OSH17 Days 2 & 3: Poseidon, UPS and Blue Angels

32054384_UnknownThe last two days have been a whirlwind of aviation awesomeness! As you can probably tell from the title of this post, Airventure covers so many facets of aviation from military to commercial, from ultralights to the family GA airplane. In the last two days I’ve been immersing myself in all of these and it has been, frankly, overwhelming.

Tuesday Highlights

Tuesday morning I was quite determined to go see the warbirds. However, as often happens at Osh, we were distracted by the fact that they were allowing people inside the P-8 Poseidon. Of course we had to go check it out! The cockpit is more or less the same as your typical 737… except for the special military add-ons like the refueling panel. The seats in the back of the plane were replaced with computer work stations and equipment for dropping sonar buoys.

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Stairs truck! Oh – and a Poseidon.

I did eventually make it to the warbirds area and was, as always, blown away by the sheer number of them. The rest of the day was spent setting up for and attending Oshbash (a gathering of social media avgeeks hosted by Airplanista.com)… and running outside every few moments to keep an eye on the afternoon air show.

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Wednesday Highlights

Wednesday at Oshkosh is always WomenVenture. This year UPS flew in a gorgeous 767 with an all-female flight and maintenance crew. I was priveledged to participate in an interview session with one of the AMTs as well as an FO with a truly amazing story. You MUST check out FlyingandLife.com episode 26.2! I guest host with Mike and Glen and I help with the interviews.

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In the afternoon I had the most incredible opportunity EVER! I got to visit the KOSH Airport terminal!!! Oh yeah – and there were F-18s parked all over the ramp.

I also got to interview one of the Blue Angels. Yes, you read that correctly.  Lt Lance Benson was gracious enough (brave enough?) to let me talk with him and ask a few questions. I inquired about women on the Blue Angels team and getting girls interested in aviation. He mentioned that more and more women are becoming involved with Naval aviation and he spoke about getting kids involved in aviation early and encouraging them to follow their passion.

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I also asked him about landing on an aircraft carrier. He gave us an idea what it is like to land at night by suggesting that we go inside our homes and turn out all the lights, light a single match and place it at the far end of a room. That little light in the distance is what a carrier looks like at night. Oh – and his favorite air show act?  The Jack Links “Screaming Sasquatch” jet-assisted bi-plane.

I also got to interview one of the enlisted men who is part of the Blue Angels team (more on that in another post). After the interviews as I was walking away, the A-10 demo started. And yes, I completely freaked out. In front of the Blue Angels. Hey – when you love an airplane, you love it all the time. I’m sure the Blue Angels understand.

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As always, there were tons and tons of amazing airplanes to see and fabulous air shows to watch. The night show was spectacular, as always – even in the pouring rain. (Thanks Doc for sheltering us from the storm!)

Stayed tuned for more from Osh! And if you aren’t following me on Twitter, check out my feed (@Jen_Niffer) for real-time tweets live from the show.

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OSH17 Day One: The Doc Is In!

IMG_0261If you pay any attention to the aviation world then you know that today was the first day of Airventure Oshkosh 2017. And what an amazing day it has been! Here are just a few of the highlights:

Press Conferences

I was able to attend a couple of press conferences today. One was from Piper Aircraft, which included an overview of the company’s performance so far this year. They are celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Piper Cub, which explains why there are row after row of them parked over in the Vintage area. What an impressive milestone!

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I also listened to Jack Pelton’s opening remarks. The attendance stats so far suggest that Osh17 may surpass last year. TIcket pre-sales were very strong and GA camping filled up on the first day. Mr. Pelton also spoke about the ATC privatization bill currently before Congress. If you haven’t already researched this issue, do it now. Then contact your representatives and let them know where you stand.

Airplanes! Airplanes! Airplanes!

There are so many amazing airplanes here that it can be completely overwhelming (in a totally awesome way). Some of the highlights from today include:

Doc and Fifi together at last.

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The B-1B bomber.

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A P-51 Mustang flying with two F-35s, followed immediately by two A-10s.

The Proteus.

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The Buff.

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Pipistrel’s all-electric LSA.

