Wacko for Waco

It has been a rough year for avgeeks. Pretty much every major air show and aviation event has been canceled or posponed until 2021. Aside from a few isolated fly-overs, aviation enthusiasts have had to make due with whatever airplanes happened to stop by the local airport.

In recent weeks, however, a few small events have popped up. I shrugged most of them off – we’re in a pandemic, after all. Who is going to show up? The chance of any event being worth attending seemed pretty low. Then last month I found out about a Waco fly-in being held a couple hours away at Waco Field. The day was gorgeous – blue skies, perfect temps. I had nothing better to do so I decided to take a chance and make the trip.

During the drive I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. However, when I arrived at the destination and saw row after row of bi-planes and other vintage airplanes I nearly burst into tears for sheer joy. Finally! After more than a year I was once again surrounded by airplanes and avgeeks and it felt wonderful!

I started the afternoon by working my way along the rows of planes. Since this was a Waco fly-in, I was not surprised to see several of them in attendance. However, there were plenty of other types of planes on hand as well. One that caught my eye was the Grasshopper. It is actually a Piper J-3 Cub which was adapted for service in WWII. Another plane that grabbed my attention was a Great Lakes bi-plane. I just love the stance, the big round tail and splashy colors.

Next I visited the small museum located on the field. Inside were a number of exhibits dedicated to the history of Waco airplanes. Originally the Weaver Aircraft Company, the name changed to Waco around 1929. They developed a number of different airplanes including both open and closed cockpit bi-planes. During WWII they manufactured gliders which were used by the US Army Air Force as well as the RAF. The company folded after the war when the demand for civil aircraft didn’t increase as hoped.

I headed back outside in time to watch the RC air show. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from RC planes. Turns out it was pretty darn cool. They started with an aerobatic helicopter which did some pretty fancy flying that made me a little dizzy. This was followed by an aerobatic plane which performed the same loops and spins that one would expect from the full-sized version. Last was an RC plane built almost entirely for speed. It had a jet engine and they weren’t kidding when they said it was fast!

Once the RC show was over, the families moved off to the other side of the field for the candy drop. This was accomplished with another RC helicopter. I had never seen a candy drop before. It sure did look like fun! I opted not to get too close – in part to maintain social distance, but mostly because the Wacos and several other planes were taking off in preparation for the parade of planes.

The parade consisted of a series of fly-bys. An announcer provided details about each type of Waco as it made a low pass up the grass strip. Once the parade was over, the two bi-planes that had been giving rides all afternoon took back to the air. I’ve always been a bit hesitant about flying in an open cockpit, but I have to admit it looked like a lot of fun.

I headed home at the end of the day exhausted and sunburned but very happy. It was wonderful to be around airplanes again! Plus I found the perfect souvenir to remind me of all the fun. Perhaps best of all, I was able to support a small aviation museum and hopefully help keep it up and running for years to come.

The Bad, the Ugly and… the Good?

Its been a struggle lately to find something encouraging to write about. Things are quiet. Too quiet. Every aviation event I planned to attend has been canceled. Many shops at the airport remain closed, parking lots are empty and there are few passengers wandering the concourses.

The Bad

The outlook for the travel industry continues to be pretty bleak. The number of enplanements at my airport increased over the summer from the shocking low numbers we saw in the spring, but they haven’t rebounded as strongly as everyone hoped. Total passengers are down 65% from 2019. Unfortunately, now that the summer travel season has ended, enplanements appear to be sliding backwards again. In response, the airlines have trimmed flights and we currently expect to see around 60 flights per day in September – down from 70 per day in July and August. (That’s compared to around 140 flights per day in 2019.)

The Ugly

The CARES Act funding ends at the end of September. Unless additional funding is provided, the airlines will begin downsizing. Thousands of people will lose their jobs. Whole fleets will be parked. Once this happens the airlines will be much smaller. Even if the demand for travel suddenly comes roaring back, it is unlikely they’ll be able to scale up quickly enough to meet it. Sadly, it seems that there won’t be any real recovery any time soon. And the longer this drags on, the slower it will be. Current predictions are for a possible recovery in 2024. Ouch!

The Good?

