this industry. It’s a roll form streamline tube in a variety of alloys and grades of materials and we’re pleasantly surprised at how many opportunities we’ve found.”
As the Air Force Thunderbirds took to the skies outside, Lowe says he’s already looking forward to Oshkosh 2015.
“Absolutely. Committed," he said. "More people. More display items. Probably do two booths next year.”