Seeing Red (Arrows)

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When I heard that the Red Arrows were coming to the United States I really hoped I’d be able to see them. It isn’t often that the famed British jet team makes the trip across the pond. An initial glance at their schedule was disappointing – none of the venues were close to me. Then I noticed Thunder Over the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Not only is the location near my mother’s house in Pennsylvania, but hello – it’s at the beach! Watch an air show while relaxing in the sand? Count me in!

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Then I saw that the show date was a Wednesday. Wait… Wednesday? Who holds an air show in the middle of the week? Awkward! Whatever – I wasn’t going to let that deter me.  I had to work Tuesday so I traveled late into the night to get to PA. Then I got up at the crack of dawn the next morning to drive another hour and a half to Atlantic City. Exhausting? Yes. But completely worth it because hello – it’s the Red Freaking Arrows!

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Atlantic City is… well, to be honest, it’s a not my favorite beach destination. I’ve always preferred the family-friendly seaside towns farther south over the glitter and grit of the casinos. As a result this was my first visit. I had no clue where to set my beach chair but by dumb luck I managed to situate myself at show center.

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As I waited for the show to start I couldn’t help but notice all the boats that were anchored just offshore. Watching the show from the beach was cool but watching from a boat must have been even cooler! I wondered how the event organizers maintained the required safety areas. Then I saw a Coast Guard ship keeping an eye on things.

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I realized pretty quickly that while the beach is a great place to watch an air show, it is not necessarily the best place to take photographs. The combination of the sun directly overhead and the glare off the water made the lighting pretty horrible. Then there was the wind, sand and the ocean spray that constantly threatened to muck up my camera lens. Still, the opportunity to get some pics of the Red Arrows made it worth the risk.

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The show began with the US Army Golden Knights Parachute Team. I noticed that one of them jumped with a British flag, which I thought was very classy. This was followed by some old favorites in the form of a refueling demonstration by a KC-135 and several F-16s and a very cool EC-130.

The next two performers were a bit of a surprise. First was a Shorts Tucano. The plane is small and fast and I struggled to get a good look at it. This was followed by the strangest jet I have ever seen. It had a twin tail and an odd, bulbous canopy. It was absolutely mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off it! I found out later that it was a de Havilland Vampire. After it completed its display, it was joined by the Tucano and they flew several passes together. They were an unexpected highlight of the show for me.

Then came the moment I had been waiting for – the Red Arrows! They started their display by approaching from behind the crowd and flying out over the ocean with red, white and blue smoke trailing behind.

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In many ways they reminded me of the Canadian Snowbirds, in part because there are nine of them and in part because they exhibit much of the same grace and beauty in their performance. However, they have a distinct style and flavor all their own. For one thing they fly trainers rather than fancy fighters like the American jet teams. For another the planes are red, which automatically makes them awesome. Then there’s the colored smoke. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but it brings a bit of splash and pizzaz to the performance that the other teams just don’t offer.

I wasn’t sure how the American audience filled with vacationers and families would react, especially since most were there to see the Thunderbirds. However it quickly became apparent that the Red Arrows were a hit with the crowd.  I think it is safe to say they gained quite a few new fans.

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What about the remainder of the show? Well I couldn’t tell you. I was just there for the Red Arrows and when they were finished, so was I. Was it worth traveling all that way, dealing with the crowds and the difficult photography conditions just to watch nine red planes put on a 20 minute show? Oh. Heck. YES! If you ever have the opportunity to see the Red Arrows, I strongly encourage you to go. I promise you won’t regret it!

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Rock Your Wings – Flying at Osh19

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As an airport employee, I am surrounded by airplanes pretty much all the time. And yet somehow I rarely get to fly in them. I haven’t flown commercially in nearly ten years. My one and only flight in a general aviation airplane was over three years ago. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

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When my friend Mike (host of the Flying and Life podcast) found out that he could leave his campsite at Airventure, go for a flight, then return to the same camping spot, he immediately decided to give it a try. He asked if I’d be interested in going along. Wait… do I want to fly at Osh? During Airventure? The busiest airport in the world? THE FISK ARRIVAL? Are you kidding me??? OF COURSE I DO!