In the midst of all the bad news and discouragement I got to wondering: is there anything good going in aviation right now? It can’t be ALL bad, can it? So I set out to find if there are any silver linings hidden in the gloom.

1. Cargo

In June our cargo-dedicated airport managed to have one of the best months it has EVER had. The airport handled 31 million lbs of freight compared to around 19 million lbs in June 2019. Some international carriers haven’t returned since the pandemic began, but others have increased flights. We even picked up a new carrier – Korean air announced that they will be starting regular flights this month. Domestic charters have increased as well. It is encouraging to see that at least one sector of the industry is doing OK.

2. General Aviation

General aviation flights are down a bit from 2019, but not nearly as much as I expected. In June and July commercial carrier operations were down about 6,000 flights/month, which is a drop of around 63% from the same period in 2019. However, general aviation operations were only down about 300 flights/month, which is a drop of only 28% from the prior year. As a plane spotter, I think it is great that general aviation planes are getting more time in the spotlight. I’ve enjoyed seeing more Bonanzas, Mooneys and Cessnas around.

3. Airport Life

Regardless of what may be happening in the industry, life at the airport goes on. Airfield inspections still have to happen, the winter season has to be prepared for and unusual visitors still drop in. Last week the airport held its tri-annual emergency preparedness exercise. This year it involved a simulated aircraft fire using a replica fuselage with actual flames. I was able to leave my desk for a few minutes to go upstairs and watch. I often see ARFF practicing on the airfield, but it was cool to be able to see them in action in a more realistic situation.

Times may be stressful and the outlook rather gloomy, but airplanes are still cool and flying is still magic. It will take more than a pandemic to change that! As long as there are C-17s on the ramp and a Maules in camo, there is never a dull day at the airport. And that’s very good indeed!

OSH20 – the Week That (sort-of) Wasn’t

It’s my favorite week of the whole year! I spend 365 days looking forward to it. It’s better than Christmas. It’s Airventure Oshkosh! Except… not this year. Thanks to the current pandemic, Osh20 was canceled. There are not enough words to express how devastated I’ve been.

I tried to distract myself by taking a (socially-distanced) day-trip across the lake to a cheerful little island. But I just spent my time lurking around the airport there, looking for airplanes. I went through old photos and shared them online with the other Osh faithful. It was somewhat helpful to know that I was not alone in my grief.

In the absence of our beloved fly-in, the good folks at EAA put together the Spirit of Aviation Week. It consisted of a collection of online events and forums covering a wide-range of topics. I’ll admit I was skeptical about it at first – no virtual event can ever take the place of the real deal. But then I looked over the list of offerings and saw a few that looked interesting. So I decided to check them out. And I’m so glad I did! I carried my ipad outside, plugged in my headphones and as I listened I could almost imagine I was sitting in one of the forum buildings on the Airventure grounds.

The first event I “attended” was a panel discussion with members of the US Air Force Demo teams. Participating in the event were an F-16 pilot, an F-22 pilot, an F-35 pilot and an A-10 pilot. They discussed the challenges of keeping their skills sharp during a season when most shows have been canceled. They also talked about flying at Osh, how it is different from some of the other places they fly and how much they look forward to performing there. I was interested to learn that as a recruiting tool, the demo teams are primarily trying to reach kids ages 8-12. That seems young to me, but they say it is the best age to capture and maintain an interest in becoming military aviators.

The next event I attended was the Airline Pilot Career Outlook, hosted by United Airlines. I am not interested in becoming an airline pilot, but I was curious to get United’s take on the pandemic and the impact it is having on the industry. They reiterated what we already know – this has been the worst year for the airlines, ever. They believe it will likely be two years before they are ready to start hiring again. However, they are very cognizant of the fact that 50% of their workforce will retire in 10 years and 90% will retire in 20 years. Pandemic or not, that is a lot of pilots that will be needed. They are trying to connect with future pilots early on – a fact they emphasized by announcing their sponsorship of EAA’s Young Eagles programs.

I wrapped up the week by attending an FAA seminar entitled “Don’t Let that Airport Fool You!” With a title like that, of course I had to attend! I was curious to know just exactly how airports go around fooling people. The seminar was really about how to avoid wrong surface/wrong airport events. I learned that certain types of airport geometry (parallel and offset parallel runways, complicated layouts, etc.) can contribute to these types of events. It made me wonder how many airport planners are also pilots. Seems like it would be helpful to have hands-on experience when making decisions about taxiway placements, etc.

