My Favorite Places


One of Southwest’s fancy-pants liveries, as seen from the top of the garage.

The best part of being an avgeek at the airport is the view outside the window. True, most of my day I’m at my desk, working. But when I’m on break I make a beeline for one of my favorite viewing spots. I have discussed some these locations previously in different contexts. However, it occurred to me that these places are such a big part of my airport experience that they really deserve a post of their own.

My Five Faves:

Apron: What’s not to love about the apron? There’s nothing but open space between me and some very cool airplanes! I don’t think you can fully appreciate an airplane until you see it fly AND until you can stand next to it on the ground – the enormity of the tail, the beauty of the swept-back wings, the power of the engines. If there’s a downside to the apron it’s that I pretty much only go out there to get from point A to point B – I can’t just stand around and admire the scenery, even though I really want to. Plus there is the ever-present temptation to “borrow” the motorized stairs.

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Storm clouds over the airfield, as seen from the employee lot.

Employee Lot: Sounds crazy but this is one of my very favorite places at the airport. I always park as close to the runway as I can, which gives me a great view of the airfield. In the summer it’s really beautiful – all green grass and gold flowers with blue skies and puffy clouds. The air is filled with the sound of little birds singing… and jet engines. It smells of mowed lawn, flowers… and Jet A fuel. And best of all, I can enjoy the scenery from the comfort of my car.

Top of the Garage: The closest I can get to being alone during the work day is atop the parking garage. From here I get an almost 360 degree view of the airport. There’s always something interesting to see. My only regret is that there isn’t anywhere to sit. I’ve been soooo tempted to sit on top of the cars, but something tells me that would be frowned upon.


Make sure you stay between the lines! Creative line painting at Airfield Maintenance.

Concourse B: When the weather is too cruddy to go on top of the garage, I almost always head to Concourse B. It is at the back (eastern edge) of the airport and offers nice views of both runways. Plus there’s an excellent view of the large open space behind the airport where de-icing takes place in the winter. Portions of B aren’t used much mid-day so I can usually find a quiet corner to tuck myself into. And I’ve memorized where the bathrooms are located – so go ahead and ask!


Part of the view from my favorite conference room.

Conference Room: My favorite conference room is up on the third floor, overlooking Concourse B. It has a nice view of the north runway and you can see part of the south runway from there as well. Unfortunately it doubles as the Emergency Ops Center and is kept locked so there’s no way to sneak in for a little plane spotting when the room isn’t in use. Still, it provides some awesome scenery to look at during boring meetings… er I mean during breaks.

Honorable Mention:

McDonalds/Cell Phone Lot/Hotel Lots: Want fries to go with that Airbus 319 blasting off directly in front of you? The McD’s parking lot has a great view of the north runway. And really, what goes better with plane spotting than fries and a milkshake? The cell phone lot or the parking lots behind the hotels would probably also be good viewing locations, although I haven’t tried them… yet.


Wanna race?

Golf Course: The Airport Golf Course is conveniently located just off the eastern end of the runways. I imagine the distraction of planes flying low directly over your head might have a negative impact on your golf game, but who cares – the view is spectacular! And anyway, I don’t play golf. In fact, as a kid I broke my ankle playing putt-putt. No I’m not kidding.

Airfield Maintenance Facility: Although you can see the north runway pretty well from the AFM buildings, it’s not the best place for plane spotting. But that’s OK because there are so many other cool things to see. When was the last time you got to take a close-up look at a broom truck? And you can’t really comprehend the enormity of a snow plow until you stand next to it. Of course, much like the Apron, the AFM Buildings are filled with temptations. Fortunately, it’s unlikely I could figure out how to start a plow let alone take one for a joyride.


Is that a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor? Why yes, it is! I’ll be guest posting the story – details about where and when coming soon!

Avgeek at the Airport: 6 Month Assessment

IMG_5163June 1st marked 6 months since I started my job at the airport.  This seems like a good time to pause and assess how things are going.  What have I accomplished?  What do I still need to work on? No, I’m not talking about my accounting responsibilities. Who cares about those? I’m talking about as an AVGEEK! After all, the whole point of working at the airport is to experience (if only in a small way) the wonderful world of airplanes. So let’s see how I’ve done.