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One of the nice things about being fairly small in size is that I left room on the weight and balance chart for Mike to bring along a couple of other passengers as well. Our friends Dr. Steph (co-host of the Airline Pilot Guy podcast) and RH (co-host of the Opposing Bases podcast) were happy to join us. Both are pilots themselves and RH is also an air traffic controller. 

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To say I was excited would be an understatement. Even taxiing out to the runway felt like an adventure. The 18s were in use which meant we taxied along the primary flight line, right past Boeing plaza. I NEVER get tired of that view! Then I saw all the people along the edge of the airfield, watching the activity on the runways and I realized that we were about to become part of the show ourselves.

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There were a lot of planes in line to depart so we had to wait our turn. Finally we were cleared to take off. The next thing I knew we were headed down the runway and I could hear Mike doing his checks to confirm everything looked good. Then we were in the air. Such a great feeling to be off the ground! Flying free! Zipping along! And… getting passed by other planes that had taken off next-to and behind us. Fine, so Mike’s Musketeer isn’t the fastest plane ever. Who the heck cares! All that mattered is we were flying over Airventure It. Was. Spectacular.

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From there Mike flew south over Fond du Lac and then west to the southern end of Green Lake, which was where the approach into Oshkosh was starting on that day. We joined the approach and headed towards Fisk. Shortly after that came the moment I had been waiting for: the command from the Fisk controllers to rock our wings. I’ve heard them say it to a million other airplanes via LiveATC and I always wondered what it would be like. Let me tell you – it did not disappoint! And Mike did not mess around – he gave the wings a good, solid rock.

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The controller asked Mike if he had a runway preference. Mike requested the 18s. I found myself with a perfect view of Airventure as it came into sight below. Mike’s downwind leg provided another spectacular look along the flight line and at all the activity in the plaza. (That view just never gets old!) He was cleared to land on the pink dot and he made his turn to final.

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About that time we all noticed a plane sitting on the runway. Mike wondered aloud if it was going to hold in position until after we landed. Just then the tower controller came on the radio and with a sense of urgency told Mike to stay in the air, maintain his altitude and not descend. The controller directed us farther down the runway at which point he cleared Mike to land.  Which he did, nicely and smoothly and without breaking a sweat. Piece of cake!

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Oh my goodness that was tons of fun! And I learned so much – about following the NOTAM, about watching for traffic, and about how good friends can make great flight even better. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that three years between GA flights is far too long. Guess I need to do something about that!

Want more? You’re in luck! A flight with podcasters and writers naturally leads to lots of content.

Full in-flight audio can be found on the Opposing Bases podcast Airventure 2019 Bonus Episode #5.

A post-flight discussion with Mike can be found on the Opposing Bases podcast Airventure 2019 Bonus Episode #6.

And OF COURSE I took lots of video! Check it out!

 

 

Osh19 Memorable Moments

C1C17990-2FC8-49E2-B2EA-DD07C2196DB2Airventure is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. This year was no exception. I walked over 60 miles in 7 days. Every muscle in my body is sore. Even my eyelashes are exhausted. But it was so worth it! Here are just a few of the many memorable moments from the past week.

Visit to the upper deck of the UPS 747-8

The 747-8 has long been one of my favorite airplanes. Several fly into the cargo airport every week, but somehow I’ve never been able to see one up close… until now. UPS brought one of their brand-new 747s to Osh. Mike from the Flying and Life podcast interviewed the captain, after which we were not only able to tour the cargo area, but we were allowed to visit the upper deck, including the cockpit! Yeah, I freaked out a little. OK, a lot. I couldn’t help it – after all, she’s THE QUEEN!

Proficiency Center and Redbird Sim visit

Members of the media were given special access to the Pilot Proficiency Center on Thursday morning. I had never been in there before and was eager to check it out. I was impressed by the variety of simulators that were available, especially the crosswind simulator which my friend Glen was using when we arrived. Each of the pilots in my group were assigned to different instructors and selected different scenarios to try. As a non-pilot I really enjoyed watching them. I found I understood more than I thought I did about what the different gauges and readouts are for.

