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Aircraft Take to Skies of Wisconsin in Largest Annual US Air Show

Sonex Aircraft President John Monnett
Sonex Aircraft President John Monnett

One of the largest air shows in the United States takes place annually at Wittman Airport in the town of Oshkosh in the midwestern state of Wisconsin. The Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture is an opportunity for aviators and enthusiasts to celebrate all things airborne. AirVenture is also one of the largest aircraft industry trade shows in the country and a place where technological breakthroughs in aircraft power and design are often first presented to the public.

Ron Wagner
Ron Wagner

During the show, Oshkosh becomes the largest center of air traffic in the United States. It is a destination for pilots and passengers who come from around the world to get their aviation fix, says Ron Wagner, the Field Relations Manager for the organization behind the annual "AirVenture" extravaganza that draws hundreds of thousands of people who either drive or fly in for the show.

"If you are in love with aviation, you just do not feel right if you are not here. It is a very difficult thing to express." Wagner said. "It is much more than just an air show. It is a convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA. It is a trade show. You will notice as you travel around the grounds that every major manufacturer is represented and a lot of minor, smaller ones."

From vintage passenger planes to new state of the art Predator unmanned aircraft, each vehicle along the flight line at Wittman has a story.

But Wagner says the spirit of the event is best represented by the pilots and engineers debuting the latest aviation wonder - made in their own home garages or hangers. "Much of the modern innovation has come from the home builder community. We are really and truly very fortunate here in the United States. We have a lot of freedom to build and design airplanes for our own use and build them and fly them. And out of that have come many many innovations," he said.

Wagner explains that at a previous AirVenture gathering, one pilot introduced a home-built airplane made of composite, or engineered materials. Now widely used throughout aviation, composite materials can be found in aircraft manufacturer Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner passenger plane and Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two, the first commercial spacecraft scheduled to take passengers into orbit in the next several years.

At this year's event, more electric powered aircraft are making a debut.

At AirVenture three years ago, Sonex Aircraft President John Monnett introduced the "E-Flight Initiative," a concept designed to spur development of an environmentally friendly, all-electric powered aircraft. "We wanted to stimulate thought about electric airplanes," he said.

At this year's AirVenture, that thought is one step closer to reality with the Sonex WAIEX aircraft. "This is the culmination of that. It is ready to fly. It is a completely autonomous electric airplane now, meaning that it has its own electric battery and motor," Monnett said.

Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky is also venturing into the field of electric powered aviation with the "Firefly." It is the first all-electric, single rotor helicopter that gets its power from two lithium-ion battery packs.

While both the Firefly and Sonex WAIEX are major leaps forward in aviation technology, they have yet to take flight. But both vehicles are at the center of the World Symposium on Electric Aircraft, which is one of the key highlights of the week-long AirVenture.