2019 Airport Challenge

camera-april-2018-1054.jpgI’ve been thinking a lot about airports lately. I guess that’s no surprise. I work at an airport. I vacation at airports. Airports are a big part of my life and I love them. So I find it very distressing every time I hear about another GA airport closing.

According to Statista.com, in 1990 there were 5,589 public use airports in the US. In 2016 there were 5,136. That’s over 450 airports gone in 26 years. And once gone they don’t come back. In the rare case where a new airport is built, it is often at the expense of an older airport which is closed (see Denver, for example).

img_8272Why do smaller airports matter? Well for one thing, that’s where most of the flight schools are and where the pilots of tomorrow begin their flight training. GA airports relieve congestion at major airports by providing alternate destinations for business jets and they are often much more convenient for business travelers. Perhaps most importantly, small, local airports enable emergency support to quickly reach communities in times of need.

img_e2204Given all the important services that GA airports provide, why on earth are they disappearing? Often these airports are surrounded by homes and businesses which can lead to noise complaints and safety concerns. Developers desire the airport property to build additional homes or retail centers. Local governments want the increased tax dollars that commercial development would bring. Small airports often don’t have the means to fend off such attacks. Once an airport loses community support and is targeted for closure, it can be too hard for it to fight back effectively. (Santa Monica, anyone?)

img_9547So, what can we do to help?  It’s simple, really – visit GA airports! If you are a GA pilot you are already helping by using these airports on a regular basis. Not a pilot? The good news is, you don’t need to have a pilot’s license to visit an airport. GA airports are often more accessible and people-friendly then their large commercial counterparts. When I thought about it, I realized I only visited 4 GA airports last year, and of those there was only one I hadn’t been to before. What?!?!? I can do better than that! And so the 2019 airport challenge was born!

The challenge is simple: in the next 12 months check out (at least) five GA airports not previously visited. 

Two of the airports on my list are Chester County Airport (MQS) in Pennsylvania and Grimes Field (I74) in Ohio. I haven’t decided on the other three yet, but I’m looking for other locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. (If you’ve got a suggestion please comment on this post and let me know!)

IMG_7705As luck would have it, my friend Max Flight from the Airplane Geeks Podcast recently started his own quest to visit GA airports. Since he eats out fairly regularly, he decided to visit airports with restaurants. Brilliant! Nothing goes better with a meal than a heaping portion of airplanes and avgas! Max created eatattheairport.com which includes a google map that displays airports with eating establishments on the premises (or nearby). Check it out – it’s seriously cool! Have a favorite airport/restaurant that isn’t listed? There’s a form you can fill out to have it added to the map.

So, how much do you love aviation? What are you doing to support it? Consider this your invitation to join me! If you value GA airports and all that they provide to the community, then GO VISIT THEM! Head to eatattheairport.com to plan your trips and submit information to help other avgeeks plan theirs.

The 2019 Airport Challenge is on! Are you in? Great! I’ll see you at the airport!

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Old Car, Older Airplane

35792000_UnknownEveryone knows how much I love airplanes. However, I’ve always liked classic cars too. A couple years ago I inherited a 1954 MG TF 1500 from my father. It’s not the kind of classic car I imagined I might have, but the more I’ve gotten to know it, the more I’ve come to love it. When I found out there was going to be a Cruise-In/Fly-In nearby I was super excited. Spend the day at an airport with airplanes AND classic cars? Oh heck yeah!

In a regular car on the highway it would take around 40 minutes to get to the Cruise-In/Fly-In location. However, the MG doesn’t go very fast. And it doesn’t go on major highways. It also doesn’t go if it is too cold. Or too hot. Or too wet. Or… You get the idea. Thankfully the weather was perfect for enjoying the back roads. Sure the drive took twice as long but it was totally worth it!

IMG_5895The first thing I noticed when we arrived at the airport was all the cars – they had a great turn-out for the cruise-in!  There were plenty of American classics, of course, but there were some imports as well, including another old MG. There were also a lot of airplanes. The fly-in covered just about every aspect of aviation you can think of. There were drones and RC planes. There were flight simulators. The NASA “Journey to Tomorrow” traveling exhibit was there along with a shuttle astronaut who was signing autographs. Several university aviation programs had booths set up. And of course they had rides – a helicopter, a bi-plane and a C-47 were all coming and going with passengers on board. However, I was most excited about the Ford Tri Motor.

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I’ve been wanting to fly on a Tri Motor ever since I first saw one parked at my airport several years ago. There have been Tri Motor rides offered at other nearby airports and it’s always on my list of things to do at Osh, but somehow I’ve never been able to make it happen. I was not about to miss out again. I headed straight for the registration table and got signed up for the very next flight.