The Airventure 5K

I am not a runner. The only time you’ll catch me running is if there’s a plane flying over that I really want to see. Or if I’m being chased. Yet somehow I found myself signing up for the Airventure 5K. Needless to say, I walked. So did Pilot Pip and Captain Al from the Plane Safety Podcast. Not only that, we detoured for donuts mid-race. Despite our best efforts, we didn’t finish last. We’ll have to try harder next time! (I did, however, manage to be the slowest finisher in my age group.)

Planes, planes and more planes

EAA does a wonderful job of including all aspects of aviation at Airventure. From hot air balloons to model airplanes to drones – you can find them all at Osh. But let’s face it – airplanes are the stars of the show. And this year there was an exceptional number of amazing planes to see, including surprise visits from the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels. Even one of the Canadian Snowbirds stopped by. It is impossible to choose a favorite air show performer, but the A-10 demo team is near the top of my list.

This really just scratches the surface of my Airventure experience this year. I could write thousands of words and still not cover all the things I got to see and do. However, there was one Osh moment so special that it deserves a post all its own. I won’t spoil the surprise but let’s just say it involves good friends, an airplane and the words: “Rock your wings.” Details coming soon – stay tuned!

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Osh Love for a Lifetime

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My birthday is in September. However, for as long as I’ve been coming to Airventure, my mom sent my birthday check early.  She knew I’d like to have a little extra money to spend on my trip to Osh. My mom passed away a couple months ago, so there was no birthday check this year. However, she did leave me enough money to do something I’ve been wanting to do for some time now: become a Lifetime Member of  EAA.

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I’m not a pilot and I’ve never built a plane, so you might be wondering why on earth I’d want lifetime membership. At Airventure 2016 I got to see an A-10 fly for the first time. They are one of my most favorite planes and although I’d seen them on static display, I had never seen one in the air. I was so excited I was nearly in tears over it. I expected ridicule or funny looks from the people around me. What I got instead was complete understanding. I knew right then that I wanted to be a member forever.

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So, what are the perks of lifetime membership? Well I got a patch and a pin and a flashlight. I’ll be getting a plaque and a jacket with my name embroidered on it. I also get to have a new membership card with the photo of my choosing on it. Yikes!  How will I ever decide which one to use? Being a lifetime member also enabled me to get a couple of days of access to the lifetime pavilion. It’s a great place to sit in the shade, relax and watch the airshow.

 

Speaking of which, there have been some great airplanes at Osh so far this year. I got my first look at the KC-46 Pegasus. I also watched a UPS Boeing 747-8 taxi into Boeing Plaza. The wingtip went right over my head! I got to take a look at a prototype flying car. I have to admit that I am a bit skeptical about whether it can actually fly, but the company says they are close to the first test flight. It will be interesting to see what happens.

 

Of course, Osh isn’t just about planes – it is about the people as well. I’ve gotten to see so many old friends! It truly is an aviation family reunion. I especially enjoy watching new attendees take in Osh for the first time and fall in love with it just as I did. Who knows – maybe some of them will end up becoming lifetime members too.

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Show before the Show – OSH19

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. I’m talking about Airventure Oshkosh, of course! It’s my happy place. The place where everyone understands me. The place of 10,000 airplanes. It is so much better than Christmas!

I arrived early once again this year.  Unfortunately, so did the rain in the form of a series of intense thunderstorms. It halted all arrivals and turned the Airventure grounds into a marsh. Needless to say I spent quite a bit of time in my car, waiting out the deluge.

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Once the rain stopped I made the first of what are sure to be many trips deep into the heart of Camp Scholler. Why? I have friends who are staying there in a rented RV. More importantly, they have my beer  And my cookies. My observations of Camp Scholler thus far:

– It’s huge.

– The people are super-friendly and will give you rides on their golf carts.

– Like the rest of Airventure currently, a good portion of it is under water.

– Did I mention that it’s huge?

