Hello readers! You might be wondering why I’ve only done one blog post so far at Airventure 2022. Don’t worry – there’s more coming! In the meantime, however, I am posting a TON of content over on twitter. No twitter account? No problem! Just click here to check out all the action.
Parking Airplanes & Feeling Fisk-y
It’s that time of year again! The annual gathering of the aviation faithful begins today at EAA’s Airventure in Oshkosh Wisconsin. Once again I arrived early to soak in the atmosphere and to volunteer with Flight Line Ops parking airplanes in the North 40.
Last year I assisted in the camping area. I asked for a simple assignment and they gave it to me – stand on the taxiway and point airplanes down whatever row they were filling. Easy! This year, however, my friend Hillel, his son Jacob and I were assigned to park planes in the Aircraft Parking Area. Located near the Weeks Hangar, this is a grassy, no-camping area for those who have accommodations elsewhere and just need a place to park.
This was a very different operation from parking planes in camping. For one thing, our team was much smaller. For another, the parking rows are shorter and planes don’t get packed in as tightly. I mostly stood out near the taxiway and directed planes down a row to Hillel and Jacob, who either positioned them in a parking spot or stopped them and pushed the plane in tail-first. (Known as “tailing” this method allow for many more airplanes to be parked together in a row. )
However, there was one instance where both Jacob and Hillel were busy and an airplane arrived to be parked. One of the other team members pointed it down a row and I realized I was going to have to marshal it into a spot. By myself. Me. Um… wait, what? How is this happening??? I didn’t have time to think about it – I just stood where the plane needed to be and started motioning them forward. I stopped them when they were in position, signaled for them to cut the engine. Then I did a little happy dance when I realized that the were in the right place and no one died. Yay! Go me!
After our parking shift we decided to make the pilgrimage to Fisk. I had never been there before and was super exicted to see it. For those who aren’t familiar with the process for flying into Oshkosh during Airventure, it’s unique. Whitman Field transforms from a smallish airfield to one of the busiest airports in the country. 10,000 airplanes fly in for the week. That much traffic would quickly overwhelm radio frequencies and become a huge burden on local controllers. So the FAA brings in controllers to manage the event. They take over the tower for the week. They also manage the approach to Osh from a hut in the middle of a field. Yes, I’m serious. (And don’t call me Shirley.)
I won’t go into the whole procedure – I encourage you to read the Airventure Notice and watch some videos posted by those who have flown in. The last step before arriving at Osh is to cross over Fisk. Controllers with binoculars and a radio identify each plane as it approaches. They call on the radio ask the pilot to acknowledge by rocking their wings. Then they give instructions about what to do next. Sometimes they clear planes to continue the approach. Or sometimes they’ll turn them and send them back into one of the holds to get back in line.
Being able to sit in the grass, listen the the controllers and watch the planes on approach rock their wings was nothing short of amazing. Getting so many airplanes through the airspace and to the airport is a masterpiece of choreography. I have listened the frequency on LiveATC, but being there, listening and watching gave me a whole new appreciation for what they do and the challenges they face.
Now I’m off to explore all the amazing things scheduled for Day One. Or at least, as many as I can. No one can see it all. Trust me – I’ve tried. Stayed tuned for more LIVE from Osh 2022!
Lessons from the Window
It has been almost a year since I moved to my desk by the window. As expected, it has been AMAZING. Even though I’m no stranger to the activity on the airfield, there are still some things I’ve learned from this new perspective.
Yes, I CAN Get My Work Done
Let’s get this out of the way first. It has been suggested that I might be so fascinated by the airfield activity that I won’t get anything done. Nope. I’m actually a good multitasker – I can work and keep an eye outside at the same time. Plus I’ve perfected my camera grabbing technique so I can go from tedious spreadsheet to amazing airplane pics in just a couple seconds.
Airbuses and RJs and Boeings… Oh My!
My desk is right behind gate 21 and I can also see gate 19, both of which are leased by American Airlines. They mostly park A319s and E175s out there. However every now and then a CRJ shows up. The CRJ200 is probably my favorite because compared to the others it looks like a little toy plane. To connect to the jetbridge they have to lower the steps, which makes it look even more like a toy. As passenger numbers have increased American has started to bring back the 737s. It makes for a nice mix of planes through-out the day.
I Hope It’s Worth the NOISE!
It’s no secret that the airfield is a noisy place, but I have a whole new appreciation of what that means. Let’s start with the jetbridges. Every time they move, alarms go off that sound just like old fire alarms or school bells. Then there are the APUs. Most aren’t noticeable, but every now and then a plane shows up with a loud, whiny APU. Of all the airfield noises, this one makes me the most crazy. Ground support vehicles aren’t exactly quiet either. The Air Start Cart can make quite a racket. And did you know tugs have horns? Oh yes. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeep!
