Going Where?

July to Oct 2015 iphone pics 2703It may come as a surprise to learn that I haven’t flown commercially in nearly a decade. However, many years ago I worked for a company that required me to travel several times each year. During that time I had a couple of wacky adventures that I look back on with amusement.

Brown Paper Package

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Photo by Marcella, Creative Commons License

One trip involved a flight with a coworker I’ll call Jay. We weren’t scheduled to depart until later in the day, so we worked in the office that morning and planned to head to the airport in the afternoon. As we were preparing to walk out the door another coworker, Mary, appeared and handed us each a package. “Here! I made you guys care packages for the flight!”

I found myself holding a package that had been crudely wrapped in plain brown paper with the words: “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL PLANE IS IN THE AIR!” written on the top in bold, black marker. Um… What the hell? Mary was standing there, smiling from ear to ear. Not sure what else to do, Jay and I thanked her and hurried to catch our ride.

suspicious_mail_or_packages_posterOnce in the car I looked at Jay.

Me: Well, either she’s very sweet or she’s trying to get us arrested.

Jay: Did she just give us bombs?

Me: I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell not taking this to the airport, let alone onto the plane!

Jay: Me either!

Me: I suppose we should open them…

Jay: You first!

I cautiously opened my package to discover snacks, playing cards and other small trinkets. Apparently Mary had good intentions. Then again, maybe she figured the fastest way to a promotion was to get her coworkers indefinitely detained!

The Unknown Destination

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Photo by Adrian Arpingstone, Creative Commons License

In the days before 9/11 when air travel was a wee bit more relaxed, I flew to Jamaica to attend the annual company conference. In those days you could fly to most Caribbean destinations using a driver’s license for ID. However, HR insisted every attendee have a passport, which was collected from us immediately upon arrival at the conference. I figured they were using them to cross-check attendance or something.

Normally at these events we attended meetings during the day, and social events in the evening. However, as I reviewed the schedule I noticed that we had meetings Friday morning and then nothing until Saturday afternoon. This was definitely unusual.

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Photo by RickPilot, Creative Commons License

At the conclusion of the Friday morning meetings we were gathered together, handed plane tickets and placed onto buses. An examination of the ticket revealed something strange – there was no destination! When we arrived at the airport we ran to the monitors to check our flight information. The destination for our flight listed as Dominica. But a second later the destination changed to the Turks and Caicos. Then it changed again to Cuba. It continued to display various destinations while we waited.

Finally we were called to board. The gate agents smiled knowingly and played along saying, “Have fun in Havana!” “Enjoy St. Lucia!” We walked out onto the ramp to find two Boeing 737s waiting for us. After we were seated and the cabin crew had completed the safety briefing, the Captain got on the PA. I thought we would FINALLY learn our destination. Wrong! The Captain welcomed us aboard and noted that we had great weather for our flight. He went on to say that he had no clue where we were going so he figured we’d just cruise around at 34,000 feet for a while. Doh!

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Photo by Torsten Maiwald, Creative Commons License

I have to imagine this situation must have been pretty amusing for the crew. I mean how often do commercial pilots get to pretend like they have no idea where they are going? (Actually, don’t answer that!) The flight attendants certainly thought the whole situation was funny! Soon after the Captain’s announcement we took off and a few minutes later found ourselves cruising above the Caribbean with NO IDEA where we were going. So, where do you think we ended up? Go ahead, take a guess!

 

 


 

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Photo by BeanZull, Creative Commons License

If you guessed Panama then congratulations – you’re a winner! As we taxied to the gate it dawned on me that I didn’t have my passport. In fact, none of us had our passports. Uh-oh! Fortunately somebody  must have done some creative “negotiating” because we exited the airplanes and marched right through the terminal – no customs, no immigration, nothing.

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Photo by Stan Shebs, Creative Commons License

We made our way out front where we got into open-air buses, each with a mariachi band in the back. They took us down to the canal where we boarded a party boat. We were wined and dined for several hours as we cruised up and down the canal. We returned to Jamaica in the wee hours of the morning with serious hangovers and one heck of a story to tell.

So, when will I fly commercially again? I don’t know, although I have a couple potential trips in mind. However, I’m pretty sure I will never get to jet off into the unknown again, which is why I cherish the Panama stamp in my passport. (Nope – I have no clue how it got there!)

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AAmazing AAviation Day!