I really enjoyed attending these sessions and I appreciate everything EAA did to provide a taste of Airventure in the midst of a difficult year. That said, I’m really glad Osh week is over. I’m ready to stop feeling sad about what didn’t happen, and look ahead to better days. Hope to be able to see you all at Airventure 2021!

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Aviation Appreciation

DE18EC16-532D-42AA-A67A-4BFB4068CAB2This is not the blog post I intended to write. I originally planned to outline all the things that avgeeks can do to try to cope with Severe Aviation Deficiency (aka S.A.D) brought about by the current pandemic. I may still write that post eventually. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t want aviation subsitutes. I want real airplanes and I want them RIGHT NOW.

I know, I know. I’m being selfish and silly and maybe a bit juevenile. But as I’ve written before, aviation is more than just a passing interest. It’s a passion. It’s therapy. It’s a community. And I’m REALLY missing all of that.

70F3550F-086E-4E78-8740-F6CE7B1D61F3If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile then you may recall that my mother passed away last year. I still miss her a lot. Then a few weeks ago my brother’s wife had a massive stroke. She collapsed suddenly and had to be life-flighted to a hospital for brain surgery. She survived – a miracle in itself – but she’s facing a very long road to recovery. I’ve been helping my brother with his blog, which he is using to keep friends and family informed.

4DB6968B-0768-4B23-ACC9-DBD3DF689890So you see, I’ve been in dire need of a little aviation therapy. Unfortunately, I’m not at the office these days so the only planes I see are those that happen to fly over my back yard. Then I got an email with two small words that brightened my whole week: military charters. TWO of them! A B767 AND a B777 – planes we rarely get to see. Better still, they’re being flown by an airline that rarely visits. This, my friends, was just what the doctor ordered!

But would I be able to catch both flights? After all, I’m working from home so I can’t just take a break and go upstairs for a few minutes. I need at least half an hour to drive to the airport, park and get into position. As luck would have it, the B767 arrived on a Friday evening. It was delayed until well after I had finished work for the day, so I had no trouble getting there in time to see it.

5271AFF1-74D5-4702-A462-63A676D2EEDFThe B777 on the other hand, was much more of a challenge. It was originally scheduled for a Saturday arrival, which would have been great. Then they pushed it back to Thursday morning. Noooooo! Not good! But… a B777! In my nearly six years at the airport I’ve never seen a B777 there. I did NOT want to miss it. What’s an avgeek to do?

I did the only thing I could think of: I took time off work so I could spend time at the office. I know – that sounds completely ridiculous. (Thanks pandemic!) But hey, I did what I had to do. And it was soooo worth it – not just for the airplane (which was fantastic) but for the time I got to spend around other spotters. Thankfully, it is easy to watch airplanes and still maintain an appropriate distance from others.

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A spotter and his dad.

Actually, I was surprised how many people were there, including a number of younger spotters I had never met before. Several parents and siblings had also come along. There were so many faces peering over the wall of the parking garage that it caught the attention of some members of the Airport Operations Department. After the 777 parked, they came upstairs to greet the spotters and talk to them about possible careers in Operations. How cool is that!? I am SO GLAD I work for an airport that appreciates and encourages a passion for aviation!

So, am I feeling better now? Yes! It makes me happy to know that there are still cool airplanes and interesting liveries to see. And if having more free time during the pandemic has encouraged new avgeeks, then that’s a silver lining that makes life’s challenges a little easier to bear. 0004CA7E-79F8-40CD-972A-F03B3C120F0E

The Pandemic and Airport Life

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There has been a lot of discussion about how the covid-19 pandemic is affecting the airlines, but what about airports? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, every airport is different so the level of impact will vary depending on the types of traffic an airport has, how their financials are structured, etc. That said, there are some commonalities. I can only speak to what I’m seeing but you can probably draw some parallels to the airports that operate near you.

