Beautiful Noise


By Landmark9254 Creative Commons

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

IMG_3601At My Desk

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

IMG_1440What Time Is It?

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

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

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

IMG_4822At the Run-Up Wall

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

IMG_1504Up top

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

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

IMG_2810Noise Monitoring

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



OSH16 is P.A.S.T.

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

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

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

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

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

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

P is for People

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

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

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

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

ST is for Stairs Trucks 

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


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

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

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




Airport Tales: Captain Al


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



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

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


By Valder137, Creative Commons

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

Chuck Yeager, NF-104

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airport stuff

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


By StromBer (own work) Creative Commons License

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

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


By Ayala (Own Work) Creative Commons License

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

Biggest airport-related hassle:


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

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

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

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

Strangest airport-related incident:


Virginia State Parks, Creative Commons License

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

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

Emirates 1

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Anything else you’d like to share?

MarkJHandle by Creative Commons

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

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


Getting better.  Now remove the flag…

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

Captain Al out.
Captain Al Evans

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


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

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


Ah, there we go!

Blog Post About (Aviation) Podcasts

Author’s note: My apologies for the long delay between posts.  I took ill rather suddenly right after I published my last post.  I required emergency surgery which sidelined me for several weeks.  I am finally on the mend and ready to get back to being an aviation fan-girl running loose at the airport and (of course) blogging all about it.


By Zzubnik (Own work) Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit, for a long time I wasn’t a podcast listener. I knew what they were (sort-of) but didn’t figure that there were any out there that would be of interest to me. Boy was I so totally WRONG!!! Beginning last summer I began making a series of long drives back home to visit my ailing father. In search of something aviation-related to listen to while driving I decided to download a few aviation podcasts that had been recommended by friends. Those few led me to others and the next thing I knew, I’d become a regular podcast listener.

What makes podcasts so awesome? Not only do they provide a lot of excellent, detailed information on the world of aviation, but they also come with really wonderful communities of listeners who encourage and support each other. I discussed two of my favorite podcasts in my last post Airplane Geeks and Plane Talking UK. However, there are several other amazing podcasts out there that you really don’t want to miss!

IMG_3607 (1)Airline Pilot Guy

This podcast is hosted by Captain Jeff Nielsen, who flies for a major US carrier. Originally a one-man show, Jeff has since added several co-hosts including Miami Rick, who recently added the 747 to the long list of Boeing airplanes he knows how to fly, Dr Steph, a physician and general aviation pilot, and Captain Nick who flies A330s/A340s for a major UK carrier.  The podcast covers the latest aviation news as well as addressing items of interest and questions sent in by listeners.

Aside from being incredibly informative, the show is just plain fun. Jeff and his co-hosts broadcast live, usually via Youtube, but you can listen to the recorded podcast any time. That said, if you get a chance to watch it live, DO IT! Seriously, the comments and discussion in the chat room in combination with the live podcast are typically completely hilarious. It never fails to lift my spirits. In fact, I always watch the show live and then go back listen to the podcast. I almost always learn something that I missed the first time and I find that I laugh just as much.

One of my favorite episodes: Secret Number Two   Really you could pick just about any episode – they are all great.  However, this is a recent one in which they cover an accident involving a Cirrus SR20 and I thought the discussion was very insightful.

IMG_3608Plane Safety Podcast

This little gem of a podcast is hosted by Pip, a pilot for a European airline. As the name suggests, this podcast focuses on the safety aspects of aviation. Pip discusses many of the day to day issues faced by pilots and airlines, often drawing from current events.  He also has several episodes in which he reviews well-known aviation incidents from the past, points out some of the key contributing factors and highlights how they have influenced the policies and procedures of today. When he isn’t discussing safety, Pip often talks about his latest trip which gives the listener a behind-the-scenes look at what life as a pilot is really like.

One of my favorite episodes: Nats, Brexit and the Millenium Falcon No, I did not pick this because it is the most recent episode (although it is). I chose this because it includes an interview with an experienced First Officer that is the BEST INTERVIEW EVER.  Seriously, check it out.


