Radio Active

fullsizerender-61As you may recall, I have been training to help the Ops Department manage the deice pad on frosty mornings. This process involves driving around in an ops vehicle, giving taxi instructions on the radio, keeping a log of all the traffic through the deice pad and acting as a follow-me when needed. If that sounds like a lot to learn, it is! At this point I’ve gotten pretty good at telling the different RJs apart, I’ve memorized the call signs and ICAO codes for each airline and I can successfully manage the log. I’ve ridden along and watched the deice pad management process enough times now that I have a decent understanding of how it works. So what’s the next step? Talking on the radio.

img_7586Say What???

Yes, you read that correctly. Me. Talking on the radio. To pilots. And deice crews. And even Air Traffic Controllers. It’s unthinkable. It’s ridiculous. But, it’s absolutely true! And it’s actually kinda cool! As a recap for anyone who many not be aware, I am not a pilot. I do not work in ATC. I have zero experience talking on the radio. And if you told me a year ago that I’d be doing this I’d have laughed hysterically.

LiveATC and Radar Contact

One of the biggest things that has helped me prepare to talk on the radio has been listening to others do it. I discovered LiveATC.net many years ago and was instantly addicted. I like to listen to the feeds from LAX, ORD, ATL and CLT. These days I find myself listening to ground controllers a lot. There are many similarities between what a ground controller does, and what we do when we manage the deice pad – we clear pilots to push back, give taxi instructions and hand them off to other frequencies. img_7523

Another wonderful resource has been ATCCommunication.com and, more specifically, the Radar Contact podcast. I’ve been listening to the show for awhile now – it is very informative and I’ve learned a lot. When I realized that it was time for me to start talking on the radio, I was pretty darn nervous about it. What if I screw up? What if I say something wrong? Then I went back and listened to the episode “Making Mistakes on the Aircraft Radio.” Although the focus is on pilots, it was a good reminder for me as well. I don’t have to be perfect on the radio. I just need to be as clear as I can and not beat myself up if I make mistakes. img_7594

So Far, So Good

I haven’t done a whole lot of radio work yet, but what I’ve done so far has gone OK. The airplanes got into and out of the deice pad successfully and everyone seemed to understand me. When I get nervous I tend to talk quickly, so I try to force myself to speak slowly and carefully. I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask questions if I don’t understand or if I miss a piece of information I need – like what gate the plane is pushing back from. I promise I’m being good and sticking to standard phraseology. I won’t lie though, there are some things I wish I could say…

I CAN say: “Southwest 123, push back at your discretion, give us a call when you are ready to taxi.”

I CAN’T say: “Hey Southwest, just how fast do you taxi anyway?”

I CAN say: “American 456, taxi eastbound via the ramp.”

I CAN’T say: “Please don’t retire the maddog! Please! Please! Please!”

I CAN say: “Delta 789, contact Ground on 121.9 and let them know you’re on the north side of the pad, ready to depart.”

I CAN’T say: “Hey – can I borrow your stairs truck?”

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You never know what interesting things you might find sitting around the office

Year Two In Review

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The beginning of December marked two years of writing this blog as well as two years working for the airport. Wow! Seems like just yesterday I was wide-eyed and new, geeking out over all the activity on the ramp. Well… OK, I STILL geek out over the activity on the ramp. I just can’t help it! Here’s a look back at some of the things that happened (good and bad) in the past year.

img_5481Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. 2016 began with the passing of my father in early January. He had been ill for a couple of years so it wasn’t unexpected, but it definitely started the year on a down note. Then in June and again in December I had to deal with health issues. The first put me in the hospital for several days and kept me away from work for another week after that. The second didn’t keep me from working, but the three weeks it took me to recover were incredibly trying and discouraging. Yeah, in some ways this was a rough year. But thankfully there were many good things that happened too.

IMG_2335 (2)First and foremost, in April I got to fly an airplane! I still don’t quite know how that happened.  Me? Fly a plane?  I half expected the FAA to show up and put a stop to it. Thank goodness they didn’t because it was a truly amazing experience. For those of you wondering when I’ll have lesson #2, I don’t know. But I do know that I will definitely get back behind the controls at some point.

Another amazing thing that happened this year was getting to be a guest on THREE aviation podcasts:the Airplane Geeks, the Aviation Careers podcast and Plane Talking UK. Talk about completely unexpected! I never in a million years thought I would end up on a podcast, let alone three of them. It was a tremendous honor to be invited and so much fun!

IMG_4440In July I made the return trip to Oshkosh. Oh how I love that place! Being around so many airplanes is always awesome, but this year I got the chance to connect with several of my online aviation friends as well. I’m beginning to understand why people refer to Airventure as an aviation family reunion!  One of the wonderful people I had the pleasure to meet was Rob Mark, one of the hosts of the Airplane Geeks and publisher of the Jetwhine blog (among other things). Earlier this month he invited me to write a guest post about my efforts to get my daughter interested in aviation. Yet another tremendous honor! If you aren’t a regular reader of Jetwhine, I strongly recommend you check it out.  It’s always filled with great aviation content.

