Old Crow, the Dragon Lady and 20K Steps per Day

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile then you know: I’m a stalker. No, not people. I stalk airplanes. And when it comes to Osh there’s one airplane in particular that is the object of my attention: Old Crow. There are actually two airplanes with that name. I stalk the silver one.

I came by this obsession honestly enough. First of all, Old Crow is a P-51 Mustang. That automatically makes it amazing. Secondly, this particular plane (a tribute to the one flown by Bud Anderson) was originally owned and refurbished by Jack Roush of NASCAR fame. I actually had the extreme good fortune of spending an hour or so chatting with Mr. Roush in his motorhome at a race in Richmond a few years ago. We mostly talked about cars, but I couldn’t help noticing the P-51 models that he had on display.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Old Crow lives at least half the year at my airport. The current owner keeps many of his toys at the FBO. (In fact, this gentleman’s airplane collection is one of the best things about working where I do.) It is not unusual to see Old Crow out and about, which is always the highlight of my day. Sadly, I’m always watching from a distance – usually the top of the parking garage.

However, at Oshkosh all that changes. Old Crow usually sits on display with the rest of the mustangs in the warbird area. I can walk right up to it and say hello. I can take a close look at that big propellor, marvel at the Merlin engine, and rest in the shade of its magnificent wings. Getting to visit with Old Crow is always a highlight of my visit to Osh.

In other news I finally got to see the U-2 yesterday. Oh my goodness what an airplane! It did several loops around the field and a couple of low passes. This particular one has two cockpits. Can you imagine what a ride along would be like? Wow! (Check out the Mythbusters episode in which Adam gets to do just that.)

For those of you wondering, my current step count after three days of the show (and two days of pre-show) is 86,371. This is actually a little bit lower than expected. That’s in part because the show was cut short yesterday due to bad weather. I’ll see if I can make up for it today. After all, I have a mustang to stalk!

Osh Returns

As I write this we are less than two weeks away from Airventure Oshkosh 2021. With covid still a factor, Osh is going to look a little different this year. Even so, I’m super excited to get back to what is always THE aviation event of the summer.

Travel Plans

If all goes well I intend to head out on the 23rd. I’ll spend the night somewhere along the way and should arrive on the Airventure grounds in the early afternoon of the 24th. My first stop is always the Quonset Hut to grab my media credentials. From there I’ll drop my gear off at my room and then head out to begin the adventure.

Osh Plans

I have compiled a tight schedule packed with specific events I plan to attend… JUST KIDDING! I have tried to stick to a schedule in the past and tossed my plans out the window ten seconds after arrival. Why? For me the magic of Osh is in all those unexpected moments that I never thought I’d get to experience. Like the time I interviewed one of the Blue Angels. And the time I visited the tower. And the time I got to be a passenger as a friend flew the Fisk Arrival. I’ve learned to keep my plans to a minimum and allow myself the freedom to jump into whatever opportunities come my way.

The Activity

That said, there are some things I’m hoping to do while I’m there. (But no promises!) I’ve been wanting to try volunteering on the flight line. Perhaps this will be the year I make that happen. There is a presentation about the Space Shuttle that I’m hoping to attend. I’m looking forward to seeing some of this year’s featured airplanes including the Orbis Flying Eye MD-10 and the Samaritan’s Purse DC-8. I know one of the pilots of the C-17 that is flying in on Saturday. I hope I can be there to watch his landing! And, of course, I’m especially excited to see the A-10 demonstration team.

The People

What really makes Osh special, however, are the people. It’s the one place where I can totally geek out and be surrounded by people who feel the same way. I have friends who I only see once a year at Airventure and I’m really looking forward to seeing them again. It truly is an aviation family reunion.

That said, there are a number of international friends who won’t be able to attend this year. It won’t be the same without them – they will be missed! So will Launchpad Marzari, who hosted the annual Podapalooza event at the Pipistrel booth. Launchpad passed away recently in a plane crash. Aviation is a small community and he was such a big part of it. His passing leaves a hole that will be hard to fill.

The Shoes

Oshkosh involves a lot of walking. I mean A LOT. Even when I take shuttles and trams as much as possible, I still find myself walking many, many miles. So even though I’m not one of those people who starts packing weeks (or days, or even too many hours) in advance, I HAVE been thinking a bit about my shoes. I’m breaking in some new pairs and I’m seeking out some new insoles. Hopefully when Osh week arrives, I’ll be ready.

