ATC at OSH18

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Days two and three at Osh 2018 were a whirlwind of activity. (Airventure is amazing but also totally exhausting.) Monday we spent some time wandering in the War Birds area. It is the 80th anniversary of the T-6 and there are so many of them! I also found my favorite P-51 – Old Crow.

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In the afternoon we attended Oshbash,  and then I was Mike’s guest at the Lifetime Member’s dinner. This was my first chance to take a look at the EAA Museum. It is very impressive! The dinner was delicious and the speaker was very engaging.

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Wednesday held probably the most anticipated moment of this year’s Airventure: a visit to the Oshkosh ATC tower. Before I get into details, consider that during the week of Airventure this tower is the third busiest in the country behind Chicago and Atlanta. Consider further that the approach controllers are sitting at a trailer out in a field with binoculars. It sounds crazy. Really crazy. But thanks to a lot of hard work on the part of the ATCers who volunteer to be here, it works.

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Our visit started right at the top with a trip to the cab. As you might expect, the view was stupendous. Getting to watch and listen to the controllers at work was fascinating. They work in teams with one person on the radio and two others standing next to them supplying  information. When you look at the activity around the field and you listen to the controllers managing it all, you gain a whole new appreciation for the system. I could have stayed up there all day. Actually, all week. Or even all year. (I’m sure my boss wouldn’t mind. Much.)

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Eventually we went back down to ground level for a meeting with the Air Traffic Control Manager, Tim Fitzgerald. He was a very engaging person who clearly loves his job. Most of the year Oshkosh is a contract tower but during the 9 days of Airventure the FAA comes in to run the show. (They also run the tower at Fond du Lac, which is normally uncontrolled.) They coordinate with the other sectors most heavily involved in routing traffic over to Osh (like Chicago Center) to put together the NOTAM which they release a few months before the show opens. (They’ll start working on next year’s NOTAM about a week or so after this year’s show ends!)

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He told us that controllers volunteer for the assignment. They get all the SOPs and materials about two months in advance. Then they spend a full day in training before the show opens. During the week controllers will rotate through all the positions – OSH tower, Fisk arrival, etc. And it doesn’t matter how experienced you are as a controller, at Airventure you’re considered a rookie until you’ve done at least two years.

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Once again I strongly encourage you to listen to the Flying and Life podcast. Mike did an amazing interview and you REALLY don’t want to miss it. (You know an interview is good when the chat continues for several minutes after the interview ends AND they tell you how much they enjoyed it.)

More Osh goodness will be coming up soon!

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Osh 18: Day One

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At long last it has finally happened – Airventure 2018 has started. As always, every day is packed with all kinds of aviation awesomeness, and Monday was no exception.

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The day began with breakfast at the media tent. From there I headed down to Boeing Plaza where Mike from the Flying and Life podcast and I toured the Honeywell Boeing 757 test plane. It looks like a regular 757 except it has a huge propellor sticking up on one side. Inside we were able to see the computer stations where technicians monitor the test engine in flight.

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Shortly after that the new C Series from Bombardier arrived. Yes, I know it is being called an Airbus 220 now, but it’s still a C Series to me. Since i happened to be right there I decided to take a tour of it too. The cockpit is GORGEOUS. And the cabin was really quite comfortable. The seats were set at different pitches so you could sit in different locations and get a feel for how comfortable the seats might be in different configurations. The middle seats were designed to be a bit wider, which I thought was a great idea.

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In the afternoon we attended a media briefing from Piper, as well as one from Jack Pelton of EAA. He told us there were 3,000 landings on Sunday. Considering that the airport was only open for VFR flights for about 9 hours due to the morning rain, that’s a pretty crazy number. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring around Boeing Plaza and watching the airshow.

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The day wrapped up at Hartzel’s Hops and Props party. There was music and food and tents and places to sit and relax. It was an excellent way to end day one.

Want more Osh??? (Who doesn’t want more Osh!) Check out the Flying and Life podcast all this week for updates and interviews. And you might even hear from me!

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OSH 18 Pre-game

F89B8A11-7ACF-4CD9-9A9A-6E37C80C6568It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m NOT talking about Christmas. I’m talking about EAA’s Airventure 2018, better known as simply, “Osh.” I’m excited to once again be blogging live from the event. You can expect several posts over the course of this week as I share my adventures.

This year I decided to arrive on Saturday in the hopes of catching some of the mass arrivals into Osh on Sunday. The drive up was long and wet as there was rain and lots of traffic. On the bright side, however,  some of that traffic was around ORD which allowed me to watch the departures for awhile. Theoretically I arrived at Osh early enough that I should have seen some arrivals but NOPE! It was raining. So I had dinner with a friend and went to bed early.

