My Airport Vacations

img_6174I have a confession to make. This may sound crazy but… I vacation at airports. No, I don’t mean I travel through airports on my way to somewhere else. (I haven’t flown commercially in years.) I mean I spend substantial portions of my vacations at airports entirely on purpose. And did I mention that I also work at an airport? Yes, I may be just a wee bit obsessed.

I will further confess that almost any airport will do as a vacation destination as long as it has airplanes coming and going and a decent spot from which to watch. Airports with aviation-related museums or attractions nearby get bonus points. Here are some of my vacation spots from the last year.

Wittman Regional Airport, Oshkosh WI (OSH)

Yeah, this one is a no-brainer and if you know me at all you should have seen it coming. Hundreds of thousands of people spend days just hanging around this airport every July. Coincidentally there’s this little event called Airventure that goes on around that time and brings in thousands of airplanes. There’s even an aviation museum right up the street! Ah, but how many Airventure attendees have been to the airport terminal? Well I have! OK, actually I just drove by. But I went out of my way to find it this past year because given the title of this blog it just seemed like the right thing to do.

img_4345O’Hare International Airport, Chicago IL (ORD)

This airport is conveniently located on the way home from Osh and driving by is always one of the highlights of the trip. But this year I had the opportunity to meet up with some friends and do a little plane spotting. What a wonderful way to wrap up Osh week!  The best part was getting to see several of the big 747 cargo planes. They are just so darn cool and I rarely get to see them at the airport where I work. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay longer. I’m hoping to go back soon for an extended visit.

img_4982Cape May Airport, Rio Grande NJ (WWD)

I have to thank David Vanderhoof (Aviation Historian, blogger and podcaster) for turning me on to this one. This airport is the home of the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. The museum is small but has an interesting collection of airplanes, helicopters, and aviation-related artifacts. The day I visited they brought in several WWII-era planes and were offering airplane rides. Although I didn’t go on a ride, it was awesome to hear those old engines fire up and to see the planes fly. And being the airport junkie that I am, I had fun watching the regular GA traffic as well.

img_6028Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Charlotte, NC (CLT)

This airport is one of my very favorites (next to Osh, of course). For one thing, it has a very nice viewing area which overlooks the center runway. The airport is quite busy and there’s an excellent variety of airplanes to see. That is, as long as you like American Airlines. And Airbuses. But if you pay attention you can catch some non-American non-Airbuses sneaking in. My favorite catch? A Luftansa A330.

img_6104The other nice thing about this airport is the Carolinas Aviation Museum. It has a small collection of interesting airplanes ranging from a Savoia Marchetti S.56B to an F-14 to a Piedmont Airlines DC-3. The centerpiece of the collection is an Airbus A320. What’s so special about that, you ask? Well this particular A320 made an emergency landing on the Hudson river a few years back. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

The Drive-Bys

Not only do I like to spend my vacations at airports, I also like to see what airports I’ll be driving by along the way so I can look out for any interesting traffic that might be flying overhead. (Did I mention I’m a wee bit obsessed?) Some of my favorite “drive-by” airports include:

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Carolinas Aviation Museum

Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) – This is a relatively small airport that has a modest amount of commercial traffic.  In fact, I’m rarely lucky enough to catch airliners taking off or landing – but that just makes it more exciting when I do. It’s like I’ve won a prize.

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) – My hometown favorite!  There’s always something interesting to see when I drive by this airport. Depending on what runways are in use, I can sometimes see planes on approach from my mom’s house.

Yeager Airport (CRW) – It’s a fairly small airport and, like Harrisburg, I don’t often see airplanes flying in. However, it is always fun when I do because the area is relatively mountainous and the airport itself is perched on top of a hill.

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At Oshkosh. Oh how I love that plane!

Dover AFB – Can you say C-5s?! The first time I ever saw a C-5 was when I was a teenager. There were three or four of them coming in to land at Dover and I simply could not believe what I was seeing. “Wait… are those AIRPLANES? Holy cow – they’re HUGE!” I fell in love with the C-5 right then and there and have continued to be crazy about it ever since.

Sadly, vacations don’t last forever. After seeing so much activity and so many different and interesting airplanes, returning to my airport can feel like a bit of a let-down. It seems quiet by comparison. Fortunately it only takes a day or two before I rediscover my airport’s charms. After all, flying is magic and airplanes are amazing where ever you happen to see them.

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OSH16 is P.A.S.T.

