Lessons from the Window

It has been almost a year since I moved to my desk by the window. As expected, it has been AMAZING. Even though I’m no stranger to the activity on the airfield, there are still some things I’ve learned from this new perspective.

Yes, I CAN Get My Work Done

Let’s get this out of the way first. It has been suggested that I might be so fascinated by the airfield activity that I won’t get anything done. Nope. I’m actually a good multitasker – I can work and keep an eye outside at the same time. Plus I’ve perfected my camera grabbing technique so I can go from tedious spreadsheet to amazing airplane pics in just a couple seconds.

Airbuses and RJs and Boeings… Oh My!

My desk is right behind gate 21 and I can also see gate 19, both of which are leased by American Airlines. They mostly park A319s and E175s out there. However every now and then a CRJ shows up. The CRJ200 is probably my favorite because compared to the others it looks like a little toy plane. To connect to the jetbridge they have to lower the steps, which makes it look even more like a toy. As passenger numbers have increased American has started to bring back the 737s. It makes for a nice mix of planes through-out the day.

I Hope It’s Worth the NOISE!

It’s no secret that the airfield is a noisy place, but I have a whole new appreciation of what that means. Let’s start with the jetbridges. Every time they move, alarms go off that sound just like old fire alarms or school bells. Then there are the APUs. Most aren’t noticeable, but every now and then a plane shows up with a loud, whiny APU. Of all the airfield noises, this one makes me the most crazy. Ground support vehicles aren’t exactly quiet either. The Air Start Cart can make quite a racket. And did you know tugs have horns? Oh yes. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeep!

Special Liveries

I see a lot of American and Southwest airplanes from my desk because both have gates on the south side of the airfield. By happy coincidence, both airlines also have a number of special liveries. Southwest has the most flights so it isn’t surprising that I see multiple special liveries a week. They have a new one called Freedom One that I’m quite fond of. My favorite thing, however, is when American’s PSA livery parks at gate 21. It’s hard not to smile back when there’s an airplane smiling in the window at you.

The South Side is the Best Side

My desk looks out at the south runway, which is the longer of the two and both FBOs are on this side of the airfield. This makes for a wide variety of airplanes for me to enjoy. Even when the south runway is closed, if 28 Right is in use then most planes will have to taxi by my desk to get to it. Win-win! This dramatically increases my ability to catch the resident P-51. Nothing makes a work day better than a warbird!

Mighty Military

When I combine a desk view with Flight Radar 24 or ADSB Exchange plus Live ATC, then not even the military can sneak by me. A few months ago I managed to catch a C-130 and a KC-135 doing practice approaches, followed by a C-17 and TWO C-5s which landed at the airport to pick up cargo. All this in ONE DAY!

Snow Cool

If you’ve looked at my older posts then you know I’m fascinated by winter operations. Now I have a front row seat to watch the snow warriors get it done. From plows on the runways to deice trucks to mini snow pushers on the ramp, I get to see all the action.

Upside Downside

If you ask my coworkers what they don’t like about being by the windows they’ll tell you two things – it can get very cold on cloudy winter days and every now and then it smells like jet fuel. They have a point about the cold. I keep a stack of extra sweaters, jackets and even gloves to wear at my desk. As for the jet fuel… well you know me – I love the smell of Jet A in the morning!

You Can’t Get There From Here… Yet

So you’ve been looking for a non-stop flight to your favorite vacation destination and discovered, to your dismay, that none exist. What? How can this be? Lots of people travel to this place. Surely the airport can just ask the airlines to offer non-stop service, right? Uh… well, no. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

The process of establishing new non-stop service can require quite a bit of behind-the-scenes work that can take years to complete. Although I don’t get involved until it is time to start billing, I’ve asked my friends in Business Development a million questions which they have been kind enough to patiently answer. It can be a complicated process, but here’s a look at some of the basics.