Hosted by Chris Palmer, a private pilot and founder of Angle of Attack, this podcast features guests and topics that focus on general aviation and flight training. Chris is passionate about encouraging current and future pilots, and it really shines through in the way he talks about flying.

One of my favorite episodes: My Scariest Pilot Moment I think it takes a lot of guts to share a frightening or difficult moment that you’ve had as a pilot.  I really like that Chris was willing to put this out there so that others can learn from his experience.

IMG_3609Flying and Life

Hosted by Mike, who works for a major US carrier, this podcast gives us a detailed look into the world of an airline dispatcher. I have always wondered just what exactly a dispatcher does, so I really enjoy this podcast and I have learned a lot. For example, did you know that a dispatcher shares operational control with the captain of the flight?  Me either! It is pretty incredible all the things that dispatchers are responsible for.

One of my favorite episodes: Building Routes Part 1 Wow! A lot of thought goes into what route you’ll be flying the next time you head out on vacation!

IMG_3601Some Podcast Regulars You Should Follow:

There are several folks who don’t have podcasts of their own, but often contribute to the podcasts listed above. If you are interested in aviation and/or podcasting, I recommend giving these guys a follow on twitter:

Micah (Airplane Geeks, Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy): Micah uses his background in radio to submit amazing pieces of audio feedback that are amusing, poignant and never fail to get you thinking.

Captain Al (Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety Podcast, Airline Pilot Guy): Al’s background as a captain with a major UK airline allows him to add valuable experience and perspective on pretty much any aviation topic.

Nevil (Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy):Nevil is an aviation enthusiast who is also a self-proclaimed analogue recording geek.  Enough said.


You Go Girls! Celebrating Women of Aviation

IMG_3117It’s Women of Aviation Worldwide Week and it begs the question: How exactly do you define “of aviation?” People tend to focus on increasing the number of female pilots, which is definitely a worthy cause. But what about female mechanics? Engineers? Ground personnel? Stairs truck drivers?  Being involved in aviation encompasses so much more than just flying!

The Past

You may have heard of Raymonde de Laroche (first woman to receive a pilot’s license) and Amelia Earhart (first woman to fly solo non-stop across the United States) but how many female aviation pioneers can you name whose contributions were made outside the cockpit? Turns out there are bunches of them.  Here are just a few:

 Phoebe Omlie – 1st Female Airplane Mechanic

phoebe_1929Phoebe Omlie was born in Iowa in 1902 and fell in love with aviation as a teen when she saw a fly-over to commemorate a visit from President Woodrow Wilson. She went on to get her pilot’s license and performed as a stunt pilot and wing walker. All of that is really awesome but then she did something which, in my opinion, makes her even more awesome still – in 1927 she became the first female to earn an airplane mechanic’s license!

 Mary Van Scyoc – 1st Female Air Traffic Controller 

Born in Kansas in 1919, Mary went on her first airplane ride at age 16 with Clyde Cessna. (Yes, THAT Cessna!) She went on to get her pilot’s license and later a degree from Witchita University in English and Physical Education. She taught school for a year then, soon after the start of World War II, she saw an ad for Air Traffic Controlers and signed up. In 1942 she began working in Denver tower.  Later she transferred to Witchita and eventually worked in the Cheyenne tower as well. To be fair, a number of women began working in ATC around the same time. Mary is generally credited as the first so she gets the mention, however they’re all amazing. You go girls!

 E. Lillian Todd – 1st Woman to Build an Airplane

toddplane1909Ms. Todd was born in 1865 in Washington DC. As a girl she showed an affinity for mechanics and invention – interests she later attributed to her grandfather’s influence. In 1906 she designed a biplane based on the wings of an albatross, which she had been able to study at the natural history museum.  She was eventually able to build the plane with funding from a benefactor and in 1910 it flew 20 feet.  Are you kidding me with this?  I can’t even build a decent paper airplane, let alone a functioning biplane.  Ms. Todd ROCKS!