– I’m starting to recognize some of the commercial airplanes just by the sound of their engines.  No, I’m nowhere near as good as most of you probably are, and I freely admit I still have lots of work to do. But still, I consider this to be a fairly major accomplishment, especially since I’m not a pilot and I don’t work with airplanes every day.  I work in accounting, remember?IMG_5166

– I have developed a general sense of the rhythm and flow of airport operations.  I can tell before I even get to the airport what direction planes will be taking off and landing and I know generally when certain flights are expected to arrive and depart. For example, if it is after lunch and I hear an airplane pull up to gate B19, I know it’s roughly 3pm. Conversely, if I glance up at the clock and see that it is 3:30pm but there’s no plane at B19, I know there has either been a gate change or someone somewhere is dealing with grumpy passengers.IMG_4837

– I’ve been to the Airfield Maintenance building multiple times and have secured a promise from the supervisors that they’ll take me out in one of the snowplows next winter.  Sure, they tried to scare me off by telling me they’ll call at 2am during the next storm of the century, but that just shows that they don’t know me very well. If it means I get to go up and down the runway in a plow then hell yes I will ABSOLUTELY be there at 2am, even if I have to hitch my dogs to a sled to get there!FullSizeRender (3)

– I have been behind the scenes in that mysterious area where the baggage conveyor goes.  And you know what’s there? More conveyors! They’re everywhere!  And where there aren’t conveyors there are tugs and baggage trolleys.  It’s really rather fascinating. It’s also rather dangerous – those baggage handlers are in a hurry so I am careful where I walk and I look twice before I cross any walkways. Passengers apparently don’t like blood and body parts stuck to their luggage.

– I’ve been to the FBO at the cargo airport and, of course, I recently got the chance to get up close and personal with an Emirates Cargo 777.FullSizeRender (2)

– I’m comfortable traversing the apron to go to a variety of destinations including Administration, Concourse A and Baggage Claim. If I can get somewhere by crossing the apron I generally will.  And if I happen to pause to take a pic or two or a dozen, well who can blame me?

– I know the breeds of all four airport K9s (two German Shepherds and two German Shorthair Pointers), as well as their names.  And I’ve met two of them personally.  In fact, one suddenly appeared in my cubicle, sniffed around briefly and then departed.  Apparently since I had neither bomb-making materials nor dog treats in my possession, I was not worth his continued interest. (The HR lady down the hall, however, keeps dog treats in her desk.  She is VERY popular.)IMG_5022

– I’ve ventured into the bowels of the airport basement and lived to tell about it.  Yes, the airport has a basement, and parts of it are creepy as hell.  I’m not kidding.  It’s a labyrinth of dark passages and hallways that seem to go haphazardly in all directions.  There’s one area that recedes into what is essentially a giant crawl space so that the predominant feature is dirt – dirt walls, dirt floor and giant mounds of dirt in the middle. It doesn’t sound very hospitable but actually there are bunches of people who work down there.  Before you go feeling too sorry for them let me point out that if we ever get attacked by zombies, they’re in the perfect place to safely hide out and hopefully launch a counter attack.

Continued Goals

– While I’ve spent lots of time in Concourse B and I occasionally wander over to Concourse A, I have yet to get into Concourse C. Gaining access to C is important because charter flights typically fly in and out of there so I’m missing some cool photo opportunities.IMG_5181

– I haven’t been to the GA airport yet so I’m making plans to go.  After all, I can’t properly pay the bills for an airport I’ve never seen!  (Well OK, yes I can – but please don’t tell my boss!)

– I need to get back to the FBO at the cargo airport again (preferably on a day when one of the 747s is there). Unlike the FBO at the passenger airport, which is run by a third party, the FBO at the cargo airport is run by the airport itself.  And guess what the FBO has in its possession?  That’s right – a stairs truck! *insert evil laugh here* Oh yes, stairs truck, you WILL be mine! Or at least maybe I can convince someone to give me a ride. Hey, it’s good to have goals, right?

Moments Like This

777If you are at all familiar with this blog then you know that I work in accounting for a medium-sized airport in the US. There are actually three airports run by the authority – one primarily for passengers (where my office is located), one primarily for cargo and a small GA airport. A couple weeks ago my department manager received an email inviting employees to witness the first scheduled arrival of an Emirates Boeing 777 into the cargo airport. She tracked me down to inquire if I might be interested.  Are you kidding me???  Oh heck yes I was interested!!!

motorized stairs

There was nothing but empty space between me and the stairs. I could have made a run for them, but using all my willpower I managed to behave. Barely.

