Stalking Airplanes

IMG_1327Every aviation enthusiast has a list of airplanes that they really want to see. Sometimes it’s a certain type that we’re after. Or it can be a particular airline or livery (or both). Some hard-core spotters seek specific tail numbers. For me, it is a mix of these things.

I would dearly love to see an A380. It’s not going to happen at my airport – I’d have to go elsewhere. I would also love to see a B737-8 up close. They fly into the cargo airport but I just haven’t been able to coordinate my schedule to make it down there to see one. We do get lots of special liveries though. Both Southwest and American have several of them. Even Delta and United have a few.

IMG_1470With all the hours I spend at airports, you’d think that chasing down specific liveries wouldn’t be much of a challenge. Wrong! For one thing, I’ve got pretty strict rules. I have to see the plane where I work – another airport doesn’t count. The plane needs to be taxiing, taking off or landing, and I need to witness it either from the ramp or up on the garage. The bigger issue, however, is that certain airplanes are deliberately hiding from me.

IMG_1447

Photo by Ryan Ewing, who gets to see some really awesome airplanes.

American Airlines TWA & Reno Air Liveries

To my great sadness, American has been retiring the mighty Mad Dog at a rapid pace. If there is any consolation, however, it’s that they are sending B737s (rather than more A319s) to replace them. This means that some special liveries which were previously out of my reach are now within the realm of possibility. Recently I happened to get lucky enough to catch American’s One World livery as it was landing. I figure at some point TWA and Reno Air will make an appearance. Hopefully I’ll be watching when they do!

IMG_1448

Another photo by Ryan Ewing. I’m so jealous.

American Airlines America West Livery

I have seen this airplane a time or two… but always at the gate or hiding behind a fence. For some reason it doesn’t visit my airport very often. A few months ago it was scheduled to fly out just after I finished work for the day.  Perfect!  But then it delayed and delayed and delayed. It wasn’t until I gave up and headed for my car that it finally pushed back. It taunted me by taxiing onto the runway at the exact moment I happened to drive by.

IMG_1449

You get one guess who took this. Yep, Ryan Ewing. I’m way beyond jealous at this point.

Delta SkyTeam livery

If the America West special livery plane is elusive, Delta SkyTeam is worse. I recently discovered that this wily plane has been sneaking in and out of my airport for quite some time. It flies in late at night then hurriedly takes off shortly before I arrive. I had no clue this was going on until a coworker told me about it. Sure, show up for the coworker but hide from me! Totally uncool, Delta SkyTeam!

IMG_1454

Miami Air captured in the open by James Dingell.

Miami Air

This airline has been taunting me relentlessly for years. Like the Delta SkyTeam livery, it conveniently flies in when I’m not around. On the rare occasion that it shows up while I’m at work, it always parks at the one gate I can’t see. Or it parks at the FBO and positions itself in such a way that I can’t get a good look at it, no matter what vantage point I try.

IMG_1571 (1)

Photo by Andrew Stricker. Because Miami Air apparently isn’t hiding from him.

A few months ago I noticed Miami Air on the scheduled charter list, and much to my joy it was supposed to arrive right around my lunch time. Hooray! Then the flight was delayed. So I delayed my lunch. But then it was delayed some more. And some more. And wouldn’t you know I had a meeting that afternoon? Clearly Miami Air knew. Not only did it land after the meeting started, but it performed the world’s fastest turn-around and departed before the meeting ended. Did I mention the meeting was only ONE HOUR long? Well played, Miami Air. You may have won this round but I’m not giving up!

IMG_6041Every once in a while I happen to stumble across a cool livery that almost (but not entirely) makes up for all those planes I haven’t been able to see (yet). Such was the case when United’s Star Alliance stopped by. Not only did it park at a gate where it was easy to see, but it taxied out on time and took off right in front of me. Thank you so much, Star Alliance!

As for the planes on my most wanted list, well I’m in meetings all day next Wednesday, so I’m sure they’ll pick that day to fly in. (OK, actually I don’t have any meetings.  Don’t tell them that!)

