Great Stairs Truck Drivers in History

[Note from the Blogger: I recently had the tremendous honor of being a guest on the Plane Talking UK Podcast.  It was so much fun!  A huge thank you to Carlos and Matt! And if you haven’t watched/listened to this podcast, check it out! I promise you’ll love it!]

fullsizerender-56It occurred to me recently that it has been a while since I’ve written about my favorite ground support vehicle.  I am, of course, talking about the mighty stairs truck!  I would like to start with a bit of clarification.  There seems to be some confusion about the differences between the various types of stairs typically found at the airport: air stairs, mobile stairs, motorized stairs, etc.  I attempted to consult the world’s foremost airport stairs experts on the best way to explain the differences… but alas, I couldn’t find any.  So I am afraid you’re stuck with me.  Here’s how I see it.

These are air stairs:


They are stairs that are built into an airplane.  Because they are actually part of the plane itself, they are not part of the ground support vehicle family.

These are mobile stairs:



They are essentially metal stairs on wheels that can be pushed by ground crew or towed by a tug.  They are NOT motorized.  They are at the bottom of the airport stairs food chain.

These are motorized stairs:


These stairs do have a motor and can be driven around as needed.  The driving compartment, however, is open to the elements, similar to the way some airport tugs are.  These stairs are far cooler than simple mobile stairs, but they are definitely NOT the coolest of the airport stairs.

This is a stairs truck:


As the name suggests, it’s a truck with stairs on the back.  The truck looks like any other utility truck that you might see on the road.  Technically stairs trucks are not street legal… at some point I’ll have to work on changing that.  It’s fairly easy to see why the stairs truck is king of the airport stairs.  Because it’s a truck.  With stairs on the back.  Enough said.

I wanted to clarify that point because it bears heavily on the subject at hand: the greatest stairs truck drivers in all of history! OK fine, so most of these people didn’t actually drive stairs trucks. But they would have if they could have! (Yes savvy reader, you read that correctly. I did say “most!”)


By Billy Hathorn (National Portrait Gallery, Public domain) [CC0]

Benjamin Franklin

If ever there was an historical figure who would appreciate a good stairs truck, it’s Benjamin Franklin. I mean hello – he signed the Declaration of Independence! Nothing says revolutionary quite like a stairs truck. Oh – you wanna fly kites in storms? I know the perfect place!


I know what you’re thinking – what the who? Hatshepsut. She was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt. No, not like Cleopatra. Cleopatra was queen. Hatshepsut was actually pharaoh. And to drive home that point she wore a fake beard and everything.  A woman with that kind of determination is sure to immediately grasp the advantages (and awesomeness) of a stairs truck. Why ride in a noisy chariot around the city when you could perch your throne on top of a stairs truck where the whole world would be sure to see you?


By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Captain Jack Sparrow

But Jenn! He’a a fictional character – he’s not real! Ah but if he WAS real you know he’d have been all over the stairs truck. He understands that stairs trucks aren’t about tires and fuel and wiper blades – that’s what a stairs truck needs. What a stairs truck is, what it REALLY is, is freedom. And it’s a way to get into places you probably shouldn’t be.


No, not the Ninja Turtle – the renaissance painter! He’s the guy who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I’m sure when he got the call from the Pope he looked up and thought, “The ceiling? You gotta be kidding me!” Then when he saw the system of ropes he was supposed to hang from while painting he said “Oh heck NO!” and built his own platform to use. Now if he’d had access to a stairs truck you can bet he’d have immediately grasped the potential. Remove a section of wall, drive in and paint with ease! Just think of all the amazing ceiling paintings there might have been if only stairs trucks had been invented a little sooner.

Tom Chilton

For those of you who are fans of motorsports (or if you’ve been following this blog for a while) the name might ring a bell.  Tom Chilton is an auto racing driver who has spent a good portion of his career racing in the British Touring Car Championship series, the World Touring Car Championship, Formula One… blah blah blah.  Whatever.  What REALLY matter is, he has driven a stairs truck!  And not just driven it, RACED it! That automatically makes him one of the coolest people of all time.




Nope, this picture has nothing to do with stairs trucks.

The Little Air Show That Could


When you think of air shows, what comes to mind? I typically think of big spectacle, big noise, lots of airplanes and lots of people. In fact, that pretty much sums up every air show I’ve ever been to. So when I first heard about the little air show, I shrugged it off. I’d see bigger and better at Osh. What could a small-town air show in the middle of nowhere possibly have to offer? As it turns out, quite a bit more than I ever expected.


The Road To Where?

It took an hour and a half of driving deep into a very rural part of the state to get to the show. Given the rugged terrain I expected a very tiny airport perched on the top of a hill. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a good size and situated in a nice, open area surrounded by fields and forest.

Easy Breezy


The view of the runway from our seats.

I began to realize that I had stumbled onto something special when the police officer helping to collect admission fees noticed my airplane necklace and told me how much he liked it. My normal air show concerns – bad traffic, lousy parking and expensive tickets – were not a factor. From the time we pulled off the main road until we paid admission and parked took all of five minutes. It only took another two minutes to walk to the show grounds. And the ticket price? $10 per person!

img_5355I figured we’d spend the day jammed in the middle of a crowd, with only premium ticket buyers allowed anywhere near the flight line. Wrong! There were lots of people in attendance, but somehow it never seemed crowded. We set up our blanket and chairs in the grass facing the runway just behind a roped-off area. Yay! Front row seats! Then I realized, EVERYONE had front row seats. Well played, small-town air show. Well played!

Talk to me Goose

img_5302Once we claimed our viewing spot, we went to check out the static displays which consisted primarily of the planes that would be performing that afternoon. These included a Cessna 172, three Yak 52s and a Pitts. Oh – and did I mention two F-18 Super Hornets? Yes, you read that right! Super Freaking Hornets!!!! As unlikely as it sounds, this small-town show had managed to bring in a couple of big-time airplanes! I also have to give major kudos to whoever set up their sound system. Not only did they have speakers everywhere, they also played the ENTIRE Top Gun soundtrack (minus the love song). Oh Hell YES!!!  Because seriously, what’s an air show without the theme from Top Gun?

