The Ups and Downs of Airport Life

There’s never a dull day in aviation. Well… maybe there are some days that are fairly quiet and uneventful, but no two days are ever the same. It is one of the things I really love about working at an airport. Here are a few of the little “mini-adventures” I’ve had recently.

Balloon-attack

34180832_UnknownMy office is tucked away in a secluded part of the terminal. To access it you have to walk down a long, narrow hallway that is barely wide enough for two people to pass each other. After working late one evening I was attempting to go home when I entered that hallway only to find myself faced with what looked like approximately a million helium party balloons headed right for me. I quickly squeezed myself into a corner and waited for the balloons (and the people carrying them) to pass. This took some time because they were headed down one of the concourses which required them to enter a SIDA area (Secure Identification Area). This means each balloon carrier had to scan their badge, enter a code and go through the door one at a time, to be greeted by security on the other side.

 

Why all the balloons? The airport was getting ready for the launch of service by a new airline. This typically involves a lot of hoopla, although how much depends in part on the airline. For passenger airlines we typically make quite a celebration out of it – balloons, banners, catered food. On this particular occasion the airline wanted A LOT of hoopla. Not only did they celebrate at the gate, but there was a party area set up in the ticket lobby with more food and more balloons, plus live music and prizes. My favorite part of the celebration? Why the water cannon salute, of course! I’ve seen several of them at this point and they never get old.

Be Our Guest

33916048_UnknownOne of the best things about where I work is you never know what might fly in. Sure, I see lots of CRJs and ERJs, but it is the unexpected visitors that are the most exciting. A Canadian Alpha Jet certainly fits into that category. A friend found out that one was flying in and gave me a heads up. I was able to dash upstairs just in time to catch it taxiing to the FBO. I had never seen one before. Now that I have I would love the chance to see it up close!

IMG_3867Speaking of guests from another country, the same friend contacted me recently to let me know that a Delta A330 had just landed. Turns out it had come from Amsterdam and was unable to get to its intended destination because of bad weather. I suspected that it might be hiding out on the deice pad so I took a little stroll down concourse B.  Sure enough, there it was. At many airports the sight of an A330 is an ordinary occurrence, but for us this was something unusual. If you think that seeing the plane from the comfort of a warm, dry terminal was enough for me, then you must not be an avgeek! Of course I went out into the windy, snowy night to watch it take off! It was totally worth it, even though I got soaked and nearly blown off the top of the garage.

Strange Pax Moments

IMG_3980As I mentioned earlier, my department is tucked away in a part of the airport that isn’t easy to get to and is kept locked most of the time.  So you can imagine my surprise when I went to head home after working late one evening and I discovered a man with luggage stuck in a locked stairwell. It was not a SIDA area, but it is also not a place where passengers would ever go. I asked how he had gotten back there but he couldn’t tell me. He said he was trying to catch a flight but couldn’t say what airline. A coworker came along and the two of us walked the man out to the ticket lobby.

34180416_UnknownIt was apparent something was very wrong. He kept trying to wander into areas that are off-limits. He seemed disoriented and confused. He assured us he knew where he was going, but instead wandered around aimlessly. I ended up asking a security agent to follow him while I contacted the airport police. I found out later that, as I suspected, the man was very intoxicated.

Any adventure that involves calling the police is not one I’d care to repeat. However, a few weeks later I was on my way out after working late again when I stumbled across an unattended bag in the hallway near an exit. I prayed someone would come get it. I watched and waited, but after 15 minutes I realized the bag had been abandoned. So once again I ended up calling the police.  Two calls to the Public Safety department in just a few weeks? I’m going to blame it on having to work late so much recently… but I may put the police number on speed dial, just in case!

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Come back and visit us again soon, A330! Photo by Andrew Stricker

OSH17 – Mind Blown

IMG_0622EAA’s Airventure runs for a full seven days. I was there for five of them. This sounds like it should be plenty of time to see everything, but it isn’t. Not even close! However, I can say with full confidence that I made the most of the time that I had.

