What in the World?!

I’m not a big fan of surprises. Surprise party? No, thanks. Surprise audit? Yikes! What about surprise airplanes? Ah! That’s the one kind of surprise I actually DO like! Over the last few years I’ve gotten to see some pretty unusual and unlikely airplanes lurking outside the office.38045232_unknown Tracking down these rare and different visitors takes a lot of practice, skill and a keen eye for… OK, fine – mostly it just takes luck. And a knack for being in the right place at the right time. However, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances.

If commercial aviation is your thing, I recommend JetTip.net. For a long time I resisted the urge to add yet another tracking service to my already large collection. But after a friend gave it a try and got a lot of useful alerts about unusual liveries and charter aircraft, I gave in. Now my problem is trying to schedule my lunch break to catch the planes I most want to see and hoping I’m not in a meeting when they arrive.

39382640_unknownIf you are interested in non-commercial planes then you really MUST listen to a scanner. There have been several instances where I’ve been watching traffic on one runway when an exchange with ATC alerted me to something interesting on approach to the other. Also, make sure you really look around carefully. I pull out my camera and zoom in on the hard-to-see places at the far end of the airfield. More than once what I thought at first glance to be just another plane turned out to be something special when I took a closer look.

So, what kind of unusual and unlikely airplanes have I spotted hiding out on the airfield? Well, my favorite catches lean towards the military, but there are some good GA aircraft on the list as well.

CT-155 Hawk

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I know I’ve found something fun when I have to stop what I’m doing and research the plane to figure out what the heck it is. Such was the case with the Hawk. Google tells me it is an advanced jet trainer – this particular one belongs to Canada. What was it doing flying around the Midwest? No clue but I’m so glad I got to see it!

Widgeon

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I had heard from one of my friends that there is a Widgeon hangared at my airport. Wait… a what? I looked it up and discovered tbat it’s a type of amphibious aircraft first built in the 1940s. I was skeptical that such a special airplane would make its home here. Then one day I spotted it parked on the ramp. I really hoped I would get to see it take off, but it was eventually towed back into the hangar. Glad I got a glimpse of it at least.

NASA T-38

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The T-38 is a fairly regular visitor to my airport, so I don’t consider them to be rare or unusual… unless it happens to have the NASA livery! Not sure how many Talons NASA has these days, but I had only seen one previously and it was at an air show. I definitely didn’t expect to see one at work!

Beechcraft Starship

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I was scanning the area around the FBO one afternoon when I noticed an unusual shape being towed across the ramp. As it gradually emerged from behind the other airplanes I became and more and more perplexed. What in the heck is that? It was the most crazy and the most excellent general aviation airplane I’ve ever seen parked outside of the office. My friends on twitter informed me that it was a Starship, one of very few still flying. Definitely one of my most favorite catches!

Navy T-6 Trainer

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As I mentioned, it isn’t unusual to see T-38 and other Air Force trainers around. But when a Navy trainer shows up you bet it caught my attention. A quick check of the map confirmed that there are no oceans in the area. No Navy bases either. That made this T-6 a special catch.

P-8 Poseidon

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I was listening to the scanner one evening when I heard ATC clear someone for a practice approach. Curious, I headed over to the runway in question just in time to see a Poseidon doing a touch and go. Um… wait… a Poseidon? Here??? I’m really starting to wonder if the Navy has a secret ocean stashed nearby.

E-9A Widget

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I almost didn’t notice this plane hanging out across the airfield until I zoomed in with my camera and saw the unusual markings. I did some digging online and discovered that this is one of only two Widgets owned by the USAF. Guess what they’re used for? That’s right – ocean surveillance!

OK, that does it. Clearly there’s an ocean hiding here in the Midwest. Thank goodness I love looking for unusual airplanes or I might never have known! Now I just need to find the hidden seaplane base – maybe then I’ll finally get to see the Widgeon fly!

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OSH17 Days 2 & 3: Poseidon, UPS and Blue Angels

32054384_UnknownThe last two days have been a whirlwind of aviation awesomeness! As you can probably tell from the title of this post, Airventure covers so many facets of aviation from military to commercial, from ultralights to the family GA airplane. In the last two days I’ve been immersing myself in all of these and it has been, frankly, overwhelming.

Tuesday Highlights

Tuesday morning I was quite determined to go see the warbirds. However, as often happens at Osh, we were distracted by the fact that they were allowing people inside the P-8 Poseidon. Of course we had to go check it out! The cockpit is more or less the same as your typical 737… except for the special military add-ons like the refueling panel. The seats in the back of the plane were replaced with computer work stations and equipment for dropping sonar buoys.

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Stairs truck! Oh – and a Poseidon.

I did eventually make it to the warbirds area and was, as always, blown away by the sheer number of them. The rest of the day was spent setting up for and attending Oshbash (a gathering of social media avgeeks hosted by Airplanista.com)… and running outside every few moments to keep an eye on the afternoon air show.

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Wednesday Highlights

Wednesday at Oshkosh is always WomenVenture. This year UPS flew in a gorgeous 767 with an all-female flight and maintenance crew. I was priveledged to participate in an interview session with one of the AMTs as well as an FO with a truly amazing story. You MUST check out FlyingandLife.com episode 26.2! I guest host with Mike and Glen and I help with the interviews.

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In the afternoon I had the most incredible opportunity EVER! I got to visit the KOSH Airport terminal!!! Oh yeah – and there were F-18s parked all over the ramp.

I also got to interview one of the Blue Angels. Yes, you read that correctly.  Lt Lance Benson was gracious enough (brave enough?) to let me talk with him and ask a few questions. I inquired about women on the Blue Angels team and getting girls interested in aviation. He mentioned that more and more women are becoming involved with Naval aviation and he spoke about getting kids involved in aviation early and encouraging them to follow their passion.

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I also asked him about landing on an aircraft carrier. He gave us an idea what it is like to land at night by suggesting that we go inside our homes and turn out all the lights, light a single match and place it at the far end of a room. That little light in the distance is what a carrier looks like at night. Oh – and his favorite air show act?  The Jack Links “Screaming Sasquatch” jet-assisted bi-plane.

I also got to interview one of the enlisted men who is part of the Blue Angels team (more on that in another post). After the interviews as I was walking away, the A-10 demo started. And yes, I completely freaked out. In front of the Blue Angels. Hey – when you love an airplane, you love it all the time. I’m sure the Blue Angels understand.

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As always, there were tons and tons of amazing airplanes to see and fabulous air shows to watch. The night show was spectacular, as always – even in the pouring rain. (Thanks Doc for sheltering us from the storm!)

Stayed tuned for more from Osh! And if you aren’t following me on Twitter, check out my feed (@Jen_Niffer) for real-time tweets live from the show.

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