IMG_1159In the United States, National Aviation Day is held on August 19.  Here’s how I’ve celebrated at work the last couple years:

  • I bring in cookies.
  • Everyone eats them.

Yeah… not very exciting or inspiring. This year, however, I lucked into a very coveted ticket to attend AAviation Day at one of my favorite places – Charlotte Douglas International Airport! No, that’s not a spelling error – the extra “A” in “AAviation” is a nod to American Airlines who, in conjunction with the Airline Geeks, put together an awesome behind-the-scenes tour at the nation’s 5th busiest airport. Can you say avgeek heaven? Oh yeah!

IMG_1013I kicked things off early by parking on the very top level of the garage. No way was I going to pass up the chance to do a little pre-event plane spotting! (And lets face it, if they handed out diplomas for plane spotting from parking garages, I’d have a PhD!) My dedication paid off – I got my very first look at Amazon’s Prime Air 767. Sweet!

From there I made my way to the terminal to meet up with the rest of the group. There were about 12 of us altogether. I expected that most attendees would be from the Charlotte area. Wrong! In fact only one of the group lives near CLT. The rest were from places like New York, Texas, Florida and even California and Washington! Some of us work in aviation and some don’t, but all of us were kids in a candy store the whole day.

IMG_1189The tour began with a visit to the Operations Tower. Wow – what a view! And what a lot of computer equipment! The Operations Tower is responsible for all aircraft movement on the ramp. I wish we had a set-up like that for deice pad control in the winter! But then again, the ramp at CLT is a MUCH busier place with 600+ flights per day. We were allowed to wander around the room, examine the different work stations and ask questions. I honestly could have stayed for hours!

Our next stop was out onto the roof where we had a fabulous view of the ramp. The entire group went camera-happy, snapping pics almost non-stop. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many American airplanes all in one spot! Good thing there wasn’t deck furniture and a cabana (and drinks) up there or they might have had some trouble convincing me to leave!

From the roof we went all the way down to the ground level for a walking tour of the ramp (with ear plugs and high-viz vests, of course). Being around the airplanes and crews and ground equipment was simply spectacular. There was so much going on – it’s much busier than what I am used to! Alas, there was not a single stairs truck in sight! Fortunately there were so many airplanes and so much to see that I didn’t mind.

After the ramp tour, we visited the American Airlines offices and enjoyed lunch in a cool, comfortable conference room. (Did I mention that the temps were a toasty 90F+ outside?) Several executives from American joined us and we were able to chat with them about how the company has grown over the years, as well as some of their future challenges.

FullSizeRender (81)After lunch, the awesomeness continued with a tour of the training facility. We met in a conference room first to learn a little about the training program itself and watch a video about the history of American Airlines. Then we visited the egress training area where Flight Attendants learn how to operate various types of emergency exits. Seeing the cut-away plane interiors was actually quite fascinating. They even had an E145 fuselage (minus the nose, wings and tail).

From there we moved into one of the flight simulator rooms. There were three Airbus A320 sims in this particular room, all of which were in use.  (The facility has approximately 13 sims of various types.) It was fascinating to watch the sims move around and to speculate on the scenarios that the pilots inside might be facing.

Our last stop of the day was the American Airlines maintenance facility. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door is how big it is. Similar to the Boeing factory in Seattle, employees use bikes to get around. We walked through fabrication areas and past the parts room on our way out to the hangars where there were three planes undergoing maintenance. I can tell you this – I do NOT want to be the person assigned to work on the top of the tail! Then again, climbing up and down all those flights of stairs would definitely be good exercise!

Our last event of the day was a visit inside one of the planes in the hangar (an A320). We examined the cockpit and then lounged in first class for several minutes. I also checked out the seats in the back and found them to be roomier than expected.

All too soon, however, it was time to exit the plane, take our final group photo and catch a shuttle back to the terminal.  I couldn’t believe it was time to say goodbye already! We were so busy the day just flew by.  Fortunately we had new friendships, amazing memories and some cool swag to take away with us.

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Look!  I found the motorized stairs!!!

As a passionate aviation enthusiast who happens to work in the industry, I have had many amazing avgeek experiences. However, I can honestly say that AAviation Day ranks right up at the top. A HUGE thank you goes out to Ryan Ewing and the Airline Geeks for all they did to plan and organize the event, as well as the wonderful staff at American Airlines for making the day so special!