I see a lot of American and Southwest airplanes from my desk because both have gates on the south side of the airfield. By happy coincidence, both airlines also have a number of special liveries. Southwest has the most flights so it isn’t surprising that I see multiple special liveries a week. They have a new one called Freedom One that I’m quite fond of. My favorite thing, however, is when American’s PSA livery parks at gate 21. It’s hard not to smile back when there’s an airplane smiling in the window at you.
The South Side is the Best Side
My desk looks out at the south runway, which is the longer of the two and both FBOs are on this side of the airfield. This makes for a wide variety of airplanes for me to enjoy. Even when the south runway is closed, if 28 Right is in use then most planes will have to taxi by my desk to get to it. Win-win! This dramatically increases my ability to catch the resident P-51. Nothing makes a work day better than a warbird!
When I combine a desk view with Flight Radar 24 or ADSB Exchange plus Live ATC, then not even the military can sneak by me. A few months ago I managed to catch a C-130 and a KC-135 doing practice approaches, followed by a C-17 and TWO C-5s which landed at the airport to pick up cargo. All this in ONE DAY!
If you’ve looked at my older posts then you know I’m fascinated by winter operations. Now I have a front row seat to watch the snow warriors get it done. From plows on the runways to deice trucks to mini snow pushers on the ramp, I get to see all the action.
If you ask my coworkers what they don’t like about being by the windows they’ll tell you two things – it can get very cold on cloudy winter days and every now and then it smells like jet fuel. They have a point about the cold. I keep a stack of extra sweaters, jackets and even gloves to wear at my desk. As for the jet fuel… well you know me – I love the smell of Jet A in the morning!
Osh21: Service and Inspiration
It has been over a week since I returned from Airventure 2021 and I’m still in recovery mode. Osh is like that. It overwhelms your senses. It’s not just every type of airplane you ever wanted to see all in one place at the same time, it’s 10 or 15 examples of every type of airplane you ever wanted to see. Plus hundreds of other planes you didn’t realize you wanted to see. It’s exhausting – but in the best way possible.
Service emerged as a major theme for me this year. This is perhaps in part because I volunteered for the first time. I got an up-close look at some of the people who put in countless hours of work to make Airventure happen. Trust me, for every volunteer you see – parking cars, on the flight line, driving trams – there are many more behind the scenes that you know nothing about. Airventure would not happen without them.
Service was also front and center on Boeing Plaza. Many of the aircraft on display belong to non-profit organizations providing care around the globe. The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital (MD-10) is not just a place where sight-restoring surgeries take place, but it is also an education center where doctors in remote locations are trained to treat various eye problems.
Samaritan’s Purse (DC-8) delivers portable hospital facilities and personnel where ever help is needed. You can find them assisting during natural disasters and they even helped out in covid hotspots during the worst of the pandemic. Samaritan Air (sea plane) transports people from remote parts of Indonesia to medical facilities for treatment. A five day journey by canoe becomes a two hour ride by plane.
This year marked the first time that Airventure allowed anyone 18 and under to attend for free. Think about that for a moment. How many other events do the same? I guarantee you there aren’t many. The benefits to the aviation community are huge. Where will future pilots, mechanics, controllers, flight attendants, airport operations personnel, etc. come from if children aren’t exposed to the industry? And what better place to learn about every facet of aviation than Airventure?
But perhaps what stood out to me the most are ordinary people doing ordinary things which turn out to be extraordinary. For example, take Jennifer Duffer who is a teacher at Montgomery HS in Texas. Her engineering students built an airplane. No, not a model. Not a piece of a plane. An entire functioning airplane. And Ms. Duffer flew it to Oshkosh!
Her school is participating in the Eagles Nest Project which provided a Vans RV 12 light aircraft kit for the students to assemble. Ms. Duffer, along with a group of mentors, helped her students learn the principals of aviation as well as how to use tools, how to work together, how to read schematics, how to communicate, etc. Eventually the plane will be sold to buy the next kit for the next round of students to build. How cool is that? And what an amazing thing to put on a resume or a college application!
As you can tell, after two years away it was beyond good to be at Osh again. I missed my aviation family so much! Yes, the airplanes were amazing, but only because PEOPLE made them so. Likewise it is the people – old friends, new friends, volunteers, ambassadors and even passionate school teachers that make Airventure special. If you’ve never experienced that kind of aviation community magic, don’t put it off any longer. Make plans now for Osh22. Hope to see you there!