The “Easy” Way

Sometimes one of the airlines currently operating at the airport decides to add a new route based on their own research and goals. They already lease gates and counter space. They already have ground crew and ticket agents. There’s nothing that the airport needs to do so… Done! Gee, that was easy!

The “Somewhat Easy” Way

Sometimes a new (or new to us) airline will decide to include us in their route structure. These decisions are usually based on anticipated demand and their ability to operate profitably. They will request specific details about our passengers, facilities and costs which they will review to make a determination about whether to proceed or not.

Once an agreement is reached, the airport will make sure that all the necessary space, equipment and signage is in place for the airline to operate. It takes a bit of effort to coordinate, but over-all this is a pretty simple way to add a new destination to our collection.

The Harder Way

When an airline wants to add a route, it usually happens. When someone else wants an airline to add a new route… well that’s a different story. Sometimes the Airport Authority’s own research will identify an underserved destination. Sometimes the local business community or government entities will identify a need and inquire about adding service. The Business Development team scruitinizes travel data from the Department of Transportation which, among other things, includes the ultimate destinations of all our passengers who took connecting flights. They look for trends try to confirm that there are enough people traveling to specific destinations to perhaps entice an airline to start flying there.

The airport will then approach the airlines with the data they have collected to try to convince them to add a route. We already have relationships with many airlines so these conversations likely begin with some phone calls. The team will also fly to airline headquarters to make their case in person. Pre-covid there were conferences in which a number of airlines and airports would attend and then there would be a series of short, private meetings during which airports could present their cases. A coworker referred to this as “speed dating for airlines.” The airport would get to meet with several airlines at once, but there wouldn’t be a whole lot of time for discussion.

Incentives

It can be quite expensive to start a new route. It takes time for it to become established and to develop the load factors needed to be profitable. This is where incentives come in. Airports and other entities will offer discounts or waive fees to offset some of the initial costs. This can be a tricky topic since there are some pretty strict rules around what kinds of incentives airports are allowed to offer. Some states will sweeten deal by adding in financial incentives of their own. Even business organizations will sometimes come together and pool funds to be able to offer a finacial incentive to try to get a coveted business destination onto the departures board.

Strings Attached

Even if there is a strong incentive package involved, the airline still has some bills to pay. We typically require a deposit which represents a portion of the amount we expect them to pay for things like rent once the incentive period is over. And they have to offer the agreed upon routes for the agreed upon length of time. If the airline decides to terminate the route early, they could be asked to pay back some or all of the incentives they were given.

Unsurpringly, it can sometimes take years of discussions before an airport is able to land a coveted route. We spent at least five years securing a non-stop flight to Seattle. The quest for a flight to Europe has been going on for a decade or more.

So what’s a passenger to do? Well keep traveling to your favorite destination. The more people who fly there, the more attractive it becomes for an airline to start non-stop service. Be patient – these things take time. Be realistic – some routes are just never going to be non-stop. And it wouldn’t hurt to learn to love connections, at least for now.

FLO and the Moose: Osh is BACK!

After two years of waiting, EAA’s Airventure is back! And if the Osh pre-game is any indication, it’s going to be one heck of a week. First of all, someone was crazy enough to allow me on the airfield with marshalling wands. And someone else was crazy enough to allow me on the flight deck of a very large airplane while it was under tow. Yes, you read that correctly!

A few weeks ago my friend Hillel helped me sign up to volunteer on the flight line, parking aircraft in the North 40. I’ve always wanted to give it a try, but have been a little bit hesitant. I mean we’re talking about being in close proximity to spinning propellers! But I reviewed the training materials and reported for duty on Sunday morning. We attended a pre-shift briefing, then hustled out to get into position before the Mooney mass arrival.

The more experienced crew took charge of actually positioning planes into the parking spaces. They also placed experienced volunteers at the entrance to the parking area to guide planes in. My responsibility was to stand at the end of a row and, when instructed, marshal planes into the row so they could be parked.