The Question

So what about you? Will you be attending Airventure this year? If so, I hope to see you there! If you can’t make it this year, keep an eye on the many camera feeds that EAA puts up. I know it’s not the same as being there, but it will at least allow you to see some of the action. Also, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram for lots of pics and videos. And stairs trucks. Of course!

Spotter Sins and Fly-Ins

A few weeks ago a friend and I watched airplanes together during our lunch break. We chatted while we snapped photos. During a pause in the conversation we looked up and saw something unusual approaching the other runway. By the time we realized what it was (a KC-135 doing a practice approach) it was too late for us to get to the other side of the garage. We managed to grab a couple of quick pics, but what could have been a great opportunity passed us by.

We looked at each other with dismay as we realized that we both had scanners, but neither of us was listening! Ooops! We had committed a major spotting sin and we paid the price. Make the most of your spotting moments by making sure you’re ready. Here are some classic errors that can cost you the chance to catch that special airplane.

Not Having/Not Listening to a Scanner

Since we’re already talking about it, let’s start here. I didn’t use a scanner for a long time. I just didn’t realize what a valuable tool it can be, especially for catching military flights or private jets which might not show up on flight trackers. Once I started using one my spotting game got a lot better. LiveATC feeds aren’t always available and don’t always capture the most useful channels. For example, at my airport LiveATC covers the approach and tower frequencies, but it doesn’t have the ground frequency which means you can’t hear taxi instructions. A scanner lets you program whatever channels you want and the reception is a lot clearer. If you don’t have a scanner, get one! And if you do have a scanner, don’t make my mistake and leave it in your car!

Forgetting to Check Equipment

How many times have you been set up to capture a long-sought-after livery only to have your camera’s low-battery light come on at the worst possible moment? I’ve had this happen many times! I usually continue with the shot while silently urging the battery to last just a few more moments. Sometimes I get lucky. Sometimes I don’t. The same thing happens with scanner batteries. We can save ourselves a lot of grief by taking a moment to check these things before we head out. And always carry spare batteries and extra memory cards.

Not Connecting with Other Spotters

Belonging to a spotter network is important. It can help you with everything from finding good spotting locations to choosing the right camera settings. Many spotters also work in the aviation industry and they often have really great insider information about rare airplanes or unusual liveries that are scheduled to visit. Plus plane spotting is just more fun with others!

Not Being Respectful

When chasing that perfect pic it can be hard to resist the temptation to sneak onto private property, or stand along the fence outside of the designated spotting area. You tell yourself it’s just this once for that one special airplane. The problem is, it only takes one person breaking the rules one time to potentially shut down spotting for everyone. Don’t be that person! Stick to designated locations. If airport security asks you to relocate, apologize and move right away.

Fly-In Season!

Warm weather and covid vaccinations mean that fly-ins are possible once again. After more than a year of being stuck at home with only virtual events to attend, the aviation world is ready to get back out there. On a recent Sunday I headed to the other side of the state to attend a fly-in that was held by a local EAA chapter. I was excited to be surrounded by airplanes and ready for a great day of photography.

I’ll admit I was a teeny bit apprehensive about crowds (or lack thereof), but I needn’t have worried. There was a wonderful mix of different types of planes and altbough attendance was strong, it never felt too crowded. I grabbed my camera and set off to capture the day. The field is bordered on one side by a raised levy. Not only did it offer a great view of the airfield below, but planes flew right over top as they departed. The perfect spotting location! Seeing an opportunity for some amazing video, I positioned myself carefully, lined up the shot and clicked the record button on my camera. And then the low battery light came on. And I realized I left my spare batteries back in the car.

DOH!!!

Wacko for Waco

It has been a rough year for avgeeks. Pretty much every major air show and aviation event has been canceled or posponed until 2021. Aside from a few isolated fly-overs, aviation enthusiasts have had to make due with whatever airplanes happened to stop by the local airport.

In recent weeks, however, a few small events have popped up. I shrugged most of them off – we’re in a pandemic, after all. Who is going to show up? The chance of any event being worth attending seemed pretty low. Then last month I found out about a Waco fly-in being held a couple hours away at Waco Field. The day was gorgeous – blue skies, perfect temps. I had nothing better to do so I decided to take a chance and make the trip.

During the drive I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. However, when I arrived at the destination and saw row after row of bi-planes and other vintage airplanes I nearly burst into tears for sheer joy. Finally! After more than a year I was once again surrounded by airplanes and avgeeks and it felt wonderful!