Kickstart My Heart

img_5485The show itself was only a couple hours long but included a nice variety of acts. There were three solo aerobatic performers, one of whom flew the aforementioned Pitts (one of my faves). The Aerostar team flew their Yaks in a beautiful demonstration of precision and grace. There was also an all-female sky diving team who performed not one but two jumps during the show.


One of the Misty Blues (an all-female skydiving team) handing out stickers and signing autographs

I’ve seen all these acts before, or at least I’ve seen other performances very much like them, but what made this show special was the intimacy of the setting. The seats along the flight line made you feel like you were right in the middle of the action. Better still, when they finished performing, many of the pilots and some of the skydivers walked through the crowd, greeting people, signing autographs and posing for pictures. As you might imagine, this was a HUGE hit with the kids.

Military MIght

img_5484There was one kid, however, who wasn’t especially impressed. She was one of the neighborhood teens I brought with me. She sat patiently, watching the proceedings but without any real interest. That is until one of the Super Hornets fired up its engines, at which point she perked up a little. When it took off she actually looked interested. And when it did its first high speed pass she was completely hooked. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen this kid get so excited in all the years I’ve known her. Suddenly she was laughing, pointing and taking pictures. Sure an F-18 can fly into hostile territory, engage the enemy then land on the tiny, pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. Whatever.  No big deal.  But fire up the passion of a disinterested teen?  Now THAT’S impressive!  img_5481

As I drove home that evening I thought about what we had just experienced – not just the airplanes and performances, but all those excited kids shaking hands and chatting with pilots. Is is possible that a small show could inspire, encourage and engage  future aviators every bit as well as a big show (and maybe even better)?  I can’t speak for all small-town air shows everywhere, but I can say for sure that this little air show could!


Photo by L.O’Connell, who now thinks F-18s are pretty cool.


This Airport Has Gone to the Dogs


By Martin Greeson via Wikimedia Commons

Ever have a co-worker who slobbered all over the place and was always poking their nose into things? Well I have. No, I’m not talking about my fellow accountants. (Thank goodness!) I’m talking about the airport K9s. My airport has several of them and they’re awesome.

Awww – Doggies!

Currently on staff we have three German Shepherds, two German Shorthaired Pointers and one Belgian Malinois. Four of them are trained for explosive detection and the other two handle narcotic detection. Two of them are new and just joined the airport police this year. These breeds are fairly common in law enforcement because they are intelligent, strong and have a very good sense of smell. Other popular breeds include Labrador Retrievers and Beagles. (The airport used to have a Lab but he retired a few years ago.)


Not a police dog but he gave me this sad face until I agreed to include him. How could I say no?

Work Hard, Play Hard

As you might expect K9s go through A LOT of training before they start working. In addition to learning to detect specific substances, they are also taught obedience and to be comfortable in busy, crowded, noisy environments. Once matched with a handler the two go through roughly ten weeks of training together. Then the dogs spend another 30 days becoming acclimated to the airport. During this time they are exposed to all the areas where they will be working, including baggage handling areas and cargo buildings.  Once that is completed the K9s and their handlers go through final certification and then they are ready to work. And by “work” what I actually mean is play. For a K9 work is fun. If they aren’t having fun then they won’t work as hard, so handlers make sure that every day at work is exciting and interesting for their canine partners.

Retired MWD comes home

By Sgt. Barry St. Clair via Wikimedia Commons

Pampered Pooches

Well… I guess you wouldn’t exactly call them pampered, but K9s are a huge investment and a huge asset for the airport, so we want to take good care of them. Since they burn a lot of calories every day, they get special food to make sure they get the right nutrition. They get regular visits to the vet for everything from routine vaccinations to grooming and nail clipping. We also make sure they have good quality toys to play with. (K9s love their Kong toys as much as any dog!) Even their transportation is special – they ride in SUVs which have K9 inserts with window guards, door panels and even heat sensors to make sure they stay safe when they travel.

img_1941K9s in the Crowd

These days K9s are becoming more and more valuable for their ability to detect explosive materials in crowds of people. Over the last few months I have participated in several big events at the airport which have been attended by city and state officials. The K9s were there as well, mingling with the crowd and keeping their eyes… well, OK, their NOSES on the event. I also see them in and around security lines.

The Nose Knows

How sensitive is the K9 nose? I recently read about an incident at an airport in which a K9 detected an explosive substance in a briefcase. When the briefcase was opened they discovered a business card that had belonged to someone who worked with fertilizers and other hazardous substances. The K9 was able to smell those substances on the card INSIDE the briefcase – their noses are THAT sensitive! Last weekend a K9 working in a cargo facility at my airport detected an explosive substance. The facility was evacuated and the bomb squad was brought in. It turned out to be a similar situation – the K9 had hit on very small traces of potentially explosive elements that at some point had come into contact with non-hazardous cargo. Even though there was no threat this time, I feel safer knowing that super-sensitive K9 noses are on the job!

MOD Police Search Dog

By Harland Quarrington via Wikimedia Commons


Although it’s not an official part of their responsibilities, in many ways the K9s also serve as good-will ambassadors. There’s just something about seeing dogs at work that never fails to make me smile.  Even though their role at the airport is an incredibly important and serious one, they make the place seem a bit more friendly somehow.  And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.  As I was leaving work the other day I saw a female passenger sitting in one of the pre-security waiting areas.  Normally passengers look bored or maybe a little anxious, but she caught my attention because she had the biggest smile on her face. Then I saw what she was looking at – one of the K9s was nearby.  Awww – who’s a good doggie!