Like most airports, we get revenue through things like parking fees and concessions. We also get revenue from third parties who pay for the right to do business on airport property (like Uber and Lyft, for example) and through advertising in and around the terminal. We get income from the airlines as well, however those fees are structured to cover the cost of actually operating the airport itself. They pay a portion of terminal costs through renting gate/ticket counter/hold room space, and they cover the costs of airfield and ramp maintenance through landing fees.

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So, just how bad are the numbers right now? On a normal day in April we’d typically have around 13,000 enplanements (passengers boarding flights). This April there were days when we didn’t even have 500 enplanements. Let’s look at one of the major legacy carriers – we’ll call them Airline A. They aren’t the biggest operator for us in terms of flights or passengers, but they still do a fair amount of business at our airport. In April 2019 Airline A and its regional partners had just over 800 landings and around 67,500 enplaned passengers. In April 2020 they had 150 landings and 5,700 enplaned passengers. That’s a decrease of about 82% in landings and 91% in enplanements. When we widen the view to look at total passengers across all airlines, there was a decrease of approximately 95% in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

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Needless to say, those numbers are not enough to support the airport ecosystem. Most of the food vendors and shops have closed. At least one has closed permanently. Some of the parking lots had to be closed as well because there were so few cars it made no sense to continue to staff lot attendants or shuttle drivers. As you can imagine, revenue for the month of April was way down.

To try to mitigate the loss of income we’re doing what many other businesses are doing – cutting expenses where we can, and revising the budget to reduce spending as much as possible. We are also scaling back on capital projects, focusing only on those that are essential to the continued operation of the airport. We will be getting some assistance in the form of funds from the CARES act, which will help keep things moving, for awhile at least.

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Then there is the challenge of trying to meet social distancing and other health mandates while being mindful of expenses. Take parking, for example. Anyone who parks in a lot must ride a shuttle to get to the terminal. In order to meet social distancing guidelines, half the seats will need to be blocked off. This may not be such a big deal while passenger counts are low. However, as people return to flying it will become increasingly difficult to accommodate everyone. Do we buy more shuttles? They aren’t cheap.

With so few flights currently, we’ve considered combining the airlines into two concourses and closing the third. On the surface this sounds like a good idea. It would allow the airport to concentrate the efforts of the custodian teams and perhaps allow for reduced utility usage in the unused concourse. Except it isn’t that simple. Lease agreements take time to work through – how do you reassign the gates? How would this affect the baggage systems? And what would it mean for social distancing if employees and passengers are concentrated into two concourses instead of three?

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Cargo has been a bit of a lifeline for the airlines, and the same is true for us. While traffic at the passenger airport has been anemic, our nearby cargo airport has seen traffic levels hold nearly steady. Interestingly, many of our regular international cargo carriers did not have any landings in April. However we saw an increase in charter flights which made up most of the difference.

So what does the future hold? Given the unprecedented impact the pandemic has had on the travel industry, it’s hard to say. We will need to be patient and thoughtful. And we’ll need to continue to maintain good relationships with the communities we serve as well as our airline partners. We are, after all, in this together.B0C32904-4CFF-4A2D-94F7-847327DF1BAB

Battleships, Blackbirds and Tough Times at the Airport

C7A82B02-1E14-4212-88E2-1DC5FB1C1808Before the stay-at-home orders for the Covid-19 pandemic started, I was able sneak out to Pensacola Beach, Florida for a quick vacation. I had hoped to make a return visit to the Naval Air Museum while I was in the area, but it was not open to the public. Instead I drove over to Mobile, AL to visit Battleship Memorial Park.

Tough Ship (and Planes)

C851E28E-A66C-47A2-8098-EDDAD82E98F1As the name suggests, the main attraction is the USS Alabama, a World War II-era battleship. Parked right next door is the USS Drum, a Gato-class submarine. Both were open for self-guided tours. I have never been on any kind of military vessel before… oh my goodness the crazy steep stairs! I cannot imagine what it must have been like to climb up and down them while out at sea. Needless to say I have an even greater appreciation for our Navy and Marine service members .