15D1999E-DED7-4757-B8CA-86BD39920EB3Sunday I started off visiting the actual airport terminal. After all, this blog is called Tales From the Terminal so it seemed like a good idea to stop by. It was quiet. And small. But there’s an airplane hanging inside which automatically makes it excellent. I ran into a group of Airventure newbies who needed some advice on how how to get their wristbands and I was happy to point them in the right direction.

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The rest of the day was spent wandering the Airventure grounds watching airplanes. The arrivals have been much quieter this year because of all the rain – the aircraft camping areas are under water so none of the GA aircraft were allowed in until very late in the day. Thankfully there were still lots of amazing airplanes to see.

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The day ended at the Redbird Preflight Reception which was held at their exhibit tent just off the main plaza.  I got a chance to take a peek inside some of sims, which are all very nice. I also got a chance to catch up with many old friends who were also at the event.

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On Monday Airventure officially begins. I am super excited to see the A-10 and F-35 demo teams. I’m also looking forward to seeing the new KC 46 Pegasus tanker which is scheduled to arrive in the evening. Of course some of the best moments at Oshkosh happen completely unexpectedly.  I don’t know what adventure will come my way, but I’m ready so bring it on!

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Aviation Therapy

38311024_UnknownI set a goal for this year of at least two blog posts per month and I was doing pretty well… but then life events forced me to put writing on hold for a while. You see, my mother passed away somewhat unexpectedly at the end of May. Those of you who know me or who have followed this blog for a few years will remember that my father passed away back in 2016. Losing my mom means that both my parents are gone now, which means my brother and I face the added stress of dealing with my mom’s estate. Definitely not fun.

38312176_UnknownEveryone copes with grief in their own way. For some people the idea of returning to work after a loss might be unbearable. For me, however, going back to work was a lifeline. It allowed me to get back into a routine, but more importantly, it provided me with a much-needed daily dose of aviation therapy. And oh my goodness what excellent therapy it has been!

When I pulled into the parking lot on my first day back I noticed there was a large airplane sitting across the airfield, but I was too distracted to give it a lot of thought. However, when I got to my department I could clearly see an Atlas 747 sitting on the south ramp. Atlas always flies into the cargo airport – why was it at the passenger airport? Actually, who the heck cares!  I’m just so glad I got to see it.  (For those who are wondering, it was a military charter flight.)

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

That was just the start of several days of really great plane spotting. Some of the planes I got to see included:

A whole bunch of bizjets from Target Inc. (Target has great taste in airplanes!)

 

 

A KC-135 practicing touch-and-goes.

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A beautiful Cessna 195:

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Three big beauties headed to the cargo airport:

 

A sweet little Skylane:

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A Hondajet:

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A National Air 757:

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And perhaps best of all, two A-10s! Sadly I couldn’t get a good picture of them because of how they were parked. But that’s OK. Getting to see them at all was a huge treat that really lifted my spirits.

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However, the ultimate in aviation therapy is just a month away – Airventure Oshkosh.  Once again I plan to be there all week.  As always, I’ll be handing out bacon jerky at Oshbash so if you’ll be at Airventure on Tuesday, July 23, please join us.  No, not even 10,000 airplanes can make up for the loss of my mom.  But I can’t think of a better place to find my smile again.  Hope to see you there!38311936_Unknown

 

Lunch with Champaign Lady

IMG_1409Regular readers may recall that earlier this year I set a goal for myself (and anyone else who wants to play along) of checking out at least 5 GA airports not previously visited. That’s right- it’s the 2019 Airport Challenge! Recently I took a step towards meeting that goal by spending a day at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio. This little airport has pretty much everything you could ask for: plenty of GA traffic, an excellent restaurant and not one but TWO aviation museums!

Along on the journey was my friend Jim Thompson, former stairs truck driver for a major airline (now retired) and current airport ambassador. We started our visit at the Grimes Flying Lab Museum. This museum is only open on Saturday mornings so I’m really glad we timed our trip to allow us to see it.

Housed in a single hangar, the exhibits are a showcase of the life and work of Warren Grimes, who founded an aircraft lighting company in the mid-1920s. The collection includes pretty much every type of lighting you can think of… and probably some you didn’t! The centerpiece of the collection is a C45-H which was used as a test bed and is decked out with so many lights it looks rather like a flying disco. It. Is. AWESOME!