IMG_1400

© http://www.talesfromtheterminal.com 2017

Ten Things I Love About Airports

IMG_6333Let’s do a quick word association. When I say “commercial airport,” what are the first things that come to mind? Getting there and parking? (Ugh!) Going through security? (Double ugh!) Delays and cancellations? (Triple ugh!) The truth is, for most people, commercial airports do not conjure up very pleasant thoughts. Oh how I wish everyone could see the airport the way I see it! Here are some of my favorite things:

1. 05:00

I know what you’re thinking – that’s insanely early!  Yes, I know.  But there’s just something special about this time of day.  I guess it has to do with the contrast between the stillness of the airfield and the hectic activity inside the terminal.

IMG_7185

2. Sunrise

Sunrise is one of my favorite times at the airport. There’s something quite breathtaking about the sun peeking over the horizon and lighting up the sky. I’m blessed to have seen some truly amazing sunrises.

3. Sunset

Like sunrises, sunsets at the airfield can be pretty spectacular.

IMG_6589

4. Deice Pad

The deice pad can be a hectic, crazy place for all involved. But there’s something about being out on the ramp, right next to the planes that makes it completely awesome. Plus there are so many cool photo opportunities!

5. Sunrise on the deice pad

Sunrise. Airplanes. Deice rigs. Airport. Need I say more?

IMG_6944

6. ATC towers

I wish everyone could visit an ATC tower just once. Unfortunately, most travelers will never get the chance. It’s a shame because the activity that goes on there is critical. And the view is phenomenal!

IMG_7885

7. Snow

I know that snow is a giant hassle for everyone involved – believe me, I get it. But at the same time there’s just something special about snow on the airfield. Perhaps it’s taking pride in all the hard work that goes into keeping things up and running, or maybe it’s the way it swirls around the jet engines.

8. K9s

Oh how I love my K-9 coworkers! I’m lucky because I get to see them when they aren’t working, which means I get to pet them and love on them. Recently, however, I got to watch a K-9 demonstrate his skills by searching for explosive materials that were planted for him to find. I was very impressed by his focus and determination – and all he asked for in return was play time with his squeaky ball!

img_9527.jpg

9. Box of Chocolates

The airport is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you just never know what is going to show up! If you read my last post then you know about the visit from the A-10s. A week later two Osprey flew in. Fan-freaking-tastic!!!

IMG_9669

10. Possibilities

Airports represent the ability to get pretty much anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. Think about that for a moment. Consider what it took to go just 100 miles in 1817 (200 years ago). When I see airplanes at the gates, I see the ability to go anywhere and do anything. How cool is that?

11. Stairs trucks

Spinal Tap fans will immediately understand why this Top Ten list has to go all the way to 11. And what better way to wrap things up than with stairs trucks?

FullSizeRender (72)

Lies Plane Spotters Tell

IMG_8816It’s a sad truth and it pains me to say this but… plane spotters tell lies.  Yes, we do.  Anyone who says they don’t is… well, probably lying. We don’t mean to lie, it’s just that when you are hanging around the airfield and watching planes come and go, it is so easy to get completely sucked in and say things that you don’t really mean.  For example:

I’m not going plane spotting today. 

IMG_9501Since I work for an airport, the temptation is always there to stop upstairs and do a little plane spotting before I head home. It seems that no matter how firm my resolve to go straight to my car after work, by the time I get to the escalators I feel that irresistible urge to head on up. At that point I move on to lie number two…

I’m only going to stay for ten minutes. 

Half an hour later and I’m still there. The problem is, there’s almost always something interesting to see. In the unlikely event that there’s nothing happening on the airfield, I listen to ATC communications on my scanner. I listen to some of the airline operations frequencies as well, which can often be quite entertaining.

It’s too wet/cold/snowy/stormy for plane spotting. 

IMG_9529

Photo by Andrew Stricker

To be fair, sometimes it really IS too miserable outside for plane spotting. But spotters learn quickly that airplanes can be very cool to watch in rainy/snowy/windy weather. Can you say crosswind landings? On a recent stormy Friday I was able to sneak outside for a few minutes between storms. Listening to the coordination between ATC and the pilots and watching flights navigate around the weather was quite fascinating.

I’ve already got several pictures of that airline/livery/aircraft type. I don’t need any more. 

Except they’re landing from the opposite direction today… and on the other runway… and the sky is amazing… and the light conditions are just right…

I’m only going to wait a few more minutes for that flight to push back and then I’m giving up.

IMG_9091

I have to thank my twitter friend Andrew for coming up with this one.  It’s so true! An hour later I’m still there, still waiting for that plane to depart. Of course when I do give up and leave that’s when the plane decides to taxi out. Doh! I swear it does this on purpose just to taunt me! (I’m talking to you, American Airlines Airbus with the America West retro livery!)

I don’t need a better camera/lens/scanner.

Actually, yes I do! I really do! And once I get that new piece of spotting equipment, then of course I have to test it out! But don’t worry – I’m only going to stay ten minutes.

So why do we end up staying even though we swear we’re going to leave? Why do we make liars out of ourselves? Well…

For Moments Like This:

IMG_8472Earlier this week I decided to do a little plane spotting on my lunch break. It was hot and muggy so I told myself I’d only stay a few minutes. I was just about to (for once) head inside early when I heard a military flight contact the tower. I didn’t recognize the call sign but assumed it was probably a KC-135 practicing approaches. They often fly over from the nearby Air National Guard base. I’ve seen them several times before, however I figured I might as well stick around and watch them fly by.

FullSizeRender (70)Then I heard ATC clear the flight for the break. At that point I realized that it couldn’t be a tanker – it had to be fighters. Before I could even begin to speculate on what kind of fighters they might be, a flight of four A-10 Warthogs appeared. I calmly and patiently watched as they circled to land… OK, I’m lying again.  The truth is, I completely lost my mind.  I let out a shriek and sprinted across the parking garage (in high heels no less) while simultaneously attempting to take as many pictures as possible. I was overwhelmed with excitement, laughing, crying, jumping up and down…

IMG_9481Then I noticed that the group of construction workers who had been working nearby were slowly backing away. I must have looked like a complete lunatic. And guess what? I. DON’T. CARE. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time then you know the A-10 is one of my all-time favorite airplanes. I’ve only seen them fly once before at AirVenture Oshkosh last summer. To see them at my airport was absolutely the most unexpected, amazing thing EVER.

So why do plane spotters tell themselves these terrible lies? Because magic moments happen without notice when you least expect them. We just don’t want to miss out. And that’s the truth.

img_9469.jpg

Author’s note: In April I attended an event at the USAF Museum commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.  If you want to hear about it and see some pictures I took of the B-25s that participated in the flyover, please check out Episode 24 of the Flying and Life podcast.

Wings Over Avgeeks

IMG_9089

Photo by Capt Nick Anderson www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

They say the first time you attend an air show it’s about the airplanes, but after that it’s about the people. For a long time I really didn’t understand this. Hey – I’m here because I love things with wings! (And stairs trucks!) But the more you get into aviation the more you value being able to spend time with other people who love aviation too. And you find that being with them makes air shows and fly ins and other events even better than you ever thought they could be. Such was the case with Wings Over Pittsburgh.

 

wingsoverpitt2

Photo by Capt Nick Anderson www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

Awesome: The F-22

Ah, the Raptor! It is one hell of a bad-ass airplane. I saw it at an airshow in 2009 and was completely blown away. I saw it again more recently but wasn’t as impressed. The performance that day had to be limited and it just wasn’t as spectacular as I remembered. At Wings Over Pittsburgh, however, the Raptor completely redeemed itself by being even more amazing than it was in 2009. That plane flies in ways and directions that defy all logic. Planes just can’t fly like that! Except somehow this one does!

wingsoverpitt3

Photo by Capt Nick Anderson      www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

Even More Awesome: Watching the F-22 with people who worked for Pratt & Whitney.

The F-22 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F119 turbofan engines which have nozzles that incorporate 2D thrust vectoring. I have no idea what any of that means. What it does, however, is allow the Raptor to fly in ways that are, frankly, ridiculous. Max and his wife are retired Pratt & Whitney employees who were with the company during the development of these engines. Watching them watch the F-22 demo was a true highlight of the weekend for me. When I asked how it felt to see their hard work on display the answer was a single word: goosebumps. I couldn’t agree more!


img_5484.pngAwesome:
The F-18 Super Hornet

I have long been a fan of the F-18. Many years ago I had a friend who was a mechanic in the Marines who worked on F-18s. I was unfamiliar with the plane so I looked it up. Woah – what the heck is this? Sweeeeet! I was instantly smitten and have loved the plane ever since. Yes, the Super Hornet is a bit different from the original Hornet, but I don’t care. The F-18 display remains one of my very favorites.

Even More Awesome: Watching the F-18 demonstration with a former F-18 pilot.

I wasn’t standing close enough to hear what Nick had to say during the demo, but just watching his face was enough. It was very obvious that he still loves that plane. And who can blame him!

IMG_9098Awesome: C-130s and paratroopers

I have no desire to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. However, I think it is really cool to watch other people do it. And it’s even more cool when those people are paratroopers jumping out of C-130s. How the heck do so many of them manage to leap out all at once?

Even More Awesome: Watching paratroopers with a skydiver.

I wish I had been able to watch with Steph on Saturday when the weather was better. It was much windier on Sunday and she knew right away that they weren’t going to be able to make the jump. Still, it was interesting to get her take on their performance from the previous day.

IMG_9093Awesome: All the amazing airplanes on display.

The static displays at Wings Over Pittsburgh were impressive and quite varied. They included some of my old favorites like the C-5 and KC-135, as well as the iconic B-52, the way-cool F-35, an Embraer E175 and many, many more. I could have spent hours and hours examining them in detail and still not gotten a good look at everything.

FullSizeRender (68)Even More Awesome: Wandering through the displays with an aviation historian.

David has probably lost count of the number of airshows he has attended. He has spent countless hours on military bases and soaked up more information than anyone I know. All that knowledge was so much fun to be around! I could ask any question and he knew the answer.  I learned a lot and I loved every moment!

Awesome: Spending three days surrounded by airplanes AND by people who are as passionate about them as I am.

Even More Awesome: Actually, I don’t think it gets more awesome than that!

IMG_9072

Big bird, little birds. Photo by Dr. Stephanie Plummer

For You, Airline Crews

PRMY7206There has been a lot of bad press for the airlines lately. It upsets me because I know that the people involved in these incidents are NOT representative of the vast majority of airline employees. I see crews and gate agents and ground handlers every day. I see them showing up to work at crazy early hours. I see them still working late at night. And even when the day has been stressful with bad weather and canceled flights, they still manage to laugh when I see them on the shuttle at the end of the day.

IMG_8025So this is for you, pilots and cabin crews. I see you in the parking lot heading to the terminal. Most of you are commuting to your bases for the start of your trips. I often wonder just how far you have to go before your working day begins. And let’s face it, in a lot of ways once the uniform is on, you ARE working. I see passengers asking you questions and looking to you for guidance, even though at this point you’re technically just a passenger too.

This is for you, being part of an industry where you aren’t allowed to have a bad day. Any mistake or misunderstanding can be videoed and sent out to the masses in 140 characters or less, which is never enough to really tell the whole story. You deal with thousands of customers every year, doing your job well day after day and almost always with a smile. Then the bad behavior of a very few puts you under suspicion, even when you’ve done nothing wrong.

american_airlines_friendly_pilot_28443568723529

By Maarten Visser from Capelle aan den IJssel, Nederland CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This is for the baggage handlers working outside in the wind and freezing rain. It’s for the gate agents explaining a flight delay to frustrated passengers. And it’s for the pilots waving at excited children who are jumping up and down and pointing at the plane through the terminal window.  This is for the Southwest pilots who saw a military casket being removed from an American plane and out of respect for the fallen soldier, stopped their taxi until after the hearse left. This is for the flight attendants on the shuttle who had me laughing so hard at their stories that I couldn’t breathe. (And if you guys are reading – I continue to support your quest for casual Fridays!) This is for every one of you who works hard every day to make the aviation industry something I’m proud to be a part of:

IMG_8768

And for any of my aviation friends who may be feeling down or discouraged, I strongly encourage you to watch the movie Living in the Age of Airplanes. If you’ve seen it before, then watch it again. Or just watch this trailer. It’s a good reminder of just how amazing and wonderful and special aviation is!

 

 

 

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!

IMG_8216

The (Mad)Doggie in the Window

FullSizeRender (64)

Ask any aviation enthusiast about their favorite airplane and you’ll almost certainly get a list. My list includes the Boeing 747-8, the A-10 and the F-18. However, since I’ve started working at the airport I’ve added one more – the MD-80/88/90. Why? Well why do any of us love the planes we love? It’s not always easy to explain.

IMG_8030The Plane Next Door

For me the love affair began when I saw it parked outside my department every day. Actually, to be more specific I should say when I HEARD it park outside my department. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s pretty much impossible to miss the sound of an MD-80 roaring up to the gate. Naturally the first time I heard it I had to investigate. What I found was a decidedly old-school t-tail airplane that looked like it had been around the block a time or two.

Having grown up in a very old house, I appreciate old things. They have character. And the MD-80 certainly does as well. It’s not sleek and pretty like the newer Boeings and Airbuses. It’s not dashing and cute like some of the RJs. It’s a working-man’s airplane. It doesn’t BS around. When it takes off it really takes off – it looks like a rocket and it sounds like one too. And it has a cool nickname: The Mad Dog.

IMG_5133For two years now I’ve been watching it through the window. I’ve watched countless numbers of bags loaded and unloaded and countless numbers of meals delivered. I’ve watched mechanics tinkering with the engines. And I watched when an MD-80 brought a fallen soldier home last year. The Mad Dog has been a central part of my airport experience in so many ways.  So you can imagine my reaction when I was given the opportunity recently to tag along on a pre-flight walk-around. Are you kidding me? Oh. Heck. YES!  (Have I mentioned lately how much I love working for an airport?)

IMG_7999Up Close and Personal

When we went outside my first thought was that there are roughly one million things to trip over/bash your head on during a walk-around. Yikes! Major kudos to the ground crews and pilots who successfully navigate this obstacle course every day. Needless to say I was very careful while we were out there. I was also very busy absorbing every detail of the plane – the tires, the wheel wells, the cargo compartments, the pitot tubes the engines, the wings… and everything in between. After all the time I’ve spent staring at the Mad Dog through the window, it was beyond awesome (not to mention a tremendous privilege) to get such an up close look!

The icing on the cake, however, was the visit to the cockpit. I never in my life expected to be able to walk down a jet bridge, board an airplane… and turn left!  I looked out the cockpit window at the terminal and thought, so THIS is what it is like to be outside looking in! Sweet! Then I turned my attention to the cockpit itself.  I was able to examine many of the instruments and learn which knobs turn on which displays. I was in avgeek heaven! In an effort to be a polite guest I IMG_6525tried really hard not to ask too many questions. (What does this button do? What about this one? And this one?)  Trust me, it wasn’t easy!  However, I was very aware that the crew was preparing for a flight and I didn’t want to be in the way. All too soon it was time to go. I walked back up the jet bridge with a whole new understanding of the MD-80.  And I love it even more than I did before!

Sadly, this love affair is destined to be short-lived since the plane is being retired at a brisk pace. The afternoon flight that used to park outside my office is gone. The early morning flight is gone too.  You can imagine my disappointment to see an Airbus pop around the corner instead of the expected Mad Dog during a recent morning on the deice pad. I know modern planes are quieter, more fuel efficient, more comfortable and have better technology. But that doesn’t change how I feel. After all, who can explain love?

Authors Note: I’d like to extend a very special and heart-felt THANK YOU to the FO (along with his captain and crew) who allowed me to visit.  You made my day/week/month/year!

IMG_7929

For the Love of Airports

heathrow_lon_04_07_77

By Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz (Mariordo) (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

I love airports. I mean I really LOVE airports. I vacation at them. I go out of my way to drive by them. And, of course, I work at one. So when I heard about the scheduled closure of the Santa Monica airport, and read stories about the closure of other airports like Meigs Field, it really tears my heart out. Surely my airport isn’t at risk of being closed. It couldn’t happen here, could it?

img_6278The sad truth is, it could happen anywhere. Check out http://www.airfields-freeman.com. This website lists defunct airports by state. I was surprised to learn that there used to be several airports nearby that no longer exist. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes closing an airport is the right thing to do – if there are true safety issues that cannot be corrected or if there are other more suitable airports nearby. But too often airport closures come down to one main reason: lack of community support.

When airports try to explain their value to the community they often do so in economic terms. They talk about the number of jobs created, or the amount of revenue generated. These are important factors and worthy of consideration. However I don’t think those statistics really resonate with most people, unless they happen to work in one of those created jobs. In the end it comes down to this: people are more likely to value a place where they spend time.

img_2597

Gratuitous stairs truck photo. Oh – and an airplane as well.

Notice I said “spend time” – not “travel from.” There are lots of people who live near airports who won’t ever have the occasion to fly commercially. For those who do travel, the experience is often filled with the stress – not exactly ideal conditions for developing a bond with the airport itself. That’s why I believe public viewing areas are so incredibly important. If those areas include walking paths or a playground, that’s even better. The more ways that can be created to invite the community in, the more people will visit. The more people visit, the greater the chance that some of them will decide that airports aren’t so bad after all.

img_6174The only airport I have visited with an official viewing area is CLT. It is perched on a hillside overlooking the center runway and it is one heck of a busy place! When I was there the benches were almost always filled with people of all ages. Not only do they get to watch airplanes take-off and land, but they get a chance to see what goes on behind all those tall fences.

Smaller GA airports are generally more accessible to the public than big commercial airports, but most people don’t know this. So the GA airport nearest me hosts 5Ks and kid-friendly festivals to encourage the community to stop by. And it works! I know several people who have attended these events and were surprised by how much they enjoyed the experience.

img_5609I realize that creating public viewing spaces or organizing community events isn’t easy. Airports are tasked with the very important responsibility of ensuring the safety of travelers. This can be extremely challenging. Additionally, space at airports is often at a premium. It can be difficult to find room for viewing areas or playgrounds. But I think the potential reward is worth the hassle.

The burden isn’t entirely on airports, however. Those of us who love and value aviation have a responsibility as well. We have to educate those who aren’t familiar with the industry. We have to clarify misleading news reports and refute the latest sensationalized stories. And we should invite friends and neighbors (especially kids) to go with us when we head to the airfield.

Will these efforts stop people from wanting to close perfectly good airports? Of course not. But the more airports are able to connect with the communities around them, the more likely they are to be valued by the people in those communities.  And that means better chances that your favorite airport will be around for years to come.

img_6049

Radio Active

fullsizerender-61As you may recall, I have been training to help the Ops Department manage the deice pad on frosty mornings. This process involves driving around in an ops vehicle, giving taxi instructions on the radio, keeping a log of all the traffic through the deice pad and acting as a follow-me when needed. If that sounds like a lot to learn, it is! At this point I’ve gotten pretty good at telling the different RJs apart, I’ve memorized the call signs and ICAO codes for each airline and I can successfully manage the log. I’ve ridden along and watched the deice pad management process enough times now that I have a decent understanding of how it works. So what’s the next step? Talking on the radio.

img_7586Say What???

Yes, you read that correctly. Me. Talking on the radio. To pilots. And deice crews. And even Air Traffic Controllers. It’s unthinkable. It’s ridiculous. But, it’s absolutely true! And it’s actually kinda cool! As a recap for anyone who many not be aware, I am not a pilot. I do not work in ATC. I have zero experience talking on the radio. And if you told me a year ago that I’d be doing this I’d have laughed hysterically.

LiveATC and Radar Contact

One of the biggest things that has helped me prepare to talk on the radio has been listening to others do it. I discovered LiveATC.net many years ago and was instantly addicted. I like to listen to the feeds from LAX, ORD, ATL and CLT. These days I find myself listening to ground controllers a lot. There are many similarities between what a ground controller does, and what we do when we manage the deice pad – we clear pilots to push back, give taxi instructions and hand them off to other frequencies. img_7523

Another wonderful resource has been ATCCommunication.com and, more specifically, the Radar Contact podcast. I’ve been listening to the show for awhile now – it is very informative and I’ve learned a lot. When I realized that it was time for me to start talking on the radio, I was pretty darn nervous about it. What if I screw up? What if I say something wrong? Then I went back and listened to the episode “Making Mistakes on the Aircraft Radio.” Although the focus is on pilots, it was a good reminder for me as well. I don’t have to be perfect on the radio. I just need to be as clear as I can and not beat myself up if I make mistakes. img_7594

So Far, So Good

I haven’t done a whole lot of radio work yet, but what I’ve done so far has gone OK. The airplanes got into and out of the deice pad successfully and everyone seemed to understand me. When I get nervous I tend to talk quickly, so I try to force myself to speak slowly and carefully. I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask questions if I don’t understand or if I miss a piece of information I need – like what gate the plane is pushing back from. I promise I’m being good and sticking to standard phraseology. I won’t lie though, there are some things I wish I could say…

I CAN say: “Southwest 123, push back at your discretion, give us a call when you are ready to taxi.”

I CAN’T say: “Hey Southwest, just how fast do you taxi anyway?”

I CAN say: “American 456, taxi eastbound via the ramp.”

I CAN’T say: “Please don’t retire the maddog! Please! Please! Please!”

I CAN say: “Delta 789, contact Ground on 121.9 and let them know you’re on the north side of the pad, ready to depart.”

I CAN’T say: “Hey – can I borrow your stairs truck?”

fullsizerender-62

You never know what interesting things you might find sitting around the office

All the Presidents’ Planes (and Potties)

img_7503As you probably know by now, I’m a big fan of aviation museums. One of my favorites is the USAF Museum near Dayton Ohio. I first made the journey a couple of years ago and as soon as I stepped inside I lost my mind over the sheer number of completely awesome airplanes. It was my first time seeing an A-10 up close. And the Blackbird. And the amazing Bird of Prey (yes, named after the Klingon ship from Star Trek). And… well, you get the idea. This time, however, it was the Presidential Airplanes exhibit that caught my attention.

img_6349When you think of Presidential Airplanes, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the current Air Force One – a Boeing 747. I’ve had the fortune of seeing it a couple of times recently. However, there have been a number of different planes used to transport the President over the years, and the USAF Museum has several of them including the Lockheed VC-121E, the Douglas VC-118 and the Douglas VC-54C. Perhaps the most well-known plane in the collection is the Boeing VC-137C that flew 8 Presidents – Kennedy through Clinton.

img_7437

OK, so not a Presidential Plane. But if I was the President it would be!

One of the best things about the Presidential Airplanes exhibit is being able to tour the inside of each plane. Some of the passageways are really narrow, but it’s worth fighting off claustrophobia for a chance to see how the Presidents used to travel. I found it quite interesting to compare cockpits and kitchens and seats and beds. Oh how things changed over the years! Take, for example, the Presidential Thrones. You know… potties. Toilets. Loos. Each one as unique as the plane it was on.

 

The Sacred Cow

img_7499

The very first aircraft built specifically for the purpose of transporting the President was the Douglas VC-54C Skymaster. It’s official name was “The Flying White House” but it was nicknamed the “Sacred Cow” (for obvious reasons). The accommodations were luxurious for its day. Actually, they’re still luxurious even by today’s standards. Sit on a couch instead of a tiny seat crammed next to a zillion other tiny seats? Yes please! I wish I could tell you about the Presidential Potty, but sadly it wasn’t on display. I did, however, get to see the elevator used to lift President Roosevelt into the plane in his wheelchair.

The Independence

img_7505

The second Presidential airplane was a Douglas VC-118 (a modified DC-6) called The Independence. I have to admit I was a bit amused to see an old-school pencil sharpener affixed to a wall just outside the cockpit. I guess the pilots and navigators needed lots of sharp pencils so they could write on the paper navigational charts in use back then. Or maybe President Truman just liked doing crossword puzzles.

img_7391

The Presidential Commode is a pretty fancy affair. It is connected to a private dressing room with comfy couches and plenty of space.

Columbine IIIimg_7500

President Eisenhower’s plane is a “Super Connie” that he named Columbine after the state flower of Colorado. The kitchen technology took a big leap forward with a very roomy and well equipped galley that includes not one, but TWO toasters. Because heaven forbid the President be without toast!

img_7369

As for the Presidential Bathroom, it is bigger and better equipped than the one I had in my first apartment! Even the bathroom for the President’s entourage was roomier than expected.

“Going” on a Boeing

img_7502

The Boeing VC-137C is largest and perhaps the most impressive plane in the Presidential collection. It carried 8 sitting Presidents and set the standard for Presidential livery in a lovely blue-and-white designed by Jacqueline Kennedy. One of the things that struck me about this Air Force One (other than the size) is the sheer number of telephones it has. There are phones everywhere!

img_7501

When it came time to view the Presidential Commode you can imagine my disappointment to discover that the bathroom doors were shut! Noooooo! Thankfully the USAF Museum website has a lovely 360 photo that will allow you to see the bathroom in all its golden glory.

Since I’ve already dragged this post into the toilet, it seems only fitting to close out with one last potty pic. Located near the Presidential Airplanes display is a C-141C which has a lavatory that is… well, let’s call it well-decorated.

img_7414