Five years!

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

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

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

IMG_3142Airport Vehicles

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

Airplanes!

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

IMG_5307Really BIG Airplanes!

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

Missed Approaches and other “Emergencies”

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

XLBSE1167Favorite Experience

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

IMG_5310 (2)On the Wish List

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

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Texts from the Airport

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Have you ever had one of those needy friends who only contacts you when things are going wrong? They’ll be silent for months and then all of a sudden you’ll get a flurry of texts about this issue or that problem. I have a friend kind-of like that. It’s called the airport. The texts are actually part of an employee notification system designed to keep us up-to-date on matters that could impact us.  A friend who only texts when there are problems is somewhat annoying.  The airport’s texts, however, are both informative and interesting.

Weather Warnings

The first time the airport ever texted me it was to send me a tornado warning. This would have been useful had I not already taken refuge in one of the airport hotels. (I sat a bit too long in the parking lot watching airplanes dodge the storm clouds and nearly got blown off the road when I tried to leave.)

More recently I got this:

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Fortunately for passengers it came in the wee hours of the morning when there weren’t any flights scheduled anyway. Unfortunately for me, I was awake to receive this text because I was due in for deice pad training in just a couple of hours. Ultimately the training ended up being canceled.

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While I’m Away

Have you ever noticed that things tend to happen whenever you’re out of town? That happens to me a lot.  The airport is no exception.  While I was in Oshkosh last summer I got this text during one of the afternoon airshows:

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Well a blown tire is certainly inconvenient, especially considering the airport only had one runway at that time. However, since I was at Osh I had more important things to attend to. I hoped that would be the end of the texts, but in the middle of the night I got yet another message:

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A fire alarm in the ATC tower? That’s definitely a bummer, but its 01:40 and I’m nowhere near the tower. I’m going back to sleep!

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K9 on Patrol

Its no secret that I’m a big fan of the airport K9s. As a result, this text definitely caught my attention.

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I received several other texts after this one with updates on the situation. It took more than two hours to finally get the all-clear. Fortunately the cargo facility isn’t attached to the terminal so the passengers were unaffected and no flights were disrupted.

Oops!

One day I was busily working away at my desk when the fire alarm went off. There had been no announcement ahead of time to tell us this was a drill so we took it seriously and evacuated the building. We stood out on the ramp and watched as ARFF came zipping up in fire trucks and entered Concourse A in full gear. We all wondered what on earth was going on. Finally we got the all-clear to go back inside. Later the airport texted this explanation:

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DOH! I have to imagine the poor chef at Chili’s was just a wee bit embarrassed!

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Good To Know

As luck would have it I had not one but two pilot friends at the airport the day this text came through:

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Since both fly out of the concourse that is serviced by the South Matrix I was able to give them a heads up about the potential for delays with baggage. Fortunately the problem was quickly resolved and neither were affected.

OK, I admit it – I like getting texts from the airport. It gives me an interesting glimpse into some of the things going on behind the scenes. Plus it’s a good reminder about all the people (and K9s) who are working hard around the clock to monitor operations and make sure everything is going smoothly. But just once it would be nice to get a text message that’s a little more upbeat.  Something like: “Hey Jenn, how are you? Just wanted you to know we’re using runways 10L and 10R this morning. Have a nice day!” Is that really so much to ask?

Note: I finished the rough draft of this post on a Sunday with the intent to publish the next day.  I suppose it should come as no surprise that I woke in the wee hours of Monday morning to discover I had a text.  You’ll never guess who it was from!

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Feeling the Love

IMG_1395Soon after I started this blog several people mentioned that it reminded them of how much they used to enjoy the airport… before they had to deal with it every day. After months/years of the “daily grind”, the airport lost its magic somehow. I remember being a bit dismayed. Lose its magic? Oh dear! Will that happen to me too? Well fear not intrepid readers – I’m happy to report that after over a year on the job I still love the airport as much as I did the day I first walked in the door!