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After an hour or so we made our way over to the other museum on the field – the Champaign Aviation Museum. The first thing I noticed when we walked in the door was a C-47 on display.  These planes played an important role in WWII, particularly during the invasion of Normandy when more than 50,000 paratroopers jumped from them.  With the 75th Anniversary of D-Day coming up in just a few weeks, I appreciated the chance to get an up close look at such an iconic airplane.

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This particular warbird spent some time in the civilian world.

The next thing to catch my attention was the B-17 in pieces at the far side of the hangar. Named Champaign Lady, it is undergoing a ground-up restoration using various parts from other B-17s as well as some newly fabricated pieces. It was fascinating to see how it is being assembled. It’s even more impressive when you consider it is being constructed by volunteers! One of them spent some time talking with us about the challenges of tracking down parts and securing detailed plans for such an old plane. It is definitely a labor of love. I’m really looking forward to the day when she is ready to fly.

Also at the museum is my old friend the B-25 Champaign Gal. I’ve seen her at many aviation events and if you’ve checked out my “about the blogger” page, there’s a picture of the two of us together. There were quite a number of other exhibits related to World War II including uniforms, wedding dresses made from parachutes and many, many photographs.

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My favorite exhibit, however, featured the Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly referred to as the WASPs. The museum has life-sized cut-outs of at least a dozen WASPs, each of which is holding a poster-sized information sheet which includes a photograph of themselves from WWII, their nickname, what planes they flew and an anecdote from their time in the service. Some of their tales are absolutely priceless! The exhibit brings the WASPs to life in a way that history books cannot. I found myself desperately wishing I could have met those ladies in person!

After we left the museum we did what any self-respecting avgeek does – we grabbed some lunch and hung around and watched airplanes! One of the best things about GA airports is how close you can get to the ramp areas. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of planes that flew in while we were there.

So, what GA airfield have you visited recently? Need some suggestions of where to go? Check out eatattheairport.com! And if you are anywhere near Urbana, OH (or even if you aren’t) plan a visit to Grimes Field. Just make sure you get a piece of ridiculously delicious pie at the cafe – because the only thing better than spending a day with airplanes is spending a day with airplanes AND pie!

Want to learn more about the Champaign Aviation Museum? Check out episode 548 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast in which they interview Aimee Brower who handles public affairs, donor relations, and education.

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Photo by Jim Thompson

One Hundred (and then some)!

one hundredWoah! 100 posts? Have I really written that many? Actually… now that I’ve added them up it turns out I’ve written 103 altogether! Apparently I sailed right by the big 100 milestone without even realizing it. Oops!

So how did I get here? Well I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I landed my current job at the airport that I found something I really wanted to write about on a consistent basis. And I quickly discovered that there is so much more to life at an airport than just airplanes. There are snowplows and water canon salutes and sunrises on the airfield. I’ve helped on the deice pad, visited ATC towers, and stood on a taxiway to watch an A350 land. I’ve ridden in a broom truck, sat in a stairs truck and driven an ops truck. I truly am a kid in a candy store every day.

37778512_UnknownOf course when I hit publish on that first post I had no idea whether anyone would actually read it. 100 posts later, I’m a bit shocked to discover I have readers from over 120 different countries. (Seriously? Wow!) As you might imagine, many come from places like the US, UK, Canada, Australia and France. However there are some readers from countries I didn’t expect, like Aruba (reading about stairs trucks on the beach, no doubt) and Nepal (probably learning about deicing whilst hiking the Himalayas).

People have stumbled onto my blog in a variety of different ways. Most find it through social media, however I’ve also gotten views from readers who have shared it with their friends or posted links to it online. (It’s a really great feeling when that happens!) I get traffic from search engines too. It amuses me to see the search phrases that have somehow led people to my blog. Here are a few of my favorites:37778416_Unknown

“Mobile stairs airfield” Yeah, this one is a no-brainer.

“Useless airport trivia” Yep, I’ve got lots of that!

“Fun jobs with finance degree” Actually, I don’t have a finance degree. Shhhh! Don’t tell!

