Only at Osh

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There’s this strange time warp thing that happens the week of Airventure.  For some reason that week goes by faster than any other week of the year. I arrived on Saturday looking forward to a glorious 7 days of airplanes and friends, then *poof* just like that I’m back home again. At Osh time really does fly! Here’s a look at my last couple of days at the world’s best aviation playground.

Days Four and Five

Enlight33I didn’t think anything could top my Wednesday visit to the tower, but Thursday came very close when I had the amazing opportunity to meet SEAN D TUCKER! The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is beginning a seven year renovation project. When they finish there will be a new exhibit which will feature one of Sean D Tucker’s airplanes, which will be hung upside down (of course) at the entrance to the gallery. After the press conference he posed for pictures by his plane. I was overcome by a sudden case of shyness, but Sean D saw me and called me over. He’s such a great person!

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The other big event on Thursday was a visit to the Seaplane Base. I have been trying to get over there for years and was so excited to finally make it. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that the Seaplane Base is an oasis. It’s set on a lagoon in the middle of the woods and it is calm and peaceful. We took the boat tour which only takes about ten minutes and is totally worth it.

Thursday concluded with the night show, which was rained out on Wednesday and then rescheduled. HUGE shout-out to EAA for doing that! I was so sad to think I wouldn’t see a night show this year and was thrilled that I got to see one after all. There were all the usual night displays we’ve come to love, but this year they added a drone display. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was actually pretty cool. They used around 100 drones with colored lights to create various shapes and patterns.

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Watching the fireworks with Doc – it’s a tradition!

Friday was a quiet day. I spent some time in the warbirds area watching the activity on runway 27/9. Then I traveled down to the vintage area to watch the air show with friends. It was nice to have a day to relax and take in the sights.

Only at Osh

35256400_UnknownThe expression “only at Osh” is often used by attendees to indicate an event or happening that is unique to Airventure. I had several of those moments. Visiting the ATC tower was one.  Meeting Sean D Tucker was definitely another.  Another happened when Mike’s friend told us we could find him “near the T-6 with the flag.” At any other event that would be sufficient information to find his location. At Osh, however, we searched row after row after row of T-6s and eventually had to call back for a better meeting spot.

I asked some of my friends on social media to share their “Only at Osh” moments. For some it was about the airplanes and the over-all experience:

For others, it was about the people:

And for many it was a combination of things:

For me what makes Osh truly special is… well, Osh!  It’s the place where I see more airplanes on my way to breakfast than I’ll see in a month at home.  It’s the place where I get to spend time with some of my very favorite people.  It’s the place where I get to watch airport operations to my heart’s content.  And, of course, it’s the place where the coolest stairs trucks are.  I’m ready for Osh 19!  Hope to see you there!

Want more Osh 18? Check out my pre-game,  day one and ATC visit posts.  Also, you MUST give a listen to the Flying and Life podcast! I even make a special appearance.  Or two. Or three…

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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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(Av)Geeking Out

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Summer is finally here and that means it’s time to use some of those vacation days I’ve been hoarding. Hooray! As you know, I like to spend my vacation from the airport at other airports. This year I’ve added a new airport to my list of vacation destinations!

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center//Dulles International Airport

34982400_UnknownA couple weeks ago I made my first ever trip to the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly VA for their annual Innovations in Flight Family Day. I had the tremendous honor of tagging along with my friends the Airplane Geeks who were there to record some interviews for their podcast. One of the best things about being with the Geeks was getting early access to the center, which means my first look at some of those amazing airplanes came when there was almost no one else around.

34982288_UnknownIf aviation is a religion, then the Udvar-Hazy Center is the holy land. Spending a few quiet moments in the presence of some remarkable airplanes was pretty darn close to a religious experience. I got to see a Concorde for the first time. And a Space Shuttle. And so much more. But the one airplane I most wanted to see was an unassuming little Cessna 180. I located it hanging sedately over the much flashier Concorde. The name of the plane is The Spirit of Columbus. It was piloted by Jerrie Mock – the first woman to fly solo around the world. Such a big journey for such a small airplane!

As is so often the case, two of the most memorable moments I had at Innovations in Flight were completely unplanned. The first was getting a tour of a C-17 by a friend who is a C-17 pilot. There’s nothing like learning about an airplane from someone who flies it! I have a whole new appreciation for the plane and what it can do.