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Because this week is always so hectic, I decided to sleep in a little on Sunday. Probably just as well since it was STILL RAINING. I ran some errands in the morning which turned out to be a very good thing because the clouds parted and the sun came out and the planes started arriving.

My friend, Hillel, suggested I join him on the deck of the flight operations building to watch the landings on runway 9. Oh my goodness what an amazing place to watch from! It was soooo much fun. Below are some pics of what I got to see. And check out the Fisk arrivals on LiveATC.net – talk about organized chaos! Stay tuned for more posts through-out the week.

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You can always go around!

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View from the deck

Anatomy of a Go-Around

IMG_6061I’ve been around the airport long enough now that I’ve witnessed many go-arounds. They always grab my attention because the plane passes low over the airport in a way that is different from the usual pattern. Most of the time I don’t have any idea why they are going around, although once I had my scanner on and heard the pilots mention wind shear.

However, recently I happened to be watching as a situation unfolded which required a flight to go around. Not only was I able to witness the events leading up to the go-around, but I was fortunate enough to have my scanner on so I could hear what was going on, plus I had my camera and was able to grab some pics and video.  Even better, I found the audio on LiveATC.net so I was able to review both the photos and the audio and put it together into a video which I’m sharing with you!

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This stairs truck had nothing to do with the go-around.  I just love stairs trucks and this is a really cool one.  Thanks Dr Stephanie Plummer for taking and sharing the pic!

Before I get into the details I want to make it clear that I’m not judging or assessing blame. This is just my account of what I saw and heard. Everyone involved in this situation handled it well and everyone eventually successfully completed their journey – which is, of course, always the goal.

The Scene

The day was warm and sunny with puffy clouds. I don’t have the metars, unfortunately, but as you’ll be able to see in the video, visibility was generally good and any breeze was light.

The airport has two parallel runways, but one of them was closed at the time. This means there was twice as much traffic using the active runway. In fact, the plane that went around would normally have been landing on the other runway, a fact that is significant in the context of this event.

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The Players

There were three planes that were involved: a Vistajet Global 6000, a Delta Boeing 737-800 and a small business jet, whose make and type I didn’t happen to catch. The little bizjet had just landed, the Vistajet was preparing to depart and the Delta was on final.

The Event

If you’ve spent any time watching a busy airport in operation you’ll know that there’s a certain rhythm to it. A plane lands,  it clears the runway, a plane takes off, the next plane lands, etc. ATC establishes this rhythm and manages the separation to keep the flow going smoothly. I actually quite enjoy watching single runway operations because then everything happens right in front of me. This particular event occurred during the evening rush when there is more activity on the airfield.

After the little bizjet landed, ATC cleared Vistajet to line up and wait. Although you can’t hear it on the LiveATC recording, ATC let Vistajet know that there was a 737 on a four mile final. My first inkling that we might have an issue was that the bizjet seemed a little slow to exit the runway.

IMG_6064Once the bizjet turned onto a taxiway, ATC cleared Vistajet to take off. They then cleared the Delta flight to land, noting that departing traffic was on the roll. Except it wasn’t. I watched as Vistajet sat at the end of the runway while the Delta continued on final. It was pretty clear that if Vistajet didn’t get moving ASAP there was going to be a situation.

Sure enough the Tower commanded Vistajet to expedite off the runway via the nearest taxiway. I would imagine the Vistajet pilots were focused on preparing to take off, so the sudden command to taxi instead probably took them a moment to digest. When they didn’t move right away, and with Delta still on approach, ATC again commanded Vistajet to exit the runway. I’ve listened to ATC handling all kinds of situations in all kinds of weather and they always sound completely calm and collected. In this case, however, there was no mistaking the urgency in the controller’s voice.

IMG_6059Unsurprisingly, the next command from ATC was to cancel Delta’s landing clearance and send them around. The Delta pilot’s response was perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing. While the Vistajet scrambled to exit the runway and the controller sounded a bit tense, the Delta pilot sounded… bored. Like he does go-arounds ten times a day. I’m sure the Delta flight crew were maintaining situational awareness, could tell what was happening and were already preparing to abort the approach.

Now that I’ve set it up for you, here’s the video so you can listen and see for yourself. The audio clip is exactly as it was recorded by LiveATC – I didn’t do any editing other than trimming it to just the incident portion of the recording:

Sure there may have been a tense moment or two and yes the situation caused two planes to be delayed a little bit, but the bottom line is everyone arrived safely at their destination. Vistajet was resequenced for departure and Delta was routed back into the traffic pattern where they made an uneventful landing a few minutes later. On the airfield, as in life, things don’t always go as planned. As long as everyone pays attention, it doesn’t have to be a problem.

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