Beautiful Noise


By Landmark9254 Creative Commons

Close your eyes for 15 seconds and just listen. Did you hear any airplanes? I did. I hear them all the time. You’d think I’d get used to them or that I’d tune them out but I don’t. In fact, I LOVE the sound of airplanes! No, I can’t tell a GE engine from a Rolls Royce but I know what awesome sounds like – it sounds like 140+ commercial flights each day with a bunch of GA mixed in! (Well OK, awesome REALLY sounds like a C-5 screaming past as it takes off, but sadly we don’t have any of those at my airport, so cut me some slack.)

IMG_3601At My Desk

I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t a teeny bit disappointed on my first day at the airport when I discovered that my desk isn’t near a window. Then as I was getting settled in I heard a muffled roar. And then after a bit I heard it again. And then again. And then I realized the south runway was just outside the department and the muted thunder I was hearing was the sound of airplanes taking off and landing. Sweet!!! Maybe I couldn’t see airplanes from my desk, but hearing them was just as cool!

IMG_1440What Time Is It?

There are three gates outside my office – one usually hosts Airbuses (A320s mostly), one handles RJs and you can often find MD-80s parked at the third. I don’t always notice the Airbuses coming and going. I think its because that gate is a bit farther away from where I sit. I do notice the RJs though. One in particular has an APU that has such a high-pitched whine it makes my teeth hurt. (Fortunately I haven’t heard that one in awhile.)

There is, however NO mistaking the sound of the mighty Maddog pulling up to the gate. I can hear it coming from the far end of the airfield, quiet at first but then louder and whinier and louder and whinier… “wheeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.” God I love that sound! No, really! The only thing better than hearing it taxi to the gate is hearing it take off. It sounds rather like a mini space-shuttle launch. Well, OK – maybe not THAT loud, but you get the idea

IMG_1445There are several MD-80s that come and go during the day. There’s an early morning flight that usually departs around the same time I get to the office. Another arrives around 10am-ish and another shows up around 3pm. They’ve become such a part of my routine that if I don’t hear them I become completely confused about what time it is. Hey American Airlines, do you have any idea what your devious scheme to retire the Maddogs will do to me? I may never get to a meeting on time again and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT! Not long ago operations did some concrete repair on the ramp and the Maddogs had to go elsewhere for a week. It was hell. Would someone make an alarm clock with MD-80 sounds, please?!?!

IMG_4822At the Run-Up Wall

We are fortunate to not only have the south runway within earshot of my department, but there’s a run-up wall right outside. Airplanes pull up next to the wall to test their engines. The wall blocks the sound from traveling across the airfield and bothering the neighbors. Thankfully, it does not stop the sound from traveling right to me. Some of the regional airlines have maintenance facilities at my airport and they are the ones who use the wall the most. Every time I hear that breathy roar of a plane running its engines I find an excuse to sneak over to the window and snap a pic. I have about a hundred million pictures of RJs at the wall. Equally fun are the propeller planes. Buuuuzzz buzzz bizzz bzzz bzzzz bzzzz!!!!! They sound like flies caught in a spiderweb, only a million times more excellent!

IMG_1504Up top

Of course airplanes generally sound their best during take-off and landing. The aforementioned Airbus, while relatively quiet at the gate, has a delightfully buzzy, growl on take-off. Many of the bizjets are deceptively loud. “Awww, look at cute little jet! It’s taking off now and… OH MY GOD MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!!!!  How can such an awesomely huge noise could come from such small engines?

IMG_3696Probably one of my most epic airplane noise moments happened earlier this summer. For months I had been stalking a P-51 that stays in a hangar at my airport. I once caught a glimpse of it hiding behind another plane, but was unable to get a good look at it. Then one day as I stepped out onto the top level of the parking garage I heard the unmistakable sound of a WWII airplane firing up its engine. I sprinted across the parking garage like a mad woman and sure enough, there was the Mustang taxiing right in front of me. I screamed. I jumped up and down. I excitedly pointed it out to a lady who was standing there. She looked at me as if I was completely possessed and quickly hurried her children away. Whatever. I not only got to see the long-sought Mustang right there in front of me, but I got to watch (and listen to) it take off as well. Two words: Total. Awesomesauce.

IMG_2810Noise Monitoring

I’ve been told that not everyone likes noisy airplane engines. I’m sorry… what? How is that even possible? However, since these people apparently do exist, my airport has a noise abatement program which includes things like sound proofing nearby homes, installing noise monitoring equipment, blah, blah, blah.  I’ve got a better idea.  I think they should give me the CEO’s house, which is located right next to the north runway. (And I do mean right next to it. Most people have a street address – she has taxi instructions.) From there I will monitor the noise levels and contact airlines as needed.  “Dear Southwest Airlines, Flight 3597 which departed from my airport last Tuesday night was unacceptably quiet. You can do better! Thanks for your cooperation.”



Airport Olympics


Photo by Aero Icarus, Zurich Switzerland, Creative Commons

Editor’s note: Hello friends! Just a quick note to encourage you to give a listen to the latest episode of the Aviation Careers Podcast. I was honored to be the special guest discussing careers at the airport. Hope you’ll check it out!

Welcome sports fans! I’m thrilled to be reporting live from the Olympics! I’m sorry… Who? Michael Phelps? Oh no… Not THOSE Olympics! The AIRPORT Olympics!  They go on every day at airports around the world. Let’s go live to the ramp for our first competition!

Synchronized Push-back

IMG_4554Here we see two Southwest airplanes doing their best to “stick the landing” in the synchronized push-back competition. What they are hoping you don’t notice is that one of them actually pushed back one minute before the other. So while they look beautifully synchronized at the moment, the truth is that they actually weren’t synchronized at all. Not even a little bit. As a result the judges had to deduct 9 points (from a 10 point scale). However, the planes were awarded one point each for actually departing on time.

Runway 10,000K


Waiting for their turn to antagonize competitors

If I can direct your attention to the airfield, it’s time for the start of the Runway 10,000K. This event combines the speed and endurance of a marathon (a really, really long marathon) with the ability to manage pyrotechnics. There’s the starting gun… and there’s a flock of birds! The competitors are sprinting to the approach end of the runway where they will pause and fire the bird cannon. Ah, nicely done! But now the birds are at the departure end of the runway. The competitors are sprinting the 10,000 feet necessary before they can fire their cannons again. This event is going to take awhile – we will check back in a bit later to see how things are going.