IMG_4431The last week of July I once again ventured forth to the aviation mecca that is Airventure Oshkosh. My happy place! This was my third year going and every year I’ve stayed longer and done more. (Yet I still missed things I really wanted to do and see. How the heck does that keep happening?) As you might have guessed from the title of this post, P. A. S. T. stands for more than just days gone by. It’s my way of summarizing what Oshkosh means to me.

A is for Airplanes (Yes I’m going out of order.)

IMG_4433OK, EAA – have you been stalking my twitter feed or reading my private diary? (I don’t keep a private diary, so that would be really weird.) The planes on display at this year’s show featured pretty much all of my faves including:

-The C-5 Galaxy
-The A-10 Warthog
-The F-18 Hornet
-An Alaska Airlines 737-900ER
-A Cathay Pacific 747-8 (which I missed because I left the day it arrived)
-More WW II era planes than I ever thought I’d see all in one place

FullSizeRender (49)I walked in, around, under and through as many of these planes as I possibly could. But even better than the planes on the ground were the planes in the air. The F-16 and F-18 demos were spectacular. The aerobatic performers were breath-taking. The Martin Mars water bomber was so unbelievable I just stood there with my mouth open. Team AeroShell in the night show was absolutely gorgeous!

IMG_4434Although it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite out of all the performances, I’m going to have to give a nod to the Canadian Snowbirds, who put on a show that I struggle to put into words. If the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels demonstrate power, then the Snowbirds demonstrate poetry. Lyrical isn’t typically how I’d describe an air show performance, but it’s the only word that really fits.

P is for People

IMG_4184This year I finally learned why Airventure is often referred to as an aviation family reunion. For me it began with Laura, my travel companion, who is an awesome friend that I hadn’t seen in almost two years. She’s not an #avgeek but she is a photographer who found a ton of material to capture at Osh. She fell in love with the warbirds and their nose art. When we stumbled upon the WWII encampment she was in heaven. Day two of our visit she embarked on a “chicks that rock” campaign whereby she got her picture taken with every female service member she came across.

The reunion theme continued with all the great online IMG_4029friends that I got to meet face to face, many for the very first time. It started on Tuesday at the fabulous Oshbash, hosted by Dan Pimentel and Airplanista. I don’t want to try to list names because I know I’ll leave someone out, but I was almost overwhelmed by all the hugs and friendly faces. This continued through-out the week. One friendly face that I got to see for a second year in a row was Kevin Lacey from Airplane Repo. I told him about my first flying lesson and he encouraged me to get my butt back in a plane for lesson number two.

I also got to meet the entire Canadian Snowbird team. First they impressed me by taking time to join the crowds who were applauding the honor flight veterans. Then they came over to the fence and chatted with everyone while signing posters and posing for pics. They were extremely friendly and open – terrific ambassadors for aviation.

IMG_4438Probably my biggest “people moment” actually involved two complete strangers. The A-10 is one of my very favorite airplanes and although I have seen an A-10 before, I have never gotten to see one fly in person. I just happened to be in a good spot relatively near the flight line when they arrived. I was so excited and overwhelmed that I was in tears. There were a couple of guys there who, instead of thinking I was crazy, totally understood how I felt and talked with me for a bit about why A-10s are so awesome. That moment really epitomizes why I love Osh so very much. Not only am I surrounded by amazing planes, I’m surrounded by amazing people who share a passion for aviation and who understand each other. For at least one week each year I don’t have to explain why airplanes are so cool.IMG_4303

ST is for Stairs Trucks 

You knew I wasn’t going to leave them out! Don’t worry – all the Oshkosh stairs trucks are present and accounted for. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t take every opportunity to get up close and personal with them. I’ve even discovered yet another reason why stairs trucks are awesome – they’re an excellent way to get a birds-eye view of all the airplanes in Boeing Plaza!

OSH17

IMG_4432I never knew four days could go by as quickly as my four days at Airventure 2016 did.  It seemed like we had just arrived when suddenly it was time to say goodbye. And oh how I hate saying goodbye!  Leaving Oshkosh was really, really hard to do.  But a stop by O’Hare for a little plane spotting with a couple of twitter friends sure helped a lot.  And looking ahead to Osh17 helps too.  As Chris Palmer put it on his post-Osh podcast: whatever it is that you love about aviation, Oshkosh has it.  IMG_4440Commercial airplanes? Vintage? GA? Helicopters? Balloons? Yes, yes, yes, yes and YES! So how about it?  Will YOU be at Osh17? Sure hope to see you there!