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So what do you think? Are you crazy jealous and wondering how you can experience AAviation Day for yourself? Check out the Airline Geeks website and follow them on twitter. Events were held at all of American’s hubs, as well as two locations overseas. And the ticket cost? Zero. Zip. Nada. Free! But you have to pay attention if you want to score one. If this year was any indication, next year will be even bigger and better. Hope to see you there!

Ten Things I Love About Airports

IMG_6333Let’s do a quick word association. When I say “commercial airport,” what are the first things that come to mind? Getting there and parking? (Ugh!) Going through security? (Double ugh!) Delays and cancellations? (Triple ugh!) The truth is, for most people, commercial airports do not conjure up very pleasant thoughts. Oh how I wish everyone could see the airport the way I see it! Here are some of my favorite things:

1. 05:00

I know what you’re thinking – that’s insanely early!  Yes, I know.  But there’s just something special about this time of day.  I guess it has to do with the contrast between the stillness of the airfield and the hectic activity inside the terminal.

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2. Sunrise

Sunrise is one of my favorite times at the airport. There’s something quite breathtaking about the sun peeking over the horizon and lighting up the sky. I’m blessed to have seen some truly amazing sunrises.

3. Sunset

Like sunrises, sunsets at the airfield can be pretty spectacular.

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4. Deice Pad

The deice pad can be a hectic, crazy place for all involved. But there’s something about being out on the ramp, right next to the planes that makes it completely awesome. Plus there are so many cool photo opportunities!

5. Sunrise on the deice pad

Sunrise. Airplanes. Deice rigs. Airport. Need I say more?

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6. ATC towers

I wish everyone could visit an ATC tower just once. Unfortunately, most travelers will never get the chance. It’s a shame because the activity that goes on there is critical. And the view is phenomenal!

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7. Snow

I know that snow is a giant hassle for everyone involved – believe me, I get it. But at the same time there’s just something special about snow on the airfield. Perhaps it’s taking pride in all the hard work that goes into keeping things up and running, or maybe it’s the way it swirls around the jet engines.

8. K9s

Oh how I love my K-9 coworkers! I’m lucky because I get to see them when they aren’t working, which means I get to pet them and love on them. Recently, however, I got to watch a K-9 demonstrate his skills by searching for explosive materials that were planted for him to find. I was very impressed by his focus and determination – and all he asked for in return was play time with his squeaky ball!

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9. Box of Chocolates

The airport is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you just never know what is going to show up! If you read my last post then you know about the visit from the A-10s. A week later two Osprey flew in. Fan-freaking-tastic!!!

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10. Possibilities

Airports represent the ability to get pretty much anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. Think about that for a moment. Consider what it took to go just 100 miles in 1817 (200 years ago). When I see airplanes at the gates, I see the ability to go anywhere and do anything. How cool is that?

11. Stairs trucks

Spinal Tap fans will immediately understand why this Top Ten list has to go all the way to 11. And what better way to wrap things up than with stairs trucks?

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For You, Airline Crews

PRMY7206There has been a lot of bad press for the airlines lately. It upsets me because I know that the people involved in these incidents are NOT representative of the vast majority of airline employees. I see crews and gate agents and ground handlers every day. I see them showing up to work at crazy early hours. I see them still working late at night. And even when the day has been stressful with bad weather and canceled flights, they still manage to laugh when I see them on the shuttle at the end of the day.

IMG_8025So this is for you, pilots and cabin crews. I see you in the parking lot heading to the terminal. Most of you are commuting to your bases for the start of your trips. I often wonder just how far you have to go before your working day begins. And let’s face it, in a lot of ways once the uniform is on, you ARE working. I see passengers asking you questions and looking to you for guidance, even though at this point you’re technically just a passenger too.

This is for you, being part of an industry where you aren’t allowed to have a bad day. Any mistake or misunderstanding can be videoed and sent out to the masses in 140 characters or less, which is never enough to really tell the whole story. You deal with thousands of customers every year, doing your job well day after day and almost always with a smile. Then the bad behavior of a very few puts you under suspicion, even when you’ve done nothing wrong.