The second memorable moment was taxiing across Dulles in a Cherokee. I know some of you are thinking, “Big deal! You never left the ground!” Yes, that’s true. But hello… we taxied across DULLES!!! In a CHEROKEE!!! An Etihad Dreamliner landed right next to us. We passed a Lufthansa Boeing 747. We got a close look at the international terminal AND the cargo ramp. The airport nerd in me loved every second of the journey!

My day spent at Innovations in Flight was truly wonderful. I am making plans to go back and visit the Udvar-Hazy Center again soon. So how do you follow up such an amazing experience? With an air show, of course!

Vectren Dayton Air Show//Dayton International Airport

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Coming soon: an internet campaign to get me this sign!

I have been to the Dayton airport and air show many times before. However, this was my first visit in several years. I was greeted by my most favorite airport sign in the history of airport signs. I NEED this sign! It would be PERFECT right next to my desk. Or in my front yard. Or my living room. Dear Dayton Airport: if you ever take this sign down PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE give it to me!

Once I entered the static display area I was greeted by some old friends: a C-17, a B-17 from the movie Memphis Belle, an A-10 and so much more! The air show itself was the first live-action test of my snazzy new camera. I still have some learning to do, but I think some of the pics turned out really well!

The Golden Knights were fun to watch, although I can’t imagine jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. The B-17 from the movie Memphis Belle made several passes and was lovely as always.  This was my first time seeing Redline – a two-person aerobatic team who fly RV-8s.  So cool!

 

Sean D Tucker put on a terrific performance. (Has anyone ever been able to refer to him and NOT use his middle initial?  I sure can’t!) The F-22 Raptor is one of the best military demonstrations out there.  I’ve seen it several times before and it always leaves me with my jaw hanging open.

 

Tora Tora Tora is a perennial air show favorite.  So is the Screamin’ Sasquatch jet-powered Waco.

 

And of course, the Blue Angels were amazing, as they ALWAYS are!

 

What makes aviation vacations the best, however, are the people you share them with.

If you’d like to hear more about Innovations in Flight then you MUST check out The Airplane Geeks episode featuring interviews recorded at the event.  Also check out the Flying and Life podcast episode in which Dispatcher Mike and the Airline Pilot Guy recount their adventures flying to Dulles in a 1963 Beechraft Musketeer! Special thanks to David Vanderhoof and the rest of the Geeks for allowing me to tag along with them, and to Hillel for being brave enough to allow me in his Cherokee!

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Meeting Memphis Belle

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My first exposure to military aviation came when I was a teenager. I was digging through my brother’s bookcase when a book on the battle of Midway caught my eye. I figured I’d read a page or two but didn’t expect to like it. Several hours later I couldn’t put the book down. We can launch airplanes from ships? Hell yeah! I read as much as I could find about the Pacific battles during WWII. Sure, I knew about the European theater, but the Pacific campaigns captured all my attention.

img_4821.jpgThat changed in 1990 when a movie called Memphis Belle was released. Have you ever had a crush on a movie star? Well that’s kind-of how I felt about the Belle.  I was completely captivated by it, especially when I learned that it was based on a true story. Like any good aviation enthusiast, I wondered what had become of the plane. I was very pleased to discover that it was undergoing restoration nearby and I hoped that one day I’d have the chance to see it in person.

ERTY4430That opportunity came just a few weeks ago. On what was the 75th anniversary of its last mission, the Memphis Belle exhibit opened at the USAF Museum in Dayton. It’s hard to put into words how I felt when I saw the plane for the first time. I had read so much about the Belle and about what the bomber crews went through… So many incredible stories. So many sacrifices. And at long last there she was right in front of me!

The ribbon-cutting ceremony included the USAF Museum director as well as the Air Force Director of Staff. I was surprised, however, that a couple of kids also participated. One was a 13 year old boy from England who completed his first model of the Belle at age 7. Another was a boy who had won a contest for a poster he created. It’s amazing to think that this plane has already made such a big impact on two people who weren’t born until long after the completion of her military service.

While the Memphis Belle was definitely the star of the show, she is just one part of a much bigger exhibit that tells the story of the U.S. Army Air Forces Strategic Bombing missions in Europe.  I learned about the members of her crew, who actually flew their first five missions in different airplanes. Similarly, the crew’s 25th mission was actually the Belle’s 24th. The plane flew one more time with another crew before finishing her tour. I also learned about her iconic nose art and the process that the restoration team went through to determine the best way to display her.

After spending an hour or so exploring the exhibit, we turned our attention to some of the special activities being held that weekend. We started off with a visit to the WWII reenactment camp. Then we took a shuttle over to the runway behind the museum where four WWII planes were parked, including a P-51 and another B-17. Some other planes were scheduled to be there as well, including the movie version of Memphis Belle, but unfortunately the weather kept them away.