So the following Wednesday five of us hopped into a pool vehicle and drove about 20 minutes to the cargo airport. We parked at a nearby hangar and got onto a shuttle which drove us out onto the airfield.  Riding with us in the shuttle were members of the news media as well as officials from Emirates.  This required me to be on my best behavior, which was a pretty tall order anyway given how excited I was, but it became even more of a challenge when we arrived at our viewing location and I was greeted by one of my biggest temptations – the motorized stairs! We had to wait about 15 minutes for the flight to arrive. 15 looooong minutes in which I tried not to think how tantalizingly close the stairs were.  Fortunately I was able to distract myself by tracking the flight, tweeting updates and chatting with the other people who were there.  Finally the Director of Operations announced that the flight was in a left base turn. None of my coworkers had any idea what that meant, but I did! I was practically jumping up and down with excitement. OK, who am I kidding – I WAS jumping up and down with excitement! We looked anxiously to the east and finally we saw a small dot, which got bigger, and bigger until finally…


Nice landing!

While we were waiting for the airplane to exit the runway and taxi back to us, the fire trucks got into position for the water cannon salute. It felt like it took forever but really it was only just a few minutes before the plane returned, giving us a lovely photo op as it taxied by: Emirates 1 Emirates 2 All I could think of at this point was, “Isn’t it gorgeous?!?!” Followed closely by “I cannot believe they are letting me get this close to that airplane!” And then “Hey – where’d the motorized stairs go?” But I quickly forgot the stairs as the airplane swung around and taxied directly at us. And then the water cannons fired up.  This was the first time I have ever witnessed a water cannon salute and I have to say it was quite impressive.  My picture really doesn’t do it justice: Water cannon 1 The plane continued forward until it was pretty much right in front of us.  At this point my favorite piece of airport equipment swung into action.

Action Stairs

Oh no! How will we get the crew out? Never fear – the mobile stairs are here!

We were allowed to take pictures for several minutes while the stairs were getting into position.  Then an airport representative approached us and said that the pilots were going through customs and we were not permitted to take photographs during that time. This seemed a bit odd since the pilots were inside the plane and we could neither see nor hear what they were doing.  After maybe ten minutes or so they exited down the stairs and got onto a shuttle which took them to the terminal to finish the customs process. As an aside I have to say I felt a bit sorry for the crew.  They had just flown from Copenhagen (almost 9 hours), only to land at an airport that is, essentially, in the middle of nowhere.  There are no restaurants at this airport, and no hotels. If you want food or drink or a place to relax, you’ll have to drive to get there.  Oh wait… there aren’t any rental cars or buses either. Oops! Oh well, I guess it’s vending machines and FBO coffee for you! Welcome to America! Once the pilots departed we were free to resume taking pictures. At the same time, the crews raced into action to begin the process of unloading the cargo:

cargo 1

The pallets are on rollers to enable to crews to maneuver them out the door and onto the raised lifts.

Cargo 3

The pallets are lowered until they can be moved onto the carts. We were told there was a super high-dollar sports car on the lower cargo deck but it was continuing on to Chicago.

Cargo 5

As each pallet is secured to the cart, it is pulled forward by the tug and the next pallet is loaded, and so on. The crews work fast!

While the freight was being unloaded the fuel truck arrived and began refueling the plane. refueling As you can imagine, I was in avgeek heaven this whole time.  I simply couldn’t believe I was allowed to be so close to such an amazing airplane. Moments like THIS are exactly why I chose to work at the airport. I REALLY wanted to stay longer, but sadly there were papers to push and meetings to attend so we had to leave. Thankfully I have some pretty good pictures and some fabulous memories to take with me.  And I’m hoping to get down to the cargo airport again soon – this time to visit with one of the gorgeous 747-8s that fly in every week!

Stairs side

I tried to take pictures from a variety of angles.


Snapped this pic as we were leaving the airfield.


Our last look at her as we drove away. Told you the airport is in the middle of nowhere!

If you like cargo planes and want to learn more about the life of a cargo pilot I STRONGLY recommend you follow pilots Ken Hoke and Brian Cattle on twitter. In addition, Ken has written an excellent piece on the anatomy of a cargo plane which is a must-read for any avgeek.