The only thing more wonderful than the airplanes was getting to spend time with so many old friends… many of whom I met for the first time. If you’ve ever been to Oshkosh, then that statement will make perfect sense.

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Thanks Dan/David for taking/sharing this pic!

My only complaint was the total lack of stairs truck. There were none on the plaza. Zero. Zip. Nada. I finally located a few hanging out in a secure area that I couldn’t access. It’s almost like they knew I was coming! Oh well, tomorrow is another day – and it is sure to be just as amazing!

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Oh My G’OSH17!

IMG_4292It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not the holiday season. I’m talking about Airventure 2017 in Oshkosh, of course! I am super excited to be returning to one of my favorite places. As you may recall, in years past I’ve “dragged” a couple of non-avgeek friends along with me. They’ve been tremendous good sports and we’ve had lots of fun. However, this year I’ll be sharing the Osh experience with my avgeek friends, several of whom will be attending for the first time. In addition to enjoying the displays and air shows, I’m planning to participate a number of events, including:

Flying and Life Podcast

Mike Karrels intends to broadcast his podcast live from Osh every evening. I hope to join him for an episode or two.  He’ll be tweeting a link to the live Youtube channel so follow him on twitter at @Flyingandlife and then join us in the Youtube chat room.

FullSizeRender (73)Oshbash 2017

Oshbash is being held on Tuesday, July 25, at 5:30pm in the media center. This is a social media gathering and networking opportunity… AND there will be LOTS of bacon jerky! Oshbash is always a ton of fun so if you are available I hope you’ll stop by! As the official bacon jerky transporter, you can definitely count me in!

EAA Radio Interview

On Thursday, July 27, I am scheduled to be a guest on EAA Radio’s Attitude Adjustment show at 11:00 am with hosts Rob Mark and Amy Laboda. No clue what we’ll be discussing, but you can bet stairs trucks will probably come up at least once.

Podcast Meetup

Also on Thursday is a podcast meet-up for listeners of the Airline Pilot Guy, Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety Podcast, the Airplane Geeks, etc. The plan is to meet at the brown arch around noon and then wander off to find some lunch together.

IMG_4303Stalking Stairs Trucks

Where there are airplanes, there will be stairs trucks. And you can be fairly sure that I’ll be the only person at Osh making a big fuss over them. But as much as I love motorized stairs, I love airplanes more. I guarantee my social media feeds will be filled with things with wings.

Speaking of which, If you aren’t already doing so, follow me on Twitter (@Jen_Niffer) and Instagram (@talesfromtheterminal). I’ll be posting lots of updates and photos through-out Osh week. I’m also planning several blog posts so stay tuned!  If you are headed to Osh17 I hope to see you there! If not, I hope you’ll keep track of my shenanigans and play along at home.

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Ten Things I Love About Airports

IMG_6333Let’s do a quick word association. When I say “commercial airport,” what are the first things that come to mind? Getting there and parking? (Ugh!) Going through security? (Double ugh!) Delays and cancellations? (Triple ugh!) The truth is, for most people, commercial airports do not conjure up very pleasant thoughts. Oh how I wish everyone could see the airport the way I see it! Here are some of my favorite things:

1. 05:00

I know what you’re thinking – that’s insanely early!  Yes, I know.  But there’s just something special about this time of day.  I guess it has to do with the contrast between the stillness of the airfield and the hectic activity inside the terminal.

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2. Sunrise

Sunrise is one of my favorite times at the airport. There’s something quite breathtaking about the sun peeking over the horizon and lighting up the sky. I’m blessed to have seen some truly amazing sunrises.

3. Sunset

Like sunrises, sunsets at the airfield can be pretty spectacular.

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4. Deice Pad

The deice pad can be a hectic, crazy place for all involved. But there’s something about being out on the ramp, right next to the planes that makes it completely awesome. Plus there are so many cool photo opportunities!

5. Sunrise on the deice pad

Sunrise. Airplanes. Deice rigs. Airport. Need I say more?

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6. ATC towers

I wish everyone could visit an ATC tower just once. Unfortunately, most travelers will never get the chance. It’s a shame because the activity that goes on there is critical. And the view is phenomenal!