Of course, what I was most excited to see were the airplanes. There were a number of them scattered around the park grounds, including a B-52, an F-15, an F-16, and a C-47. However there was also an aircraft pavillion where the REALLY cool planes are stashed. First to catch my eye when I walked through the door was a Blackbird – more specifically, an A-12. They look virtually the same , but the A-12 could fly a little faster and a little higher, and was used by the CIA for spy missions.BC68A85C-ABE6-4FBE-9C81-A3891C485F77

On the opposite side of the pavillion was an F-14 Tomcat. Oh how I love that plane! It looks fast and mean just sitting on the ground. There are several other fascinating airplanes and helicopters on display including a P-51 Mustang and an F-18 Hornet. Over-all I found Battlefield Memorial Park to be well worth the visit. If you are ever in the area I strongly recommend you stop by and give it a look.

Meanwhile at the Airport…

As I mentioned in my last post, I am working from home these days. However, I had to stop by the office recently to pick up a few items. I thought I was prepared for what I was going to see. I wasn’t. Empty parking lots. No shuttles or buses or ubers. No traffic at all, really. And, except for a few bored agents at the ticket counter, no people. The restaurants are closed. The stores are closed too. And yet, upbeat music played over the PA system, along with routine announcements – as if nothing at all was amiss. But then there were also recorded reminders about social distancing and quarantines. Actually it was quite eerie.FE9B9EE7-B639-4F06-9C1D-AB34B85949D3

It was equally disturbing to see all the empty airplanes sitting around. A regional airline has parked nearly three dozen ERJs on the south cargo ramp. Each unused airplane represents dozens of people in the aviation and travel industries who aren’t working right now. For the airport, those idle airplanes mean no passenger parking  income, no concession income, and very little in the way of landing fees or PFCs. Things are tough all over.905AFDC8-5B18-48EC-B32A-D4E2E3DD5A55

But there is a little bit of good news in the midst of the gloom. Although the passenger airport is unbearably quiet, the cargo airport has managed to stay busy. There has been a reduction in flights by some carriers, but there’s been steady traffic from others like Cargolux and Cathay Pacific. Chartered cargo flights have actually increased. Many of those flights have been delivering medical supplies and other items that are critically needed.2DA3F260-D25E-422E-9940-A72A0B9FDF09

From a financial standpoint, the activity at the one airport cannot begin to make up for the lack of activity at the other. But right now we’ll take whatever we can get. And having those cargo planes overhead helps calm my aviation withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, my serious case of stairs truck deficiency continues.
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In Sickness and in Health

B840FCF8-EF57-4FE3-A150-E3D37EC8AA15There’a an ancient curse (of unclear origins) that says: May you live in interesting times. Sadly, times are very “interesting” right now. The impact of Covid-19 has hit the world like a steam roller.

This potentially fatal illness has shuttered businesses from beauty salons to the DMV. It has closed schools and restaurants. People have been forced into quarantine. Sports have been put on hold. Gatherings and events have been canceled. Airlines and airports (and all the businesses that support them) have been decimated. It’s awful. It’s ugly. And then things REALLY took a turn for the worse. Why? Because I’m WORKING FROM HOME. What??? Nooooooooooooo!

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I miss this sooo much!

Yes, I know – there are many people who would love to work from home right now but they can’t. I get it. But… being stuck in the spare bedroom, far away from my beloved airport is breaking my heart. It’s been a grand total of one week so far and things are NOT going well.

First of all, my new coworkers suck. They constantly want to be let outside. And back in again. And then back out. And in. They start screaming for a lunch break at 9:00am. And one of them ripped my potted plant out by the roots for the FOURTH time. Even worse, they know NOTHING about airplanes. They couldn’t care less.

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This is what should be outside my window.

Then there’s the view out the window. BORING!!! There’s not one airplane outside. Parking a large jet out front would probably not go over so well with the neighbors. However, at this point I’m seriously considering ways to sneak a bizjet or two out there. A Gulfstream would fit in my driveway, wouldn’t it?

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This is what is actually outside my window. So not OK!

And then there’s the lack of plane spotting. The only planes I can see from my garden are the ones that fly over when the 28s are in use. But it has been really cloudy so the airplane count has been an appaling 0. You read that correctly – Z.E.R.O! Even on the quietest days there is usually some activity on the airfield to watch, but now I’m deprived of even that.

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Yes, I do have a large aerial photo of an airport in my home office. Doesn’t everyone?

