For one week every summer a small airfield in the central part of Wisconsin near the shores of Lake Winnebago is an aviation enthusiast's paradise. It's been that way for more than half a century, since what is now called EAA AirVenture started as a way to celebrate the daredevils of the sky -- the men and women who fly experimental aircraft.
The faithful head by the thousands for Oshkosh, by gosh, to Wittman Regional Airport, the home of the Experimental Aircraft Association or EAA. Wttman normally doesn't even have scheduled airline service, but for this week Federal Aviation Administration officials say the airport is the busiest in the country.
The numbers can be staggering. "More than 10,000 planes and 650,000 to 700,000 people from more than 60 countries are expected to show up," said Dick Knapinski, EAA spokesman.
That includes 1,300 journalists, 800 exhibitors and 500 workshops and forum presentations on topics ranging from space exploration by NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems and former astronaut Scott Horowitz to "Skychick's wild and wacky barnstorming adventures" by a female pilot to fuel tank construction.
NASA rents out an entire building at the "the world's greatest aviation celebration" to show the public the latest and greatest of its aerospace research and development. This year it's all about the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Image to right: A young Minnesota girl fills her NASA bag with fun and educational mementoes to remind her of her visit to the NASA pavilion at EAA Airventure 2006. Credit: NASA/Kathy Barnstorff
Outside the NASA building at Airventure, visitors are checking out a full-scale Space Shuttle engine that weighs more than 17,000 pounds and is about the size of a small recreational vehicle. Adjacent to that is a 30-foot tall model of the rocket proposed for the Crew Launch Vehicle.
Inside the facility NASA is featuring a full-scale mock-up of America's next space capsule, the Crew Exploration Vehicle. The exhibit helps visitors better understand how NASA plans to send astronauts beyond low-earth orbit. It includes a couple of holographic astronauts that introduce the Constellation program. Constellation is the combination of large and small systems that will provide humans the capabilities necessary to travel and explore the solar system.
But no NASA presentation at an air show is complete without a look at NASA's contributions to aeronautics. Not only do exhibits feature a number of NASA-developed aviation technologies, a special education area allows youngsters to make and take their own paper airplanes, rotorcraft and straw rockets.
Some of the most popular parts of the NASA pavilion at Airventure are the mementoes people can take home -- NASA stickers, posters and even water bottles all neatly stowed in a colorful NASA logo embellished plastic bag.