Crowds of athletes preparing for the Gate Dash. Photo by 周一楠 (Own work) Creative Commons

Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash

The action continues inside the terminal where we see crowds preparing for the “Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash” (commonly referred to as the “Gate Dash”). This event is a perennial favorite – no matter whether you are entering through ticketing or making a connection, the gate you need is always the gate farthest away from where you happen to be. In fact, you may have participated in this event yourself on your last trip. At my airport this is considered a sprinting event. At other airports, such as Atlanta, it falls under the marathon category.

Luggage Toss

And now it’s back again to the ramp where scores of competitors brave the elements to compete in this well-known event.  It involves IMG_4604grabbing awkward, heavy pieces of luggage and tossing them onto the mobile conveyor. Points are awarded for actually getting them onto the conveyor.  Bonus points are awarded if the bags survive the journey up the conveyor and actually make it into the airplane.  Fail to make the conveyor too many times and hopes for winning this competition are dashed… along with every fragile item inside the suitcases.

Runway 10,000K (part two)

Let’s go back to the airfield for an update.  It looks like the birds have moved over to the other runway now, forcing the athletes to cross the ramp.  Woah!  One of them almost got hit by a suitcase from the Luggage Toss competition! Another had to hurdle over one of the mobile conveyors. It looks like they’ve finally made it safely to the second runway… but wait! The birds have flown back to the first runway again!


Airport gymnasts wait their turn to compete. Photo by By Danpaluska (Own work) [CC0]

Security gymnastics

Inside the terminal its time for everyone’s (least) favorite event: Security Gymnastics! The first competitor steps up to the mat. He’s going to attempt to remove change from his pocket while simultaneously removing his loafers. Although nicely executed, the difficulty level is low which limits the number of points he can be awarded. Now the next competitor steps up to the mat. It looks like she is going to do the exact same routine… but wait! She’s doing it in high heels! And she’s removing a laptop from her carry-on while maneuvering a stroller and carrying a screaming baby! That’s an unbelievable level of difficulty which really maximizes her points potential!

Stairs Jousting


A big thanks to Ken Hoke (Aerosavvy) for recommending this gif!

I saved the best and most daring competition for last! Of course I can only be talking about Stairs Jousting! And if you are looking at the footage, no, that’s not me on the fourth step waving a pitchfork. I don’t know what you are talking about. I disavow all knowledge! Besides, we all know that true Olympic Jousting Masters use STAIRS TRUCKS. Because nothing intensifies competition like horsepower!

Stair Truck Jousting

My trusty stairs-jousting steed.

OSH16 is P.A.S.T.

IMG_4431The last week of July I once again ventured forth to the aviation mecca that is Airventure Oshkosh. My happy place! This was my third year going and every year I’ve stayed longer and done more. (Yet I still missed things I really wanted to do and see. How the heck does that keep happening?) As you might have guessed from the title of this post, P. A. S. T. stands for more than just days gone by. It’s my way of summarizing what Oshkosh means to me.

A is for Airplanes (Yes I’m going out of order.)

IMG_4433OK, EAA – have you been stalking my twitter feed or reading my private diary? (I don’t keep a private diary, so that would be really weird.) The planes on display at this year’s show featured pretty much all of my faves including:

-The C-5 Galaxy
-The A-10 Warthog
-The F-18 Hornet
-An Alaska Airlines 737-900ER
-A Cathay Pacific 747-8 (which I missed because I left the day it arrived)
-More WW II era planes than I ever thought I’d see all in one place

FullSizeRender (49)I walked in, around, under and through as many of these planes as I possibly could. But even better than the planes on the ground were the planes in the air. The F-16 and F-18 demos were spectacular. The aerobatic performers were breath-taking. The Martin Mars water bomber was so unbelievable I just stood there with my mouth open. Team AeroShell in the night show was absolutely gorgeous!

IMG_4434Although it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite out of all the performances, I’m going to have to give a nod to the Canadian Snowbirds, who put on a show that I struggle to put into words. If the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels demonstrate power, then the Snowbirds demonstrate poetry. Lyrical isn’t typically how I’d describe an air show performance, but it’s the only word that really fits.

P is for People

IMG_4184This year I finally learned why Airventure is often referred to as an aviation family reunion. For me it began with Laura, my travel companion, who is an awesome friend that I hadn’t seen in almost two years. She’s not an #avgeek but she is a photographer who found a ton of material to capture at Osh. She fell in love with the warbirds and their nose art. When we stumbled upon the WWII encampment she was in heaven. Day two of our visit she embarked on a “chicks that rock” campaign whereby she got her picture taken with every female service member she came across.

The reunion theme continued with all the great online IMG_4029friends that I got to meet face to face, many for the very first time. It started on Tuesday at the fabulous Oshbash, hosted by Dan Pimentel and Airplanista. I don’t want to try to list names because I know I’ll leave someone out, but I was almost overwhelmed by all the hugs and friendly faces. This continued through-out the week. One friendly face that I got to see for a second year in a row was Kevin Lacey from Airplane Repo. I told him about my first flying lesson and he encouraged me to get my butt back in a plane for lesson number two.

I also got to meet the entire Canadian Snowbird team. First they impressed me by taking time to join the crowds who were applauding the honor flight veterans. Then they came over to the fence and chatted with everyone while signing posters and posing for pics. They were extremely friendly and open – terrific ambassadors for aviation.