Of course, some of the best aviation moments are ones that aren’t planned and happen completely unexpectedly. In this particular case the unexpected came in the form of Air Force One.  Actually, since the President was not on board, it would be more appropriate to refer to it as the VC-25. It was practicing approaches into nearby Wright Patterson AFB. As a result it flew low over the Air Force Museum over and over and over again. Also practicing approaches at the same time was a C-17. We sat and watched them for an hour while we ate lunch. It. Was. AMAZING! I could have watched them all day.

If you weren’t able to attend the opening of the exhibit I have some good news for you – the Memphis Belle is on permanent display! If you are anywhere near the Dayton area, you MUST stop in. I promise you won’t regret it! And if you love B-17s as much as I do, check out the Plane Tales episode: The Luftwaffe Pilot and Ye Olde Pub. It’s the story of a badly damaged B-17 that completed its mission against incredible odds and the unlikely friendship that developed as a result.

Authors’s note: A big thanks to JET (a retired airline employee and current airport ambassador) and his friend Jim for attending the exhibit opening with me!

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Did I mention that there was a C-17 and it was completely awesome?  Just checking…

I Like Big Planes (and I Cannot Lie)!

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When I was a teen I went on a beach vacation with a friend’s family. The drive took us past Dover Air Force Base. As we approached the base I was mesmerized by a line of impossibly-huge airplanes that seemed to hang suspended in mid-air, completely defying the laws of physics. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! My friend’s father told me that they were C-5s and I was immediately smitten with them. Thus began my love affair with really big planes.

Here I am many years later, working for an airport authority that not only runs a passenger airport where my office is, but also a nearby cargo airport where the big planes go. Every so often I get a chance to visit the cargo airport, which is always exciting because I never know what I might get to see. One such opportunity arose recently when we had a department outing to visit our new FBO.

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Boeing 747-8: Evading me since 2013

The Boeing 747-8 is a frequent visitor to the cargo airport and is one of my favorite airplanes. I hoped that during this visit I would finally get a chance to see one up close. Unfortunately the 747 that was supposed to be there had been delayed. Darn! The FBO Manager said he’d be happy to take us out to see the Antonov instead. He said a bunch of other things after that, but I didn’t hear a word because OMG THERE’S AN ANTONOV! WE’RE GOING TO SEE AN ANTONOV!!!! AN ANTO-FREAKING-NOV!

IMG_4516Before visiting the plane we took a tour of the newly-renovated FBO facilities. I have only visited a couple of FBOs over the years so I’m definitely not an expert, however I have to say that our new FBO is pretty darn nice. It is spacious, with plenty of places to sit and work, or kick-back and relax. There is a separate lounge for flight crews, off of which is a sleeping room with lay-flat recliners, and a couple of bathrooms complete with showers. Plus there are kitchens everywhere. I swear I saw at least three on the main floor and then another one upstairs by the offices. Oh – and did I mention there’s a fireplace? AND a cookie oven! Yes, you read that correctly – an oven just for baking cookies. I’d never heard of such a thing, but now I’m convinced I can’t live without one.

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After the tour we headed out to the ramp and boarded a shuttle bus. We didn’t drive far before I could see the Antonov, looming in the distance. While the An 124-100M is very similar in shape to the C-5, the white, blue and yellow livery gives it a very distinctive appearance. At any other airport the plane would have stuck out like a sore thumb.  However the cargo airport is big and it doesn’t get much traffic from passenger planes, so the Antonov actually fit in better than I expected. And by “fit in” I mean it dwarfed everything in the vicinity.

 

Since the plane was parked we were permitted to walk up to it and take a look around. Standing under the wing and gazing up towards the cockpit far above us just reinforced how ridiculously huge this airplane is. Everything seems super-sized, including the landing gear which has something like a million tires. OK, actually I think there are 20 tires on the main gear (10 on each side) plus another four on the nose gear, but 24 tires is still a lot!  To put it in perspective, that’s enough tires for four 737s!

 

Why on earth did someone feel compelled to make a plane this big? So it can haul cargo, of course! And people. But mostly lots and lots of cargo. It has a rear door for loading and unloading. Its nose opens up as well and the plane has the ability to “kneel” (lower the suspension) to make the front ramp easier to use. The Antonov also has an on-board crane that is capable of winching items weighing up to 120 tonnes.