 Bessie Dempsey – 1st Female Engineer at Boeing

Bessie started out her professional career as a Vaudeville dancer in California. She went back to school and studied engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. After graduating in the top 10 percent of her class she got a job as an engineer at Boeing, where she worked for 24 years.  So wait… she got to be in a movie with the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera) AND she got to work at Boeing?  Wow! Talk about having it all!

1st Woman to Drive a Stairs Truck

Sadly, this pioneering soul has been lost to the annals of history. I am truly devastated.  Whoever she is, I’m sure she relished every moment behind the wheel.

The Future

IMG_3058Last year for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week I rounded up a bunch of teenage girls and dragged them off to an aviation museum. I was a bit uncertain about how the trip would go since none of the girls had expressed any interest in airplanes or aviation. As it turned out, everyone had a really great time.  Here are some things that I learned:

– Inspiration comes in all forms.

– Airplane art is way cool.

– If they can climb in it, on it, under it or around it, they will.  More than once.

IMG_3118– Simulators are AWESOME.

– Rest breaks are important.

– Girls know more than you think.

– They’re open to learning more than you think.

– They’ll notice things you didn’t notice.

– Even if they aren’t interested in becoming pilots, they are quite confident that they COULD be pilots if they want to be.

And that’s really what it is all about.  I don’t know if these girls will go on to pursue careers in aviation, but at least now they know that they can if they want to. Ultimately, the best thing we can do for aviation is to get as many people involved as possible – men and women, young and old, from every corner of the globe and in every facet of the industry. Oh – and letting me drive the stairs truck wouldn’t hurt either. 




Looming Pilot Shortage – Not Kid Stuff

FullSizeRender (19)There has been a lot of talk recently about the looming pilot shortage.  The high cost of  training and poor pay at many regional airlines are two potential causes. However I believe there is a serious contributing factor that has so far been completely overlooked – and it’s lurking in your child’s toy box.  I am, of course, talking about the deplorable selection of airport playsets available to children today.  You might be asking yourself, what on earth could be wrong with an airport playset?  As it turns out, quite a lot.

Are you kidding me with this?

IMG_8491At first glance this airport playset seems harmless enough. The construction is durable and the runway placement looks OK. There’s a cafe located right next to the airfield with no perimeter fencing in sight, but I think we can let that slide. The real trouble comes when you take a closer look at the ATC tower. No, you aren’t imagining things, that’s a dog working air traffic control! What the… ! Seriously? Who is the Tower Supervisor here? Scooby Doo? And I don’t even want to think about what is going on over at Center! Is it any wonder that a child using this play set might look over at the family pooch and think, “Screw this! No way in hell am I going to be a pilot!”

This Is All Kinds of Wrong!

IMG_8468There are so many issues with this next playset that I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, the runway is on top of the airport. Really? Who on earth thought this was a good idea? Even more troubling is the fact that the runway begins/ends directly in front of the ATC tower. This, coupled with the absurdly short runway length, pretty much guarantees disaster. Either planes will tumble off the edge of the airport roof, or they’ll slam into the tower. I think the designers of this toy are hoping that we’ll be so excited that the air traffic controllers are actually human we’ll overlook the fact that the airport is a death trap. Yeah… I don’t think so! You might be able to fool a one year old with this set-up, but by the time the child learns to talk his/her first words are going to be: “Pilot? NO!!!”

Seriously, What the Heck!

IMG_8469By now you’re probably thinking that an uncontrolled airfield would make for a better playset. You don’t have to worry about Astro working approach and the risk of carnage is a bit lower. I mean, how hard can it be to design a realistic runway with no buildings or ATC towers to deal with?  Apparently too hard. Allow me to introduce you to this airfield that appears to have been added to a train set as a random afterthought. The only building in the area is a helipad which is freakishly large in comparison to the runway. And once again the runway placement is questionable.  Right next to a road? Really? And why is the road longer and wider than the runway? It’s almost as if toy designers are deliberately trying to scare off future pilots.