Once the Mooneys were in we switched to parking general camping airplanes. Since the available spaces were pretty far down, I stood about half-way between where the planes exited the taxiway and where the available spaces were. Another volunteer turned the plane towards me, and I pointed them down towards Hillel, who then turned them into the appropriate row to be parked.

It was sunny, the airplanes were amazing, I was in the heart of the action… I LOVED it! I will definitely do it again. If you’ve ever thought about volunteering, I highly recommend it.

But something EVEN COOLER happened on Saturday, and it also involved marshalling an airplane. Well… sort-of. Shortly before Osh I found out that the C-17 going on display on Boeing Plaza was from my friend Rick’s unit – and he was going to be flying it in. He knew that Hillel and I were FLO volunteers and jokingly told us that if we were going to marshal him in to be sure to use giant foam fingers.

So what did I do? I acquired a pair of large, red, foam fingers, of course! As luck would have it, I arrived at Osh just at the same moment the C-17 did. I got to the plaza in time to see the plane stop so they could hook up a tug. I couldn’t marshal it, but I COULD put on the foam fingers and wave. So that’s what I did. I waved and hollered and just generally made a fool of myself.

Suddenly a young man in uniform appeared. “Are you Jennifer?” Uh-oh! Am I in trouble? “Rick says you can come with me.” So I followed him over to the airplane. The steps were down and I expected to see Rick waiting outside. He wasn’t. The young man gestured to the steps and told me to go on up. I climbed into the cargo area. The young man gestured to another set of steps and again told me to go on up. Next thing I knew I was in the cockpit of the C-17!

Rick greeted me from the captain’s chair and told me to have a seat. Sit… here? In the cockpit? Of a C-17? While the plane is being towed? Eeeeeeee!!!! The crew was at work so I sat down, kept quiet and stayed out of the way, but inside I was completely freaking out. I got to ride along as the 911th Air Wing and EAA put a really big airplane into a not-so-big space.

Being able to watch the coordination that happens on the flight deck was fascinating. I have a whole new appreciation for the trust that goes into being pushed back. The pilots cannot see a thing so they count on the crews to be on their game. I also got to take a really good look at the avionics and controls in the cockpit. I was impressed by how modern it is and also how roomy.

I have to give a HUGE shout-out to Major Rick Bell and the entire C-17 crew for allowing me to ride along. It was definitely one of those only-at-Osh moments that I will truly never forget. With a beginning like this, what could possibly happen next? Stay tuned!

A New Perspective

I interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post (OK, semi-regularly – but I do have a new post in the works, I swear) to bring you BREAKING NEWS!

As many of you know, the view from my desk leaves a lot to be desired. When I look up I see a wall. And I can look over into the copy room where the photocopier and supply cabinet are. Except for the occasional sound of airplanes taxiing up to nearby gates, you’d never know I worked at an airport. I could be sitting in any office anywhere.

The view from my desk.

I’ve tried not to complain too much. After all, a desk with a wall view at an airport beats a desk with a wall view anywhere else. However, there has been an open desk by the windows for over four years now. It looks out past one of the jetbridges to the south airfield beyond. It is brighter than my current cube, has more desk space than my cube and I’ve wanted to move into it sooooo badly.

I started my quest by dropping subtle hints. (“That desk over there has been open a long time now…”) When that didn’t work I became a little more obvious. (“Sure, I’ll take on that additional task. What are the chances I can move to that desk?”) Evenutally I resorted to straight-up stating my desire on my annual review. (Question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Me: “Sitting at a desk by the windows.”) It has become something of a joke. “Oh, we can’t give Jennifer a window desk – she’d never get anything done!” I’ve tried to argue that I’d actually get more done because I wouldn’t have to get up and run to the window every time something interesting taxies by. Sadly, I got nowhere. I hadn’t given up all hope, but I was close.