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I bet you could fit a bunch of these inside the Antonov…

You might be wondering what cargo this ginormous airplane was delivering to us. Well I’m told that the Antonov is often used to haul jet engines because it is one of the few planes big enough to carry them. However, in this case the plane brought… nothing. And after a week of sitting on the ramp it departed with… nothing. That’s right – the Antonov flew in and out with no cargo whatsoever! The sole purpose for this particular visit was simply to park. It is apparently cheaper to park it here than to fly it home to Russia between assignments.

I wish I had been around to see it take off – that must have been quite a sight! The ramp agents claim it is so loud that it shakes the buildings. Hopefully it will come back again soon. Or perhaps the An-225 Mriya (which is even bigger and has SIX engines) will stop in for another visit. If it ever does, the FBO front desk has my number on speed dial along with strict instructions to fire up the cookie oven and call me right away.

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Airport Terminal of the Future

IMG_0263Think back for a moment to what aviation was like 60 years ago. The DC-3 was a common sight and the Boeing 707 was brand new. Passengers could be accompanied by their families all the way to the gates. TWA, Eastern and Piedmont offered flights at my airport. Things sure have changed a lot since then! Well, except for the terminal. It has had several additions and face-lifts over the years, but at its core it is the same building in the same location as it was in 1958.

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O’Hare International Airport also has a big terminal construction project planned. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Now let’s imagine 60 years into the future. What will air travel look like in 2078? What kind of airplanes will we fly? What kind of cars will we drive? (Will we even still be driving cars?) What if you had to design and build an airport today that will meet the needs of the flying public (both commercial and GA) for the next 60 years and beyond? What should the terminal look like? How big should it be? Will the security needs be different? Those are just a few of the considerations that airport designers face.  I have a hard time  deciding what to have for breakfast – I couldn’t imagine being tasked with these types of decisions.  Needless to say I’m very glad that I’m not an airport planner!

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Salt Lake City International Airport is in the middle of a large expansion project.  Estimated cost: $3 Billion (Photo by GoMan195531 at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons)

After 60 years, the functional life of our terminal is starting to wind down. We went through a modernization program recently that will extend our ability to use the building another 15 years or so. However, the time is coming when a new building will be needed. But… how do we know when that time is? As it turns out, the answer is rather complicated.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, factor is the number of passengers using the terminal. We know the maximum number that the current facility can reasonably handle. When we reach a certain point in passenger growth we’ll need to start construction so that the new building is ready when we hit max capacity. Another thing to consider involves infrastructure. When key items like boilers, furnaces and AC units begin to wear out, it will probably make more sense to start construction on a new terminal than to spend millions of dollars putting new equipment into an old building. There are other factors as well, but these two are probably the biggest. If we keep going at our current pace, we expect to hit one of these thresholds in the next 8-10 years.

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Indianapolis’ new terminal opened in 2008.  I dig the trippy lighting! (photo by By utahwildflowers  via Wikimedia Commons)

Even though construction won’t start for a while that doesn’t mean we can just sit back and relax. Nope – there are a whole lot of things we’ve been working on in the meantime.  First off we had to figure out where the new terminal should go, as well as the parking garages, lots, rental car facilities, etc.  Then we had to work on all the studies, evaluations, surveys, environmental impact reviews, wetland assessments, etc. that are routinely required as part of any construction project. Then once all of that has been worked out, the basic infrastructure must to be put into place so that when we’re ready to start building, we have what we need. In our case that means putting in all the utility lines, as well as relocating some of the big RTR antennas.

Another thing on the to-do list is figure out how to pay for it all. The full project is slated to cost over a billion dollars. Ouch! Most airports use a combination of methods to finance this type of project including borrowing money, obtaining grants and using Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) funds.

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Concourses B and C at Philadelphia International Airport were also built in the late 50s. (Photo by David Broad via Wikimedia Commons.)

Not familiar with PFCs? Check your next airline ticket. Every time you get onto an airplane you’ll see a charge of $4.50 (capped at $18/trip). The airlines are required to charge these fees and then remit them to the airports. I love recording the PFC charges because they come from airlines all over the world. We routinely receive remittances from  Japan Airlines, Air France, Luftansa and Qantas. No, none of those airlines fly into my airport.  However, if you buy a ticket to Paris via Air France, then Air France will charge you the PFC and remit those funds to us, even though you’ll actually fly out of my airport on one of their partner airlines (or one of their partner’s regional carriers). The FAA has pretty strict rules about how PFCs can be used. Airports can only use them for very specific things like enhancing security, reducing noise or increasing capacity. FAA approval is required in advance – and the airlines are allowed to give their input as well.