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7. Snow

I know that snow is a giant hassle for everyone involved – believe me, I get it. But at the same time there’s just something special about snow on the airfield. Perhaps it’s taking pride in all the hard work that goes into keeping things up and running, or maybe it’s the way it swirls around the jet engines.

8. K9s

Oh how I love my K-9 coworkers! I’m lucky because I get to see them when they aren’t working, which means I get to pet them and love on them. Recently, however, I got to watch a K-9 demonstrate his skills by searching for explosive materials that were planted for him to find. I was very impressed by his focus and determination – and all he asked for in return was play time with his squeaky ball!

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9. Box of Chocolates

The airport is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you just never know what is going to show up! If you read my last post then you know about the visit from the A-10s. A week later two Osprey flew in. Fan-freaking-tastic!!!

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10. Possibilities

Airports represent the ability to get pretty much anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. Think about that for a moment. Consider what it took to go just 100 miles in 1817 (200 years ago). When I see airplanes at the gates, I see the ability to go anywhere and do anything. How cool is that?

11. Stairs trucks

Spinal Tap fans will immediately understand why this Top Ten list has to go all the way to 11. And what better way to wrap things up than with stairs trucks?

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Lies Plane Spotters Tell

IMG_8816It’s a sad truth and it pains me to say this but… plane spotters tell lies.  Yes, we do.  Anyone who says they don’t is… well, probably lying. We don’t mean to lie, it’s just that when you are hanging around the airfield and watching planes come and go, it is so easy to get completely sucked in and say things that you don’t really mean.  For example:

I’m not going plane spotting today. 

IMG_9501Since I work for an airport, the temptation is always there to stop upstairs and do a little plane spotting before I head home. It seems that no matter how firm my resolve to go straight to my car after work, by the time I get to the escalators I feel that irresistible urge to head on up. At that point I move on to lie number two…

I’m only going to stay for ten minutes. 

Half an hour later and I’m still there. The problem is, there’s almost always something interesting to see. In the unlikely event that there’s nothing happening on the airfield, I listen to ATC communications on my scanner. I listen to some of the airline operations frequencies as well, which can often be quite entertaining.

It’s too wet/cold/snowy/stormy for plane spotting. 

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

To be fair, sometimes it really IS too miserable outside for plane spotting. But spotters learn quickly that airplanes can be very cool to watch in rainy/snowy/windy weather. Can you say crosswind landings? On a recent stormy Friday I was able to sneak outside for a few minutes between storms. Listening to the coordination between ATC and the pilots and watching flights navigate around the weather was quite fascinating.

I’ve already got several pictures of that airline/livery/aircraft type. I don’t need any more. 

Except they’re landing from the opposite direction today… and on the other runway… and the sky is amazing… and the light conditions are just right…

I’m only going to wait a few more minutes for that flight to push back and then I’m giving up.

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I have to thank my twitter friend Andrew for coming up with this one.  It’s so true! An hour later I’m still there, still waiting for that plane to depart. Of course when I do give up and leave that’s when the plane decides to taxi out. Doh! I swear it does this on purpose just to taunt me! (I’m talking to you, American Airlines Airbus with the America West retro livery!)

I don’t need a better camera/lens/scanner.

Actually, yes I do! I really do! And once I get that new piece of spotting equipment, then of course I have to test it out! But don’t worry – I’m only going to stay ten minutes.

So why do we end up staying even though we swear we’re going to leave? Why do we make liars out of ourselves? Well…

For Moments Like This:

IMG_8472Earlier this week I decided to do a little plane spotting on my lunch break. It was hot and muggy so I told myself I’d only stay a few minutes. I was just about to (for once) head inside early when I heard a military flight contact the tower. I didn’t recognize the call sign but assumed it was probably a KC-135 practicing approaches. They often fly over from the nearby Air National Guard base. I’ve seen them several times before, however I figured I might as well stick around and watch them fly by.