In the meantime, several rounds of reorganization have occurred. The department that shared part our space moved upstairs. We downsized. More and more offices and desks went unusued. Then in a recent meeting my new boss announced that since there are so many open offices, they decided to allow people to move into them. She went on to say that unfortunately there aren’t quite enough offices for everyone. Would I be willing to take a desk by the windows instead?

Me: Squeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Her: Are you OK?

Me: *dances*

Her: *looks confused*

Once I calmed down enough to be coherent I assured my boss that I have ZERO desire to have an office (most of which don’t have windows) and that I am not only willing to take a desk by the windows, but that it’s pretty much the only work-related thing I’ve wanted for the past six years.

Eeeeeeeeeee!

And so, after years of patiently (or maybe not-so patiently) waiting, I HAVE A DESK BY THE WINDOWS! Yes, my view is somewhat obscured by the jetbridge, and even more obscured when a plane is there, but I do not care! This is the beginning of a whole new era! I’m not saying I’m going to post a million pics of what I see out my window… but then again, I might.

The Pandemic and Airport Life

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There has been a lot of discussion about how the covid-19 pandemic is affecting the airlines, but what about airports? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, every airport is different so the level of impact will vary depending on the types of traffic an airport has, how their financials are structured, etc. That said, there are some commonalities. I can only speak to what I’m seeing but you can probably draw some parallels to the airports that operate near you.

Like most airports, we get revenue through things like parking fees and concessions. We also get revenue from third parties who pay for the right to do business on airport property (like Uber and Lyft, for example) and through advertising in and around the terminal. We get income from the airlines as well, however those fees are structured to cover the cost of actually operating the airport itself. They pay a portion of terminal costs through renting gate/ticket counter/hold room space, and they cover the costs of airfield and ramp maintenance through landing fees.

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So, just how bad are the numbers right now? On a normal day in April we’d typically have around 13,000 enplanements (passengers boarding flights). This April there were days when we didn’t even have 500 enplanements. Let’s look at one of the major legacy carriers – we’ll call them Airline A. They aren’t the biggest operator for us in terms of flights or passengers, but they still do a fair amount of business at our airport. In April 2019 Airline A and its regional partners had just over 800 landings and around 67,500 enplaned passengers. In April 2020 they had 150 landings and 5,700 enplaned passengers. That’s a decrease of about 82% in landings and 91% in enplanements. When we widen the view to look at total passengers across all airlines, there was a decrease of approximately 95% in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

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Needless to say, those numbers are not enough to support the airport ecosystem. Most of the food vendors and shops have closed. At least one has closed permanently. Some of the parking lots had to be closed as well because there were so few cars it made no sense to continue to staff lot attendants or shuttle drivers. As you can imagine, revenue for the month of April was way down.

To try to mitigate the loss of income we’re doing what many other businesses are doing – cutting expenses where we can, and revising the budget to reduce spending as much as possible. We are also scaling back on capital projects, focusing only on those that are essential to the continued operation of the airport. We will be getting some assistance in the form of funds from the CARES act, which will help keep things moving, for awhile at least.

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Then there is the challenge of trying to meet social distancing and other health mandates while being mindful of expenses. Take parking, for example. Anyone who parks in a lot must ride a shuttle to get to the terminal. In order to meet social distancing guidelines, half the seats will need to be blocked off. This may not be such a big deal while passenger counts are low. However, as people return to flying it will become increasingly difficult to accommodate everyone. Do we buy more shuttles? They aren’t cheap.

With so few flights currently, we’ve considered combining the airlines into two concourses and closing the third. On the surface this sounds like a good idea. It would allow the airport to concentrate the efforts of the custodian teams and perhaps allow for reduced utility usage in the unused concourse. Except it isn’t that simple. Lease agreements take time to work through – how do you reassign the gates? How would this affect the baggage systems? And what would it mean for social distancing if employees and passengers are concentrated into two concourses instead of three?

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Cargo has been a bit of a lifeline for the airlines, and the same is true for us. While traffic at the passenger airport has been anemic, our nearby cargo airport has seen traffic levels hold nearly steady. Interestingly, many of our regular international cargo carriers did not have any landings in April. However we saw an increase in charter flights which made up most of the difference.

