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!

FLO and the Moose: Osh is BACK!

After two years of waiting, EAA’s Airventure is back! And if the Osh pre-game is any indication, it’s going to be one heck of a week. First of all, someone was crazy enough to allow me on the airfield with marshalling wands. And someone else was crazy enough to allow me on the flight deck of a very large airplane while it was under tow. Yes, you read that correctly!

A few weeks ago my friend Hillel helped me sign up to volunteer on the flight line, parking aircraft in the North 40. I’ve always wanted to give it a try, but have been a little bit hesitant. I mean we’re talking about being in close proximity to spinning propellers! But I reviewed the training materials and reported for duty on Sunday morning. We attended a pre-shift briefing, then hustled out to get into position before the Mooney mass arrival.

The more experienced crew took charge of actually positioning planes into the parking spaces. They also placed experienced volunteers at the entrance to the parking area to guide planes in. My responsibility was to stand at the end of a row and, when instructed, marshal planes into the row so they could be parked.

Once the Mooneys were in we switched to parking general camping airplanes. Since the available spaces were pretty far down, I stood about half-way between where the planes exited the taxiway and where the available spaces were. Another volunteer turned the plane towards me, and I pointed them down towards Hillel, who then turned them into the appropriate row to be parked.

It was sunny, the airplanes were amazing, I was in the heart of the action… I LOVED it! I will definitely do it again. If you’ve ever thought about volunteering, I highly recommend it.

But something EVEN COOLER happened on Saturday, and it also involved marshalling an airplane. Well… sort-of. Shortly before Osh I found out that the C-17 going on display on Boeing Plaza was from my friend Rick’s unit – and he was going to be flying it in. He knew that Hillel and I were FLO volunteers and jokingly told us that if we were going to marshal him in to be sure to use giant foam fingers.

So what did I do? I acquired a pair of large, red, foam fingers, of course! As luck would have it, I arrived at Osh just at the same moment the C-17 did. I got to the plaza in time to see the plane stop so they could hook up a tug. I couldn’t marshal it, but I COULD put on the foam fingers and wave. So that’s what I did. I waved and hollered and just generally made a fool of myself.

Suddenly a young man in uniform appeared. “Are you Jennifer?” Uh-oh! Am I in trouble? “Rick says you can come with me.” So I followed him over to the airplane. The steps were down and I expected to see Rick waiting outside. He wasn’t. The young man gestured to the steps and told me to go on up. I climbed into the cargo area. The young man gestured to another set of steps and again told me to go on up. Next thing I knew I was in the cockpit of the C-17!

Rick greeted me from the captain’s chair and told me to have a seat. Sit… here? In the cockpit? Of a C-17? While the plane is being towed? Eeeeeeee!!!! The crew was at work so I sat down, kept quiet and stayed out of the way, but inside I was completely freaking out. I got to ride along as the 911th Air Wing and EAA put a really big airplane into a not-so-big space.

Being able to watch the coordination that happens on the flight deck was fascinating. I have a whole new appreciation for the trust that goes into being pushed back. The pilots cannot see a thing so they count on the crews to be on their game. I also got to take a really good look at the avionics and controls in the cockpit. I was impressed by how modern it is and also how roomy.

I have to give a HUGE shout-out to Major Rick Bell and the entire C-17 crew for allowing me to ride along. It was definitely one of those only-at-Osh moments that I will truly never forget. With a beginning like this, what could possibly happen next? Stay tuned!

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!!!

OSH20 – the Week That (sort-of) Wasn’t

It’s my favorite week of the whole year! I spend 365 days looking forward to it. It’s better than Christmas. It’s Airventure Oshkosh! Except… not this year. Thanks to the current pandemic, Osh20 was canceled. There are not enough words to express how devastated I’ve been.

I tried to distract myself by taking a (socially-distanced) day-trip across the lake to a cheerful little island. But I just spent my time lurking around the airport there, looking for airplanes. I went through old photos and shared them online with the other Osh faithful. It was somewhat helpful to know that I was not alone in my grief.

In the absence of our beloved fly-in, the good folks at EAA put together the Spirit of Aviation Week. It consisted of a collection of online events and forums covering a wide-range of topics. I’ll admit I was skeptical about it at first – no virtual event can ever take the place of the real deal. But then I looked over the list of offerings and saw a few that looked interesting. So I decided to check them out. And I’m so glad I did! I carried my ipad outside, plugged in my headphones and as I listened I could almost imagine I was sitting in one of the forum buildings on the Airventure grounds.

