Thoughts on ‘aero-innovation’ from EAA’s AirVenture event

An innovator's take on the recent EAA AirVenture show, held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA.

The Experimental Aircraft Association just wrapped up its annual week-long AirVenture event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA. The show highlights the latest advances in aviation including commercial, private and military aircraft and avionics. Thousands of pilots and spectators from around the world attend this unique event each summer.

There were many lessons about where to look for innovation displayed during the show. Over the past 100 years, aviation has seen a continual stream of new products and services. Much of the intellectual property developed by NASA and military aviation eventually finds its way to general aviation. There have been significant advances in materials, communications, engines, and instrumentation. All of these elements combine to create a transportation and entertainment platform.

Yet with all these developments, commercial carriers continually lose billions of dollars every year. The advances in technology require new business models to turn this industry around. The Airbus A380, the world’s largest commercial aircraft put on quite a show, weighing in fully loaded at 1.2 million pounds and still able to become airborne in 3,000 feet. To create this aircraft, not only have there been exceptional advances in computer and engine power technology, but fuel efficiency and sources have been greatly enhanced. Manufacturing this huge airplane has also required significant manufacturing process changes.

In order for general aviation to continue to prosper, aircraft manufacturers are looking to electric power to decrease operating costs. Advanced avionics, including GPS and weather information, continue to make general aviation safer and more reliable. In order for the general aviation industry to survive, it must make planes cheaper and easier to operate, and make them more accessible to a wider audience.

Virgin Galactic’s new space plane made its world public debut at the EAA AirVenture. This craft is built by combining two airplanes connected at the wingtip, and a small space shuttle is attached to the combined wing and released at high altitude, where the shuttle continues its flight into low orbit, giving people with some extra money the ride of a lifetime. Sir Richard Branson is aiming to create a business where space is an accessible frontier. It is hard to imagine how developments from this venture will be applied to other industries in terms of fuels, materials, or other technologies.

A very interesting cultural phenomena was in force at this famous airshow. During one of the worst economic climates of the past 100 years, the event had its highest attendance ever. Humans, it seems, are always ready to embrace the future. Plus, it is hard not to get enthused when an A380 performs a fly-by at 100 feet above the ground!

One of the biggest hurdles to general aviation is being addressed with the creation of an airplane car. When reaching their destination, it can be difficult or expensive for a pilot to arrange ground transportation. What is better than folding up the wings of your airplane and driving it down the road to close the final mile of your trip?

All of these advances come from the minds of people from a variety of fields including math, science, engineering, and business and illustrate the importance of creating an educated society. Collaboration between government, business and individuals is required to make the system work. And we’ve only been at this a mere 100 years. Where will we be in another century, this pilot wonders?