So what is a poor avgeek going through aviation withdrawal supposed to do? Well I’ll tell ya – it isn’t pretty. I’ve got model planes lined up by the window to try to make myself feel a little better. I staged a toy stairs truck race during my coffee break this morning. I’m monitoring Live ATC and listening to aviation podcasts. Sadly, nothing helps.

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Not as good as the real thing. Totally better than nothing

I guess all I can do is what millions of other people are doing – wait it out. One way or another Covid-19 will eventually be defeated. People will be ready to fly and the airlines will be back strong again. Until that time you can find me flipping through my absurdly-huge collection of airplane photos and dreaming of stairs trucks and jetbridges.

Author’s note: I want to give a special shout-out to the many, many people in the aviation industry who are showing up each day and putting in the hours to make sure air travel remains safe. I want you to know how very much you are appreciated. Hang in there, stay strong and be well. We will get through this.

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What in the World?!

I’m not a big fan of surprises. Surprise party? No, thanks. Surprise audit? Yikes! What about surprise airplanes? Ah! That’s the one kind of surprise I actually DO like! Over the last few years I’ve gotten to see some pretty unusual and unlikely airplanes lurking outside the office.38045232_unknown Tracking down these rare and different visitors takes a lot of practice, skill and a keen eye for… OK, fine – mostly it just takes luck. And a knack for being in the right place at the right time. However, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances.

If commercial aviation is your thing, I recommend JetTip.net. For a long time I resisted the urge to add yet another tracking service to my already large collection. But after a friend gave it a try and got a lot of useful alerts about unusual liveries and charter aircraft, I gave in. Now my problem is trying to schedule my lunch break to catch the planes I most want to see and hoping I’m not in a meeting when they arrive.

39382640_unknownIf you are interested in non-commercial planes then you really MUST listen to a scanner. There have been several instances where I’ve been watching traffic on one runway when an exchange with ATC alerted me to something interesting on approach to the other. Also, make sure you really look around carefully. I pull out my camera and zoom in on the hard-to-see places at the far end of the airfield. More than once what I thought at first glance to be just another plane turned out to be something special when I took a closer look.

So, what kind of unusual and unlikely airplanes have I spotted hiding out on the airfield? Well, my favorite catches lean towards the military, but there are some good GA aircraft on the list as well.

CT-155 Hawk

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I know I’ve found something fun when I have to stop what I’m doing and research the plane to figure out what the heck it is. Such was the case with the Hawk. Google tells me it is an advanced jet trainer – this particular one belongs to Canada. What was it doing flying around the Midwest? No clue but I’m so glad I got to see it!

Widgeon

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I had heard from one of my friends that there is a Widgeon hangared at my airport. Wait… a what? I looked it up and discovered tbat it’s a type of amphibious aircraft first built in the 1940s. I was skeptical that such a special airplane would make its home here. Then one day I spotted it parked on the ramp. I really hoped I would get to see it take off, but it was eventually towed back into the hangar. Glad I got a glimpse of it at least.

NASA T-38

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The T-38 is a fairly regular visitor to my airport, so I don’t consider them to be rare or unusual… unless it happens to have the NASA livery! Not sure how many Talons NASA has these days, but I had only seen one previously and it was at an air show. I definitely didn’t expect to see one at work!

Beechcraft Starship

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I was scanning the area around the FBO one afternoon when I noticed an unusual shape being towed across the ramp. As it gradually emerged from behind the other airplanes I became and more and more perplexed. What in the heck is that? It was the most crazy and the most excellent general aviation airplane I’ve ever seen parked outside of the office. My friends on twitter informed me that it was a Starship, one of very few still flying. Definitely one of my most favorite catches!

Navy T-6 Trainer

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As I mentioned, it isn’t unusual to see T-38 and other Air Force trainers around. But when a Navy trainer shows up you bet it caught my attention. A quick check of the map confirmed that there are no oceans in the area. No Navy bases either. That made this T-6 a special catch.

P-8 Poseidon

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I was listening to the scanner one evening when I heard ATC clear someone for a practice approach. Curious, I headed over to the runway in question just in time to see a Poseidon doing a touch and go. Um… wait… a Poseidon? Here??? I’m really starting to wonder if the Navy has a secret ocean stashed nearby.

