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!