IMG_4438Probably my biggest “people moment” actually involved two complete strangers. The A-10 is one of my very favorite airplanes and although I have seen an A-10 before, I have never gotten to see one fly in person. I just happened to be in a good spot relatively near the flight line when they arrived. I was so excited and overwhelmed that I was in tears. There were a couple of guys there who, instead of thinking I was crazy, totally understood how I felt and talked with me for a bit about why A-10s are so awesome. That moment really epitomizes why I love Osh so very much. Not only am I surrounded by amazing planes, I’m surrounded by amazing people who share a passion for aviation and who understand each other. For at least one week each year I don’t have to explain why airplanes are so cool.IMG_4303

ST is for Stairs Trucks 

You knew I wasn’t going to leave them out! Don’t worry – all the Oshkosh stairs trucks are present and accounted for. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t take every opportunity to get up close and personal with them. I’ve even discovered yet another reason why stairs trucks are awesome – they’re an excellent way to get a birds-eye view of all the airplanes in Boeing Plaza!


IMG_4432I never knew four days could go by as quickly as my four days at Airventure 2016 did.  It seemed like we had just arrived when suddenly it was time to say goodbye. And oh how I hate saying goodbye!  Leaving Oshkosh was really, really hard to do.  But a stop by O’Hare for a little plane spotting with a couple of twitter friends sure helped a lot.  And looking ahead to Osh17 helps too.  As Chris Palmer put it on his post-Osh podcast: whatever it is that you love about aviation, Oshkosh has it.  IMG_4440Commercial airplanes? Vintage? GA? Helicopters? Balloons? Yes, yes, yes, yes and YES! So how about it?  Will YOU be at Osh17? Sure hope to see you there!

Special thanks to my Osh16 partner in crime, Laura Kenneson, for walking a million miles on blistered feet, for not laughing when I suggested we stop by O’Hare on the way home and for allowing me to use some of her awesome pictures on this post.  

Also, if you haven’t listened to Airplanegeeks podcast #412, check it out.  Not only does Rob Mark provide an excellent Osh wrap-up, but David Vanderhoof shares his story “Suzy Goes to the Stars” which happens to feature a couple of cameos by a stairs truck with a very familiar name…




Airport Tales: Captain Al


By RHL Images from England (Busy Holding Points) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsAnd now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the third installment of Airport Tales! This time around we’ve hopped “across the pond” to chat with Captain Al Evans.  Al flies with a major UK airline, but over the course of his career he’s flown pretty much everywhere and has some great stories and insight to share.



Tell us a little about your background as a pilot, how you got started, what you do now and where your travels typically take you:

Captain AlLike many aviators, my passion for flying came from my Dad. He was and still is an inspiration to me on many levels. Coming from a rural background in wartime Britain his opportunities were limited but he grasped the opportunity to join the Royal Air Force with both hands. He started out as an apprentice radar engineer and showed great promise, not only in his trade but on the rugby pitch (being Welsh and fast he was a natural selection). An unique set of circumstances led to him leaving the air force, unable to fulfill his ambition of transferring to air crew. He had all the skills and acumen but lacked one thing – colour vision! Despite having umpteen Air Force medicals this small hiccup had been undetected, and what’s more, scuppered his current trade as engineer too. After many deliberations the Air Force accepted that they had caused his colour blindness and he left. Many years later, when I was six, my father reignited his passion for flying by undertaking his Private Pilots License (PPL), paid for by my grandmother who very astutely wanted to see her children enjoy their inheritance whilst she was still alive! My dad was a natural and went on to represent Great Britain in Precision Flying and Rallying for many years.


By Valder137, Creative Commons

As for me the spark was ignited, but when I was old enough flying jobs were as abundant as rocking horse dung. So I fell into other careers: radio presenter, audio engineer, music producer, videotape editor and finally special effects compositor for feature films and commercials. This created the income and one day in a high street newsagent I saw a copy of Pilot magazine and bought it. At the back of the magazine was a full page advert for a UK PPL in 21 days in the Florida sunshine for the grand sum of £1999. The spark turned into a flame and 2 weeks later I started in Ormond Beach, Florida. Part-way through the course I telephoned my dad and told him what I was doing and he said “great, let me know how you get on”. The following week he turned up completely out of the blue on the day of my General Flight Test and congratulated me face to face for my initiative and hard work. For me there was no going back and with my parents backing and support (something they have always given regardless of my plans) the journey to commercial aviation began.

Chuck Yeager, NF-104

Chuck Yeager is a great guy, but sadly he’s not a natural Al. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I completed most of my training in Florida with the odd bit in the UK. I worked exceptionally hard to achieve the required standards and some failures (with the subsequent retests) were necessary but on reflection they made me a better Captain – not everyone is a natural Chuck Yeager!

Having flown in the Caribbean for a while, I returned to the UK and started in the right-hand seat of a Jetstream 41 flying domestic and international flights ostensibly from Cardiff. There is no doubt in my mind that flying a 29 seat turboprop is the perfect way to cut your teeth in European commercial flying, a career route that is fast becoming defunct!

Within the same airline, albeit after a rebrand, I flew the Embraer 145, the Jungle Jet, named after its Brazilian heritage. It was a wonderful aircraft, a junior B757, but it wasn’t well suited to British short runways or crosswinds!

FullSizeRender (48)There was an employment bubble, the world of aviation is cyclical, and I seized the opportunity to join a major player in the UK aviation world. The interview was a chat with two management pilots – no computer tests or HR trickery, and the deal was struck, or at least I thought so! A phone call later gave me an unexpected option Boeing or Airbus? Truthfully one look at the the beautiful A330 made the decision easy and the course date was set. A period of time flying the company A320/1s was required before I could get a go of the Big Bird, that time was quick and the delights of stormy nights in the Greek Islands was soon replaced by stunning visual approaches in the Indian Ocean! I still flew the narrow bodies but my time was mainly A330, it was a wondrous period of my life – I think I got married round about now but I’m not sure!

Command beckoned and a return to narrow body flying became the norm. Being a Captain in an airline that empowers its Captains brings many challenges and joys, but I can truly say not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new and enjoy myself.