So what does the future hold? Given the unprecedented impact the pandemic has had on the travel industry, it’s hard to say. We will need to be patient and thoughtful. And we’ll need to continue to maintain good relationships with the communities we serve as well as our airline partners. We are, after all, in this together.B0C32904-4CFF-4A2D-94F7-847327DF1BAB

Battleships, Blackbirds and Tough Times at the Airport

C7A82B02-1E14-4212-88E2-1DC5FB1C1808Before the stay-at-home orders for the Covid-19 pandemic started, I was able sneak out to Pensacola Beach, Florida for a quick vacation. I had hoped to make a return visit to the Naval Air Museum while I was in the area, but it was not open to the public. Instead I drove over to Mobile, AL to visit Battleship Memorial Park.

Tough Ship (and Planes)

C851E28E-A66C-47A2-8098-EDDAD82E98F1As the name suggests, the main attraction is the USS Alabama, a World War II-era battleship. Parked right next door is the USS Drum, a Gato-class submarine. Both were open for self-guided tours. I have never been on any kind of military vessel before… oh my goodness the crazy steep stairs! I cannot imagine what it must have been like to climb up and down them while out at sea. Needless to say I have an even greater appreciation for our Navy and Marine service members .

Of course, what I was most excited to see were the airplanes. There were a number of them scattered around the park grounds, including a B-52, an F-15, an F-16, and a C-47. However there was also an aircraft pavillion where the REALLY cool planes are stashed. First to catch my eye when I walked through the door was a Blackbird – more specifically, an A-12. They look virtually the same , but the A-12 could fly a little faster and a little higher, and was used by the CIA for spy missions.BC68A85C-ABE6-4FBE-9C81-A3891C485F77

On the opposite side of the pavillion was an F-14 Tomcat. Oh how I love that plane! It looks fast and mean just sitting on the ground. There are several other fascinating airplanes and helicopters on display including a P-51 Mustang and an F-18 Hornet. Over-all I found Battlefield Memorial Park to be well worth the visit. If you are ever in the area I strongly recommend you stop by and give it a look.

Meanwhile at the Airport…

As I mentioned in my last post, I am working from home these days. However, I had to stop by the office recently to pick up a few items. I thought I was prepared for what I was going to see. I wasn’t. Empty parking lots. No shuttles or buses or ubers. No traffic at all, really. And, except for a few bored agents at the ticket counter, no people. The restaurants are closed. The stores are closed too. And yet, upbeat music played over the PA system, along with routine announcements – as if nothing at all was amiss. But then there were also recorded reminders about social distancing and quarantines. Actually it was quite eerie.FE9B9EE7-B639-4F06-9C1D-AB34B85949D3

It was equally disturbing to see all the empty airplanes sitting around. A regional airline has parked nearly three dozen ERJs on the south cargo ramp. Each unused airplane represents dozens of people in the aviation and travel industries who aren’t working right now. For the airport, those idle airplanes mean no passenger parking  income, no concession income, and very little in the way of landing fees or PFCs. Things are tough all over.905AFDC8-5B18-48EC-B32A-D4E2E3DD5A55

But there is a little bit of good news in the midst of the gloom. Although the passenger airport is unbearably quiet, the cargo airport has managed to stay busy. There has been a reduction in flights by some carriers, but there’s been steady traffic from others like Cargolux and Cathay Pacific. Chartered cargo flights have actually increased. Many of those flights have been delivering medical supplies and other items that are critically needed.2DA3F260-D25E-422E-9940-A72A0B9FDF09

From a financial standpoint, the activity at the one airport cannot begin to make up for the lack of activity at the other. But right now we’ll take whatever we can get. And having those cargo planes overhead helps calm my aviation withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, my serious case of stairs truck deficiency continues.
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Wrapping Up 2019 with Helicopters and Airbuses

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It is late January and I finally have a few moments to catch my breath from the chaos of the holidays and the busy season at work. I am definitely looking forward to a new year filled with plenty of avgeekery! However, there are a few loose threads from 2019 that I want to tie up before I jump into 2020.