Special thanks to my Osh16 partner in crime, Laura Kenneson, for walking a million miles on blistered feet, for not laughing when I suggested we stop by O’Hare on the way home and for allowing me to use some of her awesome pictures on this post.  

Also, if you haven’t listened to Airplanegeeks podcast #412, check it out.  Not only does Rob Mark provide an excellent Osh wrap-up, but David Vanderhoof shares his story “Suzy Goes to the Stars” which happens to feature a couple of cameos by a stairs truck with a very familiar name…

 

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Podcast Supplemental

FullSizeRender (47)I’m not typically a big fan of Mondays. Sure I love my job and where I work but like any other Monday-through-Friday employee, I often find Mondays pretty tough to take. However, this past Monday two really awesome things happened, both of them involving podcasts.

The first thing had to do with the incredibly cheerful and totally fun Plane Talking UK Podcast. Carlos and Matt cover the week’s news in aviation (both civil and military) plus they usually have a guest (or two). They also read emails and play audio feedback submitted by their listeners. I was listening to Episode 115 on my way to work but thank goodness I had parked before the feedback section came on because the first piece of feedback really blew me away.

IMG_3211It was from Jennifer Parkinson, also known as “Jenny in Rome.” She had sent in audio feedback about how her husband had suggested an aerial tour of Rome for her birthday. She went on to say that she had recently read a blog post about a discovery flight and it inspired her to get flying lessons instead. Imagine my shock when she stated that the blog post was mine! (Mooney Over My House) When I first started this blog I didn’t know if anyone would even read it, let alone that it might inspire someone to give flying a try. I am truly humbled and oh so very pleased! I wish Jenny all the best and look forward to hearing all about her lessons!

AirplaneGeeks-banner-960x125The next awesome thing happened Monday night when I was invited to be a guest on the Airplane Geeks Podcast. In the pantheon of aviation podcasts, this one is right up at the top. I can’t tell you what a tremendous honor (and, quite frankly, surprise) it was to be asked. My first thought was, do these guys have any idea what they’re getting themselves into? My second thought was, boy I hope I can form a coherent sentence! And my third thought was, I have GOT to find a way to bring stairs trucks into the conversation.

Well I don’t know if I managed to speak very coherently, but I did manage to discuss stairs trucks. And we talked quite a bit about airports and what goes on behind the scenes. However, there was one question that I was unable to answer regarding where the airport gets its statistics on passenger travel. Well that just won’t do! So I did some asking around and here’s what I found out:

IMG_3203The information comes from the Department of Transportation. They take a sampling of passenger tickets (around 10%) and publish the data quarterly. The airport uses a software program which analyzes the information and makes it easier to dig in to. The data is apparently quite detailed and includes not only the point of departure and destination but connections, ticket prices, the airlines and even historical trends. Because the information is several months old by the time it is published, the airport will also look at trends in the community (what businesses are adding jobs or have moved into the area, etc.) to get an idea of whether demand for certain routes is growing.

FullSizeRender (46)Oh and in case you are wondering, yes my dad really did throw away the TV when I was in 6th grade and we didn’t have another in the house for 11 years.  Well, except for a tiny little TV that one of my brother’s friends gave him.  We hid it in his toy box and would get it out on Thursday nights when my parents worked late. The reception was terrible and we only got one channel but watching Magnum PI was a tradition with us until the little TV died.  Shhhh – don’t tell my parents!

(Pssst – the podcasts mentioned in this post are just two of several really awesome podcasts that I enjoy. Stay tuned – in the next post I’m going to cover a few others that you don’t want to miss!)

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For The Love of Plane Spotting

http://flyingandlife.com/

Photo by Mike Karrels: http://www.flyingandlife.com

As the weather has gotten warmer I’ve seen more and more people taking the time to walk to the end of the parking garage and check out the action on the airfield. Some just take a quick peek before heading inside the terminal. Others stick around for quite a while, admiring the airplanes and taking pictures.  Sometimes I’ll stop and chat with them. One man in particular stands out in my memory.  He hadn’t been to the airport in a long time and he had lots of questions about the airlines, the airplanes, airport operations and even the airport’s history.  I gave up my entire lunch break to chat with him.  At the end of our conversation the man expressed regret that he hadn’t come to the airport more often. It got me thinking about the people who DO come to the airport often not because they have to, but because they want to – the plane spotters.

Plane Spotting?

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly IS plane spotting? I posed that question to aviation fans on twitter and here are some responses that I think sum it up pretty nicely:

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Of course some of them had to be smart alecs:

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And pilots have a slightly different take:

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But for me, this tweet really says it all!