Airport stuff

Favorite airport to fly into/out of (in terms of approach/departure) and why:


By StromBer (own work) Creative Commons License

My favourite airport of flights past is Malé International in the Republic of The Maldives.  Why? Because after flying for over 10 hours through the night the beauty of the world is presented in a plethora of beautiful colours, as the sandy atolls poke out of the azure waters. The airport itself was a joy and visual approaches were often the norm. The airport has a long tarmac runway and a somewhat shorter water runway. I can honestly say I only ever landed on the long one! The ability to call visual with over two hundred miles to run and hear the gentle squeak of rubber on tarmac as 11 hours clicked over was unforgettable.

Most challenging airport you have flown into/out of and why:


By Ayala (Own Work) Creative Commons License

Currently my favourite airport is also one of the world’s most challenging, Gibraltar. A short runway clinging to the side of a rock with sea at each and and no instrument approaches focuses the mind on a regular basis. There is nothing more satisfying than achieving a smooth touchdown after spending many minutes battling with horrible orographically produced winds. Gibraltar often has a tailwind on both ends of the runway!

Biggest airport-related hassle:


Hey now… that’s a Boeing! How did it sneak in here? Oops! Sorry about that Al!

Security is now part of our lifeblood in aviation but standards vary greatly, not just from country to country but airport to airport. It is time that ICAO mandated that whilst no pilot is perfect, of can of Pepsi in the hands of a pilot is not a security risk. Many pilots these days judge airports more on their practical and common sense approach to the landside/airside transition than more aeronautical related facilities. Some airport genuinely view pilots as part of the problem and not part of the solution! I do not need a 330ml can of Pepsi to cause harm when there is a fire axe on the flight deck and within my reach!

Airport/FBO you’ve been to with the best coffee? Food? Other amenities?

My turnarounds are often short (less than an hour) so my interface with terminals/FBOs is minimal but any handling company that provides free doughnuts gets a thumbs up from me (thank you Calgary)!

Strangest airport-related incident:


Virginia State Parks, Creative Commons License

The strangest airport experience I ever had was when I was deadheading from New Dehli to Dabolim (both in India) when we were asked to evacuate the aircraft via the forward doors only. Once outside and fearing the worst we could see what the problem was – a huge swarm of hornets had covered the entire tail section of the aircraft, there must have been millions of them! From the relative safety of an airport bus the fire brigade tried to disperse them by spraying them with water – it didn’t work and the flight was eventually cancelled! I know not what happened to the hornets or indeed the aircraft but I did make it to Dabolim, eventually!

In your opinion, what qualities make for a good airport (as a pilot and as a traveler)?

Emirates 1

Ha ha ha Boeing, very funny. Now cut it out!

As an industry we have faced many challenges in the past 20 years or so, but airports must become more open minded and become ‘user friendly’, nobody likes queues and often they are as a result of poor design and poor implementation. Our customers face huge delays in proceeding landside to airside with little justification. Our airports have become soulless people processors. Once airside opportunities are missed, does your airport offer a choice of full service restaurants? Very few do, favouring a selection of fast food & fast eat options. Not everyone is in a rush! We need to put some soul and passion back into our airports – no more grey or beige corridors please!

If you could operate any piece of airport equipment/vehicle, which would it be?


Pushback tug. Hey.. wait just a minute! Thought we wouldn’t notice, huh Boeing? Well we did. Now stop it!

I have often mused about taking a pushback tug down to my local pub! No parking spaces? No problem! Some years ago when Milan Malpensa airport opened its new terminal they provided crew with electric scooters to get to the gate – there is nothing more surreal than watching 3 pilots and 14 cabin crew racing down the concourse on scooters!

Is there anything airport staff can do to better support you?

If I could ask airports to provide one thing it would be a courtesy filter, nobody should be allowed at an airport unless they can be courteous. Every week I find myself dealing with rude and disrespectful people and it seems to be getting worse. My industry once led the world in service and style alas no more or perhaps I’m just getting old!

Anything else you’d like to share?

MarkJHandle by Creative Commons

OK Boeing, now you’re just showing off.  Seriously that’s enough! Cut it out! (Photo by MarkJHandel, Creative Commons)

I don’t want to end on a negative so I shan’t! Aviation is a vocation or perhaps the worlds strongest drug – either way it is a truly wonderful industry and not a day goes by when I remind myself how lucky I am. And finally (if you’ve made it thus far thank you) our industry is in good hands for the future as just last night I had the pleasure of meeting Jess. She was one of my cabin crew, and at young age of 19 has embarked on learning to fly. Her commitment and enthusiasm are an aviation viagra to us old pilots.


Getting better.  Now remove the flag…

So at this point I bid my passengers farewell, my crew adios and my wife and son hello!

Captain Al out.
Captain Al Evans

A320/1 Fleet Manchester (MAN) and Birmingham (BHX)


Yay! Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to share this with us Al! I completely agree with your observations about some of the challenges facing airports today. And I LOVE your choice of airport vehicle! Of course now I’m going to be sorely tempted to “borrow” the nearest tug next time I plan a night out!

One other interest that Al didn’t mention is his desire to help people who have a fear of flying.  Check out his awesome website:!


Ah, there we go!

Blog Post About (Aviation) Podcasts

Author’s note: My apologies for the long delay between posts.  I took ill rather suddenly right after I published my last post.  I required emergency surgery which sidelined me for several weeks.  I am finally on the mend and ready to get back to being an aviation fan-girl running loose at the airport and (of course) blogging all about it.


By Zzubnik (Own work) Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit, for a long time I wasn’t a podcast listener. I knew what they were (sort-of) but didn’t figure that there were any out there that would be of interest to me. Boy was I so totally WRONG!!! Beginning last summer I began making a series of long drives back home to visit my ailing father. In search of something aviation-related to listen to while driving I decided to download a few aviation podcasts that had been recommended by friends. Those few led me to others and the next thing I knew, I’d become a regular podcast listener.

What makes podcasts so awesome? Not only do they provide a lot of excellent, detailed information on the world of aviation, but they also come with really wonderful communities of listeners who encourage and support each other. I discussed two of my favorite podcasts in my last post Airplane Geeks and Plane Talking UK. However, there are several other amazing podcasts out there that you really don’t want to miss!

