Dunham Makes the Most of AirVenture

It’s hard to say who was having more fun at comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s show at AirVenture's Theater in the Woods on Wednesday night: Dunham or the overflow audience. Dunham, builder and pilot of several RotorWay helicopters, spent a few days at the show having a bunch of fun in the air.

He had a +8/-3 G session with aerobatic pilot and instructor Eric Tucker on Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning, he rode back seat in a P-51D Mustang piloted by Ed Bowlin during a multi-ship photo shoot. While waiting for the other planes in the formation to finish their photo sessions, he told the audience that he actually managed to catch a 45-minute nap in that classic warbird. “I call it the All-American nap. It was the greatest nap ever.”

Dunham was able to depart from his usual performance by playing to the EAA crowd, drawing laughs as the arm fell off one of his puppets, Achmed the Dead Terrorist. The puppet snapped back at him, “You’ve got duct tape, don’t you? You’re building a freaking helicopter!”

Dunham is the builder and pilot of a 1987 Exec 162, American Might, which is on display outside the RotorWay tent. The arresting paint scheme, designed by Scottsdale, Arizona’s Larry Vela of Dreamcatcher and Primal Fear prominence, depicts Army camo pulled back to reveal a rippling American flag. (The stabilizer features a campaign ad supporting grumpy Walter for President.)

Fascinated by helicopters since childhood, Dunham was hit hard by the building (and flying) bug: He announced to the audience that his next project will be RotorWay International’s new helicopter, the A600 Talon, which debuted at AirVenture 2007. The Talon is a comprehensive redesign of the previous models, incorporating requests from customers such as an all-glass cockpit and a backup FADEC system. The 162’s primary drive chain has been replaced by a heavy-duty cog belt to improve maintenance access and component longevity.

According to RotorWay staff, Dunham is a dedicated craftsman, determined to be the only builder of his new Talon, no matter how long it takes. The holder of the Repairman Certificate for his aircraft, he included his flying experiences in the pre-show video presentation: “You’re going 90 miles an hour 600 feet in the air—there is nothing better than this. When I’m flying, I like to go low. You can see the world passing by you—you can see everything. There’s nothing more fun than this.”

For more information, call 480/961-1001, or visit RotorWay International.

Small Wonders at the Seaplane Base

It's Thursday at AirVenture and the weather is great so, with feet worn out through hiking the booths and flight lines, I took the bus out to the seaplane base. Out of the way, yes, but well worth the ride.

Wandering around I spotted a very small aircraft that had drawn a few folks and just listened in for a while. If airplane people are drawn together by a common interest, seaplane folks are more so, and in no time I was sitting at John Knapp's motorhome, cool drink in hand while he explained his plansbuilt Mini-Mong. Now, with John standing on the float you can see that it's a small airplane. But when you calibrate to John's 5-foot-2 height you appreciate this little wonder a bit more.

John built it from plans in a mere 700 hours with its Rotax engine. "I suspended it from bungee cords to figure out the float position, and when it looked about right I called it good," he joked. A bit more went into it, but he's built several other seaplanes, so it wasn't quite the the shoot-from-the-hip it would seem.

Size, though unusual, is trumped by the addition of a centrifugal clutch on the prop. Normally, a seaplane starts moving when the engine is started. With John's airplane the engine runs, but nothing else moves. Hit the gas for taxi speed and the prop comes into play. He jokes that he's tempted to ask the unwary to "prop it" sometime just for the laugh.

If you visit the Seaplane base, be aware you may be approached by a little guy with a big smile.

Garmin Expands Pilot My-Cast Features

Garmin's subsidiary Digital Cyclone has upgraded its cellphone-based weather delivery system, Pilot My-Cast, expanding both the types of cellphones supported, and the weather products it delivers.

Pilot My-Cast allows you to access a complete weather-briefing product, including Nexrad radar, satellite loops, Metars, TAFs, SIGMETS, AIRMETS and PIREPS via a cellphone with a web browser, and this now includes both RIM Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices. There is also a beta-release of software for the iPhone.

The system has also added the ability to access NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen), which complete any pilot's briefing. Now when you file a flight plan via Pilot My-Cast you have accessed every weather and safety-of-flight product available.

Pilot My-Cast is a subscription-based service that costs $9.95 per month.

30,000th Homebuilt Certified

On July 31, in AeroShell Square, during the 2008 EAA AirVenture show, Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell allowed EAA President Tom Poberezny to award the 30,000th Experimental aircraft airworthiness certificate to Robert Noll and his daughter Katrina, of Yuma, Arizona, who have built an RV-9A together.