E-9A Widget

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I almost didn’t notice this plane hanging out across the airfield until I zoomed in with my camera and saw the unusual markings. I did some digging online and discovered that this is one of only two Widgets owned by the USAF. Guess what they’re used for? That’s right – ocean surveillance!

OK, that does it. Clearly there’s an ocean hiding here in the Midwest. Thank goodness I love looking for unusual airplanes or I might never have known! Now I just need to find the hidden seaplane base – maybe then I’ll finally get to see the Widgeon fly!

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Wrapping Up 2019 with Helicopters and Airbuses

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It is late January and I finally have a few moments to catch my breath from the chaos of the holidays and the busy season at work. I am definitely looking forward to a new year filled with plenty of avgeekery! However, there are a few loose threads from 2019 that I want to tie up before I jump into 2020.

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2019 Airport Challenge

Regular readers will recall that at the beginning of last year I issued a challenge to myself (and anyone else who was interested) to  spend time at 5 general aviation airports not previously visited. So how did I do? I’m pleased to report that I met the goal! The airports I visited are:

Grimes Field I74
Chester County MQS
South Valley Regional U42
Zanesville Municipal ZZV
Brandywine Regional OQN

I only stayed long enough at Chester County and South Valley for a quick look around and a few moments of plane spotting through the fence. I spent quite a bit of time at both Grimes Field and Zanesville and have written separate posts about my visits. The Brandywine Regional airport had been on my list to visit for quite some time, in part because many of the general aviation airplanes that fly over my childhood home are based there, but mostly because it has a really cool aviation museum.

img_5171American Helicopter Museum

The American Helicopter Museum opened in 1996 after I had already moved out of the area.  The mission of the museum is to educate the public on the development and history of rotary wing aircraft, and to celebrate all things helicopter.  I confess that while I find helicopters to be quite interesting, I don’t know much about them so I really enjoyed expanding my knowledge while examining the museum’s impressive collection.

 

It is impossible to pick a favorite exhibit, however I liked the Bell AH-1F Cobra and the V-22 Osprey quite a lot. The only thing better than seeing all the rotorcraft was getting to spend time with my friend David Vanderhoof, co-host of the Airplane Geeks and UAV Digest podcasts. If you find yourself in the Philadelphia area I highly recommend making the trip to West Chester to visit the museum. And if David is there, tell him I sent you!

First Commercial Flight in Ten Years

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Does anyone know what the record is for most time spent in an airport without actually flying anywhere? I don’t even know if such a record truly exists, but if it does then I imagine I’m a contender. Between my job and my airport vacations I figure I’ve spent around 9500 hours at airports over the last few years without getting on a commercial airplane. All that changed last October when I took my first commercial flight in over ten years.

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At the risk of stating the obvious – a lot has changed in the last decade! For one thing, there are so many more little fees now. Ten years ago you picked your seat when you booked your ticket and there was no extra charge for it. There was no cost to check a bag either. If airlines had apps ten years ago then they were fairly new and not widely used. Now you can do almost everything via the app.  And yes, I paid a little extra to pick my seat ahead of time because no way in heck I was going to miss the chance to sit by a window! It was TOTALLY worth it.

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What about the flight itself? Well this was my first flight with seat back info-tainment screens. (The last time I flew they still had air phones on the back of the seats!) While most people watched movies, I spent the time tracking the flight. What a fun feature for an avgeek like me! There has been a lot made of the smaller seat pitch, tiny bathrooms and rude passengers. I wasn’t bothered by any of those things and I quite enjoyed the trip.

What’s Next?

So what’s ahead for me in 2020? More commercials flights and more aviation museums! I’m considering a return visit to the Udvar Hazy center in the spring and maybe a trip out to LAX to attend Dorkfest over the summer.  Plus I’ve booked my room for Oshkosh in July. And, as always, I’ll be keeping an eye out for those fun airport moments that make every day an adventure. Stay tuned!
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Five years!

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December 1, 2019 marked five years since I started working for the airport. That’s right – I’ve been running around like a kid in a candy store for five whole years now. How is that even possible?  I knew I was going to love working in aviation, but I didn’t anticipate how much I was going to fall in love with the airport itself. And I never dreamed that I would get to see and do as much as I have.