More Blue Angels

I mentioned in my last post that in addition to interviewing the pilot of Blue Angel #4, I also interviewed one of the enlisted men. Petty Officer First Class Jamichael (Jay) Semien is one of the crew coordinators on the team. Along with overseeing the ground operations, he is responsible for all the safety equipment on the planes. When I asked him how that is accomplished he explained that with some systems, like the oxygen system, there are tests that can be run. However for other systems, like the ejection seats, the only way to test them is to deploy them. Obviously no one wants to do that, so they have a rigorous maintenance schedule that they follow to ensure everything remains in perfect working order.

I really have to take a moment to once again thank the Blue Angels team members for being so gracious and generous with their time. These are men and women who are serving their country 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and who step up to defend our freedoms at a moment’s notice. I cannot thank them enough for their service.

Days 4 & 5

Thursday started with a visit inside the KC-135. This was a huge treat for me because I see these planes quite often and had been longing to get a closer look at one. From there I hustled over to the EAA radio center where I had the tremendous honor of being interviewed by Amy Laboda and Jeb Burnside for the Attitude Adjustment show. To be completely honest, I was pretty darn nervous! Thankfully Amy and Jeb made it easy. Give it a listen!

Other notable events on Thursday and Friday included a tour of an RAF A400, an interview with an official from Airbus, and an interview with the director of NASA Langley. If you haven’t already done so, you MUST go check out the Flying and Life Podcast. Mike did a great job with these interviews – you REALLY don’t want to miss them.

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Friday afternoon I attended a media briefing with Gene Kranz, Walter Cunningham and Jim Lovell from the Apollo space program. What a tremendous honor that was! I also heard them speak at the NASA presentation on Friday night. As I listened to them swap stories and share behind-the-scenes insights, it really brought home to me the breadth of the aviation world that is present at Airventure. You can find it all, from ultralights to the space program and everything in between.

The Rest of the Story

You might be thinking, hey Jenn – weren’t there daily air shows? Didn’t you watch any of them? Yes, there was an air show every afternoon. And most days I caught bits and pieces of them as we dashed from one event to the next. We were so busy running around that it wasn’t until Friday that I had time to just sit and watch a full show. And what a spectacular show it was! I was especially pleased that the Heritage Flight included not one, but TWO Warthogs! Rock on! EAA really does it right.

Other notable moments included attending several meet-ups, including one with Captain Jeff from the Airline Pilot Guy show who was visiting Airventure for the first time. I also finally made it to Camp Scholler and was able to spend some time with the amazing folks of Camp Bacon. And I paid my respects at the coffin. What is that you ask? You’ll just have to come to Osh18 and find out!

Final thoughts

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As I write this I am still decompressing from the week, however there are two major things that stand out to me. The first is all the amazing people I had the pleasure of meeting/seeing again this year. I cannot begin to list names (there are far too many!) but I just have to say how absolutely awesome it was to connect with every one of you. You are proof that aviation people are without a doubt some of the best people in the world.

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Hey look – there goes my new best friend, Lt. Benson!

The second thing that stands out to me is how incredibly blessed I am to have been able to find a place inside an industry that I love so much. If you had told me at my first Airventure four years ago that by 2017 I would be working at an airport, writing a successful blog and that I would have so many amazing aviation friends, I never would have believed it. Yet here I am – proof that really cool things CAN happen to ordinary people who happen to love airplanes.

So what do you think? Want to have your mind blown? Airventure Oshkosh 2018 is less than a year away. Are you in?

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PS: You thought I forgot about the stairs trucks, didn’t you. Go ahead, admit it! You’ve read through this post and there has been no mention of them. Well fear not, intrepid readers, I NEVER forget the stairs trucks! The photos below are an example of what happens when a stairs truck is left unguarded in my vicinity.