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2019 Airport Challenge

Regular readers will recall that at the beginning of last year I issued a challenge to myself (and anyone else who was interested) to  spend time at 5 general aviation airports not previously visited. So how did I do? I’m pleased to report that I met the goal! The airports I visited are:

Grimes Field I74
Chester County MQS
South Valley Regional U42
Zanesville Municipal ZZV
Brandywine Regional OQN

I only stayed long enough at Chester County and South Valley for a quick look around and a few moments of plane spotting through the fence. I spent quite a bit of time at both Grimes Field and Zanesville and have written separate posts about my visits. The Brandywine Regional airport had been on my list to visit for quite some time, in part because many of the general aviation airplanes that fly over my childhood home are based there, but mostly because it has a really cool aviation museum.

img_5171American Helicopter Museum

The American Helicopter Museum opened in 1996 after I had already moved out of the area.  The mission of the museum is to educate the public on the development and history of rotary wing aircraft, and to celebrate all things helicopter.  I confess that while I find helicopters to be quite interesting, I don’t know much about them so I really enjoyed expanding my knowledge while examining the museum’s impressive collection.

 

It is impossible to pick a favorite exhibit, however I liked the Bell AH-1F Cobra and the V-22 Osprey quite a lot. The only thing better than seeing all the rotorcraft was getting to spend time with my friend David Vanderhoof, co-host of the Airplane Geeks and UAV Digest podcasts. If you find yourself in the Philadelphia area I highly recommend making the trip to West Chester to visit the museum. And if David is there, tell him I sent you!

First Commercial Flight in Ten Years

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Does anyone know what the record is for most time spent in an airport without actually flying anywhere? I don’t even know if such a record truly exists, but if it does then I imagine I’m a contender. Between my job and my airport vacations I figure I’ve spent around 9500 hours at airports over the last few years without getting on a commercial airplane. All that changed last October when I took my first commercial flight in over ten years.

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At the risk of stating the obvious – a lot has changed in the last decade! For one thing, there are so many more little fees now. Ten years ago you picked your seat when you booked your ticket and there was no extra charge for it. There was no cost to check a bag either. If airlines had apps ten years ago then they were fairly new and not widely used. Now you can do almost everything via the app.  And yes, I paid a little extra to pick my seat ahead of time because no way in heck I was going to miss the chance to sit by a window! It was TOTALLY worth it.

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What about the flight itself? Well this was my first flight with seat back info-tainment screens. (The last time I flew they still had air phones on the back of the seats!) While most people watched movies, I spent the time tracking the flight. What a fun feature for an avgeek like me! There has been a lot made of the smaller seat pitch, tiny bathrooms and rude passengers. I wasn’t bothered by any of those things and I quite enjoyed the trip.

What’s Next?

So what’s ahead for me in 2020? More commercials flights and more aviation museums! I’m considering a return visit to the Udvar Hazy center in the spring and maybe a trip out to LAX to attend Dorkfest over the summer.  Plus I’ve booked my room for Oshkosh in July. And, as always, I’ll be keeping an eye out for those fun airport moments that make every day an adventure. Stay tuned!
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Show before the Show – OSH19

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. I’m talking about Airventure Oshkosh, of course! It’s my happy place. The place where everyone understands me. The place of 10,000 airplanes. It is so much better than Christmas!

I arrived early once again this year.  Unfortunately, so did the rain in the form of a series of intense thunderstorms. It halted all arrivals and turned the Airventure grounds into a marsh. Needless to say I spent quite a bit of time in my car, waiting out the deluge.