FullSizeRender (70)Then I heard ATC clear the flight for the break. At that point I realized that it couldn’t be a tanker – it had to be fighters. Before I could even begin to speculate on what kind of fighters they might be, a flight of four A-10 Warthogs appeared. I calmly and patiently watched as they circled to land… OK, I’m lying again.  The truth is, I completely lost my mind.  I let out a shriek and sprinted across the parking garage (in high heels no less) while simultaneously attempting to take as many pictures as possible. I was overwhelmed with excitement, laughing, crying, jumping up and down…

IMG_9481Then I noticed that the group of construction workers who had been working nearby were slowly backing away. I must have looked like a complete lunatic. And guess what? I. DON’T. CARE. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time then you know the A-10 is one of my all-time favorite airplanes. I’ve only seen them fly once before at AirVenture Oshkosh last summer. To see them at my airport was absolutely the most unexpected, amazing thing EVER.

So why do plane spotters tell themselves these terrible lies? Because magic moments happen without notice when you least expect them. We just don’t want to miss out. And that’s the truth.

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Author’s note: In April I attended an event at the USAF Museum commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.  If you want to hear about it and see some pictures I took of the B-25s that participated in the flyover, please check out Episode 24 of the Flying and Life podcast.

Wings Over Avgeeks

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

They say the first time you attend an air show it’s about the airplanes, but after that it’s about the people. For a long time I really didn’t understand this. Hey – I’m here because I love things with wings! (And stairs trucks!) But the more you get into aviation the more you value being able to spend time with other people who love aviation too. And you find that being with them makes air shows and fly ins and other events even better than you ever thought they could be. Such was the case with Wings Over Pittsburgh.

 

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

Awesome: The F-22

Ah, the Raptor! It is one hell of a bad-ass airplane. I saw it at an airshow in 2009 and was completely blown away. I saw it again more recently but wasn’t as impressed. The performance that day had to be limited and it just wasn’t as spectacular as I remembered. At Wings Over Pittsburgh, however, the Raptor completely redeemed itself by being even more amazing than it was in 2009. That plane flies in ways and directions that defy all logic. Planes just can’t fly like that! Except somehow this one does!

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson      www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

Even More Awesome: Watching the F-22 with people who worked for Pratt & Whitney.

The F-22 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F119 turbofan engines which have nozzles that incorporate 2D thrust vectoring. I have no idea what any of that means. What it does, however, is allow the Raptor to fly in ways that are, frankly, ridiculous. Max and his wife are retired Pratt & Whitney employees who were with the company during the development of these engines. Watching them watch the F-22 demo was a true highlight of the weekend for me. When I asked how it felt to see their hard work on display the answer was a single word: goosebumps. I couldn’t agree more!


img_5484.pngAwesome:
The F-18 Super Hornet

I have long been a fan of the F-18. Many years ago I had a friend who was a mechanic in the Marines who worked on F-18s. I was unfamiliar with the plane so I looked it up. Woah – what the heck is this? Sweeeeet! I was instantly smitten and have loved the plane ever since. Yes, the Super Hornet is a bit different from the original Hornet, but I don’t care. The F-18 display remains one of my very favorites.

Even More Awesome: Watching the F-18 demonstration with a former F-18 pilot.

I wasn’t standing close enough to hear what Nick had to say during the demo, but just watching his face was enough. It was very obvious that he still loves that plane. And who can blame him!

IMG_9098Awesome: C-130s and paratroopers

I have no desire to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. However, I think it is really cool to watch other people do it. And it’s even more cool when those people are paratroopers jumping out of C-130s. How the heck do so many of them manage to leap out all at once?

Even More Awesome: Watching paratroopers with a skydiver.

I wish I had been able to watch with Steph on Saturday when the weather was better. It was much windier on Sunday and she knew right away that they weren’t going to be able to make the jump. Still, it was interesting to get her take on their performance from the previous day.

IMG_9093Awesome: All the amazing airplanes on display.

The static displays at Wings Over Pittsburgh were impressive and quite varied. They included some of my old favorites like the C-5 and KC-135, as well as the iconic B-52, the way-cool F-35, an Embraer E175 and many, many more. I could have spent hours and hours examining them in detail and still not gotten a good look at everything.

