The EAA AirVenture VTOL Adventure
By Kenneth I. Swartz
Vertiflite attended the world’s largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to report on the latest developments in vertical flight for the experimental and general aviation market.
The Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture fly-in and convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was a showcase for conventional rotorcraft and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, with no fewer than eight prototype eVTOL aircraft displayed by five innovative companies and more than 50 rotorcraft showcased by manufacturers, operators and collectors.
The seven-day aviation extravaganza in July attracted 602,000 attendees and more than 11,000 aircraft to Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport and the surrounding airfields. The attendance once again confirmed Oshkosh’s place as the world’s largest airshow and homecoming for pilots, and Wittman was again the world’s busiest airport for this one week of the year.
VFS attended Oshkosh in 2018 as observer and participant, with the author (a VFS Board member) tracking down all the rotary-wing content on the vast exhibition grounds and making two presentations on “The Electric VTOL Revolution” — one at the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation’s Electric Aircraft Symposium and the other at one of AirVenture’s educational workshops.
The eVTOL aircraft showcased at AirVenture included three models of the Opener BlackFly (see “Opener BlackFly Debuts at Oshkosh”), the Workhorse SureFly, and additional eVTOL aircraft in development by Assen Aerospace, Electric Jet Aircraft and Luminati Aerospace.
CAFE Foundation Electric Aircraft Symposium
For the second year in a row, the CAFE Foundation held its annual Electric Aircraft Symposium (EAS) at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Alumni Center on the weekend prior to EAA AirVenture.
This, the 12th Annual EAS, attracted 18 international speakers from a wide range of disciplines who provided an update on the opportunities and challenges facing electric-powered conventional take-off and landing (eCTOL) and eVTOL aircraft.
This year, the Vertical Flight Society partnered with the CAFE Foundation to record all the presentations on video with the goal of sharing these electric aviation insights online with members, supporters and sponsors (see www.vtol.org/EAS2018).
One of the regular fixtures of AirVenture is the opportunity to take a $49, five-minute flight over the infield area of the vast exhibition grounds in a vintage Bell 47G. Four of the helicopters were fully dedicated to giving rides this year: two 47G2s, a 47G3B1 and a 47G4A. Over the course of the eight days — from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days, even when the afternoon airshow was taking place — the four historic aircraft flew 3,032 people two at a time.
The oldest rotorcraft on display at Oshkosh was a 1941 Pitcairn PA-39 Autogiro (serial M98, registration N3908) owned by the EAA AirVenture Museum. The PA-39 was one of the few Autogiros that Pitcairn built for military use, with seven PA-39s delivered to the British Air Ministry, though none were employed operationally.
Other helicopters on display at Oshkosh included historic Bell H-13, Hiller UH-23, Hughes OH-6A and Mil Mi-2 helicopters, plus a Red Bull MBB Bo 105, Department of Homeland Security Airbus 350B-3, US Coast Guard MH-65 and MH-60T, and US Army MH-47 and AH-64.
Airbus exhibited the H130, and Enstrom Helicopters displayed its F-28F and 480B at AirVenture. Kit-helicopter makers Innovator Technologies (developer of the Mosquito series) and Safari (who showcased the new streamlined Safari 500) were present, but Rotorway was noticeably absent after exhibiting at Oshkosh for decades. There was a pall over the mood of the ultralight and kit flyers after Innovator, founder and designer John Uptigrove was killed in his personal Mosquito XEL just a week before AirVenture. The Canadian accident investigation team subsequently determined that the helicopter had struck an unmarked power line strung across the Highwood River.
Most of the world’s leading gyroplane manufacturers exhibited at this year’s show, including Magni Gyro of Italy, AutoGyro and Rotorvox of Germany, ELA Aviación of Spain, and Sport Copter of the US. In Europe, gyroplane sales rival light sport aircraft sales, but in the US, most factory-built gyroplanes have to be sold as kits to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulatory requirements.
Workhorse returned to Oshkosh in 2018 with an updated version of the SureFly hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft first displayed at last year’s show. Plans called for the SureFly to hover a few feet above the runway during Tuesday’s airshow, but the afternoon’s hot, humid and windy weather conditions meant only a ground run was possible. Nevertheless, it was an important program milestone and probably the first time most people attending AirVenture had seen an electric-powered aircraft operate. (The SureFly conducted free hover flights a few weeks later. See “SureFly Flies Higher”.)
Workhorse CEO Steve Burn said the company’s goal is for SureFly to be the “first certified” eVTOL aircraft, and it is currently working closely with the FAA on a certification plan to meet that objective.
Assen Aeronautics founder and CEO Assen Andonov brought his prototype Assen A1 hybrid-electric personal ducted fan tri-copter to AirVenture. The aircraft resembles a flying motorcycle, and Andonov expects its first users will be motorcycle enthusiasts who have a spirit of adventure and like to fly. Andonov learned to fly as a teenager in Bulgaria and at the age of 23 co-founded a company that built ultralight and kit aircraft before moving to the US. The business plan for the A1 includes racing the proof-of-concept aircraft in 2019 to increase public awareness.
Electric Jet Aircraft
Pete Bitar, founder of Electric Jet Aircraft, Inc. displayed a mockup of the EJ-1 personal electric jetpack at AirVenture. It had a base weight of 69 lb (31 kg) and an endurance of 2–14 minutes; it can carry a pilot up to 300 lb (135 kg). A serial entrepreneur, Bitar established Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems (XADS) Ltd. in 2002 as a pioneering producer of non-lethal and anti-material directed-energy weapons. AirBuoyant LLC was started in 2006 as a spinoff of XADS to develop heavy payload VertiPod 4 drones for civil and military use, including transporting people.
Luminati Aerospace displayed a number of VTOL concepts at Oshkosh utilizing rotors and dynamics systems from old Gyrodyne aircraft. One was a historical XRON-1 Rotorcycle powered by a 72 hp (54 kW) Porsche engine. A proposed eVTOL aircraft featured a tubular steel airframe mated to the transmission and rotor system of a 1960s Gyrodyne QH-50E drone.
About the Author
Ken Swartz runs aerospace marketing communications agency Aeromedia Communications in Toronto, Canada. He specializes in contract public relations, freelance writing, and social media marketing for the aviation and aerospace industry. He has reported on the helicopter industry for 40 years. In 2010, he received the Helicopter Association International’s “Communicator of the Year” award.
More than 100 photos from AirVenture are available in the Vertical Flight Gallery at www.gallery.vtol.org/albums: