Lunch with Champaign Lady

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

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

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

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

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This particular warbird spent some time in the civilian world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Jim Thompson

One Hundred (and then some)!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Airfield Envy

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Who can see a pic like this and not be envious? I know I can’t! Photo by @41satmanDan

I know it’s not good to be envious of others, but sometimes I can’t help it. It’s not that I don’t love where I work and what I do – because I truly do! It’s just that there are so many other amazing airports and interesting jobs out there… I can’t help wanting to be a part of it all.

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Not an RJ.  Not landing at the passenger airport.

The passenger airport where my office is located is officially categorized as “medium sized” in terms of the amount and type of commercial traffic that we have. That translates into lots and lots of ERJs, CRJs, B737s and A319/20s, along with some Mad Dogs. Other than Air Canada, we have no regular service from international carriers. It’s a little hard to look at the variety of planes flying into places like O’Hare or Atlanta or JFK and not be a bit jealous.

And before you all point it out, yes I KNOW we actually get an interesting variety of airplanes at the cargo airport. The problem is, my office isn’t down there so I rarely get to see them. Plus they have an annoying habit of sneaking in and out in the middle of the night. Supposedly that’s just what cargo planes do, but I’m pretty sure they do it on purpose to taunt me!

kbosThen there’s the runways. At the passenger airport we have a very respectable set of parallel runways. Same at the cargo airport. They suit our needs quite adequately. But… well… they’re not very imaginative. Other airports have really upped their runway game. Take O’Hare for example.  It has a variety of runway sizes and orientations. Or what about Boston Logan whose runways all seem to intersect with each other.  I can only imagine how that went down:

Airport Management: “We need to add another runway.”

Planner: “OK. How about… here.” *draws a random line across the diagram*

Airport Management: “But… that cuts across other runways!”

Planner: “No worries – ATC will take care of it.”

Airport Management: “Oh, right!”

It’s not just the other airports I’m a bit jealous of. It’s also the people who get to be out on the airfield every day. I’m sure right now my Ops and Airfield friends are rolling their eyes and thinking, “Right. YOU come out here and work when it’s 100 degrees. Or in the pouring rain. Or during a blizzard. See how jealous you are THEN!” OK, OK – I get it. Every job has aspects that are substantially less than enjoyable. No, I don’t think it would be fun to have to scoop bird pieces off the runway or be on call or work nights. But you have to admit, the perks are pretty damn awesome!

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That whole working during a blizzard thing actually looks really cool! I am so totally jealous! Photo by Francis Colacino

The ops and airfield teams get to see sunrises and sunsets from out on the airfield, which, as everyone knows, is the best place to see them. They get to work in all kinds of really cool equipment, like plows and brooms (and maybe even stairs trucks). They get up-close and personal with all types of airplanes. They get to drive all over the airport property including up and down the runways! (Don’t underestimate how awesome that is.)

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Love this tail! Jealous on so many levels here… Photo by Tom Rainey @traineyjr

Plus they have the satisfaction of knowing that all those happy reunions taking place in the terminal are happening because of their hard work. If the ops and airfield teams stop showing up, everything would shut down pretty fast. Whereas if the finance and accounting department was to suddenly get sucked into another dimension, it would probably be a week or two before anyone noticed.

Employee One: “Hey – didn’t we used to have an accounting department?”

Employee Two: “Oh yeah! I wonder what ever happened to those guys?”

Employee One: “Dunno. Good thing the payroll department is still here.”

Lest you think I’m being a total whiner, I’m not. I may be envious, but I haven’t forgotten how lucky I am to be able to work where I do. I have had some amazing experiences that I couldn’t have had anywhere else. Besides, it doesn’t matter that I’ve seen thousands of RJ departures – every time one takes off I still stop to watch. Because flying is magic and aviation is fascinating and I’m so glad to be a part of it.

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Brooms in action with a gorgeous sky. Wow! Photo by Jeremy R (Special thanks to Jason C)

Deice-capades: Behind the Wheel

IMG_8208As those of you who have been regular readers know, this past winter I was given the opportunity to train with the Operations Department to learn how to manage the deice pad. To recap, deice pad management involves being on the deice pad in an operations vehicle and providing taxi instructions over the radio to position planes in the pad. We sometimes also act as a follow-me vehicle and lead planes into the pad. Once in position, the planes are handed off to their deice teams for the actual deicing.

In my last post I discussed getting on the radio for the first time and what that was like. Getting comfortable with radio communications and learning to juggle multiple planes at once takes time and practice. Unfortunately we were cursed (blessed?) with a very mild winter and I was only able to get out on the deice pad once in February and once in March.  However, on one of those occasions I got the opportunity to begin learning the final skill that I need to master: driving.  Yes, you read that correctly. This tug-loving, aviation-obsessed, stairs truck fanatic was turned loose on the ramp in a truck. The world may never be the same!

IMG_8170The lesson began casually enough when my trainer asked, “Do you want to drive?” My out-loud response was a calm, casual, “Sure.” However, as I took the keys to the SUV my internal response was, “OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO ACTUALLY DRIVE AROUND ON THE AIRFIELD WHICH IS COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS AND TOTALLY AWESOME AND IT IS TAKING EVERY OUNCE OF WILLPOWER NOT TO FREAK OUT!”

The Ops SUVs are very big and since my daily driver is a sedan, just being in such a large vehicle took a little getting used to. My trainer asked if I had driven on the airfield before. I told him I had not. He proceeded to give me some pointers, the most important of which was, “Don’t hit any airplanes!” Um… right. I think I’ve got that one!

IMG_8410He then went over some of the many markings on the ramp and what they mean. The yellow lines bordered in black are the aircraft taxi lines. He told me not to follow them because they would lead me to places I shouldn’t be. Like active runways. Yikes! He had me drive straight out towards one of the taxiways which, I must admit, was a little disconcerting. Hello – aren’t we supposed to be avoiding airplanes? However, before we actually got to the taxiway he had me stop and he pointed out markers on the pavement. He explained that this is as far as we are allowed to go. We cannot cross that line without clearance from ATC. OK – good to know!

IMG_7957I then spent time getting familiar with the drive lanes and where the deice lines are, as well as the best places to sit with good line-of-sight for monitoring activity on the pad. And did I mention we were directing planes this whole time? Well actually, my trainer was. I figured since it was my first time behind the wheel, I should focus on driving. Once the basic instruction was completed I was on my own to decide where to go and when. Sometimes I parked along the back of the pad.  Sometimes I sat on a line just in front of the t-stops to be a visual reference for pilots so they could see where to position. An added benefit of this is it gives you some really awesome photo opportunities. Which my trainer got to enjoy because I was driving. Doh! At one point we paused to take a pic of a Southwest plane, only to realize that someone on the plane was taking pictures of us!

All too soon deice was completed and it was time to park the SUV. Did I mention that it is roughly the size and shape of a tank? Thank goodness the parking spaces are big! I know what you are wondering and no, I didn’t attempt to hijack any stairs truck.  Sadly all the stairs trucks are at the other airport! But I’ve taken another step closer to being able to drive one some day. Next up? Passing the airfield driving test. Stay tuned!

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The Little Air Show That Could

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When you think of air shows, what comes to mind? I typically think of big spectacle, big noise, lots of airplanes and lots of people. In fact, that pretty much sums up every air show I’ve ever been to. So when I first heard about the little air show, I shrugged it off. I’d see bigger and better at Osh. What could a small-town air show in the middle of nowhere possibly have to offer? As it turns out, quite a bit more than I ever expected.

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The Road To Where?

It took an hour and a half of driving deep into a very rural part of the state to get to the show. Given the rugged terrain I expected a very tiny airport perched on the top of a hill. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a good size and situated in a nice, open area surrounded by fields and forest.

Easy Breezy

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The view of the runway from our seats.

I began to realize that I had stumbled onto something special when the police officer helping to collect admission fees noticed my airplane necklace and told me how much he liked it. My normal air show concerns – bad traffic, lousy parking and expensive tickets – were not a factor. From the time we pulled off the main road until we paid admission and parked took all of five minutes. It only took another two minutes to walk to the show grounds. And the ticket price? $10 per person!

img_5355I figured we’d spend the day jammed in the middle of a crowd, with only premium ticket buyers allowed anywhere near the flight line. Wrong! There were lots of people in attendance, but somehow it never seemed crowded. We set up our blanket and chairs in the grass facing the runway just behind a roped-off area. Yay! Front row seats! Then I realized, EVERYONE had front row seats. Well played, small-town air show. Well played!

Talk to me Goose

img_5302Once we claimed our viewing spot, we went to check out the static displays which consisted primarily of the planes that would be performing that afternoon. These included a Cessna 172, three Yak 52s and a Pitts. Oh – and did I mention two F-18 Super Hornets? Yes, you read that right! Super Freaking Hornets!!!! As unlikely as it sounds, this small-town show had managed to bring in a couple of big-time airplanes! I also have to give major kudos to whoever set up their sound system. Not only did they have speakers everywhere, they also played the ENTIRE Top Gun soundtrack (minus the love song). Oh Hell YES!!!  Because seriously, what’s an air show without the theme from Top Gun?

Kickstart My Heart

img_5485The show itself was only a couple hours long but included a nice variety of acts. There were three solo aerobatic performers, one of whom flew the aforementioned Pitts (one of my faves). The Aerostar team flew their Yaks in a beautiful demonstration of precision and grace. There was also an all-female sky diving team who performed not one but two jumps during the show.

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One of the Misty Blues (an all-female skydiving team) handing out stickers and signing autographs

I’ve seen all these acts before, or at least I’ve seen other performances very much like them, but what made this show special was the intimacy of the setting. The seats along the flight line made you feel like you were right in the middle of the action. Better still, when they finished performing, many of the pilots and some of the skydivers walked through the crowd, greeting people, signing autographs and posing for pictures. As you might imagine, this was a HUGE hit with the kids.

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img_5484There was one kid, however, who wasn’t especially impressed. She was one of the neighborhood teens I brought with me. She sat patiently, watching the proceedings but without any real interest. That is until one of the Super Hornets fired up its engines, at which point she perked up a little. When it took off she actually looked interested. And when it did its first high speed pass she was completely hooked. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen this kid get so excited in all the years I’ve known her. Suddenly she was laughing, pointing and taking pictures. Sure an F-18 can fly into hostile territory, engage the enemy then land on the tiny, pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. Whatever.  No big deal.  But fire up the passion of a disinterested teen?  Now THAT’S impressive!  img_5481

As I drove home that evening I thought about what we had just experienced – not just the airplanes and performances, but all those excited kids shaking hands and chatting with pilots. Is is possible that a small show could inspire, encourage and engage  future aviators every bit as well as a big show (and maybe even better)?  I can’t speak for all small-town air shows everywhere, but I can say for sure that this little air show could!

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Photo by L.O’Connell, who now thinks F-18s are pretty cool.

 

This Airport Has Gone to the Dogs

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By Martin Greeson via Wikimedia Commons

Ever have a co-worker who slobbered all over the place and was always poking their nose into things? Well I have. No, I’m not talking about my fellow accountants. (Thank goodness!) I’m talking about the airport K9s. My airport has several of them and they’re awesome.

Awww – Doggies!

Currently on staff we have three German Shepherds, two German Shorthaired Pointers and one Belgian Malinois. Four of them are trained for explosive detection and the other two handle narcotic detection. Two of them are new and just joined the airport police this year. These breeds are fairly common in law enforcement because they are intelligent, strong and have a very good sense of smell. Other popular breeds include Labrador Retrievers and Beagles. (The airport used to have a Lab but he retired a few years ago.)

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Not a police dog but he gave me this sad face until I agreed to include him. How could I say no?

Work Hard, Play Hard

As you might expect K9s go through A LOT of training before they start working. In addition to learning to detect specific substances, they are also taught obedience and to be comfortable in busy, crowded, noisy environments. Once matched with a handler the two go through roughly ten weeks of training together. Then the dogs spend another 30 days becoming acclimated to the airport. During this time they are exposed to all the areas where they will be working, including baggage handling areas and cargo buildings.  Once that is completed the K9s and their handlers go through final certification and then they are ready to work. And by “work” what I actually mean is play. For a K9 work is fun. If they aren’t having fun then they won’t work as hard, so handlers make sure that every day at work is exciting and interesting for their canine partners.

Retired MWD comes home

By Sgt. Barry St. Clair via Wikimedia Commons

Pampered Pooches

Well… I guess you wouldn’t exactly call them pampered, but K9s are a huge investment and a huge asset for the airport, so we want to take good care of them. Since they burn a lot of calories every day, they get special food to make sure they get the right nutrition. They get regular visits to the vet for everything from routine vaccinations to grooming and nail clipping. We also make sure they have good quality toys to play with. (K9s love their Kong toys as much as any dog!) Even their transportation is special – they ride in SUVs which have K9 inserts with window guards, door panels and even heat sensors to make sure they stay safe when they travel.

img_1941K9s in the Crowd

These days K9s are becoming more and more valuable for their ability to detect explosive materials in crowds of people. Over the last few months I have participated in several big events at the airport which have been attended by city and state officials. The K9s were there as well, mingling with the crowd and keeping their eyes… well, OK, their NOSES on the event. I also see them in and around security lines.

The Nose Knows

How sensitive is the K9 nose? I recently read about an incident at an airport in which a K9 detected an explosive substance in a briefcase. When the briefcase was opened they discovered a business card that had belonged to someone who worked with fertilizers and other hazardous substances. The K9 was able to smell those substances on the card INSIDE the briefcase – their noses are THAT sensitive! Last weekend a K9 working in a cargo facility at my airport detected an explosive substance. The facility was evacuated and the bomb squad was brought in. It turned out to be a similar situation – the K9 had hit on very small traces of potentially explosive elements that at some point had come into contact with non-hazardous cargo. Even though there was no threat this time, I feel safer knowing that super-sensitive K9 noses are on the job!

MOD Police Search Dog

By Harland Quarrington via Wikimedia Commons

Ambassadors

Although it’s not an official part of their responsibilities, in many ways the K9s also serve as good-will ambassadors. There’s just something about seeing dogs at work that never fails to make me smile.  Even though their role at the airport is an incredibly important and serious one, they make the place seem a bit more friendly somehow.  And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.  As I was leaving work the other day I saw a female passenger sitting in one of the pre-security waiting areas.  Normally passengers look bored or maybe a little anxious, but she caught my attention because she had the biggest smile on her face. Then I saw what she was looking at – one of the K9s was nearby.  Awww – who’s a good doggie!

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Beautiful Noise

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By Landmark9254 Creative Commons

Close your eyes for 15 seconds and just listen. Did you hear any airplanes? I did. I hear them all the time. You’d think I’d get used to them or that I’d tune them out but I don’t. In fact, I LOVE the sound of airplanes! No, I can’t tell a GE engine from a Rolls Royce but I know what awesome sounds like – it sounds like 140+ commercial flights each day with a bunch of GA mixed in! (Well OK, awesome REALLY sounds like a C-5 screaming past as it takes off, but sadly we don’t have any of those at my airport, so cut me some slack.)

IMG_3601At My Desk

I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t a teeny bit disappointed on my first day at the airport when I discovered that my desk isn’t near a window. Then as I was getting settled in I heard a muffled roar. And then after a bit I heard it again. And then again. And then I realized the south runway was just outside the department and the muted thunder I was hearing was the sound of airplanes taking off and landing. Sweet!!! Maybe I couldn’t see airplanes from my desk, but hearing them was just as cool!

IMG_1440What Time Is It?

There are three gates outside my office – one usually hosts Airbuses (A320s mostly), one handles RJs and you can often find MD-80s parked at the third. I don’t always notice the Airbuses coming and going. I think its because that gate is a bit farther away from where I sit. I do notice the RJs though. One in particular has an APU that has such a high-pitched whine it makes my teeth hurt. (Fortunately I haven’t heard that one in awhile.)

There is, however NO mistaking the sound of the mighty Maddog pulling up to the gate. I can hear it coming from the far end of the airfield, quiet at first but then louder and whinier and louder and whinier… “wheeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.” God I love that sound! No, really! The only thing better than hearing it taxi to the gate is hearing it take off. It sounds rather like a mini space-shuttle launch. Well, OK – maybe not THAT loud, but you get the idea

IMG_1445There are several MD-80s that come and go during the day. There’s an early morning flight that usually departs around the same time I get to the office. Another arrives around 10am-ish and another shows up around 3pm. They’ve become such a part of my routine that if I don’t hear them I become completely confused about what time it is. Hey American Airlines, do you have any idea what your devious scheme to retire the Maddogs will do to me? I may never get to a meeting on time again and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT! Not long ago operations did some concrete repair on the ramp and the Maddogs had to go elsewhere for a week. It was hell. Would someone make an alarm clock with MD-80 sounds, please?!?!

IMG_4822At the Run-Up Wall

We are fortunate to not only have the south runway within earshot of my department, but there’s a run-up wall right outside. Airplanes pull up next to the wall to test their engines. The wall blocks the sound from traveling across the airfield and bothering the neighbors. Thankfully, it does not stop the sound from traveling right to me. Some of the regional airlines have maintenance facilities at my airport and they are the ones who use the wall the most. Every time I hear that breathy roar of a plane running its engines I find an excuse to sneak over to the window and snap a pic. I have about a hundred million pictures of RJs at the wall. Equally fun are the propeller planes. Buuuuzzz buzzz bizzz bzzz bzzzz bzzzz!!!!! They sound like flies caught in a spiderweb, only a million times more excellent!

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Of course airplanes generally sound their best during take-off and landing. The aforementioned Airbus, while relatively quiet at the gate, has a delightfully buzzy, growl on take-off. Many of the bizjets are deceptively loud. “Awww, look at cute little jet! It’s taking off now and… OH MY GOD MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!!!!  How can such an awesomely huge noise could come from such small engines?

IMG_3696Probably one of my most epic airplane noise moments happened earlier this summer. For months I had been stalking a P-51 that stays in a hangar at my airport. I once caught a glimpse of it hiding behind another plane, but was unable to get a good look at it. Then one day as I stepped out onto the top level of the parking garage I heard the unmistakable sound of a WWII airplane firing up its engine. I sprinted across the parking garage like a mad woman and sure enough, there was the Mustang taxiing right in front of me. I screamed. I jumped up and down. I excitedly pointed it out to a lady who was standing there. She looked at me as if I was completely possessed and quickly hurried her children away. Whatever. I not only got to see the long-sought Mustang right there in front of me, but I got to watch (and listen to) it take off as well. Two words: Total. Awesomesauce.