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Plane spotters are people who are passionate about airplanes. They look up whenever a plane flies over. They like to visit aviation museums and attend air shows. And they love to spend time at airports. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion.  It doesn’t even have to be a nice day. (Have you watched an airplane take off in the rain? It’s pretty darn awesome!)

So now that we know what plane spotters are and what they do, why do they matter?

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Photo by Lew Wiezorek  http://www.wkpix.com

Airport Ambassadors

I know it seems hard to believe, but airports are often not very popular with the communities that surround them. Among other things, they are thought of as loud and bad for the environment. Having a good relationship with the neighbors is a major challenge for pretty much every airport .  Enter the plane spotters. Guess who loves airports and happens to live in the local community? You guessed it!  Guess who likes to share their pictures and are happy to talk about airplanes and aviation with pretty much anyone who will listen? Yup!  Plane spotters are natural community ambassadors for their local airports.

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Photo by Andrew Stricker

An Extra Set of Eyes

Even the best police departments cannot have officers everywhere at all times.  To deal with this, many communities have established neighborhood watch programs which encourage neighbors to watch out for each other and to contact the authorities to report anything suspicious.  Airports face a similar challenge.  Even with patrols and security cameras it is impossible to watch every inch of the airfield 24 hours a day.  As a result it doesn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on the airfield in the form of plane spotters. They tend to be familiar with airport operations and are likely to notice if something is amiss.

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Photo by Dan Pimentel: http://www.Airplanista.com

Weather eyes on the sky

My airport recently hosted a weather spotting training for employees which was run by the National Weather Service. Yes, airports have a lot of weather equipment on the premises, but that equipment can only provide information about what is currently happening in the area where it is located. Trained spotters are needed to assess the surrounding conditions and make a determination about whether dangerous weather might be imminent.  Hmmm… who spends a lot of time outside staring at the sky? Ah yes, plane spotters!  I don’t know the percentage of plane spotters who are also weather spotters, but I know there are at least a few who are both.

http://www.wkpix.com/index

Photo by Lew Wiezorek http://www.wkpix.com

Creating future avgeeks… and pilots!

Ask a pilot how they became interested in aviation and a good number of them will tell you that they loved to watch the planes at their local airport when they were children. These days kids don’t get many chances to marvel at all the fascinating things going on over the airfield fence. Unless, of course, someone takes them to the airport and lets them see for themselves.  The same holds true for a lot of adults as well.  How many people might become interested in aviation if given a chance to get to know more about it?  And if there is one thing airplane spotters like to do (besides watch airplanes) its talk about airplanes and share the plane spotting experience with anyone who is interested.

If you build it, they will come!

There’s no doubt about it – keeping airports safe for travelers is a major challenge. For a lot of airports this means more security personnel and fences, which often does not translate into a very welcoming environment.  Some airports, however, have found ways to be more spotter-friendly.  Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina has an awesome overlook park  located near the center runway. I spent some time there last fall and loved it.  Can’t wait to go back with my camera!  Minneapolis St. Paul recently opened a new observation area and although I have never been, it is on my list of places I’d like to visit – if for no other reason than to thank the airport for creating it! (Oh, and to take pictures too, of course!)

IMG_2975What one little spotter can do

As you may know, I have a reputation for being “the office aviation enthusiast” – the one who actually cares about the airplanes outside the window and who spends time looking at them and taking pictures.  Are my plane spotting ways starting to rub off on my non-avgeek coworkers? Hard to say, but when two T-38s taxied by the department window recently, two of my coworkers ran by me with their phones out saying, “We’re going outside to take pictures!” I’m going to call that progress!

You know you want to!

If you are interested in aviation and aren’t a plane spotter already, I encourage you to take the plunge! If you can link up with other spotters they will happily show you the best viewing areas. Just remember to carry your id with you and be courteous to others, (especially airport security). Want more information? Here are some resources:

NYC Aviation – what is plane spotting

NYC Aviation – spotter guides

SpottersWiki – spotting guides for locations around the world

Flightline Aviation Media – spotter guides and more 

Special thank you to…

I want to give a special shout-out to Andrew Stricker, Cynthia Drescher, Dan Pimentel, David Vanderhoof, Jeffrey Roeher, Lew Wiezorek, Mark Lawrence, Mike Karrels, Owen Hewitt, Rob D and Steve Knopf for contributing quotes/photos for this post.  If you aren’t already following these guys on twitter, do it now! You won’t regret it!

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Photo by Dan Pimentel: http://www.airplanista.com