FullSizeRender (68)Even More Awesome: Wandering through the displays with an aviation historian.

David has probably lost count of the number of airshows he has attended. He has spent countless hours on military bases and soaked up more information than anyone I know. All that knowledge was so much fun to be around! I could ask any question and he knew the answer.  I learned a lot and I loved every moment!

Awesome: Spending three days surrounded by airplanes AND by people who are as passionate about them as I am.

Even More Awesome: Actually, I don’t think it gets more awesome than that!

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Big bird, little birds. Photo by Dr. Stephanie Plummer

For You, Airline Crews

PRMY7206There has been a lot of bad press for the airlines lately. It upsets me because I know that the people involved in these incidents are NOT representative of the vast majority of airline employees. I see crews and gate agents and ground handlers every day. I see them showing up to work at crazy early hours. I see them still working late at night. And even when the day has been stressful with bad weather and canceled flights, they still manage to laugh when I see them on the shuttle at the end of the day.

IMG_8025So this is for you, pilots and cabin crews. I see you in the parking lot heading to the terminal. Most of you are commuting to your bases for the start of your trips. I often wonder just how far you have to go before your working day begins. And let’s face it, in a lot of ways once the uniform is on, you ARE working. I see passengers asking you questions and looking to you for guidance, even though at this point you’re technically just a passenger too.

This is for you, being part of an industry where you aren’t allowed to have a bad day. Any mistake or misunderstanding can be videoed and sent out to the masses in 140 characters or less, which is never enough to really tell the whole story. You deal with thousands of customers every year, doing your job well day after day and almost always with a smile. Then the bad behavior of a very few puts you under suspicion, even when you’ve done nothing wrong.

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By Maarten Visser from Capelle aan den IJssel, Nederland CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This is for the baggage handlers working outside in the wind and freezing rain. It’s for the gate agents explaining a flight delay to frustrated passengers. And it’s for the pilots waving at excited children who are jumping up and down and pointing at the plane through the terminal window.  This is for the Southwest pilots who saw a military casket being removed from an American plane and out of respect for the fallen soldier, stopped their taxi until after the hearse left. This is for the flight attendants on the shuttle who had me laughing so hard at their stories that I couldn’t breathe. (And if you guys are reading – I continue to support your quest for casual Fridays!) This is for every one of you who works hard every day to make the aviation industry something I’m proud to be a part of:

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And for any of my aviation friends who may be feeling down or discouraged, I strongly encourage you to watch the movie Living in the Age of Airplanes. If you’ve seen it before, then watch it again. Or just watch this trailer. It’s a good reminder of just how amazing and wonderful and special aviation is!

 

 

 

Deice-capades: Behind the Wheel

IMG_8208As those of you who have been regular readers know, this past winter I was given the opportunity to train with the Operations Department to learn how to manage the deice pad. To recap, deice pad management involves being on the deice pad in an operations vehicle and providing taxi instructions over the radio to position planes in the pad. We sometimes also act as a follow-me vehicle and lead planes into the pad. Once in position, the planes are handed off to their deice teams for the actual deicing.

In my last post I discussed getting on the radio for the first time and what that was like. Getting comfortable with radio communications and learning to juggle multiple planes at once takes time and practice. Unfortunately we were cursed (blessed?) with a very mild winter and I was only able to get out on the deice pad once in February and once in March.  However, on one of those occasions I got the opportunity to begin learning the final skill that I need to master: driving.  Yes, you read that correctly. This tug-loving, aviation-obsessed, stairs truck fanatic was turned loose on the ramp in a truck. The world may never be the same!

IMG_8170The lesson began casually enough when my trainer asked, “Do you want to drive?” My out-loud response was a calm, casual, “Sure.” However, as I took the keys to the SUV my internal response was, “OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO ACTUALLY DRIVE AROUND ON THE AIRFIELD WHICH IS COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS AND TOTALLY AWESOME AND IT IS TAKING EVERY OUNCE OF WILLPOWER NOT TO FREAK OUT!”