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Wouldn’t be a post from me if I didn’t include a pic of the latest cool airplane to fly in!

One thing my airport won’t use to finance the new terminal is local taxes. Since we aren’t owned by the city or county but instead function as an independent agency, we don’t use county or city taxes for construction projects or for our daily operations either.

So, what DOES the airport of the future look like? Well I’ve heard we are going for a modular design that will allow us to start with what we need, and leave room for us to easily add/adapt as passenger and airline needs change. The proposed design itself is… interesting. A lot can change in 10 years, so what the terminal will actually look like remains to be seen. But based on the most recent conceptualization let’s just say that I think the Jetsons would feel right at home.

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I’m not saying Hanna Barbera designed the look for the new terminal… but they totally could have!

The Ups and Downs of Airport Life

There’s never a dull day in aviation. Well… maybe there are some days that are fairly quiet and uneventful, but no two days are ever the same. It is one of the things I really love about working at an airport. Here are a few of the little “mini-adventures” I’ve had recently.

Balloon-attack

34180832_UnknownMy office is tucked away in a secluded part of the terminal. To access it you have to walk down a long, narrow hallway that is barely wide enough for two people to pass each other. After working late one evening I was attempting to go home when I entered that hallway only to find myself faced with what looked like approximately a million helium party balloons headed right for me. I quickly squeezed myself into a corner and waited for the balloons (and the people carrying them) to pass. This took some time because they were headed down one of the concourses which required them to enter a SIDA area (Secure Identification Area). This means each balloon carrier had to scan their badge, enter a code and go through the door one at a time, to be greeted by security on the other side.

 

Why all the balloons? The airport was getting ready for the launch of service by a new airline. This typically involves a lot of hoopla, although how much depends in part on the airline. For passenger airlines we typically make quite a celebration out of it – balloons, banners, catered food. On this particular occasion the airline wanted A LOT of hoopla. Not only did they celebrate at the gate, but there was a party area set up in the ticket lobby with more food and more balloons, plus live music and prizes. My favorite part of the celebration? Why the water cannon salute, of course! I’ve seen several of them at this point and they never get old.

Be Our Guest

33916048_UnknownOne of the best things about where I work is you never know what might fly in. Sure, I see lots of CRJs and ERJs, but it is the unexpected visitors that are the most exciting. A Canadian Alpha Jet certainly fits into that category. A friend found out that one was flying in and gave me a heads up. I was able to dash upstairs just in time to catch it taxiing to the FBO. I had never seen one before. Now that I have I would love the chance to see it up close!

IMG_3867Speaking of guests from another country, the same friend contacted me recently to let me know that a Delta A330 had just landed. Turns out it had come from Amsterdam and was unable to get to its intended destination because of bad weather. I suspected that it might be hiding out on the deice pad so I took a little stroll down concourse B.  Sure enough, there it was. At many airports the sight of an A330 is an ordinary occurrence, but for us this was something unusual. If you think that seeing the plane from the comfort of a warm, dry terminal was enough for me, then you must not be an avgeek! Of course I went out into the windy, snowy night to watch it take off! It was totally worth it, even though I got soaked and nearly blown off the top of the garage.

Strange Pax Moments

IMG_3980As I mentioned earlier, my department is tucked away in a part of the airport that isn’t easy to get to and is kept locked most of the time.  So you can imagine my surprise when I went to head home after working late one evening and I discovered a man with luggage stuck in a locked stairwell. It was not a SIDA area, but it is also not a place where passengers would ever go. I asked how he had gotten back there but he couldn’t tell me. He said he was trying to catch a flight but couldn’t say what airline. A coworker came along and the two of us walked the man out to the ticket lobby.

34180416_UnknownIt was apparent something was very wrong. He kept trying to wander into areas that are off-limits. He seemed disoriented and confused. He assured us he knew where he was going, but instead wandered around aimlessly. I ended up asking a security agent to follow him while I contacted the airport police. I found out later that, as I suspected, the man was very intoxicated.

Any adventure that involves calling the police is not one I’d care to repeat. However, a few weeks later I was on my way out after working late again when I stumbled across an unattended bag in the hallway near an exit. I prayed someone would come get it. I watched and waited, but after 15 minutes I realized the bag had been abandoned. So once again I ended up calling the police.  Two calls to the Public Safety department in just a few weeks? I’m going to blame it on having to work late so much recently… but I may put the police number on speed dial, just in case!

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Come back and visit us again soon, A330! Photo by Andrew Stricker