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Once the rain stopped I made the first of what are sure to be many trips deep into the heart of Camp Scholler. Why? I have friends who are staying there in a rented RV. More importantly, they have my beer  And my cookies. My observations of Camp Scholler thus far:

– It’s huge.

– The people are super-friendly and will give you rides on their golf carts.

– Like the rest of Airventure currently, a good portion of it is under water.

– Did I mention that it’s huge?

15D1999E-DED7-4757-B8CA-86BD39920EB3Sunday I started off visiting the actual airport terminal. After all, this blog is called Tales From the Terminal so it seemed like a good idea to stop by. It was quiet. And small. But there’s an airplane hanging inside which automatically makes it excellent. I ran into a group of Airventure newbies who needed some advice on how how to get their wristbands and I was happy to point them in the right direction.

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The rest of the day was spent wandering the Airventure grounds watching airplanes. The arrivals have been much quieter this year because of all the rain – the aircraft camping areas are under water so none of the GA aircraft were allowed in until very late in the day. Thankfully there were still lots of amazing airplanes to see.

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The day ended at the Redbird Preflight Reception which was held at their exhibit tent just off the main plaza.  I got a chance to take a peek inside some of sims, which are all very nice. I also got a chance to catch up with many old friends who were also at the event.

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On Monday Airventure officially begins. I am super excited to see the A-10 and F-35 demo teams. I’m also looking forward to seeing the new KC 46 Pegasus tanker which is scheduled to arrive in the evening. Of course some of the best moments at Oshkosh happen completely unexpectedly.  I don’t know what adventure will come my way, but I’m ready so bring it on!

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Lunch with Champaign Lady

IMG_1409Regular readers may recall that earlier this year I set a goal for myself (and anyone else who wants to play along) of checking out at least 5 GA airports not previously visited. That’s right- it’s the 2019 Airport Challenge! Recently I took a step towards meeting that goal by spending a day at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio. This little airport has pretty much everything you could ask for: plenty of GA traffic, an excellent restaurant and not one but TWO aviation museums!

Along on the journey was my friend Jim Thompson, former stairs truck driver for a major airline (now retired) and current airport ambassador. We started our visit at the Grimes Flying Lab Museum. This museum is only open on Saturday mornings so I’m really glad we timed our trip to allow us to see it.

Housed in a single hangar, the exhibits are a showcase of the life and work of Warren Grimes, who founded an aircraft lighting company in the mid-1920s. The collection includes pretty much every type of lighting you can think of… and probably some you didn’t! The centerpiece of the collection is a C45-H which was used as a test bed and is decked out with so many lights it looks rather like a flying disco. It. Is. AWESOME!

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After an hour or so we made our way over to the other museum on the field – the Champaign Aviation Museum. The first thing I noticed when we walked in the door was a C-47 on display.  These planes played an important role in WWII, particularly during the invasion of Normandy when more than 50,000 paratroopers jumped from them.  With the 75th Anniversary of D-Day coming up in just a few weeks, I appreciated the chance to get an up close look at such an iconic airplane.

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This particular warbird spent some time in the civilian world.

The next thing to catch my attention was the B-17 in pieces at the far side of the hangar. Named Champaign Lady, it is undergoing a ground-up restoration using various parts from other B-17s as well as some newly fabricated pieces. It was fascinating to see how it is being assembled. It’s even more impressive when you consider it is being constructed by volunteers! One of them spent some time talking with us about the challenges of tracking down parts and securing detailed plans for such an old plane. It is definitely a labor of love. I’m really looking forward to the day when she is ready to fly.

Also at the museum is my old friend the B-25 Champaign Gal. I’ve seen her at many aviation events and if you’ve checked out my “about the blogger” page, there’s a picture of the two of us together. There were quite a number of other exhibits related to World War II including uniforms, wedding dresses made from parachutes and many, many photographs.