Authors note: Special shout-out to Mike Karrels (FlyingAndLife Podcast) and Dan Pimentel (Airplanista) – thanks for all your help and support. Shout out also to Rob Mark (Flying Magazine/Jetwhine) – thanks for inviting me to be on Attitude Adjustment. You were very much missed! And thanks to David Abbey, Daniel Dusome and John Brown who took the people/group photos.

Lies Plane Spotters Tell

IMG_8816It’s a sad truth and it pains me to say this but… plane spotters tell lies.  Yes, we do.  Anyone who says they don’t is… well, probably lying. We don’t mean to lie, it’s just that when you are hanging around the airfield and watching planes come and go, it is so easy to get completely sucked in and say things that you don’t really mean.  For example:

I’m not going plane spotting today. 

IMG_9501Since I work for an airport, the temptation is always there to stop upstairs and do a little plane spotting before I head home. It seems that no matter how firm my resolve to go straight to my car after work, by the time I get to the escalators I feel that irresistible urge to head on up. At that point I move on to lie number two…

I’m only going to stay for ten minutes. 

Half an hour later and I’m still there. The problem is, there’s almost always something interesting to see. In the unlikely event that there’s nothing happening on the airfield, I listen to ATC communications on my scanner. I listen to some of the airline operations frequencies as well, which can often be quite entertaining.

It’s too wet/cold/snowy/stormy for plane spotting. 

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

To be fair, sometimes it really IS too miserable outside for plane spotting. But spotters learn quickly that airplanes can be very cool to watch in rainy/snowy/windy weather. Can you say crosswind landings? On a recent stormy Friday I was able to sneak outside for a few minutes between storms. Listening to the coordination between ATC and the pilots and watching flights navigate around the weather was quite fascinating.

I’ve already got several pictures of that airline/livery/aircraft type. I don’t need any more. 

Except they’re landing from the opposite direction today… and on the other runway… and the sky is amazing… and the light conditions are just right…

I’m only going to wait a few more minutes for that flight to push back and then I’m giving up.

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I have to thank my twitter friend Andrew for coming up with this one.  It’s so true! An hour later I’m still there, still waiting for that plane to depart. Of course when I do give up and leave that’s when the plane decides to taxi out. Doh! I swear it does this on purpose just to taunt me! (I’m talking to you, American Airlines Airbus with the America West retro livery!)

I don’t need a better camera/lens/scanner.

Actually, yes I do! I really do! And once I get that new piece of spotting equipment, then of course I have to test it out! But don’t worry – I’m only going to stay ten minutes.

So why do we end up staying even though we swear we’re going to leave? Why do we make liars out of ourselves? Well…

For Moments Like This:

IMG_8472Earlier this week I decided to do a little plane spotting on my lunch break. It was hot and muggy so I told myself I’d only stay a few minutes. I was just about to (for once) head inside early when I heard a military flight contact the tower. I didn’t recognize the call sign but assumed it was probably a KC-135 practicing approaches. They often fly over from the nearby Air National Guard base. I’ve seen them several times before, however I figured I might as well stick around and watch them fly by.

FullSizeRender (70)Then I heard ATC clear the flight for the break. At that point I realized that it couldn’t be a tanker – it had to be fighters. Before I could even begin to speculate on what kind of fighters they might be, a flight of four A-10 Warthogs appeared. I calmly and patiently watched as they circled to land… OK, I’m lying again.  The truth is, I completely lost my mind.  I let out a shriek and sprinted across the parking garage (in high heels no less) while simultaneously attempting to take as many pictures as possible. I was overwhelmed with excitement, laughing, crying, jumping up and down…

IMG_9481Then I noticed that the group of construction workers who had been working nearby were slowly backing away. I must have looked like a complete lunatic. And guess what? I. DON’T. CARE. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time then you know the A-10 is one of my all-time favorite airplanes. I’ve only seen them fly once before at AirVenture Oshkosh last summer. To see them at my airport was absolutely the most unexpected, amazing thing EVER.

