This year I had the pleasure of attending the 2011 EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, WI -- an event that my mom informed me I attended in my younger years -- in an attempt to generate more story ideas for PD&D.
I exchanged my printed online ticket for a white wristband at the EAA AirVenture museum, which gave me access to all the attractions at the event. As I stood in line for the shuttle bus that transferred visitors to the main admissions gate, I was surprised to overhear the variety of locations that most of the attendees were from: Germany, France, England, Texas, Florida, Minnesota, etc.; and most of them were returning fans.
I became anxious to see what everyone was describing from their previous visits. Even though I apparently attended the show with my family years before, I had no recollections of the exciting things that my fellow bus riders were discussing.
We pulled up to the main admissions gate and were welcomed with the smells of barbeque and corn, and the sounds of various plane engines. Two helicopters circled above, and I learned that attendees could get rides in them as well as participate in blimp tours, making me disappointed for not preparing better for the event.
I walked through the admissions gate and felt like a lab rat lost in a maze. I had no inkling of where to begin; where to go; who to talk to, let alone what to look for; so I just started walking hoping something would catch my eye and maybe generate some kind of idea that would be useful for PD&D.
I saw a variety of shops, food vendors, helicopters, gliders, and planes. I walked through some of the hangers and talked to individual fuel-injection pump manufacturers; navigational companies; and representatives that sold airplane accessories. I began to notice the trend of excitement and passion that all the individuals shared about airplanes, and I felt excluded due to my lack of knowledge on these great vessels of transportation.
I then stumbled upon a plane that had "FIFI" painted on its side and a window that took up the entire nose of the plane. There was a long line of visitors that waited patiently to take a cockpit tour, and I found myself being drawn to it as I continued to stare at the massive machine whose name only reminded me of a French poodle.
A man informed me that he was a place holder for a group of veterans that were on their way to take the tour, and he gave me some background information on the plane while we waited. I was learned that "FIFI" was the world's last remaining, flying B-29 bomberdesigned by Boeing.
As he continued describing the process of renovations and the amount of funding that was donated to save the plane from being scrapped, three men took his place so he could give a brief overview to the rest of the veteran tour group that waited patiently in the shuttle cars behind us. John, Joe, and Steve all served time across seas and were almost shy-like (maybe even a little embarrassed) when told thank you for serving our country and keeping our nation safe.
They talked about their duties, the places they traveled to, and some of the politics that they confronted when serving their time; and when their turn came to tour the bomber, I was honored that they insisted I join them.
We began our tour stepping under the belly of the plane and into the chamber where all the bombs were stored. We were told that B-29s were used on various missions during WWII, and it was a plane like "FIFI" that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan that help end the war. I remained speechless and in awe.
We then climbed a ladder up to the cockpit, and I found myself staring outside the massive window that first attracted me to the plane. I was informed that its design helped both pilots and the bomber view their surroundings when flying over enemy territory better. I turned to be confronted by a massive tunnel that served as a crawl space for soldiers to move from the front end of the plane to the back end. I imagined being a soldier trapped in such a vessel with no place to go but down, relying only on hope, faith, and luck.
The experience at AirVenture taught me a lot about design and how it can serve as a double-edge sword of innovational progress and devastating destruction. I was able to see the past, present, and future of airplane design, as well as the strengths and flaws of it.
It still amazes me how simple designs that start out as "napkin sketches" can develop into great innovations that bring people together. Even though the B-29 bomber was created for war, its design still contributes to the ongoing success of airplane production. Without past designs, innovation progress would be unobtainable.