The Ops SUVs are very big and since my daily driver is a sedan, just being in such a large vehicle took a little getting used to. My trainer asked if I had driven on the airfield before. I told him I had not. He proceeded to give me some pointers, the most important of which was, “Don’t hit any airplanes!” Um… right. I think I’ve got that one!

IMG_8410He then went over some of the many markings on the ramp and what they mean. The yellow lines bordered in black are the aircraft taxi lines. He told me not to follow them because they would lead me to places I shouldn’t be. Like active runways. Yikes! He had me drive straight out towards one of the taxiways which, I must admit, was a little disconcerting. Hello – aren’t we supposed to be avoiding airplanes? However, before we actually got to the taxiway he had me stop and he pointed out markers on the pavement. He explained that this is as far as we are allowed to go. We cannot cross that line without clearance from ATC. OK – good to know!

IMG_7957I then spent time getting familiar with the drive lanes and where the deice lines are, as well as the best places to sit with good line-of-sight for monitoring activity on the pad. And did I mention we were directing planes this whole time? Well actually, my trainer was. I figured since it was my first time behind the wheel, I should focus on driving. Once the basic instruction was completed I was on my own to decide where to go and when. Sometimes I parked along the back of the pad.  Sometimes I sat on a line just in front of the t-stops to be a visual reference for pilots so they could see where to position. An added benefit of this is it gives you some really awesome photo opportunities. Which my trainer got to enjoy because I was driving. Doh! At one point we paused to take a pic of a Southwest plane, only to realize that someone on the plane was taking pictures of us!

All too soon deice was completed and it was time to park the SUV. Did I mention that it is roughly the size and shape of a tank? Thank goodness the parking spaces are big! I know what you are wondering and no, I didn’t attempt to hijack any stairs truck.  Sadly all the stairs trucks are at the other airport! But I’ve taken another step closer to being able to drive one some day. Next up? Passing the airfield driving test. Stay tuned!

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Air Show Fever

IMG_5487It may not feel like it yet, but the calendar says that spring has arrived. You know what that means? Yes, warmer temperatures and pretty flowers are coming. But more importantly, air show season is just around the corner! Hooray! I cannot wait! I’m planning to attend two big events this year.

Wings Over Pittsburgh 

What happens when you combine amazing airplanes with a bunch aviation podcasters? I’m not 100% certain but I suspect it involves beer and a fair amount of good-natured mayhem. The show is being held over Mother’s Day weekend in May. (What mom wouldn’t want to spend her special day at an air show?) Some of

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By SSgt Nadine Barclay [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

the scheduled participants include Sean Tucker, the Super Hornet demonstration team, the F-22 demonstration team and the Thunderbirds. Admission costs nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. No, I’m not kidding! The show is sponsored by the 911th Airlift Wing. If you are anywhere even remotely nearby, I recommend you check it out! Plus for all you Airline Pilot Guy, Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety and Airplane Geeks podcast fans, there’s a meet-up planned that promises to be a ridiculous amount of fun.

Airventure Oshkosh

Yes, I know – Oshkosh is so much more than just an air show. It’s THE aviation event of the summer. 10,000 airplanes – need I say more?  This will be my fourth year so I feel I have enough experience at Osh to give a few pointers for those of you who are going for the first time.IMG_4300

Go ahead, put together a schedule. Just understand you aren’t going to follow it. There are about a million amazing things between you and the first item on your agenda. You WILL get distracted. More often than not, this is a good thing. Some of my best moments at Osh have happened when I allowed myself to get distracted. A good rule of thumb: pick one or two events that are non-negotiable and make every effort to get to them. Leave the rest of your schedule open. My suggested “must-sees” include the warbirds and the night air show.IMG_3902

Attend at least one forum. Attend several if you can, but pick at least one and go. There are very few events where you have the opportunity to learn so much from so many truly knowledgeable people. Take advantage of this!

Meet people. My first year at Osh I was only there a day and a half. I didn’t get a chance to meet anyone. The last couple of years, however, I’ve been able to spend more time at the show which has given me the chance to meet up with several online friends. This was total awesomesauce. Avgeeks tend to have an instant connection with one another – you’ve got a million old friends at Osh that you just haven’t met yet. I’m planning to spend almost the entire week at Airventure so I hope to see some of you there!IMG_4219

Just Go!