I started the afternoon by working my way along the rows of planes. Since this was a Waco fly-in, I was not surprised to see several of them in attendance. However, there were plenty of other types of planes on hand as well. One that caught my eye was the Grasshopper. It is actually a Piper J-3 Cub which was adapted for service in WWII. Another plane that grabbed my attention was a Great Lakes bi-plane. I just love the stance, the big round tail and splashy colors.

Next I visited the small museum located on the field. Inside were a number of exhibits dedicated to the history of Waco airplanes. Originally the Weaver Aircraft Company, the name changed to Waco around 1929. They developed a number of different airplanes including both open and closed cockpit bi-planes. During WWII they manufactured gliders which were used by the US Army Air Force as well as the RAF. The company folded after the war when the demand for civil aircraft didn’t increase as hoped.

I headed back outside in time to watch the RC air show. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from RC planes. Turns out it was pretty darn cool. They started with an aerobatic helicopter which did some pretty fancy flying that made me a little dizzy. This was followed by an aerobatic plane which performed the same loops and spins that one would expect from the full-sized version. Last was an RC plane built almost entirely for speed. It had a jet engine and they weren’t kidding when they said it was fast!

Once the RC show was over, the families moved off to the other side of the field for the candy drop. This was accomplished with another RC helicopter. I had never seen a candy drop before. It sure did look like fun! I opted not to get too close – in part to maintain social distance, but mostly because the Wacos and several other planes were taking off in preparation for the parade of planes.

The parade consisted of a series of fly-bys. An announcer provided details about each type of Waco as it made a low pass up the grass strip. Once the parade was over, the two bi-planes that had been giving rides all afternoon took back to the air. I’ve always been a bit hesitant about flying in an open cockpit, but I have to admit it looked like a lot of fun.

I headed home at the end of the day exhausted and sunburned but very happy. It was wonderful to be around airplanes again! Plus I found the perfect souvenir to remind me of all the fun. Perhaps best of all, I was able to support a small aviation museum and hopefully help keep it up and running for years to come.

Wrapping Up 2019 with Helicopters and Airbuses

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It is late January and I finally have a few moments to catch my breath from the chaos of the holidays and the busy season at work. I am definitely looking forward to a new year filled with plenty of avgeekery! However, there are a few loose threads from 2019 that I want to tie up before I jump into 2020.

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2019 Airport Challenge

Regular readers will recall that at the beginning of last year I issued a challenge to myself (and anyone else who was interested) to  spend time at 5 general aviation airports not previously visited. So how did I do? I’m pleased to report that I met the goal! The airports I visited are:

Grimes Field I74
Chester County MQS
South Valley Regional U42
Zanesville Municipal ZZV
Brandywine Regional OQN

I only stayed long enough at Chester County and South Valley for a quick look around and a few moments of plane spotting through the fence. I spent quite a bit of time at both Grimes Field and Zanesville and have written separate posts about my visits. The Brandywine Regional airport had been on my list to visit for quite some time, in part because many of the general aviation airplanes that fly over my childhood home are based there, but mostly because it has a really cool aviation museum.

img_5171American Helicopter Museum

The American Helicopter Museum opened in 1996 after I had already moved out of the area.  The mission of the museum is to educate the public on the development and history of rotary wing aircraft, and to celebrate all things helicopter.  I confess that while I find helicopters to be quite interesting, I don’t know much about them so I really enjoyed expanding my knowledge while examining the museum’s impressive collection.

 

It is impossible to pick a favorite exhibit, however I liked the Bell AH-1F Cobra and the V-22 Osprey quite a lot. The only thing better than seeing all the rotorcraft was getting to spend time with my friend David Vanderhoof, co-host of the Airplane Geeks and UAV Digest podcasts. If you find yourself in the Philadelphia area I highly recommend making the trip to West Chester to visit the museum. And if David is there, tell him I sent you!

First Commercial Flight in Ten Years

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Does anyone know what the record is for most time spent in an airport without actually flying anywhere? I don’t even know if such a record truly exists, but if it does then I imagine I’m a contender. Between my job and my airport vacations I figure I’ve spent around 9500 hours at airports over the last few years without getting on a commercial airplane. All that changed last October when I took my first commercial flight in over ten years.