“Beer Emergency Vehicle” Where the heck is that when I need it?

“How to drive airport stairs” Stay tuned! I hope to be able to give a first-hand report on this one of these days!

37778240_UnknownMy most viewed post so far is: Airline Fees That THEY Have to Pay. I really didn’t expect that a post about something I do every day (invoicing airlines) would be very popular.  In fact, I actually put off writing it for over a year because I wasn’t sure anyone would find it interesting. Doh!

One of my most defining moments as a blogger (so far) came in 2017.  That was the year I first got media credentials for Airventure. The Blue Angels were there and I got to interview one of the pilots. The experience went something like this: OMG I have media credentials! OMG the Blue Angels! OMG I have absolutely no idea what to ask! Thank goodness Lt. Benson was a class act who not only answered my questions (once I managed to think of some), but also posed for a photo with me. If you had told me when I started writing this blog that I would be interviewing the Blue Angels at Oshkosh I never would have believed it!IMG_0429

So what’s next? Well I’ve been toying with the idea of incorporating more videos into my posts. And you never know when I might pop up on a podcast (or two). But mostly I plan to continue having adventures at the airport and writing about them.  I hope you’ll continue to follow along!

THANK YOU so much for reading and for all your support!

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The Numbers Behind the Passenger Numbers

37774304_unknown.jpgAccording to a quick Google search, Pittsburgh International Airport saw around 9 million passengers in 2018. Chicago Midway had 22 million. Tampa had around 21 million. My airport saw just over 8 million passengers – the most ever. That’s great! Or is it? How does an airport know whether the number of passengers they are serving is good or not?

Load factors 

One useful metric is the load factor. You may have seen this used to determine how well an airline is performing in general, but in this case airports are looking specifically at the load factors for flights into and out of their cities. In the simplest sense, the load factor is a measure of how full the flights are. It is calculated by comparing the number of paying passengers against the total number of seats that were available. For example, if ABC Airlines had 5 flights in and 5 flights out of the airport and used airplanes with 100 seats each, that’s a total of 1,000 seats available. If each plane had 75 paying passengers on board, then there were 750 passengers total, and the load factor is 75%.

IMG_1207I can’t speak to how other airports collect passenger data, but my airport does it via monthly reports that are submitted by the airlines. Each report includes the type of planes used, the number of landings for each, the number of passengers, etc. From that information we can determine the total number of seats and, in turn, calculate the load factors for each airline, as well as an average load factor for all flights during the month.

Higher load factors mean fuller airplanes which means better profit margins for the airlines. When flights aren’t profitable guess what usually happens? Yep – they go away.  Not good! While the monthly load factors are useful, it is also important to look at trends over time. Comparing the numbers from the last few years I noticed that the average monthly load factor at my airport has increased more than 5% – and it was fairly strong to begin with. We definitely like to see that!

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Photo by Jnpet, Creative Commons License

Heavier metal

Of course load factors are just one piece of the story. Another metric to look at is the types of planes that are being used, and how that usage shifts over time. A high load factor on a small plane is good. But when the number of passengers becomes strong enough to justify moving up to a bigger airplane, that’s better. And when the load factors start growing on the bigger airplane, that’s better still!

Let’s take the humble CRJ for example. To keep it simple I’ll combine the stats for the 200, 700 and 900 together. In February 2019 there were roughly 100 fewer CRJ landings than in February 2018. However, there were 100 more Airbus 319/320 landings, and 50 more Boeing 737 landings. Some of those increases were due to added flights and Mad Dogs being retired, but many were the result of a shift to bigger mainline planes and fewer regional ones. That comes out to several thousand more seats available in February 2019 vs 2018. At the same time, the load factors remained strong. Yes! That makes us very happy! (Don’t you worry – we still love the CRJ!  Although the number of flights may have decreased, we still see PLENTY of them around.)