Want more stories from Osh21? Check out the Flying and Life Podcast for additional coverage!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A New Perspective
I interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post (OK, semi-regularly – but I do have a new post in the works, I swear) to bring you BREAKING NEWS!
As many of you know, the view from my desk leaves a lot to be desired. When I look up I see a wall. And I can look over into the copy room where the photocopier and supply cabinet are. Except for the occasional sound of airplanes taxiing up to nearby gates, you’d never know I worked at an airport. I could be sitting in any office anywhere.
I’ve tried not to complain too much. After all, a desk with a wall view at an airport beats a desk with a wall view anywhere else. However, there has been an open desk by the windows for over four years now. It looks out past one of the jetbridges to the south airfield beyond. It is brighter than my current cube, has more desk space than my cube and I’ve wanted to move into it sooooo badly.
I started my quest by dropping subtle hints. (“That desk over there has been open a long time now…”) When that didn’t work I became a little more obvious. (“Sure, I’ll take on that additional task. What are the chances I can move to that desk?”) Evenutally I resorted to straight-up stating my desire on my annual review. (Question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Me: “Sitting at a desk by the windows.”) It has become something of a joke. “Oh, we can’t give Jennifer a window desk – she’d never get anything done!” I’ve tried to argue that I’d actually get more done because I wouldn’t have to get up and run to the window every time something interesting taxies by. Sadly, I got nowhere. I hadn’t given up all hope, but I was close.
In the meantime, several rounds of reorganization have occurred. The department that shared part our space moved upstairs. We downsized. More and more offices and desks went unusued. Then in a recent meeting my new boss announced that since there are so many open offices, they decided to allow people to move into them. She went on to say that unfortunately there aren’t quite enough offices for everyone. Would I be willing to take a desk by the windows instead?
Her: Are you OK?
Her: *looks confused*
Once I calmed down enough to be coherent I assured my boss that I have ZERO desire to have an office (most of which don’t have windows) and that I am not only willing to take a desk by the windows, but that it’s pretty much the only work-related thing I’ve wanted for the past six years.
And so, after years of patiently (or maybe not-so patiently) waiting, I HAVE A DESK BY THE WINDOWS! Yes, my view is somewhat obscured by the jetbridge, and even more obscured when a plane is there, but I do not care! This is the beginning of a whole new era! I’m not saying I’m going to post a million pics of what I see out my window… but then again, I might.
Airport Love Connection
Have you ever gazed across a crowded concourse and suddenly found yourself totally smitten? Well I have. More than once. Smitten by AIRPLANES, of course! Sure, I’ve always had a list of favorite planes, but since I started working at the airport I’ve fallen in love with a number of other airplanes that I might never have met otherwise.
T-38 Talon (The movie star.)
Oooh – look! It’s that plane who played the MiG-28 in Top Gun! OK, fine – so the T-38 wasn’t actually in Top Gun (the MiG-28 was played by F-5s), but it is strikingly similar. It isn’t unusual to see several Talons at the airport over the course of the summer. Like any fan-girl I love to take pics of them, but it isn’t easy. They are nimble little jets that can easily evade the paparazzi if they want to.
C-130 (The hypnotist.)
These planes also stop by my office regularly. It is not unusual to see them practicing approaches or doing touch and goes. I had seen C-130s on static display at air shows before, but it wasn’t until I got the chance to see them flying that I really fell in love. Let’s just say I have a thing for big… propellors. There’s something about them that is completely mesmerizing. And the sound they make… music to my ears!
Mooney (That tail!)
I did my discovery flight in a Mooney so I’ll admit I’m partial to them. With a tail that looks like someone accidentally installed it backwards, what’s not to love? It gives them a distinctive appearance that makes them easy to spot on the airfield.
Antonov 124 (Bigger is better!)
As you may already know, I LOVE big airplanes. (Yes, size matters!) The An-124 is the largest commercial airplane to regularly visit our cargo airport. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to get close to one I’m reminded of just how ridiculously huge it is. Even the tires seem abnormally large.
Gulfstream (Bond. James Bond.)
If Gulfstreams drank martinis they’d prefer them shaken and not stirred. Suave, smooth, flashy… they are sure to steal any avgeek’s heart! There’s just something about the sweep of their wings that makes me go all a-flutter.
Starship (Out of this world!)
I remember the first time I saw a Starship. It was being towed out from behind some other planes and as it slowly came into view, my jaw nearly hit the floor. I had absolutely no idea what it was, but I was hooked. It is one of the most unique airplanes I’ve ever had the pleasure to see at work and I do hope it comes back to visit some day.
So what about you? Have you made any love connections lately? If not, then get yourself to the nearest airport ASAP. You never know what you might find hiding out amongst the hangars. Just be prepared to have your heart stolen!
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.