The first event I “attended” was a panel discussion with members of the US Air Force Demo teams. Participating in the event were an F-16 pilot, an F-22 pilot, an F-35 pilot and an A-10 pilot. They discussed the challenges of keeping their skills sharp during a season when most shows have been canceled. They also talked about flying at Osh, how it is different from some of the other places they fly and how much they look forward to performing there. I was interested to learn that as a recruiting tool, the demo teams are primarily trying to reach kids ages 8-12. That seems young to me, but they say it is the best age to capture and maintain an interest in becoming military aviators.

The next event I attended was the Airline Pilot Career Outlook, hosted by United Airlines. I am not interested in becoming an airline pilot, but I was curious to get United’s take on the pandemic and the impact it is having on the industry. They reiterated what we already know – this has been the worst year for the airlines, ever. They believe it will likely be two years before they are ready to start hiring again. However, they are very cognizant of the fact that 50% of their workforce will retire in 10 years and 90% will retire in 20 years. Pandemic or not, that is a lot of pilots that will be needed. They are trying to connect with future pilots early on – a fact they emphasized by announcing their sponsorship of EAA’s Young Eagles programs.

I wrapped up the week by attending an FAA seminar entitled “Don’t Let that Airport Fool You!” With a title like that, of course I had to attend! I was curious to know just exactly how airports go around fooling people. The seminar was really about how to avoid wrong surface/wrong airport events. I learned that certain types of airport geometry (parallel and offset parallel runways, complicated layouts, etc.) can contribute to these types of events. It made me wonder how many airport planners are also pilots. Seems like it would be helpful to have hands-on experience when making decisions about taxiway placements, etc.

I really enjoyed attending these sessions and I appreciate everything EAA did to provide a taste of Airventure in the midst of a difficult year. That said, I’m really glad Osh week is over. I’m ready to stop feeling sad about what didn’t happen, and look ahead to better days. Hope to be able to see you all at Airventure 2021!

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Battleships, Blackbirds and Tough Times at the Airport

C7A82B02-1E14-4212-88E2-1DC5FB1C1808Before the stay-at-home orders for the Covid-19 pandemic started, I was able sneak out to Pensacola Beach, Florida for a quick vacation. I had hoped to make a return visit to the Naval Air Museum while I was in the area, but it was not open to the public. Instead I drove over to Mobile, AL to visit Battleship Memorial Park.

Tough Ship (and Planes)

C851E28E-A66C-47A2-8098-EDDAD82E98F1As the name suggests, the main attraction is the USS Alabama, a World War II-era battleship. Parked right next door is the USS Drum, a Gato-class submarine. Both were open for self-guided tours. I have never been on any kind of military vessel before… oh my goodness the crazy steep stairs! I cannot imagine what it must have been like to climb up and down them while out at sea. Needless to say I have an even greater appreciation for our Navy and Marine service members .

Of course, what I was most excited to see were the airplanes. There were a number of them scattered around the park grounds, including a B-52, an F-15, an F-16, and a C-47. However there was also an aircraft pavillion where the REALLY cool planes are stashed. First to catch my eye when I walked through the door was a Blackbird – more specifically, an A-12. They look virtually the same , but the A-12 could fly a little faster and a little higher, and was used by the CIA for spy missions.BC68A85C-ABE6-4FBE-9C81-A3891C485F77

On the opposite side of the pavillion was an F-14 Tomcat. Oh how I love that plane! It looks fast and mean just sitting on the ground. There are several other fascinating airplanes and helicopters on display including a P-51 Mustang and an F-18 Hornet. Over-all I found Battlefield Memorial Park to be well worth the visit. If you are ever in the area I strongly recommend you stop by and give it a look.

Meanwhile at the Airport…

As I mentioned in my last post, I am working from home these days. However, I had to stop by the office recently to pick up a few items. I thought I was prepared for what I was going to see. I wasn’t. Empty parking lots. No shuttles or buses or ubers. No traffic at all, really. And, except for a few bored agents at the ticket counter, no people. The restaurants are closed. The stores are closed too. And yet, upbeat music played over the PA system, along with routine announcements – as if nothing at all was amiss. But then there were also recorded reminders about social distancing and quarantines. Actually it was quite eerie.FE9B9EE7-B639-4F06-9C1D-AB34B85949D3

It was equally disturbing to see all the empty airplanes sitting around. A regional airline has parked nearly three dozen ERJs on the south cargo ramp. Each unused airplane represents dozens of people in the aviation and travel industries who aren’t working right now. For the airport, those idle airplanes mean no passenger parking  income, no concession income, and very little in the way of landing fees or PFCs. Things are tough all over.905AFDC8-5B18-48EC-B32A-D4E2E3DD5A55

But there is a little bit of good news in the midst of the gloom. Although the passenger airport is unbearably quiet, the cargo airport has managed to stay busy. There has been a reduction in flights by some carriers, but there’s been steady traffic from others like Cargolux and Cathay Pacific. Chartered cargo flights have actually increased. Many of those flights have been delivering medical supplies and other items that are critically needed.2DA3F260-D25E-422E-9940-A72A0B9FDF09

From a financial standpoint, the activity at the one airport cannot begin to make up for the lack of activity at the other. But right now we’ll take whatever we can get. And having those cargo planes overhead helps calm my aviation withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, my serious case of stairs truck deficiency continues.
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Osh Love for a Lifetime

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My birthday is in September. However, for as long as I’ve been coming to Airventure, my mom sent my birthday check early.  She knew I’d like to have a little extra money to spend on my trip to Osh. My mom passed away a couple months ago, so there was no birthday check this year. However, she did leave me enough money to do something I’ve been wanting to do for some time now: become a Lifetime Member of  EAA.

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I’m not a pilot and I’ve never built a plane, so you might be wondering why on earth I’d want lifetime membership. At Airventure 2016 I got to see an A-10 fly for the first time. They are one of my most favorite planes and although I’d seen them on static display, I had never seen one in the air. I was so excited I was nearly in tears over it. I expected ridicule or funny looks from the people around me. What I got instead was complete understanding. I knew right then that I wanted to be a member forever.

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So, what are the perks of lifetime membership? Well I got a patch and a pin and a flashlight. I’ll be getting a plaque and a jacket with my name embroidered on it. I also get to have a new membership card with the photo of my choosing on it. Yikes!  How will I ever decide which one to use? Being a lifetime member also enabled me to get a couple of days of access to the lifetime pavilion. It’s a great place to sit in the shade, relax and watch the airshow.

 

Speaking of which, there have been some great airplanes at Osh so far this year. I got my first look at the KC-46 Pegasus. I also watched a UPS Boeing 747-8 taxi into Boeing Plaza. The wingtip went right over my head! I got to take a look at a prototype flying car. I have to admit that I am a bit skeptical about whether it can actually fly, but the company says they are close to the first test flight. It will be interesting to see what happens.

 

Of course, Osh isn’t just about planes – it is about the people as well. I’ve gotten to see so many old friends! It truly is an aviation family reunion. I especially enjoy watching new attendees take in Osh for the first time and fall in love with it just as I did. Who knows – maybe some of them will end up becoming lifetime members too.

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Show before the Show – OSH19

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. I’m talking about Airventure Oshkosh, of course! It’s my happy place. The place where everyone understands me. The place of 10,000 airplanes. It is so much better than Christmas!

I arrived early once again this year.  Unfortunately, so did the rain in the form of a series of intense thunderstorms. It halted all arrivals and turned the Airventure grounds into a marsh. Needless to say I spent quite a bit of time in my car, waiting out the deluge.

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Once the rain stopped I made the first of what are sure to be many trips deep into the heart of Camp Scholler. Why? I have friends who are staying there in a rented RV. More importantly, they have my beer  And my cookies. My observations of Camp Scholler thus far:

– It’s huge.

– The people are super-friendly and will give you rides on their golf carts.

– Like the rest of Airventure currently, a good portion of it is under water.

– Did I mention that it’s huge?

15D1999E-DED7-4757-B8CA-86BD39920EB3Sunday I started off visiting the actual airport terminal. After all, this blog is called Tales From the Terminal so it seemed like a good idea to stop by. It was quiet. And small. But there’s an airplane hanging inside which automatically makes it excellent. I ran into a group of Airventure newbies who needed some advice on how how to get their wristbands and I was happy to point them in the right direction.

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The rest of the day was spent wandering the Airventure grounds watching airplanes. The arrivals have been much quieter this year because of all the rain – the aircraft camping areas are under water so none of the GA aircraft were allowed in until very late in the day. Thankfully there were still lots of amazing airplanes to see.

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The day ended at the Redbird Preflight Reception which was held at their exhibit tent just off the main plaza.  I got a chance to take a peek inside some of sims, which are all very nice. I also got a chance to catch up with many old friends who were also at the event.

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On Monday Airventure officially begins. I am super excited to see the A-10 and F-35 demo teams. I’m also looking forward to seeing the new KC 46 Pegasus tanker which is scheduled to arrive in the evening. Of course some of the best moments at Oshkosh happen completely unexpectedly.  I don’t know what adventure will come my way, but I’m ready so bring it on!

