Last week, I reported that on July 17, the Lincoln Municipal Airport in Nebraska was the world's busiest airport. This week, that honor goes to Wittman Regional Airport, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, home of AirVenture 2010.
Federal Aviation Administrator Randy Babbitt invited me to join him in Oshkosh yesterday, and I'm sure glad I did. AirVenture was phenomenal!
Together, we watched the famous air show--spectacular!--toured the grounds and saw the A4 Skyhawk, the F4 Phantom, a variety of light sport aircraft, and a restored Eastern Airlines DC 7B. We even saw a couple of electric-powered planes and a real-life flying car.
Special 75th anniversary fly-ins included DC-3's--the first aircraft to fly passengers coast-to-coast--and B-17's--the famed "Flying Fortress" of World War II. I particularly enjoyed the Warbirds area, where EAA honors our veterans with an amazing collection of military aircraft dating back to World War I.
Then, there was KidVenture, an area where young people can build model rockets or balsa planes and fly in a high-tech simulator. KidVenture also features engaging programs to get kids interested in flying, air traffic control and next generation technology. It was great to see the kids' excitement, and Randy and I spotted many future pilots and air traffic controllers in the crowd.
Our FAA is also an important part of AirVenture. Throughout the week,
the agency will host dozens of forums on a variety
of safety-related issues. There are topics on little-known facts about
visual and instrument flight
rules, mistakes that pilots make and subjects such as “The Engine
Failure: A Survival Guide” and “Cloudy
And the crowds are impressive. The hundred or so seats each forum holds are often packed to standing-room-only levels. Mike Adragna, a pilot who has been attending AirVenture--and the FAA safety forums--for 25 years, said:
“They used to have fans instead of air conditioning. It was even worth sitting in the heat. I think the forums are the most useful presentations at Oshkosh.”
We met a lot of dedicated FAA employees who volunteer their time at Oshkosh to make AirVenture a success each year. One of those was Dr. Bill Johnson, the agency's chief scientific and technical advisor on human factors. It seems he's become something of a celebrity at Oshkosh over the years:
“Every time I walk into that hall, it’s almost full. A lot of people say to me, ‘I was here last year and I saw its value and that’s why I m back in this forum.’ It's useful to them, but it also shows why the FAA is so critical to this community--not just when something goes wrong, but to make sure things go right.”
Sharing the podium briefly with Administrator Babbitt at the "Meet the Administrator" session was another privilege for me. This is a guy who learned the ins and outs of aviation from the best teacher of all--hours and hours of experience in the cockpit. It was easy to see that the pilots in the audience appreciated the understanding he demonstrated when he said:
"This is aviation. This is the place for pilots to get together, to see new inventions, to learn and swap hangar talk. I look forward to coming here, as administrator or not."
So, if you're a General Aviation fan, Oshkosh is the place to be this week. General aviation is important--it's an economic engine in rural areas where commercial air service is lacking, and an important element of our national air system.
Just as Orville and Wilbur Wright pushed the limits of manned flight a century ago, EAA's members are today's aviation pioneers. And I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet many of them during my first visit to AirVenture as Secretary of Transportation.