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My favorite exhibit, however, featured the Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly referred to as the WASPs. The museum has life-sized cut-outs of at least a dozen WASPs, each of which is holding a poster-sized information sheet which includes a photograph of themselves from WWII, their nickname, what planes they flew and an anecdote from their time in the service. Some of their tales are absolutely priceless! The exhibit brings the WASPs to life in a way that history books cannot. I found myself desperately wishing I could have met those ladies in person!

After we left the museum we did what any self-respecting avgeek does – we grabbed some lunch and hung around and watched airplanes! One of the best things about GA airports is how close you can get to the ramp areas. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of planes that flew in while we were there.

So, what GA airfield have you visited recently? Need some suggestions of where to go? Check out eatattheairport.com! And if you are anywhere near Urbana, OH (or even if you aren’t) plan a visit to Grimes Field. Just make sure you get a piece of ridiculously delicious pie at the cafe – because the only thing better than spending a day with airplanes is spending a day with airplanes AND pie!

Want to learn more about the Champaign Aviation Museum? Check out episode 548 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast in which they interview Aimee Brower who handles public affairs, donor relations, and education.

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Photo by Jim Thompson

One Hundred (and then some)!

one hundredWoah! 100 posts? Have I really written that many? Actually… now that I’ve added them up it turns out I’ve written 103 altogether! Apparently I sailed right by the big 100 milestone without even realizing it. Oops!

So how did I get here? Well I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I landed my current job at the airport that I found something I really wanted to write about on a consistent basis. And I quickly discovered that there is so much more to life at an airport than just airplanes. There are snowplows and water canon salutes and sunrises on the airfield. I’ve helped on the deice pad, visited ATC towers, and stood on a taxiway to watch an A350 land. I’ve ridden in a broom truck, sat in a stairs truck and driven an ops truck. I truly am a kid in a candy store every day.

37778512_UnknownOf course when I hit publish on that first post I had no idea whether anyone would actually read it. 100 posts later, I’m a bit shocked to discover I have readers from over 120 different countries. (Seriously? Wow!) As you might imagine, many come from places like the US, UK, Canada, Australia and France. However there are some readers from countries I didn’t expect, like Aruba (reading about stairs trucks on the beach, no doubt) and Nepal (probably learning about deicing whilst hiking the Himalayas).

People have stumbled onto my blog in a variety of different ways. Most find it through social media, however I’ve also gotten views from readers who have shared it with their friends or posted links to it online. (It’s a really great feeling when that happens!) I get traffic from search engines too. It amuses me to see the search phrases that have somehow led people to my blog. Here are a few of my favorites:37778416_Unknown

“Mobile stairs airfield” Yeah, this one is a no-brainer.

“Useless airport trivia” Yep, I’ve got lots of that!

“Fun jobs with finance degree” Actually, I don’t have a finance degree. Shhhh! Don’t tell!

“Beer Emergency Vehicle” Where the heck is that when I need it?

“How to drive airport stairs” Stay tuned! I hope to be able to give a first-hand report on this one of these days!

37778240_UnknownMy most viewed post so far is: Airline Fees That THEY Have to Pay. I really didn’t expect that a post about something I do every day (invoicing airlines) would be very popular.  In fact, I actually put off writing it for over a year because I wasn’t sure anyone would find it interesting. Doh!

One of my most defining moments as a blogger (so far) came in 2017.  That was the year I first got media credentials for Airventure. The Blue Angels were there and I got to interview one of the pilots. The experience went something like this: OMG I have media credentials! OMG the Blue Angels! OMG I have absolutely no idea what to ask! Thank goodness Lt. Benson was a class act who not only answered my questions (once I managed to think of some), but also posed for a photo with me. If you had told me when I started writing this blog that I would be interviewing the Blue Angels at Oshkosh I never would have believed it!IMG_0429

So what’s next? Well I’ve been toying with the idea of incorporating more videos into my posts. And you never know when I might pop up on a podcast (or two). But mostly I plan to continue having adventures at the airport and writing about them.  I hope you’ll continue to follow along!

THANK YOU so much for reading and for all your support!

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