No, Just No!

FullSizeRender (18)I know what you’re thinking. These airport play sets seem a bit dated. Surely modern sets are better. I thought the same thing.  And then this happened.  Behold the Boeing airport set purchased just a few months ago. Notice anything peculiar? How about the fact that the ground equipment is completely GINORMOUS compared to the airplanes? I mean just look at how the stairs truck towers over the Dreamliner. Now you know I love a good stairs truck, but a monster stairs truck that’s capable of trampling a large airplane? OK fine, I still love it. Most kids, however, would likely be completely confused if not downright terrified.

So What Do We Do?


If the dog in the ATC tower doesn’t kill you, the dog working the rental car counter will!

Think these are isolated examples? Think again! Next time you are bored, google airport play sets. I dare you! You think canines running ATC is bad? One play set has a truck handling air traffic control. Yes, you read that correctly. A truck! Do you think Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart would have taken to the skies if they had been forced to play with these nightmares disguised as toys? I don’t think so! If we’re to cultivate the next generation of pilots, it’s time to stop the madness. Contact Hasbro, Mattel, Little Tykes, American Girl Doll, your representatives in Washington, and the Pope and let them know what is going on here.  While you’re at it you might want to contact the SPCA too, just in case.



Aviation Celebration

IMG_6890In the United States, August 19 is National Aviation Day.  Established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, it is a day for us to reflect on and celebrate the history of aviation, as well as its role in our lives today. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, it is also Orville Wright’s birthday. How did we mark the occasion at the airport?  More on that in a moment, but first…

We Have A Winner!

At the end of last week’s blog I encouraged (OK, fine – cajoled, begged, badgered) you to let me know which mini Boeing should grace my desk at work – the 747 or 787. Well the results are in and the winner by a respectable 43% is THE QUEEN OF THE SKIES!

FullSizeRender (12)

Don’t feel bad Dreamliner fans – she’ll continue to brighten up my living room from her location right next to everyone’s favorite ground support vehicle – the stairs truck!

National Aviation Day at the Airport

You’d probably expect an airport to take full advantage of National Aviation Day by engaging with passengers and employees to celebrate all the ways in which aviation inspires and connects us.  There’d be balloons and confetti! Or maybe a couple of posters.  Or perhaps an email? Or… yeah, you guessed it –  there was no mention of National Aviation Day at all.  At least not in any organized way.

One-Woman Aviation Celebration

IMG_6888Well you know I wasn’t about to let National Aviation Day go by without acknowledgement, ESPECIALLY not at the airport! So I built some biplanes (no, not real ones – I’m not THAT talented), brought in mini-cupcakes, wrote an announcement on my white-board and invited everyone to join in the celebration. I also brought in my mini-747 and gave it a place of honor on my desk. I wasn’t sure how my coworkers were going to take all this celebrating – as you know, most of them aren’t avgeeks.  But then I got an email from a supervisor actually thanking me for being passionate about aviation!  The email went on to say that it’s easy to get caught up in all the day to day work and it is good to be reminded about an event that recognizes and celebrates the aviation industry. Wow! That totally made my day!

Happy National Aviation Day everyone!  After all, for avgeeks and aviation enthusiasts all around the world, EVERY day is aviation day!


Odds and Ends

FullSizeRender (8)As I’ve mentioned before, there’s never a dull day at the airport.  Think things might slow down a bit over the summer? Nope! Here’s a look at  some things I’ve been investigating recently, along with another installment of random airport trivia.

The Mysterious Wall Debate – Resolved!

If you follow me on twitter then you may have participated in a recent discussion over the purpose of this wall:


The wall: not near the start of a runway, nor near any gates, nor near GA parking. What the heck is it for?