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By Maarten Visser from Capelle aan den IJssel, Nederland CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This is for the baggage handlers working outside in the wind and freezing rain. It’s for the gate agents explaining a flight delay to frustrated passengers. And it’s for the pilots waving at excited children who are jumping up and down and pointing at the plane through the terminal window.  This is for the Southwest pilots who saw a military casket being removed from an American plane and out of respect for the fallen soldier, stopped their taxi until after the hearse left. This is for the flight attendants on the shuttle who had me laughing so hard at their stories that I couldn’t breathe. (And if you guys are reading – I continue to support your quest for casual Fridays!) This is for every one of you who works hard every day to make the aviation industry something I’m proud to be a part of:

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And for any of my aviation friends who may be feeling down or discouraged, I strongly encourage you to watch the movie Living in the Age of Airplanes. If you’ve seen it before, then watch it again. Or just watch this trailer. It’s a good reminder of just how amazing and wonderful and special aviation is!

 

 

 

Air Show Fever

IMG_5487It may not feel like it yet, but the calendar says that spring has arrived. You know what that means? Yes, warmer temperatures and pretty flowers are coming. But more importantly, air show season is just around the corner! Hooray! I cannot wait! I’m planning to attend two big events this year.

Wings Over Pittsburgh 

What happens when you combine amazing airplanes with a bunch aviation podcasters? I’m not 100% certain but I suspect it involves beer and a fair amount of good-natured mayhem. The show is being held over Mother’s Day weekend in May. (What mom wouldn’t want to spend her special day at an air show?) Some of

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By SSgt Nadine Barclay [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

the scheduled participants include Sean Tucker, the Super Hornet demonstration team, the F-22 demonstration team and the Thunderbirds. Admission costs nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. No, I’m not kidding! The show is sponsored by the 911th Airlift Wing. If you are anywhere even remotely nearby, I recommend you check it out! Plus for all you Airline Pilot Guy, Plane Talking UK, Plane Safety and Airplane Geeks podcast fans, there’s a meet-up planned that promises to be a ridiculous amount of fun.

Airventure Oshkosh

Yes, I know – Oshkosh is so much more than just an air show. It’s THE aviation event of the summer. 10,000 airplanes – need I say more?  This will be my fourth year so I feel I have enough experience at Osh to give a few pointers for those of you who are going for the first time.IMG_4300

Go ahead, put together a schedule. Just understand you aren’t going to follow it. There are about a million amazing things between you and the first item on your agenda. You WILL get distracted. More often than not, this is a good thing. Some of my best moments at Osh have happened when I allowed myself to get distracted. A good rule of thumb: pick one or two events that are non-negotiable and make every effort to get to them. Leave the rest of your schedule open. My suggested “must-sees” include the warbirds and the night air show.IMG_3902

Attend at least one forum. Attend several if you can, but pick at least one and go. There are very few events where you have the opportunity to learn so much from so many truly knowledgeable people. Take advantage of this!

Meet people. My first year at Osh I was only there a day and a half. I didn’t get a chance to meet anyone. The last couple of years, however, I’ve been able to spend more time at the show which has given me the chance to meet up with several online friends. This was total awesomesauce. Avgeeks tend to have an instant connection with one another – you’ve got a million old friends at Osh that you just haven’t met yet. I’m planning to spend almost the entire week at Airventure so I hope to see some of you there!IMG_4219

Just Go!

If Oshkosh and Wings Over Pittsburgh won’t fit into your schedule, never fear – there are plenty of other airshows, fly-ins and fun aviation gatherings you can attend. Check out milavia.net for a fairly comprehensive list of offerings. I also recommend the Social Flight app which is great for finding local aviation events. Or you  are welcome to share event information in the comments below. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a small air show at a local airport isn’t worth going to.  I went to a very small show last fall that was one of the best I’ve ever attended. Just remember: there is no cure for air show fever. However, catching it sure is fun!

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For the Love of Airports

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By Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz (Mariordo) (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

I love airports. I mean I really LOVE airports. I vacation at them. I go out of my way to drive by them. And, of course, I work at one. So when I heard about the scheduled closure of the Santa Monica airport, and read stories about the closure of other airports like Meigs Field, it really tears my heart out. Surely my airport isn’t at risk of being closed. It couldn’t happen here, could it?

img_6278The sad truth is, it could happen anywhere. Check out http://www.airfields-freeman.com. This website lists defunct airports by state. I was surprised to learn that there used to be several airports nearby that no longer exist. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes closing an airport is the right thing to do – if there are true safety issues that cannot be corrected or if there are other more suitable airports nearby. But too often airport closures come down to one main reason: lack of community support.