IMG_2810Noise Monitoring

I’ve been told that not everyone likes noisy airplane engines. I’m sorry… what? How is that even possible? However, since these people apparently do exist, my airport has a noise abatement program which includes things like sound proofing nearby homes, installing noise monitoring equipment, blah, blah, blah.  I’ve got a better idea.  I think they should give me the CEO’s house, which is located right next to the north runway. (And I do mean right next to it. Most people have a street address – she has taxi instructions.) From there I will monitor the noise levels and contact airlines as needed.  “Dear Southwest Airlines, Flight 3597 which departed from my airport last Tuesday night was unacceptably quiet. You can do better! Thanks for your cooperation.”

 

 

Airport Olympics

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Photo by Aero Icarus, Zurich Switzerland, Creative Commons

Editor’s note: Hello friends! Just a quick note to encourage you to give a listen to the latest episode of the Aviation Careers Podcast. I was honored to be the special guest discussing careers at the airport. Hope you’ll check it out!

Welcome sports fans! I’m thrilled to be reporting live from the Olympics! I’m sorry… Who? Michael Phelps? Oh no… Not THOSE Olympics! The AIRPORT Olympics!  They go on every day at airports around the world. Let’s go live to the ramp for our first competition!

Synchronized Push-back

IMG_4554Here we see two Southwest airplanes doing their best to “stick the landing” in the synchronized push-back competition. What they are hoping you don’t notice is that one of them actually pushed back one minute before the other. So while they look beautifully synchronized at the moment, the truth is that they actually weren’t synchronized at all. Not even a little bit. As a result the judges had to deduct 9 points (from a 10 point scale). However, the planes were awarded one point each for actually departing on time.

Runway 10,000K

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Waiting for their turn to antagonize competitors

If I can direct your attention to the airfield, it’s time for the start of the Runway 10,000K. This event combines the speed and endurance of a marathon (a really, really long marathon) with the ability to manage pyrotechnics. There’s the starting gun… and there’s a flock of birds! The competitors are sprinting to the approach end of the runway where they will pause and fire the bird cannon. Ah, nicely done! But now the birds are at the departure end of the runway. The competitors are sprinting the 10,000 feet necessary before they can fire their cannons again. This event is going to take awhile – we will check back in a bit later to see how things are going.

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Crowds of athletes preparing for the Gate Dash. Photo by 周一楠 (Own work) Creative Commons

Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash

The action continues inside the terminal where we see crowds preparing for the “Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash” (commonly referred to as the “Gate Dash”). This event is a perennial favorite – no matter whether you are entering through ticketing or making a connection, the gate you need is always the gate farthest away from where you happen to be. In fact, you may have participated in this event yourself on your last trip. At my airport this is considered a sprinting event. At other airports, such as Atlanta, it falls under the marathon category.

Luggage Toss

And now it’s back again to the ramp where scores of competitors brave the elements to compete in this well-known event.  It involves IMG_4604grabbing awkward, heavy pieces of luggage and tossing them onto the mobile conveyor. Points are awarded for actually getting them onto the conveyor.  Bonus points are awarded if the bags survive the journey up the conveyor and actually make it into the airplane.  Fail to make the conveyor too many times and hopes for winning this competition are dashed… along with every fragile item inside the suitcases.

Runway 10,000K (part two)

Let’s go back to the airfield for an update.  It looks like the birds have moved over to the other runway now, forcing the athletes to cross the ramp.  Woah!  One of them almost got hit by a suitcase from the Luggage Toss competition! Another had to hurdle over one of the mobile conveyors. It looks like they’ve finally made it safely to the second runway… but wait! The birds have flown back to the first runway again!

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Airport gymnasts wait their turn to compete. Photo by By Danpaluska (Own work) [CC0]

Security gymnastics

Inside the terminal its time for everyone’s (least) favorite event: Security Gymnastics! The first competitor steps up to the mat. He’s going to attempt to remove change from his pocket while simultaneously removing his loafers. Although nicely executed, the difficulty level is low which limits the number of points he can be awarded. Now the next competitor steps up to the mat. It looks like she is going to do the exact same routine… but wait! She’s doing it in high heels! And she’s removing a laptop from her carry-on while maneuvering a stroller and carrying a screaming baby! That’s an unbelievable level of difficulty which really maximizes her points potential!

Stairs Jousting

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A big thanks to Ken Hoke (Aerosavvy) for recommending this gif!

I saved the best and most daring competition for last! Of course I can only be talking about Stairs Jousting! And if you are looking at the footage, no, that’s not me on the fourth step waving a pitchfork. I don’t know what you are talking about. I disavow all knowledge! Besides, we all know that true Olympic Jousting Masters use STAIRS TRUCKS. Because nothing intensifies competition like horsepower!

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My trusty stairs-jousting steed.

OSH16 is P.A.S.T.

IMG_4431The last week of July I once again ventured forth to the aviation mecca that is Airventure Oshkosh. My happy place! This was my third year going and every year I’ve stayed longer and done more. (Yet I still missed things I really wanted to do and see. How the heck does that keep happening?) As you might have guessed from the title of this post, P. A. S. T. stands for more than just days gone by. It’s my way of summarizing what Oshkosh means to me.

A is for Airplanes (Yes I’m going out of order.)

IMG_4433OK, EAA – have you been stalking my twitter feed or reading my private diary? (I don’t keep a private diary, so that would be really weird.) The planes on display at this year’s show featured pretty much all of my faves including:

-The C-5 Galaxy
-The A-10 Warthog
-The F-18 Hornet
-An Alaska Airlines 737-900ER
-A Cathay Pacific 747-8 (which I missed because I left the day it arrived)
-More WW II era planes than I ever thought I’d see all in one place

FullSizeRender (49)I walked in, around, under and through as many of these planes as I possibly could. But even better than the planes on the ground were the planes in the air. The F-16 and F-18 demos were spectacular. The aerobatic performers were breath-taking. The Martin Mars water bomber was so unbelievable I just stood there with my mouth open. Team AeroShell in the night show was absolutely gorgeous!

IMG_4434Although it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite out of all the performances, I’m going to have to give a nod to the Canadian Snowbirds, who put on a show that I struggle to put into words. If the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels demonstrate power, then the Snowbirds demonstrate poetry. Lyrical isn’t typically how I’d describe an air show performance, but it’s the only word that really fits.

P is for People

IMG_4184This year I finally learned why Airventure is often referred to as an aviation family reunion. For me it began with Laura, my travel companion, who is an awesome friend that I hadn’t seen in almost two years. She’s not an #avgeek but she is a photographer who found a ton of material to capture at Osh. She fell in love with the warbirds and their nose art. When we stumbled upon the WWII encampment she was in heaven. Day two of our visit she embarked on a “chicks that rock” campaign whereby she got her picture taken with every female service member she came across.

The reunion theme continued with all the great online IMG_4029friends that I got to meet face to face, many for the very first time. It started on Tuesday at the fabulous Oshbash, hosted by Dan Pimentel and Airplanista. I don’t want to try to list names because I know I’ll leave someone out, but I was almost overwhelmed by all the hugs and friendly faces. This continued through-out the week. One friendly face that I got to see for a second year in a row was Kevin Lacey from Airplane Repo. I told him about my first flying lesson and he encouraged me to get my butt back in a plane for lesson number two.

I also got to meet the entire Canadian Snowbird team. First they impressed me by taking time to join the crowds who were applauding the honor flight veterans. Then they came over to the fence and chatted with everyone while signing posters and posing for pics. They were extremely friendly and open – terrific ambassadors for aviation.

IMG_4438Probably my biggest “people moment” actually involved two complete strangers. The A-10 is one of my very favorite airplanes and although I have seen an A-10 before, I have never gotten to see one fly in person. I just happened to be in a good spot relatively near the flight line when they arrived. I was so excited and overwhelmed that I was in tears. There were a couple of guys there who, instead of thinking I was crazy, totally understood how I felt and talked with me for a bit about why A-10s are so awesome. That moment really epitomizes why I love Osh so very much. Not only am I surrounded by amazing planes, I’m surrounded by amazing people who share a passion for aviation and who understand each other. For at least one week each year I don’t have to explain why airplanes are so cool.IMG_4303

ST is for Stairs Trucks 

You knew I wasn’t going to leave them out! Don’t worry – all the Oshkosh stairs trucks are present and accounted for. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t take every opportunity to get up close and personal with them. I’ve even discovered yet another reason why stairs trucks are awesome – they’re an excellent way to get a birds-eye view of all the airplanes in Boeing Plaza!

OSH17

IMG_4432I never knew four days could go by as quickly as my four days at Airventure 2016 did.  It seemed like we had just arrived when suddenly it was time to say goodbye. And oh how I hate saying goodbye!  Leaving Oshkosh was really, really hard to do.  But a stop by O’Hare for a little plane spotting with a couple of twitter friends sure helped a lot.  And looking ahead to Osh17 helps too.  As Chris Palmer put it on his post-Osh podcast: whatever it is that you love about aviation, Oshkosh has it.  IMG_4440Commercial airplanes? Vintage? GA? Helicopters? Balloons? Yes, yes, yes, yes and YES! So how about it?  Will YOU be at Osh17? Sure hope to see you there!

Special thanks to my Osh16 partner in crime, Laura Kenneson, for walking a million miles on blistered feet, for not laughing when I suggested we stop by O’Hare on the way home and for allowing me to use some of her awesome pictures on this post.  

Also, if you haven’t listened to Airplanegeeks podcast #412, check it out.  Not only does Rob Mark provide an excellent Osh wrap-up, but David Vanderhoof shares his story “Suzy Goes to the Stars” which happens to feature a couple of cameos by a stairs truck with a very familiar name…

 

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Airport Tales: Captain Al

 

By RHL Images from England (Busy Holding Points) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAnd now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the third installment of Airport Tales! This time around we’ve hopped “across the pond” to chat with Captain Al Evans.  Al flies with a major UK airline, but over the course of his career he’s flown pretty much everywhere and has some great stories and insight to share.

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Background:

Tell us a little about your background as a pilot, how you got started, what you do now and where your travels typically take you:

Captain AlLike many aviators, my passion for flying came from my Dad. He was and still is an inspiration to me on many levels. Coming from a rural background in wartime Britain his opportunities were limited but he grasped the opportunity to join the Royal Air Force with both hands. He started out as an apprentice radar engineer and showed great promise, not only in his trade but on the rugby pitch (being Welsh and fast he was a natural selection). An unique set of circumstances led to him leaving the air force, unable to fulfill his ambition of transferring to air crew. He had all the skills and acumen but lacked one thing – colour vision! Despite having umpteen Air Force medicals this small hiccup had been undetected, and what’s more, scuppered his current trade as engineer too. After many deliberations the Air Force accepted that they had caused his colour blindness and he left. Many years later, when I was six, my father reignited his passion for flying by undertaking his Private Pilots License (PPL), paid for by my grandmother who very astutely wanted to see her children enjoy their inheritance whilst she was still alive! My dad was a natural and went on to represent Great Britain in Precision Flying and Rallying for many years.

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By Valder137, Creative Commons

As for me the spark was ignited, but when I was old enough flying jobs were as abundant as rocking horse dung. So I fell into other careers: radio presenter, audio engineer, music producer, videotape editor and finally special effects compositor for feature films and commercials. This created the income and one day in a high street newsagent I saw a copy of Pilot magazine and bought it. At the back of the magazine was a full page advert for a UK PPL in 21 days in the Florida sunshine for the grand sum of £1999. The spark turned into a flame and 2 weeks later I started in Ormond Beach, Florida. Part-way through the course I telephoned my dad and told him what I was doing and he said “great, let me know how you get on”. The following week he turned up completely out of the blue on the day of my General Flight Test and congratulated me face to face for my initiative and hard work. For me there was no going back and with my parents backing and support (something they have always given regardless of my plans) the journey to commercial aviation began.

Chuck Yeager, NF-104

Chuck Yeager is a great guy, but sadly he’s not a natural Al. (U.S. Air Force photo)

I completed most of my training in Florida with the odd bit in the UK. I worked exceptionally hard to achieve the required standards and some failures (with the subsequent retests) were necessary but on reflection they made me a better Captain – not everyone is a natural Chuck Yeager!

Having flown in the Caribbean for a while, I returned to the UK and started in the right-hand seat of a Jetstream 41 flying domestic and international flights ostensibly from Cardiff. There is no doubt in my mind that flying a 29 seat turboprop is the perfect way to cut your teeth in European commercial flying, a career route that is fast becoming defunct!

Within the same airline, albeit after a rebrand, I flew the Embraer 145, the Jungle Jet, named after its Brazilian heritage. It was a wonderful aircraft, a junior B757, but it wasn’t well suited to British short runways or crosswinds!

FullSizeRender (48)There was an employment bubble, the world of aviation is cyclical, and I seized the opportunity to join a major player in the UK aviation world. The interview was a chat with two management pilots – no computer tests or HR trickery, and the deal was struck, or at least I thought so! A phone call later gave me an unexpected option Boeing or Airbus? Truthfully one look at the the beautiful A330 made the decision easy and the course date was set. A period of time flying the company A320/1s was required before I could get a go of the Big Bird, that time was quick and the delights of stormy nights in the Greek Islands was soon replaced by stunning visual approaches in the Indian Ocean! I still flew the narrow bodies but my time was mainly A330, it was a wondrous period of my life – I think I got married round about now but I’m not sure!

Command beckoned and a return to narrow body flying became the norm. Being a Captain in an airline that empowers its Captains brings many challenges and joys, but I can truly say not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new and enjoy myself.

Airport stuff

Favorite airport to fly into/out of (in terms of approach/departure) and why:

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By StromBer (own work) Creative Commons License

My favourite airport of flights past is Malé International in the Republic of The Maldives.  Why? Because after flying for over 10 hours through the night the beauty of the world is presented in a plethora of beautiful colours, as the sandy atolls poke out of the azure waters. The airport itself was a joy and visual approaches were often the norm. The airport has a long tarmac runway and a somewhat shorter water runway. I can honestly say I only ever landed on the long one! The ability to call visual with over two hundred miles to run and hear the gentle squeak of rubber on tarmac as 11 hours clicked over was unforgettable.

Most challenging airport you have flown into/out of and why:

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By Ayala (Own Work) Creative Commons License

Currently my favourite airport is also one of the world’s most challenging, Gibraltar. A short runway clinging to the side of a rock with sea at each and and no instrument approaches focuses the mind on a regular basis. There is nothing more satisfying than achieving a smooth touchdown after spending many minutes battling with horrible orographically produced winds. Gibraltar often has a tailwind on both ends of the runway!

Biggest airport-related hassle:

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Hey now… that’s a Boeing! How did it sneak in here? Oops! Sorry about that Al!

Security is now part of our lifeblood in aviation but standards vary greatly, not just from country to country but airport to airport. It is time that ICAO mandated that whilst no pilot is perfect, of can of Pepsi in the hands of a pilot is not a security risk. Many pilots these days judge airports more on their practical and common sense approach to the landside/airside transition than more aeronautical related facilities. Some airport genuinely view pilots as part of the problem and not part of the solution! I do not need a 330ml can of Pepsi to cause harm when there is a fire axe on the flight deck and within my reach!

Airport/FBO you’ve been to with the best coffee? Food? Other amenities?

My turnarounds are often short (less than an hour) so my interface with terminals/FBOs is minimal but any handling company that provides free doughnuts gets a thumbs up from me (thank you Calgary)!

Strangest airport-related incident:

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Virginia State Parks, Creative Commons License

The strangest airport experience I ever had was when I was deadheading from New Dehli to Dabolim (both in India) when we were asked to evacuate the aircraft via the forward doors only. Once outside and fearing the worst we could see what the problem was – a huge swarm of hornets had covered the entire tail section of the aircraft, there must have been millions of them! From the relative safety of an airport bus the fire brigade tried to disperse them by spraying them with water – it didn’t work and the flight was eventually cancelled! I know not what happened to the hornets or indeed the aircraft but I did make it to Dabolim, eventually!

In your opinion, what qualities make for a good airport (as a pilot and as a traveler)?

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Ha ha ha Boeing, very funny. Now cut it out!

As an industry we have faced many challenges in the past 20 years or so, but airports must become more open minded and become ‘user friendly’, nobody likes queues and often they are as a result of poor design and poor implementation. Our customers face huge delays in proceeding landside to airside with little justification. Our airports have become soulless people processors. Once airside opportunities are missed, does your airport offer a choice of full service restaurants? Very few do, favouring a selection of fast food & fast eat options. Not everyone is in a rush! We need to put some soul and passion back into our airports – no more grey or beige corridors please!

If you could operate any piece of airport equipment/vehicle, which would it be?

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Pushback tug. Hey.. wait just a minute! Thought we wouldn’t notice, huh Boeing? Well we did. Now stop it!

I have often mused about taking a pushback tug down to my local pub! No parking spaces? No problem! Some years ago when Milan Malpensa airport opened its new terminal they provided crew with electric scooters to get to the gate – there is nothing more surreal than watching 3 pilots and 14 cabin crew racing down the concourse on scooters!

Is there anything airport staff can do to better support you?

If I could ask airports to provide one thing it would be a courtesy filter, nobody should be allowed at an airport unless they can be courteous. Every week I find myself dealing with rude and disrespectful people and it seems to be getting worse. My industry once led the world in service and style alas no more or perhaps I’m just getting old!

Anything else you’d like to share?

MarkJHandle by Creative Commons

OK Boeing, now you’re just showing off.  Seriously that’s enough! Cut it out! (Photo by MarkJHandel, Creative Commons)

I don’t want to end on a negative so I shan’t! Aviation is a vocation or perhaps the worlds strongest drug – either way it is a truly wonderful industry and not a day goes by when I remind myself how lucky I am. And finally (if you’ve made it thus far thank you) our industry is in good hands for the future as just last night I had the pleasure of meeting Jess. She was one of my cabin crew, and at young age of 19 has embarked on learning to fly. Her commitment and enthusiasm are an aviation viagra to us old pilots.

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Getting better.  Now remove the flag…

So at this point I bid my passengers farewell, my crew adios and my wife and son hello!

Captain Al out.
Captain Al Evans

A320/1 Fleet Manchester (MAN) and Birmingham (BHX)

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Yay! Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to share this with us Al! I completely agree with your observations about some of the challenges facing airports today. And I LOVE your choice of airport vehicle! Of course now I’m going to be sorely tempted to “borrow” the nearest tug next time I plan a night out!

One other interest that Al didn’t mention is his desire to help people who have a fear of flying.  Check out his awesome website: flightfearsolutions.co.uk!

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Ah, there we go!