If Oshkosh and Wings Over Pittsburgh won’t fit into your schedule, never fear – there are plenty of other airshows, fly-ins and fun aviation gatherings you can attend. Check out milavia.net for a fairly comprehensive list of offerings. I also recommend the Social Flight app which is great for finding local aviation events. Or you  are welcome to share event information in the comments below. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a small air show at a local airport isn’t worth going to.  I went to a very small show last fall that was one of the best I’ve ever attended. Just remember: there is no cure for air show fever. However, catching it sure is fun!

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The (Mad)Doggie in the Window

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Ask any aviation enthusiast about their favorite airplane and you’ll almost certainly get a list. My list includes the Boeing 747-8, the A-10 and the F-18. However, since I’ve started working at the airport I’ve added one more – the MD-80/88/90. Why? Well why do any of us love the planes we love? It’s not always easy to explain.

IMG_8030The Plane Next Door

For me the love affair began when I saw it parked outside my department every day. Actually, to be more specific I should say when I HEARD it park outside my department. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s pretty much impossible to miss the sound of an MD-80 roaring up to the gate. Naturally the first time I heard it I had to investigate. What I found was a decidedly old-school t-tail airplane that looked like it had been around the block a time or two.

Having grown up in a very old house, I appreciate old things. They have character. And the MD-80 certainly does as well. It’s not sleek and pretty like the newer Boeings and Airbuses. It’s not dashing and cute like some of the RJs. It’s a working-man’s airplane. It doesn’t BS around. When it takes off it really takes off – it looks like a rocket and it sounds like one too. And it has a cool nickname: The Mad Dog.

IMG_5133For two years now I’ve been watching it through the window. I’ve watched countless numbers of bags loaded and unloaded and countless numbers of meals delivered. I’ve watched mechanics tinkering with the engines. And I watched when an MD-80 brought a fallen soldier home last year. The Mad Dog has been a central part of my airport experience in so many ways.  So you can imagine my reaction when I was given the opportunity recently to tag along on a pre-flight walk-around. Are you kidding me? Oh. Heck. YES!  (Have I mentioned lately how much I love working for an airport?)

IMG_7999Up Close and Personal

When we went outside my first thought was that there are roughly one million things to trip over/bash your head on during a walk-around. Yikes! Major kudos to the ground crews and pilots who successfully navigate this obstacle course every day. Needless to say I was very careful while we were out there. I was also very busy absorbing every detail of the plane – the tires, the wheel wells, the cargo compartments, the pitot tubes the engines, the wings… and everything in between. After all the time I’ve spent staring at the Mad Dog through the window, it was beyond awesome (not to mention a tremendous privilege) to get such an up close look!

The icing on the cake, however, was the visit to the cockpit. I never in my life expected to be able to walk down a jet bridge, board an airplane… and turn left!  I looked out the cockpit window at the terminal and thought, so THIS is what it is like to be outside looking in! Sweet! Then I turned my attention to the cockpit itself.  I was able to examine many of the instruments and learn which knobs turn on which displays. I was in avgeek heaven! In an effort to be a polite guest I IMG_6525tried really hard not to ask too many questions. (What does this button do? What about this one? And this one?)  Trust me, it wasn’t easy!  However, I was very aware that the crew was preparing for a flight and I didn’t want to be in the way. All too soon it was time to go. I walked back up the jet bridge with a whole new understanding of the MD-80.  And I love it even more than I did before!

Sadly, this love affair is destined to be short-lived since the plane is being retired at a brisk pace. The afternoon flight that used to park outside my office is gone. The early morning flight is gone too.  You can imagine my disappointment to see an Airbus pop around the corner instead of the expected Mad Dog during a recent morning on the deice pad. I know modern planes are quieter, more fuel efficient, more comfortable and have better technology. But that doesn’t change how I feel. After all, who can explain love?

Authors Note: I’d like to extend a very special and heart-felt THANK YOU to the FO (along with his captain and crew) who allowed me to visit.  You made my day/week/month/year!

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