When airports try to explain their value to the community they often do so in economic terms. They talk about the number of jobs created, or the amount of revenue generated. These are important factors and worthy of consideration. However I don’t think those statistics really resonate with most people, unless they happen to work in one of those created jobs. In the end it comes down to this: people are more likely to value a place where they spend time.

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Gratuitous stairs truck photo. Oh – and an airplane as well.

Notice I said “spend time” – not “travel from.” There are lots of people who live near airports who won’t ever have the occasion to fly commercially. For those who do travel, the experience is often filled with the stress – not exactly ideal conditions for developing a bond with the airport itself. That’s why I believe public viewing areas are so incredibly important. If those areas include walking paths or a playground, that’s even better. The more ways that can be created to invite the community in, the more people will visit. The more people visit, the greater the chance that some of them will decide that airports aren’t so bad after all.

img_6174The only airport I have visited with an official viewing area is CLT. It is perched on a hillside overlooking the center runway and it is one heck of a busy place! When I was there the benches were almost always filled with people of all ages. Not only do they get to watch airplanes take-off and land, but they get a chance to see what goes on behind all those tall fences.

Smaller GA airports are generally more accessible to the public than big commercial airports, but most people don’t know this. So the GA airport nearest me hosts 5Ks and kid-friendly festivals to encourage the community to stop by. And it works! I know several people who have attended these events and were surprised by how much they enjoyed the experience.

img_5609I realize that creating public viewing spaces or organizing community events isn’t easy. Airports are tasked with the very important responsibility of ensuring the safety of travelers. This can be extremely challenging. Additionally, space at airports is often at a premium. It can be difficult to find room for viewing areas or playgrounds. But I think the potential reward is worth the hassle.

The burden isn’t entirely on airports, however. Those of us who love and value aviation have a responsibility as well. We have to educate those who aren’t familiar with the industry. We have to clarify misleading news reports and refute the latest sensationalized stories. And we should invite friends and neighbors (especially kids) to go with us when we head to the airfield.

Will these efforts stop people from wanting to close perfectly good airports? Of course not. But the more airports are able to connect with the communities around them, the more likely they are to be valued by the people in those communities.  And that means better chances that your favorite airport will be around for years to come.

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All the Presidents’ Planes (and Potties)

img_7503As you probably know by now, I’m a big fan of aviation museums. One of my favorites is the USAF Museum near Dayton Ohio. I first made the journey a couple of years ago and as soon as I stepped inside I lost my mind over the sheer number of completely awesome airplanes. It was my first time seeing an A-10 up close. And the Blackbird. And the amazing Bird of Prey (yes, named after the Klingon ship from Star Trek). And… well, you get the idea. This time, however, it was the Presidential Airplanes exhibit that caught my attention.

img_6349When you think of Presidential Airplanes, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the current Air Force One – a Boeing 747. I’ve had the fortune of seeing it a couple of times recently. However, there have been a number of different planes used to transport the President over the years, and the USAF Museum has several of them including the Lockheed VC-121E, the Douglas VC-118 and the Douglas VC-54C. Perhaps the most well-known plane in the collection is the Boeing VC-137C that flew 8 Presidents – Kennedy through Clinton.

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OK, so not a Presidential Plane. But if I was the President it would be!

One of the best things about the Presidential Airplanes exhibit is being able to tour the inside of each plane. Some of the passageways are really narrow, but it’s worth fighting off claustrophobia for a chance to see how the Presidents used to travel. I found it quite interesting to compare cockpits and kitchens and seats and beds. Oh how things changed over the years! Take, for example, the Presidential Thrones. You know… potties. Toilets. Loos. Each one as unique as the plane it was on.

 

The Sacred Cow

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The very first aircraft built specifically for the purpose of transporting the President was the Douglas VC-54C Skymaster. It’s official name was “The Flying White House” but it was nicknamed the “Sacred Cow” (for obvious reasons). The accommodations were luxurious for its day. Actually, they’re still luxurious even by today’s standards. Sit on a couch instead of a tiny seat crammed next to a zillion other tiny seats? Yes please! I wish I could tell you about the Presidential Potty, but sadly it wasn’t on display. I did, however, get to see the elevator used to lift President Roosevelt into the plane in his wheelchair.

The Independence

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The second Presidential airplane was a Douglas VC-118 (a modified DC-6) called The Independence. I have to admit I was a bit amused to see an old-school pencil sharpener affixed to a wall just outside the cockpit. I guess the pilots and navigators needed lots of sharp pencils so they could write on the paper navigational charts in use back then. Or maybe President Truman just liked doing crossword puzzles.