It is located next to an open grassy area, at wide point along the apron so that it is in the vicinity of gates but not close to them. Airplanes come and go past the wall all the time and are sometimes pushed back near to the wall but never directly in front of it. I have wondered for quite some time what purpose the wall serves. The majority of twitter friends felt that it is most likely a jet blast deflector or blast fence. I wasn’t so sure. For one thing, it is in a strange location for a blast fence. For another, the only thing on the other side of it is grass , which is not something that generally needs protecting. And NO all you smart-alecs out there, the wall is NOT there so ground crews can hide stairs trucks from me. I finally got the answer directly from our good friends over in Airport Operations. Drum roll please…


Fire up those engines!

It is a run-up wall! In some airports blast fences are used as run-up walls so those arguing that it must be a blast deflector are partially correct. At my airport the purpose of the wall isn’t to contain jet-blast – it’s to contain jet SOUND. Aircraft that need to test their engines (up to 80% of max) park behind the wall, which deadens the sound and prevents the neighborhood across the way from being disturbed. It does not, however, prevent my department from reveling in the full glory of jet engines firing up. OK, fine, my co-workers find it annoying.  I, on the other hand, LOVE it!

“Lighting Violations Involving Transporting Controlled Substances.”

FullSizeRender (10)Here’s another mystery I’ve been puzzling over. We are currently undergoing the rebadging process to get our SIDA credentials renewed. As part of this we have to sign a document in which we attest that we haven’t been convicted of various offences, from murder to creating a disturbance at a foreign airport to interfering with a flight crew. Most of the items on the list were self-explanatory except for “Lighting violations involving transporting controlled substances.” Huh???? Once again a twitter friend came to the rescue with a link to the explanation. The takeaway here is apparently that if you’re going to transport controlled substances (which isn’t recommended to begin with), keep your lights on! No trying to sneak your plane in without lights or, even worse, drive the stairs truck around without headlights on!

Other Bits of Randomness

– Every door at the airport is numbered. Every. Single. One. And there are some people who know each and every door number. I am NOT one of those people, so if you want me to meet you at your desk and you tell me to go through door 308B and then through door 472A , expect me to take several weeks to find you. (Yes, someone actually gave me directions to their office this way.)

IMG_6226– Airfield maintenance meets with ATC weekly to discuss runway and airfield repair and maintenance plans. These meetings are held at the ATC tower. I think it is of critical importance that I attend one of these meetings.  OK, actually I just really WANT to attend because hello – they meet in the ATC tower!!!  I’ve been assured that the meetings happen in a room on the first floor but I don’t care – I still think it would be cool.

– Thinking winter yet? The airport is. We just took delivery of over 13,000 gallons of runway deicer! That sounds like a lot of deicer but I bet it won’t be the last delivery of the year.

IMG_6321– Ever feel like you are being watched? There are over 450 cameras at the passenger airport alone! Behave yourselves people!

– What is the most annoying thing you’ve ever had to endure just to get a nice cup of coffee in the morning?  Well I had my badge inspected, my hands tested for explosives and I was patted down!  Yup – I needed coffee THAT badly!

Just for Fun…

Just to mix things up a little I thought I’d have a poll this week.  While I was in Oshkosh I ended up with a snazzy little miniature airport set complete with, among other things, a Boeing 747 and a Boeing 787.  I’d like to jazz up my cubicle a little by keeping one on my desk, but which one? Vote below and let me know!



Two fine-looking airplanes, but which should brighten up my desk?

Moments Like This

777If you are at all familiar with this blog then you know that I work in accounting for a medium-sized airport in the US. There are actually three airports run by the authority – one primarily for passengers (where my office is located), one primarily for cargo and a small GA airport. A couple weeks ago my department manager received an email inviting employees to witness the first scheduled arrival of an Emirates Boeing 777 into the cargo airport. She tracked me down to inquire if I might be interested.  Are you kidding me???  Oh heck yes I was interested!!!

motorized stairs

There was nothing but empty space between me and the stairs. I could have made a run for them, but using all my willpower I managed to behave. Barely.