The Airplanes

IMG_0976I don’t care how much of a grind my job gets to be, I don’t see anything ever changing my love of airplanes. I’ve seen more planes take off, land and taxi by the window than I can possibly count and I still get just as excited every time. Airplanes are never boring to me.  Besides, I never know what might fly in.  F-18s, T-38s, KC-135s, and AirForce 2 have all “dropped by” while I’ve been there. Plus I’ve seen some really cool business jets. And you never know what chartered airplane might be sitting on the ramp.  There is always something new and interesting to see.

The Ground Equipment

IMG_1405Thought I might not like snowplows as much now that I’ve sat in one? Wrong!!! Sure, I sat in one, but not while it was snowing. Or on a runway. Or in a convoy. Or at night. I still love broom trucks too. And I still love deicing rigs. And ARFF equipment. And mobile conveyors. Basically, if it gets to go tooling around the airfield then I’m a fan. Well… OK, I’m not a fan of the honey wagons (aka lav trucks). Sorry, but I’ve gotta draw the line somewhere!

The Mobile Stairs

IMG_1398Be honest – when I didn’t mention the mobile stairs in that last paragraph you thought maybe, just maybe, I’d gotten over my thing for stairs trucks. Nope! They are still my favorite piece of ground equipment! About a year ago someone with a sick sense of humor parked a set of motorized stairs outside my office where I would have to see it day after day. Can you believe it is STILL parked there – nearly a year later? That’s cruel and unusual punishment! I found out recently that the airport conducts auctions periodically to sell off assets that are no longer needed. I asked if we ever sell stairs trucks and I got a blank stare in return. I had to explain what a stairs truck is.  Again.  Clearly, I still have work to do!

Things to Look Forward to

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I love that the newest K-9 got his picture in the newsletter, just like every other new employee!

There are some interesting events ahead this year.  We’re getting a new airline in May.  Well, sort-of new.  They used to fly to my airport but then stopped a couple years ago.  But now they’re coming back and I’m sure there will be quite a bit of fanfare over their return.  Speaking of fanfare, we’re just about done with all the construction. Hooray! There is going to be quite a celebration, including the opening of a new gallery featuring interesting artifacts and pieces of airport history.  Resurfacing the north runway is scheduled to begin in just a couple months.  That means the south runway is going to be a busy place.  Right now I do a lot of running back and forth trying to catch as much of the action on both runways as possible, but for 6 months all the action will be going on right outside the department windows. Yay!  We are still hoping to make a trip over to Flight Safety to see the simulators.  I can’t tell you how awesome that would be! I get super excited just thinking about it. Keep your fingers crossed – I promise I’ll keep you posted!IMG_0948

 

ARFF To The Rescue

IMG_0140I have mentioned in previous posts that it’s common to see ARFF (Airplane Rescue and Fire Fighting) out on the airfield. In fact, there are days when it seems like ARFF is EVERYWHERE.  And no, it isn’t because they are protecting the mobile stairs from me.  (The airport police handle that.)  Although I’ve seen ARFF providing medical assistance inside the terminal, I’d never seen them assisting an airplane in trouble until recently.  And then it happened twice in 24 hours!

Emergency #1 (Maybe?)

IMG_0142About a month ago I was enjoying my lunch break as I often do – plane spotting on top of the parking garage. I happened to see an airplane on approach to runway 28L.  I looked down to fiddle with my camera when suddenly something didn’t sound right.  I looked back up in time to see that the plane on approach had decided to abort and go around – right over my head!