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The Presidential Commode is a pretty fancy affair. It is connected to a private dressing room with comfy couches and plenty of space.

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President Eisenhower’s plane is a “Super Connie” that he named Columbine after the state flower of Colorado. The kitchen technology took a big leap forward with a very roomy and well equipped galley that includes not one, but TWO toasters. Because heaven forbid the President be without toast!

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As for the Presidential Bathroom, it is bigger and better equipped than the one I had in my first apartment! Even the bathroom for the President’s entourage was roomier than expected.

“Going” on a Boeing

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The Boeing VC-137C is largest and perhaps the most impressive plane in the Presidential collection. It carried 8 sitting Presidents and set the standard for Presidential livery in a lovely blue-and-white designed by Jacqueline Kennedy. One of the things that struck me about this Air Force One (other than the size) is the sheer number of telephones it has. There are phones everywhere!

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When it came time to view the Presidential Commode you can imagine my disappointment to discover that the bathroom doors were shut! Noooooo! Thankfully the USAF Museum website has a lovely 360 photo that will allow you to see the bathroom in all its golden glory.

Since I’ve already dragged this post into the toilet, it seems only fitting to close out with one last potty pic. Located near the Presidential Airplanes display is a C-141C which has a lavatory that is… well, let’s call it well-decorated.

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Texts from the Airport

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Have you ever had one of those needy friends who only contacts you when things are going wrong? They’ll be silent for months and then all of a sudden you’ll get a flurry of texts about this issue or that problem. I have a friend kind-of like that. It’s called the airport. The texts are actually part of an employee notification system designed to keep us up-to-date on matters that could impact us.  A friend who only texts when there are problems is somewhat annoying.  The airport’s texts, however, are both informative and interesting.

Weather Warnings

The first time the airport ever texted me it was to send me a tornado warning. This would have been useful had I not already taken refuge in one of the airport hotels. (I sat a bit too long in the parking lot watching airplanes dodge the storm clouds and nearly got blown off the road when I tried to leave.)

More recently I got this:

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Fortunately for passengers it came in the wee hours of the morning when there weren’t any flights scheduled anyway. Unfortunately for me, I was awake to receive this text because I was due in for deice pad training in just a couple of hours. Ultimately the training ended up being canceled.

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While I’m Away

Have you ever noticed that things tend to happen whenever you’re out of town? That happens to me a lot.  The airport is no exception.  While I was in Oshkosh last summer I got this text during one of the afternoon airshows:

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Well a blown tire is certainly inconvenient, especially considering the airport only had one runway at that time. However, since I was at Osh I had more important things to attend to. I hoped that would be the end of the texts, but in the middle of the night I got yet another message:

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A fire alarm in the ATC tower? That’s definitely a bummer, but its 01:40 and I’m nowhere near the tower. I’m going back to sleep!

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K9 on Patrol

Its no secret that I’m a big fan of the airport K9s. As a result, this text definitely caught my attention.

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I received several other texts after this one with updates on the situation. It took more than two hours to finally get the all-clear. Fortunately the cargo facility isn’t attached to the terminal so the passengers were unaffected and no flights were disrupted.

Oops!

One day I was busily working away at my desk when the fire alarm went off. There had been no announcement ahead of time to tell us this was a drill so we took it seriously and evacuated the building. We stood out on the ramp and watched as ARFF came zipping up in fire trucks and entered Concourse A in full gear. We all wondered what on earth was going on. Finally we got the all-clear to go back inside. Later the airport texted this explanation:

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DOH! I have to imagine the poor chef at Chili’s was just a wee bit embarrassed!

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Good To Know

As luck would have it I had not one but two pilot friends at the airport the day this text came through:

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Since both fly out of the concourse that is serviced by the South Matrix I was able to give them a heads up about the potential for delays with baggage. Fortunately the problem was quickly resolved and neither were affected.

OK, I admit it – I like getting texts from the airport. It gives me an interesting glimpse into some of the things going on behind the scenes. Plus it’s a good reminder about all the people (and K9s) who are working hard around the clock to monitor operations and make sure everything is going smoothly. But just once it would be nice to get a text message that’s a little more upbeat.  Something like: “Hey Jenn, how are you? Just wanted you to know we’re using runways 10L and 10R this morning. Have a nice day!” Is that really so much to ask?

