Today, a century later, the state’s aviation industry is booming. Says so in a January 2012 headline in the magazine, Business North Carolina: “North Carolina’s Aviation Industry Soars.”
Aviation is increasingly important to North Carolina’s economy. The big newsmaker today is HondaJet, in Greensboro, with its breakthrough over-the-wing engine mount design and recent FAA provisional certification. GE’s jet engine parts are made in Wilmington. Lockheed Martin is in Raleigh. General Dynamics in Charlotte. Cessna in Greensboro. Boeing in New Burn. VX Aerospace in Morganton. There are another 170 or so North Carolina companies, large and small, engaged in aerospace manufacturing on some level.
Those companies are a fraction of firms attending the biggest aviation trade show in the world, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, held in late July. Founded in 1953, it is held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, located between Milwaukee and Green Bay. Aviation devotees just call it Oshkosh.
To put it in regional perspective, Oshkosh is to aviation what High Point is to the furniture industry: A must-attend trade show.
“In the aviation community, if it has flown, is flying or will fly, it will come to Oshkosh,” said Rick Larsen, EAA’s vice president for communities and member programs, who coordinates AirVenture features and attractions.
Last year 500,000 people from 60 countries attended Oshkosh. Scores were from North Carolina and dozens from Burke and surrounding counties. About 10,000 airplanes -- from the smallest ultralight to the most advanced and massive commercial and military jets -- flew in. More than 1,500 aircraft were on display from manufacturers, visionaries, collectors and industrialists. Nearly 800 journalists received media credentials. Some days there were 2,000 landings and take offs at the airport.
This year, between opening day on July 20 and closing ceremonies on July 26 perhaps six or seven airplanes based at the Morganton-Lenoir, Silver Creek and Hickory airports will make the round trip to Oshkosh. Locals who have attended previous Oshkosh events and have discussed plans to be among the 500,000 enthusiasts include Clark Hatcher, Bradly and Al Bormith, Jeffery Stainback, Mitch Wisniewski, Jesse Williams, Joey and Mitch McGlamery, Mark Bennett, Dwight Farris, Brandon NeSmith and Bill Dobson.
North Carolina companies currently registered to display at Oshkosh include: Silver Feather (Fletcher, NC); Honda Aircraft Co. (Greensboro, NC); Dans Camo (Newport, NC); PlaneLogiX (Carroboro, NC); PMA Products, Inc. (Liberty, NC); Aria Handmade (High Point, NC); Franklin Aerospace (Charlotte, NC); TruAtlantic, Mfc., LLC. (Kernersville, NC), and JAARS (Waxhaw, NC).
Oshkosh commandeers a commercial airport a little smaller than Charlotte’s but slightly larger than Winston-Salem’s. The airport is named Whitman Regional Airport. During Oshkosh, Whitman is the busiest airport on the planet. The number of daily takeoffs and landings surpass those of Charlotte, Chicago, New York, LA, DC, London, Frankfort, Tokyo or Sydney.
There are times when the sky is so thick with airplanes simultaneously approaching Whitman to land that controllers instruct pilots to touch down on one of three colored dots along the length of the main runway. Planes land three at a time. For a pilot, there’s a lot of pride at stake with those precision dot landings. Miss a dot and you’ll hear about it for years from your buddies.
Thousands of attendees will fly to Oshkosh in private airplanes. Thousands more will make cross-country road trips. Accommodations will range from dorm rooms at a nearby college to motor homes on the field, to pop-up campers beneath hangar-side shade trees to tents in campgrounds on the airfield. Most of those who fly-in will pitch tents beneath the wings of their airplanes parked in the grassy areas between runways and taxiways. It’ll be an extraordinarily colorful sea of airplane wings and nylon tents.
This year Oshkosh is expected to draw more people and more airplanes. There are 75 different air show acts scheduled. The event marks the 45th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 13 mission. World War II birds will be everywhere honoring the 70th anniversary of the end of that war. The USAF will debut its new fighter, the F-35. And a wind sprint by the USAF F-22 Raptor will slice the skies just for good measure.
“I am so ready for Oshkosh,” said Hatcher, who has attended for nine consecutive years. “I can’t wait to see the F4 Phantom along with the F100 Super Sabre.”
(Editor’s Note: Allen VanNoppen is covering Oshkosh. This is the first in a series of stories about Oshkosh.)