It was a big year for me at the airport too. If you told me when I started two years ago that I’d be learning deice pad operations I never would have believed you. (But I’d have secretly hoped you were right!) And getting to visit two ATC towers earlier this month was a dream come true. I also got to see Air Force One (twice), celebrate the re-opening of the north runway, visit the cargo airport (three times) and listen to John Glenn speak at a gathering in his honor.

img_6726I am so truly blessed to work at a place and in an industry I love so much, and to have connected with so many wonderful people. A huge thank you to everyone who helped make this such an amazing year.  A special shout-out to Aerosavvy, JR and Captain Al for their guest posts. They were fantastic!  And, of course a very big thank you to all of YOU for reading and commenting on this blog!

So what does 2017 have in store? Well if 2016 taught me anything it’s that you never know what might happen. However there are some awesome things in the works, including a return trip to Oshkosh in July and a visit to Wings Over Pittsburgh in May. And maybe, just maybe, airfield driving privileges! Stay tuned!

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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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Airport Olympics

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Photo by Aero Icarus, Zurich Switzerland, Creative Commons

Editor’s note: Hello friends! Just a quick note to encourage you to give a listen to the latest episode of the Aviation Careers Podcast. I was honored to be the special guest discussing careers at the airport. Hope you’ll check it out!

Welcome sports fans! I’m thrilled to be reporting live from the Olympics! I’m sorry… Who? Michael Phelps? Oh no… Not THOSE Olympics! The AIRPORT Olympics!  They go on every day at airports around the world. Let’s go live to the ramp for our first competition!

Synchronized Push-back

IMG_4554Here we see two Southwest airplanes doing their best to “stick the landing” in the synchronized push-back competition. What they are hoping you don’t notice is that one of them actually pushed back one minute before the other. So while they look beautifully synchronized at the moment, the truth is that they actually weren’t synchronized at all. Not even a little bit. As a result the judges had to deduct 9 points (from a 10 point scale). However, the planes were awarded one point each for actually departing on time.

Runway 10,000K

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Waiting for their turn to antagonize competitors

If I can direct your attention to the airfield, it’s time for the start of the Runway 10,000K. This event combines the speed and endurance of a marathon (a really, really long marathon) with the ability to manage pyrotechnics. There’s the starting gun… and there’s a flock of birds! The competitors are sprinting to the approach end of the runway where they will pause and fire the bird cannon. Ah, nicely done! But now the birds are at the departure end of the runway. The competitors are sprinting the 10,000 feet necessary before they can fire their cannons again. This event is going to take awhile – we will check back in a bit later to see how things are going.

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Crowds of athletes preparing for the Gate Dash. Photo by 周一楠 (Own work) Creative Commons

Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash

The action continues inside the terminal where we see crowds preparing for the “Your-Gate-Is-At-The-Other-End-Of-The-Terminal Dash” (commonly referred to as the “Gate Dash”). This event is a perennial favorite – no matter whether you are entering through ticketing or making a connection, the gate you need is always the gate farthest away from where you happen to be. In fact, you may have participated in this event yourself on your last trip. At my airport this is considered a sprinting event. At other airports, such as Atlanta, it falls under the marathon category.

Luggage Toss

And now it’s back again to the ramp where scores of competitors brave the elements to compete in this well-known event.  It involves IMG_4604grabbing awkward, heavy pieces of luggage and tossing them onto the mobile conveyor. Points are awarded for actually getting them onto the conveyor.  Bonus points are awarded if the bags survive the journey up the conveyor and actually make it into the airplane.  Fail to make the conveyor too many times and hopes for winning this competition are dashed… along with every fragile item inside the suitcases.

Runway 10,000K (part two)

Let’s go back to the airfield for an update.  It looks like the birds have moved over to the other runway now, forcing the athletes to cross the ramp.  Woah!  One of them almost got hit by a suitcase from the Luggage Toss competition! Another had to hurdle over one of the mobile conveyors. It looks like they’ve finally made it safely to the second runway… but wait! The birds have flown back to the first runway again!

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Airport gymnasts wait their turn to compete. Photo by By Danpaluska (Own work) [CC0]

Security gymnastics

Inside the terminal its time for everyone’s (least) favorite event: Security Gymnastics! The first competitor steps up to the mat. He’s going to attempt to remove change from his pocket while simultaneously removing his loafers. Although nicely executed, the difficulty level is low which limits the number of points he can be awarded. Now the next competitor steps up to the mat. It looks like she is going to do the exact same routine… but wait! She’s doing it in high heels! And she’s removing a laptop from her carry-on while maneuvering a stroller and carrying a screaming baby! That’s an unbelievable level of difficulty which really maximizes her points potential!

Stairs Jousting

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A big thanks to Ken Hoke (Aerosavvy) for recommending this gif!