IMG_3607 (1)Airline Pilot Guy

This podcast is hosted by Captain Jeff Nielsen, who flies for a major US carrier. Originally a one-man show, Jeff has since added several co-hosts including Miami Rick, who recently added the 747 to the long list of Boeing airplanes he knows how to fly, Dr Steph, a physician and general aviation pilot, and Captain Nick who flies A330s/A340s for a major UK carrier.  The podcast covers the latest aviation news as well as addressing items of interest and questions sent in by listeners.

Aside from being incredibly informative, the show is just plain fun. Jeff and his co-hosts broadcast live, usually via Youtube, but you can listen to the recorded podcast any time. That said, if you get a chance to watch it live, DO IT! Seriously, the comments and discussion in the chat room in combination with the live podcast are typically completely hilarious. It never fails to lift my spirits. In fact, I always watch the show live and then go back listen to the podcast. I almost always learn something that I missed the first time and I find that I laugh just as much.

One of my favorite episodes: Secret Number Two   Really you could pick just about any episode – they are all great.  However, this is a recent one in which they cover an accident involving a Cirrus SR20 and I thought the discussion was very insightful.

IMG_3608Plane Safety Podcast

This little gem of a podcast is hosted by Pip, a pilot for a European airline. As the name suggests, this podcast focuses on the safety aspects of aviation. Pip discusses many of the day to day issues faced by pilots and airlines, often drawing from current events.  He also has several episodes in which he reviews well-known aviation incidents from the past, points out some of the key contributing factors and highlights how they have influenced the policies and procedures of today. When he isn’t discussing safety, Pip often talks about his latest trip which gives the listener a behind-the-scenes look at what life as a pilot is really like.

One of my favorite episodes: Nats, Brexit and the Millenium Falcon No, I did not pick this because it is the most recent episode (although it is). I chose this because it includes an interview with an experienced First Officer that is the BEST INTERVIEW EVER.  Seriously, check it out.


Hosted by Chris Palmer, a private pilot and founder of Angle of Attack, this podcast features guests and topics that focus on general aviation and flight training. Chris is passionate about encouraging current and future pilots, and it really shines through in the way he talks about flying.

One of my favorite episodes: My Scariest Pilot Moment I think it takes a lot of guts to share a frightening or difficult moment that you’ve had as a pilot.  I really like that Chris was willing to put this out there so that others can learn from his experience.

IMG_3609Flying and Life

Hosted by Mike, who works for a major US carrier, this podcast gives us a detailed look into the world of an airline dispatcher. I have always wondered just what exactly a dispatcher does, so I really enjoy this podcast and I have learned a lot. For example, did you know that a dispatcher shares operational control with the captain of the flight?  Me either! It is pretty incredible all the things that dispatchers are responsible for.

One of my favorite episodes: Building Routes Part 1 Wow! A lot of thought goes into what route you’ll be flying the next time you head out on vacation!

IMG_3601Some Podcast Regulars You Should Follow:

There are several folks who don’t have podcasts of their own, but often contribute to the podcasts listed above. If you are interested in aviation and/or podcasting, I recommend giving these guys a follow on twitter:

Micah (Airplane Geeks, Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy): Micah uses his background in radio to submit amazing pieces of audio feedback that are amusing, poignant and never fail to get you thinking.

Captain Al (Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety Podcast, Airline Pilot Guy): Al’s background as a captain with a major UK airline allows him to add valuable experience and perspective on pretty much any aviation topic.

Nevil (Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy):Nevil is an aviation enthusiast who is also a self-proclaimed analogue recording geek.  Enough said.


Podcast Supplemental

FullSizeRender (47)I’m not typically a big fan of Mondays. Sure I love my job and where I work but like any other Monday-through-Friday employee, I often find Mondays pretty tough to take. However, this past Monday two really awesome things happened, both of them involving podcasts.

The first thing had to do with the incredibly cheerful and totally fun Plane Talking UK Podcast. Carlos and Matt cover the week’s news in aviation (both civil and military) plus they usually have a guest (or two). They also read emails and play audio feedback submitted by their listeners. I was listening to Episode 115 on my way to work but thank goodness I had parked before the feedback section came on because the first piece of feedback really blew me away.

IMG_3211It was from Jennifer Parkinson, also known as “Jenny in Rome.” She had sent in audio feedback about how her husband had suggested an aerial tour of Rome for her birthday. She went on to say that she had recently read a blog post about a discovery flight and it inspired her to get flying lessons instead. Imagine my shock when she stated that the blog post was mine! (Mooney Over My House) When I first started this blog I didn’t know if anyone would even read it, let alone that it might inspire someone to give flying a try. I am truly humbled and oh so very pleased! I wish Jenny all the best and look forward to hearing all about her lessons!

AirplaneGeeks-banner-960x125The next awesome thing happened Monday night when I was invited to be a guest on the Airplane Geeks Podcast. In the pantheon of aviation podcasts, this one is right up at the top. I can’t tell you what a tremendous honor (and, quite frankly, surprise) it was to be asked. My first thought was, do these guys have any idea what they’re getting themselves into? My second thought was, boy I hope I can form a coherent sentence! And my third thought was, I have GOT to find a way to bring stairs trucks into the conversation.

Well I don’t know if I managed to speak very coherently, but I did manage to discuss stairs trucks. And we talked quite a bit about airports and what goes on behind the scenes. However, there was one question that I was unable to answer regarding where the airport gets its statistics on passenger travel. Well that just won’t do! So I did some asking around and here’s what I found out:

IMG_3203The information comes from the Department of Transportation. They take a sampling of passenger tickets (around 10%) and publish the data quarterly. The airport uses a software program which analyzes the information and makes it easier to dig in to. The data is apparently quite detailed and includes not only the point of departure and destination but connections, ticket prices, the airlines and even historical trends. Because the information is several months old by the time it is published, the airport will also look at trends in the community (what businesses are adding jobs or have moved into the area, etc.) to get an idea of whether demand for certain routes is growing.