Production of the Ford Tri Motor airplane began in 1925. This particular plane, the “City of Wichita/City of Port Clinton,” was built in 1929. That’s right – the Tri Motor is 25 years OLDER than my 64-year-old MG! I always breathe a sigh of relief when the MG successfully completes a road trip without breaking down. And yet here I was, cheerfully boarding a much older airplane. Was I nervous? No, not at all.  Was I excited?  Absolutely!

 

As I climbed up into the plane I was struck by how different the interior is compared to commercial aircraft today. For one thing, it has wood paneling. It also has cushy seats similar to what you might find in an old movie theater. No issues with legroom here! I especially loved the big square windows which provided an exceptional view of the world outside. The taxi out and take-off were much smoother than I expected and as we lifted off the ground I realized that it has been over two years since I was last flew. Oh my goodness it was WONDERFUL to be back in the air!

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Me and my shadow…

We circled around the airport a few times and I was able to pick out many landmarks below. I was seated towards the tail so unfortunately I wasn’t able to see the cockpit very well. I did notice, however, that some of the gauges were out on the wing so the pilot had to look out the window to view them. This reminded me of the MG’s “side view” mirror, which is positioned up on the front fender. It seems odd, but it works! I spent most of the flight soaking up the thrill of being in the sky, and trying to imagine what it must have been like for the plane’s first passengers all those years ago.

 

Time flies (literally) when you are having fun and before I knew it we were back on the ground. Although the flight was over, the afternoon was just getting started – there was still so much to see and do!  I spent the rest of the day checking out the various planes, enjoying the classic cars and chatting with people about the MG.

If you’ve ever wanted to go for a flight but have balked at the cost of riding on a B-17 or B-29, you really should check out the Tri Motor. At just $75 it is quite affordable and trust me, it is worth every penny! But watch out – once you do it, you’ll want more. After swearing I’d never fly in an open cockpit, I suddenly find myself keen to try a bi-plane ride. Stay tuned!

Authors Note: Check out the latest episode of Podcasting on a Plane!  Host Brandon and I talk about my visit to the ATC tower at Oshkosh, my very first experience with an ATC simulator program and my adventures on the deice pad. We had a lot of fun so give it a listen!

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Anatomy of a Go-Around

IMG_6061I’ve been around the airport long enough now that I’ve witnessed many go-arounds. They always grab my attention because the plane passes low over the airport in a way that is different from the usual pattern. Most of the time I don’t have any idea why they are going around, although once I had my scanner on and heard the pilots mention wind shear.

However, recently I happened to be watching as a situation unfolded which required a flight to go around. Not only was I able to witness the events leading up to the go-around, but I was fortunate enough to have my scanner on so I could hear what was going on, plus I had my camera and was able to grab some pics and video.  Even better, I found the audio on LiveATC.net so I was able to review both the photos and the audio and put it together into a video which I’m sharing with you!

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This stairs truck had nothing to do with the go-around.  I just love stairs trucks and this is a really cool one.  Thanks Dr Stephanie Plummer for taking and sharing the pic!

Before I get into the details I want to make it clear that I’m not judging or assessing blame. This is just my account of what I saw and heard. Everyone involved in this situation handled it well and everyone eventually successfully completed their journey – which is, of course, always the goal.

The Scene

The day was warm and sunny with puffy clouds. I don’t have the metars, unfortunately, but as you’ll be able to see in the video, visibility was generally good and any breeze was light.

The airport has two parallel runways, but one of them was closed at the time. This means there was twice as much traffic using the active runway. In fact, the plane that went around would normally have been landing on the other runway, a fact that is significant in the context of this event.

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The Players

There were three planes that were involved: a Vistajet Global 6000, a Delta Boeing 737-800 and a small business jet, whose make and type I didn’t happen to catch. The little bizjet had just landed, the Vistajet was preparing to depart and the Delta was on final.

The Event

If you’ve spent any time watching a busy airport in operation you’ll know that there’s a certain rhythm to it. A plane lands,  it clears the runway, a plane takes off, the next plane lands, etc. ATC establishes this rhythm and manages the separation to keep the flow going smoothly. I actually quite enjoy watching single runway operations because then everything happens right in front of me. This particular event occurred during the evening rush when there is more activity on the airfield.

After the little bizjet landed, ATC cleared Vistajet to line up and wait. Although you can’t hear it on the LiveATC recording, ATC let Vistajet know that there was a 737 on a four mile final. My first inkling that we might have an issue was that the bizjet seemed a little slow to exit the runway.

IMG_6064Once the bizjet turned onto a taxiway, ATC cleared Vistajet to take off. They then cleared the Delta flight to land, noting that departing traffic was on the roll. Except it wasn’t. I watched as Vistajet sat at the end of the runway while the Delta continued on final. It was pretty clear that if Vistajet didn’t get moving ASAP there was going to be a situation.