Note: I finished the rough draft of this post on a Sunday with the intent to publish the next day.  I suppose it should come as no surprise that I woke in the wee hours of Monday morning to discover I had a text.  You’ll never guess who it was from!

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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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Great Stairs Truck Drivers in History

[Note from the Blogger: I recently had the tremendous honor of being a guest on the Plane Talking UK Podcast.  It was so much fun!  A huge thank you to Carlos and Matt! And if you haven’t watched/listened to this podcast, check it out! I promise you’ll love it!]

fullsizerender-56It occurred to me recently that it has been a while since I’ve written about my favorite ground support vehicle.  I am, of course, talking about the mighty stairs truck!  I would like to start with a bit of clarification.  There seems to be some confusion about the differences between the various types of stairs typically found at the airport: air stairs, mobile stairs, motorized stairs, etc.  I attempted to consult the world’s foremost airport stairs experts on the best way to explain the differences… but alas, I couldn’t find any.  So I am afraid you’re stuck with me.  Here’s how I see it.

These are air stairs:

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They are stairs that are built into an airplane.  Because they are actually part of the plane itself, they are not part of the ground support vehicle family.

These are mobile stairs:

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They are essentially metal stairs on wheels that can be pushed by ground crew or towed by a tug.  They are NOT motorized.  They are at the bottom of the airport stairs food chain.

These are motorized stairs:

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These stairs do have a motor and can be driven around as needed.  The driving compartment, however, is open to the elements, similar to the way some airport tugs are.  These stairs are far cooler than simple mobile stairs, but they are definitely NOT the coolest of the airport stairs.

This is a stairs truck:

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As the name suggests, it’s a truck with stairs on the back.  The truck looks like any other utility truck that you might see on the road.  Technically stairs trucks are not street legal… at some point I’ll have to work on changing that.  It’s fairly easy to see why the stairs truck is king of the airport stairs.  Because it’s a truck.  With stairs on the back.  Enough said.

I wanted to clarify that point because it bears heavily on the subject at hand: the greatest stairs truck drivers in all of history! OK fine, so most of these people didn’t actually drive stairs trucks. But they would have if they could have! (Yes savvy reader, you read that correctly. I did say “most!”)

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By Billy Hathorn (National Portrait Gallery, Public domain) [CC0]

Benjamin Franklin

If ever there was an historical figure who would appreciate a good stairs truck, it’s Benjamin Franklin. I mean hello – he signed the Declaration of Independence! Nothing says revolutionary quite like a stairs truck. Oh – you wanna fly kites in storms? I know the perfect place!

Hatshepsut

I know what you’re thinking – what the who? Hatshepsut. She was a pharaoh in ancient Egypt. No, not like Cleopatra. Cleopatra was queen. Hatshepsut was actually pharaoh. And to drive home that point she wore a fake beard and everything.  A woman with that kind of determination is sure to immediately grasp the advantages (and awesomeness) of a stairs truck. Why ride in a noisy chariot around the city when you could perch your throne on top of a stairs truck where the whole world would be sure to see you?

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By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Captain Jack Sparrow

But Jenn! He’a a fictional character – he’s not real! Ah but if he WAS real you know he’d have been all over the stairs truck. He understands that stairs trucks aren’t about tires and fuel and wiper blades – that’s what a stairs truck needs. What a stairs truck is, what it REALLY is, is freedom. And it’s a way to get into places you probably shouldn’t be.

Michelangelo

No, not the Ninja Turtle – the renaissance painter! He’s the guy who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I’m sure when he got the call from the Pope he looked up and thought, “The ceiling? You gotta be kidding me!” Then when he saw the system of ropes he was supposed to hang from while painting he said “Oh heck NO!” and built his own platform to use. Now if he’d had access to a stairs truck you can bet he’d have immediately grasped the potential. Remove a section of wall, drive in and paint with ease! Just think of all the amazing ceiling paintings there might have been if only stairs trucks had been invented a little sooner.

Tom Chilton

For those of you who are fans of motorsports (or if you’ve been following this blog for a while) the name might ring a bell.  Tom Chilton is an auto racing driver who has spent a good portion of his career racing in the British Touring Car Championship series, the World Touring Car Championship, Formula One… blah blah blah.  Whatever.  What REALLY matter is, he has driven a stairs truck!  And not just driven it, RACED it! That automatically makes him one of the coolest people of all time.

 

 

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Nope, this picture has nothing to do with stairs trucks.