By happenstance, I ended up looking at a lot of simulator technology at AirVenture this year, ranging from full-cockpit reproductions like Alsim’s ALSR20 to mobile apps such as Infinite Flight. The progression of flight sims since I started flight training a few years ago has been and continues to be fascinating. Of the many interesting offerings at the show, the one that really caught my attention was Redbird’s Mixed Reality proof of concept, which combines a virtual reality system with a desktop sim.
As anyone who has talked to me for longer than 10 minutes can likely attest, I’m a total nerd, so it wasn’t even close to my first encounter with VR. One spot where VR tech often falls down is in the feel of things. I may be able to go fishing from my couch while there’s a blizzard outside, but it still doesn’t feel much like actually sitting in a boat and holding a fishing rod. While that’s not a problem for my fishing aspirations, it does keep the technology more in the entertainment space than the training arena for something like aviation, where muscle memory and the feel of the controls play a very important part in learning to operate an aircraft well.
What caught my attention about what Redbird is working on is that they’re pretty much able to create the kind of immersive flight environment you usually only see in big simulator installations without losing that feel, since you have—and can see via external cameras—your hands on an actual replica of the controls. The ability to sit down at something the size of a desktop sim, slap on a headset, and find yourself in an immersive flight environment that still feels like flying an airplane could have some really interesting implications for training. The technology isn’t quite there yet, but from what I saw, it’s far enough along that it’s reached the “only a matter of time” point.
Geeking out over technology aside, the thing that stuck with me the most about this year’s AirVenture was just how happy people were to be there. Even amidst supply chain woes and the skyrocketing price of pretty much everything, the enthusiasm on site was infectious and energizing. It was a breath of fresh air to see so many people – and there were a lot of them, especially early in the week – out just enjoying being around all things aviation.
Over at sister pub Aviation Consumer, we’ve been covering the supply problem ad nauseam in hopes of setting buyers off on the right heading when upgrading and sourcing tough-to-get consumables. But after covering the show and dealing with supply issues of my own, I’ve come to the realization that the problem, while frustrating, is simply a new way of life—whether it’s airplane parts, guitar parts or cat litter. And it’s this new normal that has, according to vendors and buyers I talked with at the show, turned impatient screaming consumers into patient ones. Or maybe everyone is just numb to the problem.
Still shocked that it can take months to get an oil filter for your Cessna, 10 weeks to get a Bose headset or several months to get a Garmin GPS? Forget everything you know about sourcing stuff in a normal world and go to plan B—which means planning maintenance, accessories and consumables purchases much further in advance. You’re simply setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect to get these things quickly and cheaply. And pony up because price increases are widespread. But companies aren’t sitting on their hands.
Talking to vendors, it’s clear that the ones worth buying from are critically aware of the problem and are being forced to change focus—even if it costs more money that ultimately will get passed on to the buyer. This includes redesigning aging products with ones that have components that are easier to source, relying less on outside vendors by making stuff on their own and buying up more components when they can get their hands on them. As a result, I suspect we’ll see more new products in the coming year, especially in the avionics market that relies so heavily on small critical electronic parts and displays.
As the AirVenture 2022 buzz fades, a tip of my editorial hat goes to the vendors who spiced it up with new products. My short list of standouts includes Daher with the new and FAA-certified Kodiak 900 turboprop single, Trig Avionics with a smart new radio, Van’s Aircraft with the RV-15 taildragger, Advanced Flight Systems with new and improved flight displays and Redbird’s cool mixed reality flight sim tech. All things considered, AirVenture 2022—with a huge crowd of attendees—made a good showing, if not proving that buyers need to be more patient, resourceful and savvy than ever.
EAA Chairman and CEO Jack Pelton described this year’s AirVenture energy as “full bore,” contrasted with how EAA and the GA industry first “tippy-toed” back to Oshkosh in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Anecdotally, based on how long it took to get to the parking lot, his assessment would appear to be accurate.
Violent weather the Saturday before opening day reminded everyone that Mother Nature remains in charge of who gets to Oshkosh, and when. While hard news was still scarce, there was no shortage of buzz, real or imagined, with the first appearance of Van’s Aircraft’s much-anticipated RV-15 falling into the latter category. The debate over how and when to push forward with adopting high-octane unleaded aviation gasoline continued with a heavily attended forum on the first day of the show.
The EAA community was saddened by the death of longtime association president Tom Poberezny, in the wee hours of opening day. The son of EAA founder Paul Poberezny, Tom’s tenure was not without controversy, but the strength of his leadership and legacy is clear in the programs he championed, notably the Young Eagles voluntary initiative through which more than 2 million youth have experienced a general aviation flight, many for the first time.