FullSizeRender (46)Oh and in case you are wondering, yes my dad really did throw away the TV when I was in 6th grade and we didn’t have another in the house for 11 years.  Well, except for a tiny little TV that one of my brother’s friends gave him.  We hid it in his toy box and would get it out on Thursday nights when my parents worked late. The reception was terrible and we only got one channel but watching Magnum PI was a tradition with us until the little TV died.  Shhhh – don’t tell my parents!

(Pssst – the podcasts mentioned in this post are just two of several really awesome podcasts that I enjoy. Stay tuned – in the next post I’m going to cover a few others that you don’t want to miss!)


For The Love of Plane Spotting

Photo by Mike Karrels:

As the weather has gotten warmer I’ve seen more and more people taking the time to walk to the end of the parking garage and check out the action on the airfield. Some just take a quick peek before heading inside the terminal. Others stick around for quite a while, admiring the airplanes and taking pictures.  Sometimes I’ll stop and chat with them. One man in particular stands out in my memory.  He hadn’t been to the airport in a long time and he had lots of questions about the airlines, the airplanes, airport operations and even the airport’s history.  I gave up my entire lunch break to chat with him.  At the end of our conversation the man expressed regret that he hadn’t come to the airport more often. It got me thinking about the people who DO come to the airport often not because they have to, but because they want to – the plane spotters.

Plane Spotting?

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly IS plane spotting? I posed that question to aviation fans on twitter and here are some responses that I think sum it up pretty nicely:

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Of course some of them had to be smart alecs:

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And pilots have a slightly different take:

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But for me, this tweet really says it all!

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Plane spotters are people who are passionate about airplanes. They look up whenever a plane flies over. They like to visit aviation museums and attend air shows. And they love to spend time at airports. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion.  It doesn’t even have to be a nice day. (Have you watched an airplane take off in the rain? It’s pretty darn awesome!)

So now that we know what plane spotters are and what they do, why do they matter?


Photo by Lew Wiezorek

Airport Ambassadors

I know it seems hard to believe, but airports are often not very popular with the communities that surround them. Among other things, they are thought of as loud and bad for the environment. Having a good relationship with the neighbors is a major challenge for pretty much every airport .  Enter the plane spotters. Guess who loves airports and happens to live in the local community? You guessed it!  Guess who likes to share their pictures and are happy to talk about airplanes and aviation with pretty much anyone who will listen? Yup!  Plane spotters are natural community ambassadors for their local airports.


Photo by Andrew Stricker

An Extra Set of Eyes

Even the best police departments cannot have officers everywhere at all times.  To deal with this, many communities have established neighborhood watch programs which encourage neighbors to watch out for each other and to contact the authorities to report anything suspicious.  Airports face a similar challenge.  Even with patrols and security cameras it is impossible to watch every inch of the airfield 24 hours a day.  As a result it doesn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on the airfield in the form of plane spotters. They tend to be familiar with airport operations and are likely to notice if something is amiss.


Photo by Dan Pimentel:

Weather eyes on the sky

My airport recently hosted a weather spotting training for employees which was run by the National Weather Service. Yes, airports have a lot of weather equipment on the premises, but that equipment can only provide information about what is currently happening in the area where it is located. Trained spotters are needed to assess the surrounding conditions and make a determination about whether dangerous weather might be imminent.  Hmmm… who spends a lot of time outside staring at the sky? Ah yes, plane spotters!  I don’t know the percentage of plane spotters who are also weather spotters, but I know there are at least a few who are both.

Photo by Lew Wiezorek

Creating future avgeeks… and pilots!

Ask a pilot how they became interested in aviation and a good number of them will tell you that they loved to watch the planes at their local airport when they were children. These days kids don’t get many chances to marvel at all the fascinating things going on over the airfield fence. Unless, of course, someone takes them to the airport and lets them see for themselves.  The same holds true for a lot of adults as well.  How many people might become interested in aviation if given a chance to get to know more about it?  And if there is one thing airplane spotters like to do (besides watch airplanes) its talk about airplanes and share the plane spotting experience with anyone who is interested.

If you build it, they will come!

There’s no doubt about it – keeping airports safe for travelers is a major challenge. For a lot of airports this means more security personnel and fences, which often does not translate into a very welcoming environment.  Some airports, however, have found ways to be more spotter-friendly.  Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina has an awesome overlook park  located near the center runway. I spent some time there last fall and loved it.  Can’t wait to go back with my camera!  Minneapolis St. Paul recently opened a new observation area and although I have never been, it is on my list of places I’d like to visit – if for no other reason than to thank the airport for creating it! (Oh, and to take pictures too, of course!)

IMG_2975What one little spotter can do

As you may know, I have a reputation for being “the office aviation enthusiast” – the one who actually cares about the airplanes outside the window and who spends time looking at them and taking pictures.  Are my plane spotting ways starting to rub off on my non-avgeek coworkers? Hard to say, but when two T-38s taxied by the department window recently, two of my coworkers ran by me with their phones out saying, “We’re going outside to take pictures!” I’m going to call that progress!

You know you want to!

If you are interested in aviation and aren’t a plane spotter already, I encourage you to take the plunge! If you can link up with other spotters they will happily show you the best viewing areas. Just remember to carry your id with you and be courteous to others, (especially airport security). Want more information? Here are some resources:

NYC Aviation – what is plane spotting

NYC Aviation – spotter guides

SpottersWiki – spotting guides for locations around the world

Flightline Aviation Media – spotter guides and more 

Special thank you to…

I want to give a special shout-out to Andrew Stricker, Cynthia Drescher, Dan Pimentel, David Vanderhoof, Jeffrey Roeher, Lew Wiezorek, Mark Lawrence, Mike Karrels, Owen Hewitt, Rob D and Steve Knopf for contributing quotes/photos for this post.  If you aren’t already following these guys on twitter, do it now! You won’t regret it!


Photo by Dan Pimentel: