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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!)

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© http://www.talesfromtheterminal.com 2017

AAmazing AAviation Day!

IMG_1159In the United States, National Aviation Day is held on August 19.  Here’s how I’ve celebrated at work the last couple years:

  • I bring in cookies.
  • Everyone eats them.

Yeah… not very exciting or inspiring. This year, however, I lucked into a very coveted ticket to attend AAviation Day at one of my favorite places – Charlotte Douglas International Airport! No, that’s not a spelling error – the extra “A” in “AAviation” is a nod to American Airlines who, in conjunction with the Airline Geeks, put together an awesome behind-the-scenes tour at the nation’s 5th busiest airport. Can you say avgeek heaven? Oh yeah!

IMG_1013I kicked things off early by parking on the very top level of the garage. No way was I going to pass up the chance to do a little pre-event plane spotting! (And lets face it, if they handed out diplomas for plane spotting from parking garages, I’d have a PhD!) My dedication paid off – I got my very first look at Amazon’s Prime Air 767. Sweet!

From there I made my way to the terminal to meet up with the rest of the group. There were about 12 of us altogether. I expected that most attendees would be from the Charlotte area. Wrong! In fact only one of the group lives near CLT. The rest were from places like New York, Texas, Florida and even California and Washington! Some of us work in aviation and some don’t, but all of us were kids in a candy store the whole day.

IMG_1189The tour began with a visit to the Operations Tower. Wow – what a view! And what a lot of computer equipment! The Operations Tower is responsible for all aircraft movement on the ramp. I wish we had a set-up like that for deice pad control in the winter! But then again, the ramp at CLT is a MUCH busier place with 600+ flights per day. We were allowed to wander around the room, examine the different work stations and ask questions. I honestly could have stayed for hours!

Our next stop was out onto the roof where we had a fabulous view of the ramp. The entire group went camera-happy, snapping pics almost non-stop. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many American airplanes all in one spot! Good thing there wasn’t deck furniture and a cabana (and drinks) up there or they might have had some trouble convincing me to leave!

From the roof we went all the way down to the ground level for a walking tour of the ramp (with ear plugs and high-viz vests, of course). Being around the airplanes and crews and ground equipment was simply spectacular. There was so much going on – it’s much busier than what I am used to! Alas, there was not a single stairs truck in sight! Fortunately there were so many airplanes and so much to see that I didn’t mind.

After the ramp tour, we visited the American Airlines offices and enjoyed lunch in a cool, comfortable conference room. (Did I mention that the temps were a toasty 90F+ outside?) Several executives from American joined us and we were able to chat with them about how the company has grown over the years, as well as some of their future challenges.

FullSizeRender (81)After lunch, the awesomeness continued with a tour of the training facility. We met in a conference room first to learn a little about the training program itself and watch a video about the history of American Airlines. Then we visited the egress training area where Flight Attendants learn how to operate various types of emergency exits. Seeing the cut-away plane interiors was actually quite fascinating. They even had an E145 fuselage (minus the nose, wings and tail).

From there we moved into one of the flight simulator rooms. There were three Airbus A320 sims in this particular room, all of which were in use.  (The facility has approximately 13 sims of various types.) It was fascinating to watch the sims move around and to speculate on the scenarios that the pilots inside might be facing.

Our last stop of the day was the American Airlines maintenance facility. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door is how big it is. Similar to the Boeing factory in Seattle, employees use bikes to get around. We walked through fabrication areas and past the parts room on our way out to the hangars where there were three planes undergoing maintenance. I can tell you this – I do NOT want to be the person assigned to work on the top of the tail! Then again, climbing up and down all those flights of stairs would definitely be good exercise!

Our last event of the day was a visit inside one of the planes in the hangar (an A320). We examined the cockpit and then lounged in first class for several minutes. I also checked out the seats in the back and found them to be roomier than expected.

All too soon, however, it was time to exit the plane, take our final group photo and catch a shuttle back to the terminal.  I couldn’t believe it was time to say goodbye already! We were so busy the day just flew by.  Fortunately we had new friendships, amazing memories and some cool swag to take away with us.

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Look!  I found the motorized stairs!!!

As a passionate aviation enthusiast who happens to work in the industry, I have had many amazing avgeek experiences. However, I can honestly say that AAviation Day ranks right up at the top. A HUGE thank you goes out to Ryan Ewing and the Airline Geeks for all they did to plan and organize the event, as well as the wonderful staff at American Airlines for making the day so special!

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So what do you think? Are you crazy jealous and wondering how you can experience AAviation Day for yourself? Check out the Airline Geeks website and follow them on twitter. Events were held at all of American’s hubs, as well as two locations overseas. And the ticket cost? Zero. Zip. Nada. Free! But you have to pay attention if you want to score one. If this year was any indication, next year will be even bigger and better. Hope to see you there!

OSH17 – Mind Blown

IMG_0622EAA’s Airventure runs for a full seven days. I was there for five of them. This sounds like it should be plenty of time to see everything, but it isn’t. Not even close! However, I can say with full confidence that I made the most of the time that I had.

More Blue Angels

I mentioned in my last post that in addition to interviewing the pilot of Blue Angel #4, I also interviewed one of the enlisted men. Petty Officer First Class Jamichael (Jay) Semien is one of the crew coordinators on the team. Along with overseeing the ground operations, he is responsible for all the safety equipment on the planes. When I asked him how that is accomplished he explained that with some systems, like the oxygen system, there are tests that can be run. However for other systems, like the ejection seats, the only way to test them is to deploy them. Obviously no one wants to do that, so they have a rigorous maintenance schedule that they follow to ensure everything remains in perfect working order.

I really have to take a moment to once again thank the Blue Angels team members for being so gracious and generous with their time. These are men and women who are serving their country 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and who step up to defend our freedoms at a moment’s notice. I cannot thank them enough for their service.

Days 4 & 5

Thursday started with a visit inside the KC-135. This was a huge treat for me because I see these planes quite often and had been longing to get a closer look at one. From there I hustled over to the EAA radio center where I had the tremendous honor of being interviewed by Amy Laboda and Jeb Burnside for the Attitude Adjustment show. To be completely honest, I was pretty darn nervous! Thankfully Amy and Jeb made it easy. Give it a listen!

Other notable events on Thursday and Friday included a tour of an RAF A400, an interview with an official from Airbus, and an interview with the director of NASA Langley. If you haven’t already done so, you MUST go check out the Flying and Life Podcast. Mike did a great job with these interviews – you REALLY don’t want to miss them.

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Friday afternoon I attended a media briefing with Gene Kranz, Walter Cunningham and Jim Lovell from the Apollo space program. What a tremendous honor that was! I also heard them speak at the NASA presentation on Friday night. As I listened to them swap stories and share behind-the-scenes insights, it really brought home to me the breadth of the aviation world that is present at Airventure. You can find it all, from ultralights to the space program and everything in between.

The Rest of the Story

You might be thinking, hey Jenn – weren’t there daily air shows? Didn’t you watch any of them? Yes, there was an air show every afternoon. And most days I caught bits and pieces of them as we dashed from one event to the next. We were so busy running around that it wasn’t until Friday that I had time to just sit and watch a full show. And what a spectacular show it was! I was especially pleased that the Heritage Flight included not one, but TWO Warthogs! Rock on! EAA really does it right.

Other notable moments included attending several meet-ups, including one with Captain Jeff from the Airline Pilot Guy show who was visiting Airventure for the first time. I also finally made it to Camp Scholler and was able to spend some time with the amazing folks of Camp Bacon. And I paid my respects at the coffin. What is that you ask? You’ll just have to come to Osh18 and find out!

Final thoughts

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As I write this I am still decompressing from the week, however there are two major things that stand out to me. The first is all the amazing people I had the pleasure of meeting/seeing again this year. I cannot begin to list names (there are far too many!) but I just have to say how absolutely awesome it was to connect with every one of you. You are proof that aviation people are without a doubt some of the best people in the world.

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Hey look – there goes my new best friend, Lt. Benson!

The second thing that stands out to me is how incredibly blessed I am to have been able to find a place inside an industry that I love so much. If you had told me at my first Airventure four years ago that by 2017 I would be working at an airport, writing a successful blog and that I would have so many amazing aviation friends, I never would have believed it. Yet here I am – proof that really cool things CAN happen to ordinary people who happen to love airplanes.

So what do you think? Want to have your mind blown? Airventure Oshkosh 2018 is less than a year away. Are you in?

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PS: You thought I forgot about the stairs trucks, didn’t you. Go ahead, admit it! You’ve read through this post and there has been no mention of them. Well fear not, intrepid readers, I NEVER forget the stairs trucks! The photos below are an example of what happens when a stairs truck is left unguarded in my vicinity.

Authors note: Special shout-out to Mike Karrels (FlyingAndLife Podcast) and Dan Pimentel (Airplanista) – thanks for all your help and support. Shout out also to Rob Mark (Flying Magazine/Jetwhine) – thanks for inviting me to be on Attitude Adjustment. You were very much missed! And thanks to David Abbey, Daniel Dusome and John Brown who took the people/group photos.

OSH17 Day One: The Doc Is In!

IMG_0261If you pay any attention to the aviation world then you know that today was the first day of Airventure Oshkosh 2017. And what an amazing day it has been! Here are just a few of the highlights:

Press Conferences

I was able to attend a couple of press conferences today. One was from Piper Aircraft, which included an overview of the company’s performance so far this year. They are celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Piper Cub, which explains why there are row after row of them parked over in the Vintage area. What an impressive milestone!

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I also listened to Jack Pelton’s opening remarks. The attendance stats so far suggest that Osh17 may surpass last year. TIcket pre-sales were very strong and GA camping filled up on the first day. Mr. Pelton also spoke about the ATC privatization bill currently before Congress. If you haven’t already researched this issue, do it now. Then contact your representatives and let them know where you stand.

Airplanes! Airplanes! Airplanes!

There are so many amazing airplanes here that it can be completely overwhelming (in a totally awesome way). Some of the highlights from today include:

Doc and Fifi together at last.

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The B-1B bomber.

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A P-51 Mustang flying with two F-35s, followed immediately by two A-10s.

The Proteus.

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The Buff.

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Pipistrel’s all-electric LSA.

The only thing more wonderful than the airplanes was getting to spend time with so many old friends… many of whom I met for the first time. If you’ve ever been to Oshkosh, then that statement will make perfect sense.

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Thanks Dan/David for taking/sharing this pic!

My only complaint was the total lack of stairs truck. There were none on the plaza. Zero. Zip. Nada. I finally located a few hanging out in a secure area that I couldn’t access. It’s almost like they knew I was coming! Oh well, tomorrow is another day – and it is sure to be just as amazing!

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Oh My G’OSH17!

IMG_4292It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not the holiday season. I’m talking about Airventure 2017 in Oshkosh, of course! I am super excited to be returning to one of my favorite places. As you may recall, in years past I’ve “dragged” a couple of non-avgeek friends along with me. They’ve been tremendous good sports and we’ve had lots of fun. However, this year I’ll be sharing the Osh experience with my avgeek friends, several of whom will be attending for the first time. In addition to enjoying the displays and air shows, I’m planning to participate a number of events, including:

Flying and Life Podcast

Mike Karrels intends to broadcast his podcast live from Osh every evening. I hope to join him for an episode or two.  He’ll be tweeting a link to the live Youtube channel so follow him on twitter at @Flyingandlife and then join us in the Youtube chat room.

FullSizeRender (73)Oshbash 2017

Oshbash is being held on Tuesday, July 25, at 5:30pm in the media center. This is a social media gathering and networking opportunity… AND there will be LOTS of bacon jerky! Oshbash is always a ton of fun so if you are available I hope you’ll stop by! As the official bacon jerky transporter, you can definitely count me in!

EAA Radio Interview

On Thursday, July 27, I am scheduled to be a guest on EAA Radio’s Attitude Adjustment show at 11:00 am with hosts Rob Mark and Amy Laboda. No clue what we’ll be discussing, but you can bet stairs trucks will probably come up at least once.

Podcast Meetup

Also on Thursday is a podcast meet-up for listeners of the Airline Pilot Guy, Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety Podcast, the Airplane Geeks, etc. The plan is to meet at the brown arch around noon and then wander off to find some lunch together.

IMG_4303Stalking Stairs Trucks

Where there are airplanes, there will be stairs trucks. And you can be fairly sure that I’ll be the only person at Osh making a big fuss over them. But as much as I love motorized stairs, I love airplanes more. I guarantee my social media feeds will be filled with things with wings.

Speaking of which, If you aren’t already doing so, follow me on Twitter (@Jen_Niffer) and Instagram (@talesfromtheterminal). I’ll be posting lots of updates and photos through-out Osh week. I’m also planning several blog posts so stay tuned!  If you are headed to Osh17 I hope to see you there! If not, I hope you’ll keep track of my shenanigans and play along at home.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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!

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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!!!

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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?

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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:

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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!

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Air Show Fever

IMG_5487It may not feel like it yet, but the calendar says that spring has arrived. You know what that means? Yes, warmer temperatures and pretty flowers are coming. But more importantly, air show season is just around the corner! Hooray! I cannot wait! I’m planning to attend two big events this year.

Wings Over Pittsburgh 

What happens when you combine amazing airplanes with a bunch aviation podcasters? I’m not 100% certain but I suspect it involves beer and a fair amount of good-natured mayhem. The show is being held over Mother’s Day weekend in May. (What mom wouldn’t want to spend her special day at an air show?) Some of

ISAD 2014

By SSgt Nadine Barclay [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

the scheduled participants include Sean Tucker, the Super Hornet demonstration team, the F-22 demonstration team and the Thunderbirds. Admission costs nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. No, I’m not kidding! The show is sponsored by the 911th Airlift Wing. If you are anywhere even remotely nearby, I recommend you check it out! Plus for all you Airline Pilot Guy, Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety and Airplane Geeks podcast fans, there’s a meet-up planned that promises to be a ridiculous amount of fun.

Airventure Oshkosh

Yes, I know – Oshkosh is so much more than just an air show. It’s THE aviation event of the summer. 10,000 airplanes – need I say more?  This will be my fourth year so I feel I have enough experience at Osh to give a few pointers for those of you who are going for the first time.IMG_4300

Go ahead, put together a schedule. Just understand you aren’t going to follow it. There are about a million amazing things between you and the first item on your agenda. You WILL get distracted. More often than not, this is a good thing. Some of my best moments at Osh have happened when I allowed myself to get distracted. A good rule of thumb: pick one or two events that are non-negotiable and make every effort to get to them. Leave the rest of your schedule open. My suggested “must-sees” include the warbirds and the night air show.IMG_3902

Attend at least one forum. Attend several if you can, but pick at least one and go. There are very few events where you have the opportunity to learn so much from so many truly knowledgeable people. Take advantage of this!

Meet people. My first year at Osh I was only there a day and a half. I didn’t get a chance to meet anyone. The last couple of years, however, I’ve been able to spend more time at the show which has given me the chance to meet up with several online friends. This was total awesomesauce. Avgeeks tend to have an instant connection with one another – you’ve got a million old friends at Osh that you just haven’t met yet. I’m planning to spend almost the entire week at Airventure so I hope to see some of you there!IMG_4219

Just Go!

If Oshkosh and Wings Over Pittsburgh won’t fit into your schedule, never fear – there are plenty of other airshows, fly-ins and fun aviation gatherings you can attend. Check out milavia.net for a fairly comprehensive list of offerings. I also recommend the Social Flight app which is great for finding local aviation events. Or you  are welcome to share event information in the comments below. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a small air show at a local airport isn’t worth going to.  I went to a very small show last fall that was one of the best I’ve ever attended. Just remember: there is no cure for air show fever. However, catching it sure is fun!

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