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Aviation Therapy

38311024_UnknownI set a goal for this year of at least two blog posts per month and I was doing pretty well… but then life events forced me to put writing on hold for a while. You see, my mother passed away somewhat unexpectedly at the end of May. Those of you who know me or who have followed this blog for a few years will remember that my father passed away back in 2016. Losing my mom means that both my parents are gone now, which means my brother and I face the added stress of dealing with my mom’s estate. Definitely not fun.

38312176_UnknownEveryone copes with grief in their own way. For some people the idea of returning to work after a loss might be unbearable. For me, however, going back to work was a lifeline. It allowed me to get back into a routine, but more importantly, it provided me with a much-needed daily dose of aviation therapy. And oh my goodness what excellent therapy it has been!

When I pulled into the parking lot on my first day back I noticed there was a large airplane sitting across the airfield, but I was too distracted to give it a lot of thought. However, when I got to my department I could clearly see an Atlas 747 sitting on the south ramp. Atlas always flies into the cargo airport – why was it at the passenger airport? Actually, who the heck cares!  I’m just so glad I got to see it.  (For those who are wondering, it was a military charter flight.)

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

That was just the start of several days of really great plane spotting. Some of the planes I got to see included:

A whole bunch of bizjets from Target Inc. (Target has great taste in airplanes!)

 

 

A KC-135 practicing touch-and-goes.

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A beautiful Cessna 195:

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Three big beauties headed to the cargo airport:

 

A sweet little Skylane:

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A Hondajet:

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A National Air 757:

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And perhaps best of all, two A-10s! Sadly I couldn’t get a good picture of them because of how they were parked. But that’s OK. Getting to see them at all was a huge treat that really lifted my spirits.

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However, the ultimate in aviation therapy is just a month away – Airventure Oshkosh.  Once again I plan to be there all week.  As always, I’ll be handing out bacon jerky at Oshbash so if you’ll be at Airventure on Tuesday, July 23, please join us.  No, not even 10,000 airplanes can make up for the loss of my mom.  But I can’t think of a better place to find my smile again.  Hope to see you there!38311936_Unknown

 

Lunch with Champaign Lady

IMG_1409Regular readers may recall that earlier this year I set a goal for myself (and anyone else who wants to play along) of checking out at least 5 GA airports not previously visited. That’s right- it’s the 2019 Airport Challenge! Recently I took a step towards meeting that goal by spending a day at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio. This little airport has pretty much everything you could ask for: plenty of GA traffic, an excellent restaurant and not one but TWO aviation museums!

Along on the journey was my friend Jim Thompson, former stairs truck driver for a major airline (now retired) and current airport ambassador. We started our visit at the Grimes Flying Lab Museum. This museum is only open on Saturday mornings so I’m really glad we timed our trip to allow us to see it.

Housed in a single hangar, the exhibits are a showcase of the life and work of Warren Grimes, who founded an aircraft lighting company in the mid-1920s. The collection includes pretty much every type of lighting you can think of… and probably some you didn’t! The centerpiece of the collection is a C45-H which was used as a test bed and is decked out with so many lights it looks rather like a flying disco. It. Is. AWESOME!

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After an hour or so we made our way over to the other museum on the field – the Champaign Aviation Museum. The first thing I noticed when we walked in the door was a C-47 on display.  These planes played an important role in WWII, particularly during the invasion of Normandy when more than 50,000 paratroopers jumped from them.  With the 75th Anniversary of D-Day coming up in just a few weeks, I appreciated the chance to get an up close look at such an iconic airplane.

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This particular warbird spent some time in the civilian world.

The next thing to catch my attention was the B-17 in pieces at the far side of the hangar. Named Champaign Lady, it is undergoing a ground-up restoration using various parts from other B-17s as well as some newly fabricated pieces. It was fascinating to see how it is being assembled. It’s even more impressive when you consider it is being constructed by volunteers! One of them spent some time talking with us about the challenges of tracking down parts and securing detailed plans for such an old plane. It is definitely a labor of love. I’m really looking forward to the day when she is ready to fly.

Also at the museum is my old friend the B-25 Champaign Gal. I’ve seen her at many aviation events and if you’ve checked out my “about the blogger” page, there’s a picture of the two of us together. There were quite a number of other exhibits related to World War II including uniforms, wedding dresses made from parachutes and many, many photographs.