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At the risk of stating the obvious – a lot has changed in the last decade! For one thing, there are so many more little fees now. Ten years ago you picked your seat when you booked your ticket and there was no extra charge for it. There was no cost to check a bag either. If airlines had apps ten years ago then they were fairly new and not widely used. Now you can do almost everything via the app.  And yes, I paid a little extra to pick my seat ahead of time because no way in heck I was going to miss the chance to sit by a window! It was TOTALLY worth it.

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What about the flight itself? Well this was my first flight with seat back info-tainment screens. (The last time I flew they still had air phones on the back of the seats!) While most people watched movies, I spent the time tracking the flight. What a fun feature for an avgeek like me! There has been a lot made of the smaller seat pitch, tiny bathrooms and rude passengers. I wasn’t bothered by any of those things and I quite enjoyed the trip.

What’s Next?

So what’s ahead for me in 2020? More commercials flights and more aviation museums! I’m considering a return visit to the Udvar Hazy center in the spring and maybe a trip out to LAX to attend Dorkfest over the summer.  Plus I’ve booked my room for Oshkosh in July. And, as always, I’ll be keeping an eye out for those fun airport moments that make every day an adventure. Stay tuned!
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Rock Your Wings – Flying at Osh19

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As an airport employee, I am surrounded by airplanes pretty much all the time. And yet somehow I rarely get to fly in them. I haven’t flown commercially in nearly ten years. My one and only flight in a general aviation airplane was over three years ago. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

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When my friend Mike (host of the Flying and Life podcast) found out that he could leave his campsite at Airventure, go for a flight, then return to the same camping spot, he immediately decided to give it a try. He asked if I’d be interested in going along. Wait… do I want to fly at Osh? During Airventure? The busiest airport in the world? THE FISK ARRIVAL? Are you kidding me??? OF COURSE I DO!

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One of the nice things about being fairly small in size is that I left room on the weight and balance chart for Mike to bring along a couple of other passengers as well. Our friends Dr. Steph (co-host of the Airline Pilot Guy podcast) and RH (co-host of the Opposing Bases podcast) were happy to join us. Both are pilots themselves and RH is also an air traffic controller. 

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To say I was excited would be an understatement. Even taxiing out to the runway felt like an adventure. The 18s were in use which meant we taxied along the primary flight line, right past Boeing plaza. I NEVER get tired of that view! Then I saw all the people along the edge of the airfield, watching the activity on the runways and I realized that we were about to become part of the show ourselves.

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There were a lot of planes in line to depart so we had to wait our turn. Finally we were cleared to take off. The next thing I knew we were headed down the runway and I could hear Mike doing his checks to confirm everything looked good. Then we were in the air. Such a great feeling to be off the ground! Flying free! Zipping along! And… getting passed by other planes that had taken off next-to and behind us. Fine, so Mike’s Musketeer isn’t the fastest plane ever. Who the heck cares! All that mattered is we were flying over Airventure It. Was. Spectacular.

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From there Mike flew south over Fond du Lac and then west to the southern end of Green Lake, which was where the approach into Oshkosh was starting on that day. We joined the approach and headed towards Fisk. Shortly after that came the moment I had been waiting for: the command from the Fisk controllers to rock our wings. I’ve heard them say it to a million other airplanes via LiveATC and I always wondered what it would be like. Let me tell you – it did not disappoint! And Mike did not mess around – he gave the wings a good, solid rock.

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The controller asked Mike if he had a runway preference. Mike requested the 18s. I found myself with a perfect view of Airventure as it came into sight below. Mike’s downwind leg provided another spectacular look along the flight line and at all the activity in the plaza. (That view just never gets old!) He was cleared to land on the pink dot and he made his turn to final.

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About that time we all noticed a plane sitting on the runway. Mike wondered aloud if it was going to hold in position until after we landed. Just then the tower controller came on the radio and with a sense of urgency told Mike to stay in the air, maintain his altitude and not descend. The controller directed us farther down the runway at which point he cleared Mike to land.  Which he did, nicely and smoothly and without breaking a sweat. Piece of cake!

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Oh my goodness that was tons of fun! And I learned so much – about following the NOTAM, about watching for traffic, and about how good friends can make great flight even better. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that three years between GA flights is far too long. Guess I need to do something about that!

Want more? You’re in luck! A flight with podcasters and writers naturally leads to lots of content.

Full in-flight audio can be found on the Opposing Bases podcast Airventure 2019 Bonus Episode #5.

A post-flight discussion with Mike can be found on the Opposing Bases podcast Airventure 2019 Bonus Episode #6.

And OF COURSE I took lots of video! Check it out!