In fact, the RV-9A was one of several aircraft that applied for and were awarded experimental airworthiness certificates in the last six months. All of them were entered into a lottery to select the ceremonial 30,000th experimental aircraft. But the Nolls will tell you that it was certainly an honor worth flying to Oshkosh to receive.

As for the airplane, "It was a family project," said Robert Noll, as his daughter stood beside him nodding.

"Mom designed the paint and the unique logo, and I helped Dad with the build," she says.

Sturgell noted that 10% of the certificated general aviation fleet are now Experimental/Amateur-Built aircraft, and that number is growing.

Continental News: Cool Stuff Now, Lots More To Come

In the Continental tent, back behind the vinyl wall separating the unwashed masses from the journalistic elite—that’s a joke; we were just as hot and smelly—Teledyne Continental Motors’ new CEO Rhett Ross gave a brief update of the company’s recent past and a look ahead. In the last nine months, Ross has overseen a comprehensive shuffling of major management positions, including chief engineer. Initiatives to improve customer service, which I understand has been criticized in the recent past, have also been undertaken under Ross. Moreover, Ross and his team have hired several “production leaders” from the automotive industry, no doubt to help its quality control and productivity.

On the hardware side, nothing real new. The lightweight O-200 variant for Light Sport has finished Phase I of its FAA certification testing using avgas, and was to undergo a second phase that included testing on unleaded avgas and variants of auto gas. Continental is charged up about taking on the unnamed leader in the LSA market, which we all know is the Rotax 912, by using a simple, familiar engine that does well in weight. According to Continental, the dry weight of the new O-200 is 158 pounds, and the “ready to go, turn the key and fly” weight is, according to Ross, 209 pounds. The engine is first being offered to OEM but will go on broad sale in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Continental has also concluded the move of Aerosance, the company it purchased that developed its FADEC (full authority digital engine control), from Connecticut to Mobile, Alabama. (I hope there was a generous relocation perk in there for the engineers.) Continental has long wanted to bring Aerosance more in house, and Ross alluded to the fact that now the “sparkies and the gearheads” can talk across the aisle and compare notes. Ross pointed out that two versions of the Continental/FADEC system were certified, one behind the IOF-240 in the Liberty, and an IOF-550 that is “available to the OEMs and aftermarket,” but, as far as I know, not yet used in a series-built model. A turbocharged model, the TSIOF-550, will be certified “soon.”

Ross broadly hinted at a second-generation FADEC using more off-the-shelf components, but would not be drawn out on whether a new system would incorporate direct fuel injection, as is now common in high-end cars. Surely, the system will be more sophisticated than the comparatively tame Aerosance system, which is also used in the Experimental market on a four-cylinder, 180-horsepower Lycoming. At the very least, Continental will have to catch up with Lycoming’s own new FADEC, which included electronic knock detection and control. Continental would do well to pay close attention to weight; the current Aerosance system is no lightweight.

Finally, Ross said that a “heavy fuel” engine—meaning a Jet A-burning compression-ignition powerplant, which you might just call a diesel—is in the works. This is a common refrain from the manufacturers who don’t have a diesel, but Ross says that Continental’s project comes from “ground up technology” and will be a true aviation engine, which I took to mean it would not be a converted auto engine, a la Thielert.

Oshkosh's New Tower a Boon for Airshow Fliers and Controllers

Standing tall at 141 feet above Wittman Field is AirVenture's newest and tallest, and most useful structure, a new air traffic control tower, and no one could be more proud of it than Wanda Adelman, air traffic manager for the Lake District, which includes Wisconsin and parts of Illinois and Indiana.

Adelman volunteered for years to be an air traffic controller for the AirVenture show, but was never selected, so it was a special thrill to realize that along with her appointment as manager of the Lake District, came the job of managing the Wittman Field tower during AirVenture.

The new tower cab's height and location have eliminated blind zones that existed for tower controllers at the end of Runways 9 and 36 at prior shows. "We can see airplanes all the way through the approach and landing on every runway now, and can also watch them taxi into position for takeoff, finally," says Adelman.

Sixty-four controllers work in teams of four during the show to keep aircraft moving safely in and out of Wittman Field. "Training takes place the week before the show," says Adelman. "We send them aircraft recognition cards and we try to team up rookie controllers with experienced veterans."

The show would not happen without them, and now they have the tools they need to make the show even safer.