Sure enough the Tower commanded Vistajet to expedite off the runway via the nearest taxiway. I would imagine the Vistajet pilots were focused on preparing to take off, so the sudden command to taxi instead probably took them a moment to digest. When they didn’t move right away, and with Delta still on approach, ATC again commanded Vistajet to exit the runway. I’ve listened to ATC handling all kinds of situations in all kinds of weather and they always sound completely calm and collected. In this case, however, there was no mistaking the urgency in the controller’s voice.

IMG_6059Unsurprisingly, the next command from ATC was to cancel Delta’s landing clearance and send them around. The Delta pilot’s response was perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing. While the Vistajet scrambled to exit the runway and the controller sounded a bit tense, the Delta pilot sounded… bored. Like he does go-arounds ten times a day. I’m sure the Delta flight crew were maintaining situational awareness, could tell what was happening and were already preparing to abort the approach.

Now that I’ve set it up for you, here’s the video so you can listen and see for yourself. The audio clip is exactly as it was recorded by LiveATC – I didn’t do any editing other than trimming it to just the incident portion of the recording:

Sure there may have been a tense moment or two and yes the situation caused two planes to be delayed a little bit, but the bottom line is everyone arrived safely at their destination. Vistajet was resequenced for departure and Delta was routed back into the traffic pattern where they made an uneventful landing a few minutes later. On the airfield, as in life, things don’t always go as planned. As long as everyone pays attention, it doesn’t have to be a problem.

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Hooray for GA!

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For me, one of the biggest perks of working for an airport is getting to learn about what goes on behind the scenes. I got another opportunity recently when my department went on a tour at our GA airport. Surprise! I bet most of you didn’t know we ran a GA airport. Well we do! And guess what? It’s awesome!

The tour began with lunch at the BBQ restaurant. Every GA airport needs a good restaurant and this one fills the bill. The food wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty and filling. Plus the service was excellent.

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After we finished eating we headed over to visit the local community college.  The classrooms for their A&P Mechanic program are located right on the airfield.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect – I figured we’d see some white boards and books and maybe an airplane or two. It turned out to be so much more amazing than that!

 

The classrooms were just like any other classroom… except they were full of airplane parts!  We got to see the  avionics workshop and the sheet metal and composite materials fabrication lab. And we saw engines.  Lots and lots of them, from piston engines to turbo props to jet engines. They were in all stages of assembly so you could get a really good look at the inner workings.  There were big engines and small ones and engines for helicopters.  I’m pretty sure I could have spent all day just looking at the engines! Fortunately the school had something even better out back… a hangar!

 

The college hangar is stuffed full of planes ranging from your basic Cessna all the way up to a Lear 25. They even have a helicopter. They all have working engines for the students to practice on, however none of the planes are airworthy. Most were donated to the school by their former owners who wanted their planes to continue to have useful lives even though they couldn’t fly any more.

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Our tour guide opened the hangar and out on the ramp were even MORE planes, including a Boeing 727 that had once been owned by FedEx. It must have been a sight to see that big plane land at that little airport. I have to admit it made me a little melancholy to see so many gorgeous planes that will never again lift off into the sky. Then I remembered that these planes play an important role in training future mechanics who, in turn, will keep other planes flying.

 

After our visit to the college we headed over to the FBO and spent time checking out the various amenities including the pilot lounge, flight planning facility and conference rooms. We also visited the hangar and talked with the FBO manager. He told us about what it is like to run an FBO and about some of the challenges they face.  The GA airport is one of 5 airports within the greater metropolitan area so they are always working on ways to attract pilots. It sounds like they have some fun events planned. They are also considering opening a flight school.

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Of course the highlight of any airport tour has got to be visiting the ATC tower. This one is open 12 hours each day. It is a contract tower which means it is privately run (as opposed to being staffed by FAA controllers). It did not appear to have radar, although it did have weather data and an excellent view of the airfield. The controller said that most traffic is VFR so sunny days are the busiest and rainy days are pretty quiet.

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Our last stop was the Airfield Maintenance Facility. It is very similar to other facilities that I have visited, only much smaller. I saw a plow and a broom truck but sadly no stairs trucks. I also got to sneak into the sand barn where the deicing materials are kept. (This involved climbing up and then back down a set of very steep, very sandy wooden steps. Yikes! Glad I don’t have to do that on a regular basis!)

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The most important thing I learned from our day on the airfield is that small GA airports are every bit as fun and fascinating as large airports. Plus they are a lot more visitor-friendly! You can stop by almost any time – no badge needed! If you haven’t checked out the GA airport near you, what are you waiting for? These airports want and need local support so trust me – they’ll be thrilled to see you. And I promise you’ll be glad you went.

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