IMG_0133Much to my disappointment, my airport is not on LiveATC, nor do I have a functioning scanner so I am not able to listen to communications with the tower.  Otherwise I would have had a better idea about what was going on.  I decided to hang around a bit and wait for the plane to come back in and land.  By now I had lost sight of it, but I figured it would likely try again on 28L so I walked over to that side of the garage and I waited.  And waited.  And waited. I’ve been watching airplanes come and go long enough now that I have a pretty good idea of how long it should take to get back on final. This seemed to be taking quite a bit longer than usual.

image1 (1)Just as I was thinking I would have to give up because my lunch break was almost over, several ARFF vehicles came blasting out of their facility on the eastern edge of the airfield and took up positions along 28L. One fire truck was near the start of the runway, one was along taxiway C1 and another was along taxiway C3.  Then there was an ambulance and a smaller ARFF vehicle waiting on the ramp.

IMG_0137At long last the plane appeared once again on approach to 28L. It seemed to take forever before it finally got its wheels on the ground and then it made the shortest stop I have ever seen an airplane that size make. As soon as it got stopped the ARFF vehicles quickly surrounded it. I couldn’t tell from my vantage point exactly what they were doing, but the airplane sat on the runway for several minutes.  Then finally it began to taxi down the runway, with the ARFF vehicles following behind.  I IMG_0145expected it to turn towards the terminal and head to a gate to let the passengers off.  Instead it went directly to a maintenance hangar.  I realized then that the plane had been able to stop so quickly because it didn’t have any passengers or luggage on board.  I never did find out what exactly happened with this airplane, or even whether it officially declared an emergency. However, given the ARFF response it seems likely that it did.

Emergency #2 (Here We Go Again!)

IMG_0144The next morning I was chatting with a coworker when we heard sirens which grew louder and louder. Sure enough ARFF went blasting down the ramp and took up the EXACT same positions as they had the day before. My coworker is one of those lucky souls whose cubicle is along the windows, so she has a clear view of 10R-28L from her desk. Several of us crowded around to watch out the window. About that time the department manager appeared.  He gets text messages whenever there are emergencies at the airport.  He told us that the plane coming in had reported brake problems and a possible flat tire.  He noted that if the landing went horribly wrong the plane could easily careen into our office.  Then he wished us a nice day and left.  (Have I mentioned that he has an incredibly dry sense of humor?)

IMG_0147Undeterred we continued to watch out the window. As before, the plane landed and managed to stop very quickly.  Not quite as fast as the plane from the previous afternoon, but still much more quickly than usual.  Once again the plane was immediately surrounded by ARFF vehicles. Once again it sat on the runway for several minutes.  This time, however, when it finally started to taxi it turned towards the terminal and headed for a gate with all the ARFF vehicles in tow.

Closing The North Runway

IMG_0018During both of these events planes continued to land as usual on the north runway, which allowed airport operations to continue without too much disruption. However, all that will change next spring when the north runway will be closed for 6 months for resurfacing. During that time we’ll be operating as a one-runway airport.

As you can imagine, this involves a LOT of extra planning.  If there is an emergency that forces the closure of the south runway, flights will have to be diverted.  We are extremely lucky to have the cargo airport nearby.  It has parallel runways and can easily handle whatever passenger traffic needs to be sent there. IMG_0662Even something as basic as airfield mowing has to be carefully scheduled.  You can’t mow near an active runway, and if there is only one runway you can’t shut it down for mowing.  So all mowing and regular maintenance activities will have to happen in the wee hours of the morning when there aren’t any regularly scheduled flights. Since it’s

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The view from Concourse C! At last!

not exactly very sunny here in the middle of the night, the airport is going to have to bring in special lights so the maintenance crews can see what they are doing. Airlines that operate out of gates near the closed runway will have longer taxi times, which will impact the amount of fuel they’ll use.  For all these reasons, the decision to close a runway is not made lightly. But in this case the resurfacing is needed and in the end it will be worth the hassle.

 

I, of course, am unreasonably excited about the closure because it means the south runway will be very busy.  I happen to be a  I park next to it.  My department windows look out on it. There should be lots of good plane spotting opportunities next summer. And when ARFF gets called to the rescue again, I’ll have a front row seat!  I promise to keep you posted.

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