This story was originally published on GE Reports.
A brass plaque on a red brick wall in downtown Oshkosh is dedicated to the woodworkers who once turned this Wisconsin city into the Sawdust Capital of the World. Few lumber mills are left here, but there’s still plenty of wood flying through the air, especially in summer.
That’s because for a week every July, Oshkosh hosts the world’s largest gathering of pilots and aviation enthusiasts. Thousands fly their planes from as far as California and even Europe to the EAA AirVentures event, which is organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association, turning the otherwise sleepy Wittman Regional Airport on the southern edge of the city into the busiest airfield in the world.
Rain or shine, they spend the week camping out under a wing on the grassy expanses next to the runways, attending plane-building workshops led by legendary engineer Burt Rutan and other aviation luminaries, and watching flyovers of the latest jets as well as flying relics. “There is a sense of liberation, of self-direction about Oshkosh,” says Brad Mottier, who leads GE Aviation’s Business and General Aviation operations. He’s charge of GE aircraft engines that are not being used by the military and commercial transport. “When you’re a pilot, you have a heightened sense of freedom and in many ways are not bound by decisions that someone has made for you. You set your own course.”
Both of Mottier’s parents were pilots, and he has been coming here since he was a teenager (you can read a Q&A with him here.) This year he will fly his Husky two-seater from his home in Cincinnati with GE Reports on board (you can follow the journey on Periscope and Snapchat).
Mottier’s mission this year: unveiling GE’s all-new advanced turboprop engine designed for business and general use aircraft. Textron Aviation, for example, plans to use the 1,300-shaft horsepower engine for its clean sheet design single-engine turboprop. (Textron is expected to announce the name of this new airplane during the event.) The engine, which will include 3D-printed titanium components and jet-like electronics controls, burns up to 20 percent less fuel and achieves 10 percent more power than other engines in the same class. Jeff Immelt, GE’s chairman and CEO, said the new machine will generate $40 billion in revenue within 25 years.
But unlike big airshows in Dubai, Farnborough or Paris, Oshkosh is less about products and more about passion. It opened in 1953 when World War II vet and P-51 Mustang pilot Paul Poberezny launched the EAA from his basement in Milwaukee and invited flying enthusiasts and do-it-yourself airplane builders here. The group’s first fly-in, which took place later that year, attracted 22 planes and 150 visitors. “We were amateurs,” said Poberezny, who died in 2013.
Last year, EAA AirVenture attracted around 500,000 visitors and 10,000 planes, including Rutan’s iconic VarEze design, which Mottier says “ignited the home-built aircraft movement,” as well as the next-generation Airbus A350 passenger jet and even the F-22 Raptor fighter jet.
The 2016 show, which is taking place this week, celebrates a century of Boeing. It will include daily airshows, including two night air shows, one of them sponsored by GE, and it will feature rare aircraft Martin Mars, the world’s largest flying water bomber. We will be there. Stay close to this page and our Twitter, Periscope and GE’s Snapchat for live coverage.