So why do plane spotters tell themselves these terrible lies? Because magic moments happen without notice when you least expect them. We just don’t want to miss out. And that’s the truth.

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Author’s note: In April I attended an event at the USAF Museum commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.  If you want to hear about it and see some pictures I took of the B-25s that participated in the flyover, please check out Episode 24 of the Flying and Life podcast.

Wings Over Avgeeks

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

They say the first time you attend an air show it’s about the airplanes, but after that it’s about the people. For a long time I really didn’t understand this. Hey – I’m here because I love things with wings! (And stairs trucks!) But the more you get into aviation the more you value being able to spend time with other people who love aviation too. And you find that being with them makes air shows and fly ins and other events even better than you ever thought they could be. Such was the case with Wings Over Pittsburgh.

 

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

Awesome: The F-22

Ah, the Raptor! It is one hell of a bad-ass airplane. I saw it at an airshow in 2009 and was completely blown away. I saw it again more recently but wasn’t as impressed. The performance that day had to be limited and it just wasn’t as spectacular as I remembered. At Wings Over Pittsburgh, however, the Raptor completely redeemed itself by being even more amazing than it was in 2009. That plane flies in ways and directions that defy all logic. Planes just can’t fly like that! Except somehow this one does!

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson      www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

Even More Awesome: Watching the F-22 with people who worked for Pratt & Whitney.

The F-22 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F119 turbofan engines which have nozzles that incorporate 2D thrust vectoring. I have no idea what any of that means. What it does, however, is allow the Raptor to fly in ways that are, frankly, ridiculous. Max and his wife are retired Pratt & Whitney employees who were with the company during the development of these engines. Watching them watch the F-22 demo was a true highlight of the weekend for me. When I asked how it felt to see their hard work on display the answer was a single word: goosebumps. I couldn’t agree more!


img_5484.pngAwesome:
The F-18 Super Hornet

I have long been a fan of the F-18. Many years ago I had a friend who was a mechanic in the Marines who worked on F-18s. I was unfamiliar with the plane so I looked it up. Woah – what the heck is this? Sweeeeet! I was instantly smitten and have loved the plane ever since. Yes, the Super Hornet is a bit different from the original Hornet, but I don’t care. The F-18 display remains one of my very favorites.

Even More Awesome: Watching the F-18 demonstration with a former F-18 pilot.

I wasn’t standing close enough to hear what Nick had to say during the demo, but just watching his face was enough. It was very obvious that he still loves that plane. And who can blame him!

IMG_9098Awesome: C-130s and paratroopers

I have no desire to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. However, I think it is really cool to watch other people do it. And it’s even more cool when those people are paratroopers jumping out of C-130s. How the heck do so many of them manage to leap out all at once?

Even More Awesome: Watching paratroopers with a skydiver.

I wish I had been able to watch with Steph on Saturday when the weather was better. It was much windier on Sunday and she knew right away that they weren’t going to be able to make the jump. Still, it was interesting to get her take on their performance from the previous day.

IMG_9093Awesome: All the amazing airplanes on display.

The static displays at Wings Over Pittsburgh were impressive and quite varied. They included some of my old favorites like the C-5 and KC-135, as well as the iconic B-52, the way-cool F-35, an Embraer E175 and many, many more. I could have spent hours and hours examining them in detail and still not gotten a good look at everything.

FullSizeRender (68)Even More Awesome: Wandering through the displays with an aviation historian.

David has probably lost count of the number of airshows he has attended. He has spent countless hours on military bases and soaked up more information than anyone I know. All that knowledge was so much fun to be around! I could ask any question and he knew the answer.  I learned a lot and I loved every moment!

Awesome: Spending three days surrounded by airplanes AND by people who are as passionate about them as I am.

Even More Awesome: Actually, I don’t think it gets more awesome than that!

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Big bird, little birds. Photo by Dr. Stephanie Plummer