37509824_UnknownMax effect

You may be wondering what kind of impact the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max is having on all this. That’s a fairly complex matter. Certainly there have been some cancellations. Looking just at the airlines that fly the Max into my airport and comparing the number of flights that were scheduled against the number of flights that actually happened, there was a drop of about 3%. That may not seem like a high number, but then again, that was just for half the month. It remains to be seen what the long term implications will be.  If you are curious to know how an airline copes when some of its planes are grounded, the Flying and Life Podcast gave a really good overview of what steps they have to take to re-book stranded passengers and rework their schedules. I strongly encourage you to check it out!37507712_Unknown

Lies, Damn Lies and…

The numbers are, of course, just a snapshot in time and there are a whole lot of factors that the airlines consider when deciding which planes to fly on what routes. Things can change from month to month and season to season. That’s why the airport has people much smarter than myself who track and analyze all this data. But every now and then I like to take a peek and see how things are looking. Maybe one of these days I’ll see an A350 on the stats sheet. Or a 777! OK, so it’s not very likely.  But, hey – an avgeek can dream!

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Not an airliner.  I just couldn’t resist adding a pic of this sweet bizjet!

 

Museum Mayhem (Part 2): Navy Air Museum

IMG_0571By now you know how much I love aviation museums. They’re the perfect way to chase away the winter blues. But recently I found something even better. What could be better than aviation museums? Aviation museums IN FLORIDA. And when you only have time to visit one aviation museum in Florida then your destination HAS to be Pensacola. Why? Because that’s where the National Museum of Naval Aviation is.

IMG_0573This museum doesn’t pull any punches. The first thing you see when you arrive is an F-14. And it’s not just sitting tamely by the front door. No, it’s up on a pedestal, wings swept back, looking as intense and as mean as only an F-14 can look. And did I mention that it is located on an active Naval Air Station? That’s right – there’s gates and guards and people in uniform everywhere. It’s awesome.

IMG_0586Once inside it just gets better. There is pretty much every Navy airplane you can think of. There are also a whole bunch you didn’t think of. Take flying boats, for example. Sure I’d heard of them. I’ve seen the Martin Mars at Oshkosh so I know how impressive they can be. Yet somehow the flying boats at the Navy Air Museum managed to be even more impressive still. Perhaps it’s the way they drawf everything around them. Maybe it’s the way they are a perfect blend of boat and airplane. Whatever reason, I fell instantly and completely in love with them!

The main part of the museum has two floors that are crammed full of airplanes and displays, including an exhibit on lighter-than-air ships and an extensive display of airplane engines. (I finally understand how a radial engine works!) There is also an impressive WWII area that gives you a taste of what life was like on board an aircraft carrier.  The second floor of the museum is open to the main gallery areas which I LOVE because it allows you to look closely at the planes that are suspended from the ceiling. I could have spent the entire day in the main building, but I didn’t because there’s a second building that I just HAD to see – Hangar Bay One.

37507296_UnknownThere was one airplane that I had been searching for the whole visit and I finally tracked it down in Hangar Bay One. No, not the F-14 or the F-18 or the F-4  (although they are all there and they all ROCK).  The plane I was looking for was the Bird Dog. Yes, that’s right. Tucked in the midst of all these power-house fighters is an ordinary little plane that looks a lot like a Cessna… because it is. But it’s not your ordinary GA airplane. It’s a Cessna that landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier, flown by a pilot who had never even seen a carrier before, much less landed on one. Did I mention there were seven people crammed into the plane’s small cabin? You absolutely MUST hear the full story. I highly recommend you listen to Captain Nick’s Plane Tale about it. 

Hangar Bay one also includes exhibits on female naval aviators, the coast guard and the space program.  There are also lots of stand-alone cockpits that you can climb into.  As is always the case, there are never enough hours in the day to really see and do everything I wanted.  However, I did make some time to stop at the museum store on my way out.

The one thing I didn’t get to do during my visit was take a look at the airplanes that are parked out back. I didn’t realize that the only way to see them is via trolley tour. The tours fill up fast and unfortunately by the time I tried to sign up, it was too late. But that’s OK. Now I have an excuse to go back (as if I really needed one).  If you ever find yourself in the area you absolutely MUST visit this museum.  And yes, it’s totally OK to listen to the Top Gun theme on the drive in

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I love airplanes with teeth!