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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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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