FullSizeRender (87)ATC

I have always wanted to sneak my way into an ATC tower. This probably explains why the FAA added another set of “No Trespassing” signs around the tower fence right after I started my job. To my surprise, however, in the last five years I’ve visited all four towers at the three airports where I work plus the tower at Oshkosh. ATC towers are every bit as cool as I thought they would be.  The only thing cooler than the towers?  The TRACON! I’m still shocked that they not only let me in, but showed me around and explained what they were doing.

Being the avgeek that I am, I bring my scanner to work every day so I can listen when I’m plane spotting during my breaks. I sometimes listen to Live ATC at my desk too –  I just really like knowing what is going on. At this point I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of ATC communications dealing with all kinds of scenarios in all kinds of weather. Some of the most memorable conversations have also been the most amusing, like the pilot who threatened to do donuts on the uncontrolled ramp and another who was afraid of his 666 squawk code and requested a new one.

IMG_3142Airport Vehicles

Airport ground vehicles for the win! Who knew they were so cool?  From belt loaders to tugs to baggage trolleys and deice trucks – I’m a fan. The really crazy thing is how many I’ve been allowed to examine up close.  I’ve been able to sit in a snow plow and a fire truck, gotten to take a close look at a deicing rig and I’ve ridden around in broom truck.  I haven’t driven a stairs truck yet (the coolest of all airport vehicles), but I’ve sat behind the wheel and that’s a start!

Airplanes!

I’m not going to lie – being around airplanes every day is awesome. It doesn’t matter how many take-offs and landings I’ve seen – flying is still magic. I knew I’d see a lot of RJs and 737s around, but I had no idea I’d also get to see the occasional B767 and A330 as well.  Plus I’ve seen an incredible assortment of military airplanes including T-38s,  A10s, F18s, KC135s,  and C130s.  I’ve even seen Airforce One on multiple occasions. I also didn’t anticipate how much I was going to fall in love with business aviation.  Gulfstreams, Globals, Falcons… they stop me in my tracks every time I see them because they are just so darn gorgeous.

IMG_5307Really BIG Airplanes!

When I accepted the job with the airport authority I was excited to be working at a passenger airport, however I was even more excited to be affiliated with a cargo airport.  Why?  Because 747s!  And 777s!  And Antonovs!  There is ALWAYS something interesting to see.  On my very first visit I got to stand on the ramp and watch an Emirates 777 land and then taxi over to be unloaded. I’ve gotten up close and personal with an An124 more than once now.  Oh yes, I LOVE big planes!

Missed Approaches and other “Emergencies”

The first time I saw an airplane go around it was fascinating.  Five years later I’ve seen dozens of missed approaches I have to say… they are STILL really fascinating. They happen for all kinds of reasons, most of them entirely mundane.  Same with aborted take-offs.  I’ve seen several and they were far less dramatic than I expected.  I have also witnessed several emergency landings over the years.  They’re a bit more intense, but thanks to the efforts of ATC, ARFF, Airport Ops and the pilots, they all ended smoothly and uneventfully.

XLBSE1167Favorite Experience

It is hard for me to single out a favorite moment from the past five years because there have been so many.  As a general rule, the coolest experiences happen out on the airfield.  That’s where all the action is.  It’s also where the ground support vehicles hang out.  And it’s where the airplanes are!  If I absolutely HAD to pick a favorite, it would be the winter I trained to assist Ops with managing the flow of traffic into the deice pad.  I got to drive around on the ramp in an ops vehicle and talk to airplanes and ATC on the radio. I mean seriously –  it doesn’t get much cooler than that!  It was a mild winter so I never got signed off to manage the pad by myself but who knows – maybe one of these days I’ll get another chance.

IMG_5310 (2)On the Wish List

What would I like to do that I haven’t done yet?  Well I still haven’t driven a snow plow or gone out with the airfield team during a snow event. I’d really love to go up in the bucket of a deice rig just once.  Of course driving a stairs truck remains a goal. And I still really, really want to ride around on the baggage belt. However, I’ve recently added a new item to my wish list: making an airport-wide page. If you ever find yourself wandering through the terminal and you hear someone paging Captain Oveur to the white courtesy phone… let’s just say I’ll deny all knowledge.

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