So the following Wednesday five of us hopped into a pool vehicle and drove about 20 minutes to the cargo airport. We parked at a nearby hangar and got onto a shuttle which drove us out onto the airfield.  Riding with us in the shuttle were members of the news media as well as officials from Emirates.  This required me to be on my best behavior, which was a pretty tall order anyway given how excited I was, but it became even more of a challenge when we arrived at our viewing location and I was greeted by one of my biggest temptations – the motorized stairs! We had to wait about 15 minutes for the flight to arrive. 15 looooong minutes in which I tried not to think how tantalizingly close the stairs were.  Fortunately I was able to distract myself by tracking the flight, tweeting updates and chatting with the other people who were there.  Finally the Director of Operations announced that the flight was in a left base turn. None of my coworkers had any idea what that meant, but I did! I was practically jumping up and down with excitement. OK, who am I kidding – I WAS jumping up and down with excitement! We looked anxiously to the east and finally we saw a small dot, which got bigger, and bigger until finally…


Nice landing!

While we were waiting for the airplane to exit the runway and taxi back to us, the fire trucks got into position for the water cannon salute. It felt like it took forever but really it was only just a few minutes before the plane returned, giving us a lovely photo op as it taxied by: Emirates 1 Emirates 2 All I could think of at this point was, “Isn’t it gorgeous?!?!” Followed closely by “I cannot believe they are letting me get this close to that airplane!” And then “Hey – where’d the motorized stairs go?” But I quickly forgot the stairs as the airplane swung around and taxied directly at us. And then the water cannons fired up.  This was the first time I have ever witnessed a water cannon salute and I have to say it was quite impressive.  My picture really doesn’t do it justice: Water cannon 1 The plane continued forward until it was pretty much right in front of us.  At this point my favorite piece of airport equipment swung into action.

Action Stairs

Oh no! How will we get the crew out? Never fear – the mobile stairs are here!

We were allowed to take pictures for several minutes while the stairs were getting into position.  Then an airport representative approached us and said that the pilots were going through customs and we were not permitted to take photographs during that time. This seemed a bit odd since the pilots were inside the plane and we could neither see nor hear what they were doing.  After maybe ten minutes or so they exited down the stairs and got onto a shuttle which took them to the terminal to finish the customs process. As an aside I have to say I felt a bit sorry for the crew.  They had just flown from Copenhagen (almost 9 hours), only to land at an airport that is, essentially, in the middle of nowhere.  There are no restaurants at this airport, and no hotels. If you want food or drink or a place to relax, you’ll have to drive to get there.  Oh wait… there aren’t any rental cars or buses either. Oops! Oh well, I guess it’s vending machines and FBO coffee for you! Welcome to America! Once the pilots departed we were free to resume taking pictures. At the same time, the crews raced into action to begin the process of unloading the cargo:

cargo 1

The pallets are on rollers to enable to crews to maneuver them out the door and onto the raised lifts.

Cargo 3

The pallets are lowered until they can be moved onto the carts. We were told there was a super high-dollar sports car on the lower cargo deck but it was continuing on to Chicago.

Cargo 5

As each pallet is secured to the cart, it is pulled forward by the tug and the next pallet is loaded, and so on. The crews work fast!

While the freight was being unloaded the fuel truck arrived and began refueling the plane. refueling As you can imagine, I was in avgeek heaven this whole time.  I simply couldn’t believe I was allowed to be so close to such an amazing airplane. Moments like THIS are exactly why I chose to work at the airport. I REALLY wanted to stay longer, but sadly there were papers to push and meetings to attend so we had to leave. Thankfully I have some pretty good pictures and some fabulous memories to take with me.  And I’m hoping to get down to the cargo airport again soon – this time to visit with one of the gorgeous 747-8s that fly in every week!

Stairs side

I tried to take pictures from a variety of angles.


Snapped this pic as we were leaving the airfield.


Our last look at her as we drove away. Told you the airport is in the middle of nowhere!

If you like cargo planes and want to learn more about the life of a cargo pilot I STRONGLY recommend you follow pilots Ken Hoke and Brian Cattle on twitter. In addition, Ken has written an excellent piece on the anatomy of a cargo plane which is a must-read for any avgeek.