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My favorite exhibit, however, featured the Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly referred to as the WASPs. The museum has life-sized cut-outs of at least a dozen WASPs, each of which is holding a poster-sized information sheet which includes a photograph of themselves from WWII, their nickname, what planes they flew and an anecdote from their time in the service. Some of their tales are absolutely priceless! The exhibit brings the WASPs to life in a way that history books cannot. I found myself desperately wishing I could have met those ladies in person!

After we left the museum we did what any self-respecting avgeek does – we grabbed some lunch and hung around and watched airplanes! One of the best things about GA airports is how close you can get to the ramp areas. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of planes that flew in while we were there.

So, what GA airfield have you visited recently? Need some suggestions of where to go? Check out eatattheairport.com! And if you are anywhere near Urbana, OH (or even if you aren’t) plan a visit to Grimes Field. Just make sure you get a piece of ridiculously delicious pie at the cafe – because the only thing better than spending a day with airplanes is spending a day with airplanes AND pie!

Want to learn more about the Champaign Aviation Museum? Check out episode 548 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast in which they interview Aimee Brower who handles public affairs, donor relations, and education.

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Photo by Jim Thompson

Meeting Memphis Belle

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My first exposure to military aviation came when I was a teenager. I was digging through my brother’s bookcase when a book on the battle of Midway caught my eye. I figured I’d read a page or two but didn’t expect to like it. Several hours later I couldn’t put the book down. We can launch airplanes from ships? Hell yeah! I read as much as I could find about the Pacific battles during WWII. Sure, I knew about the European theater, but the Pacific campaigns captured all my attention.

img_4821.jpgThat changed in 1990 when a movie called Memphis Belle was released. Have you ever had a crush on a movie star? Well that’s kind-of how I felt about the Belle.  I was completely captivated by it, especially when I learned that it was based on a true story. Like any good aviation enthusiast, I wondered what had become of the plane. I was very pleased to discover that it was undergoing restoration nearby and I hoped that one day I’d have the chance to see it in person.

ERTY4430That opportunity came just a few weeks ago. On what was the 75th anniversary of its last mission, the Memphis Belle exhibit opened at the USAF Museum in Dayton. It’s hard to put into words how I felt when I saw the plane for the first time. I had read so much about the Belle and about what the bomber crews went through… So many incredible stories. So many sacrifices. And at long last there she was right in front of me!

The ribbon-cutting ceremony included the USAF Museum director as well as the Air Force Director of Staff. I was surprised, however, that a couple of kids also participated. One was a 13 year old boy from England who completed his first model of the Belle at age 7. Another was a boy who had won a contest for a poster he created. It’s amazing to think that this plane has already made such a big impact on two people who weren’t born until long after the completion of her military service.

While the Memphis Belle was definitely the star of the show, she is just one part of a much bigger exhibit that tells the story of the U.S. Army Air Forces Strategic Bombing missions in Europe.  I learned about the members of her crew, who actually flew their first five missions in different airplanes. Similarly, the crew’s 25th mission was actually the Belle’s 24th. The plane flew one more time with another crew before finishing her tour. I also learned about her iconic nose art and the process that the restoration team went through to determine the best way to display her.

After spending an hour or so exploring the exhibit, we turned our attention to some of the special activities being held that weekend. We started off with a visit to the WWII reenactment camp. Then we took a shuttle over to the runway behind the museum where four WWII planes were parked, including a P-51 and another B-17. Some other planes were scheduled to be there as well, including the movie version of Memphis Belle, but unfortunately the weather kept them away.

Of course, some of the best aviation moments are ones that aren’t planned and happen completely unexpectedly. In this particular case the unexpected came in the form of Air Force One.  Actually, since the President was not on board, it would be more appropriate to refer to it as the VC-25. It was practicing approaches into nearby Wright Patterson AFB. As a result it flew low over the Air Force Museum over and over and over again. Also practicing approaches at the same time was a C-17. We sat and watched them for an hour while we ate lunch. It. Was. AMAZING! I could have watched them all day.

If you weren’t able to attend the opening of the exhibit I have some good news for you – the Memphis Belle is on permanent display! If you are anywhere near the Dayton area, you MUST stop in. I promise you won’t regret it! And if you love B-17s as much as I do, check out the Plane Tales episode: The Luftwaffe Pilot and Ye Olde Pub. It’s the story of a badly damaged B-17 that completed its mission against incredible odds and the unlikely friendship that developed as a result.

Authors’s note: A big thanks to JET (a retired airline employee and current airport ambassador) and his friend Jim for attending the exhibit opening with me!

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Did I mention that there was a C-17 and it was completely awesome?  Just checking…