Van's at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh
Every summer the staff of Van’s Aircraft, Inc. fires up the company RVs and heads, like pilots all over the world, for the aviation mecca of "AirVenture", the annual Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) event at Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. For Van’s it is a combination trade show, re-union and fly-in. We set up a large tent in the vendor display area, and park several of our company aircraft in front of it. We typically take a staff of eight or nine people and work twelve or thirteen hour days, and we are often assisted by builders who volunteer their time – part of the RV "circle" that we enjoy so much.
Our day begins shortly after sun-up when we roll out of the crew van, pull back the tent flaps and wipe the morning dew off the airplanes. There are almost always a couple dozen potential RV builders waiting for us to arrive, and we are immediately plunged into explaining, talking and showing RVs. The canopies are opened and prospective builders invited to sit in the airplanes and see how they fit (it’s an unusual person who doesn’t.) Information packs, videos, Preview Plans Sets, T-shirts, RV hats and all the other essential accessories to airplane building sell briskly and the booth, particularly during the first three or four days, is often filled to overflowing.
While the booth is a great place to get basic information about RVs and meet the people who make up the company, it is NOT a good place to ask "tech questions" about your RV project back home. We just don’t have the time or manpower and there are just too many distractions, to give your question the consideration it deserves. We can answer this kind of question much better when we’re home with all the materials we need for the job. Besides, do you really want an answer from someone who’s short on sleep, trying to carry on three simultaneous conversations, and hasn’t had the chance to go to the bathroom for six hours?
Over the course of the week, we hold two or three RV forums in nearby forum tents. Although these tents provide seating for about 300 people, there is rarely an empty seat. After a brief explanation of the basics and new developments, the floor is opened to questions about the company, the airplanes and future developments.
Elsewhere on the field, there are workshops, demonstrations and forums on virtually every subject a builder could need. You can learn the basics of sheet metal construction and riveting, wiring and fiberglass. Suppliers of avionics will demonstrate their wares, and educate you on how to install and use them effectively. Engine manufacturers will walk you through the choices and help you decide what’s appropriate for your airplane and mission.
Meanwhile, out on the runway, the RV demonstrators are going up and down, up and down. Rides are available by signing up on the schedule at our booth (if you want a ride, go directly to the booth when you arrive. The schedule for fills up quickly.) We fly as many people as we can. These rides are necessarily brief, usually ten to twelve minutes, but you will get a chance to handle the controls and see what all those RV pilots are grinning about. Due to the high demand, and our desire to introduce as many people to the RVs as possible, we restrict rides to one ride per potential project and only those who have NEVER flown in an RV of any type (we do make an exception to the latter requirement for prospective RV-10 or RV-12 customers). A word of warning: often the schedule is difficult to keep. Weather, traffic, fly-overs by very loud, fast, pointy, airplanes that require sanitized airspace – they all cause delays that are impossible to predict. If you sign up for a ride at Oshkosh, be patient and understanding. We will do our best, but it IS the world’s biggest aviation event, and a lot of it is beyond our control.
While you’re waiting for your ride, stroll the RV parking area. There’s plenty to look at! There are usually hundreds of homebuilt RVs, flown in by proud builders from all over the continent…or even other continents. In 2010, there over 400 RVs parked in the "RV Corral"... You can find other RVs in the camping areas and even in vendors’ booths, where they are used to display other products. RV builders are creative and competent people who are usually proud to show you their airplane and tell you their "building stories." You can learn a lot just walking around!
After the afternoon airshow, there is usually another crowd at the booth. Our flying is over for the day, and if we’re lucky, it’s cooling down a bit. In the early evening, we close the tent, say our good-byes and head back to our lodgings, looking forward to a shower, a bit of dinner, a cool drink, and soon enough, a bed. And we look forward to doing it again the next day.