I saved the best and most daring competition for last! Of course I can only be talking about Stairs Jousting! And if you are looking at the footage, no, that’s not me on the fourth step waving a pitchfork. I don’t know what you are talking about. I disavow all knowledge! Besides, we all know that true Olympic Jousting Masters use STAIRS TRUCKS. Because nothing intensifies competition like horsepower!

Stair Truck Jousting

My trusty stairs-jousting steed.

Blog Post About (Aviation) Podcasts

Author’s note: My apologies for the long delay between posts.  I took ill rather suddenly right after I published my last post.  I required emergency surgery which sidelined me for several weeks.  I am finally on the mend and ready to get back to being an aviation fan-girl running loose at the airport and (of course) blogging all about it.

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By Zzubnik (Own work) Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit, for a long time I wasn’t a podcast listener. I knew what they were (sort-of) but didn’t figure that there were any out there that would be of interest to me. Boy was I so totally WRONG!!! Beginning last summer I began making a series of long drives back home to visit my ailing father. In search of something aviation-related to listen to while driving I decided to download a few aviation podcasts that had been recommended by friends. Those few led me to others and the next thing I knew, I’d become a regular podcast listener.

What makes podcasts so awesome? Not only do they provide a lot of excellent, detailed information on the world of aviation, but they also come with really wonderful communities of listeners who encourage and support each other. I discussed two of my favorite podcasts in my last post Airplane Geeks and Plane Talking UK. However, there are several other amazing podcasts out there that you really don’t want to miss!

IMG_3607 (1)Airline Pilot Guy

This podcast is hosted by Captain Jeff Nielsen, who flies for a major US carrier. Originally a one-man show, Jeff has since added several co-hosts including Miami Rick, who recently added the 747 to the long list of Boeing airplanes he knows how to fly, Dr Steph, a physician and general aviation pilot, and Captain Nick who flies A330s/A340s for a major UK carrier.  The podcast covers the latest aviation news as well as addressing items of interest and questions sent in by listeners.

Aside from being incredibly informative, the show is just plain fun. Jeff and his co-hosts broadcast live, usually via Youtube, but you can listen to the recorded podcast any time. That said, if you get a chance to watch it live, DO IT! Seriously, the comments and discussion in the chat room in combination with the live podcast are typically completely hilarious. It never fails to lift my spirits. In fact, I always watch the show live and then go back listen to the podcast. I almost always learn something that I missed the first time and I find that I laugh just as much.

One of my favorite episodes: Secret Number Two   Really you could pick just about any episode – they are all great.  However, this is a recent one in which they cover an accident involving a Cirrus SR20 and I thought the discussion was very insightful.

IMG_3608Plane Safety Podcast

This little gem of a podcast is hosted by Pip, a pilot for a European airline. As the name suggests, this podcast focuses on the safety aspects of aviation. Pip discusses many of the day to day issues faced by pilots and airlines, often drawing from current events.  He also has several episodes in which he reviews well-known aviation incidents from the past, points out some of the key contributing factors and highlights how they have influenced the policies and procedures of today. When he isn’t discussing safety, Pip often talks about his latest trip which gives the listener a behind-the-scenes look at what life as a pilot is really like.

One of my favorite episodes: Nats, Brexit and the Millenium Falcon No, I did not pick this because it is the most recent episode (although it is). I chose this because it includes an interview with an experienced First Officer that is the BEST INTERVIEW EVER.  Seriously, check it out.

IMG_3591AviatorCast

Hosted by Chris Palmer, a private pilot and founder of Angle of Attack, this podcast features guests and topics that focus on general aviation and flight training. Chris is passionate about encouraging current and future pilots, and it really shines through in the way he talks about flying.

One of my favorite episodes: My Scariest Pilot Moment I think it takes a lot of guts to share a frightening or difficult moment that you’ve had as a pilot.  I really like that Chris was willing to put this out there so that others can learn from his experience.

IMG_3609Flying and Life

Hosted by Mike, who works for a major US carrier, this podcast gives us a detailed look into the world of an airline dispatcher. I have always wondered just what exactly a dispatcher does, so I really enjoy this podcast and I have learned a lot. For example, did you know that a dispatcher shares operational control with the captain of the flight?  Me either! It is pretty incredible all the things that dispatchers are responsible for.

One of my favorite episodes: Building Routes Part 1 Wow! A lot of thought goes into what route you’ll be flying the next time you head out on vacation!

IMG_3601Some Podcast Regulars You Should Follow:

There are several folks who don’t have podcasts of their own, but often contribute to the podcasts listed above. If you are interested in aviation and/or podcasting, I recommend giving these guys a follow on twitter:

Micah (Airplane Geeks, Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy): Micah uses his background in radio to submit amazing pieces of audio feedback that are amusing, poignant and never fail to get you thinking.

Captain Al (Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety Podcast, Airline Pilot Guy): Al’s background as a captain with a major UK airline allows him to add valuable experience and perspective on pretty much any aviation topic.

Nevil (Plane Talking UK, Airline Pilot Guy):Nevil is an aviation enthusiast who is also a self-proclaimed analogue recording geek.  Enough said.

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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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