Last Shift

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It’s come down to this:  one more work shift that takes my crew and I to Rwy 18/36 this afternoon.

I doubt we get any arrivals.

Should be a FLOOD of campers leaving in their airplanes after a week of enjoying the show and soaking up all things aviational and aerospatial.

A friend saw Harrison Ford walking around the show earlier this week; eating a hot dog. No big fuss, no entourage, no press.  Just ketchup and mustard.  She waited until he was done eating and then said hi, got a picture, and moved on.

Aaron Tippin, country music star, flew in early this week to Fond Du Lac; we talked to him (or at least his pilot).  He flies an Aerostar – not that fancy.  But it did have the Coleman Bushmill conversion kit (SOMETHING like that, anyway).

The Dreamliner’s wings start flying before the plane does.  We could tell because the wings flexed after 1000 feet of runway.  He took off right in front of us, headed to Boeing Field in Seattle.  His flight plan remarks said, “experimental”.  “Blue and white low wing heavy, rock your wings”.  Too bad we didn’t get to say that!

The Jet truck went 375 miles an hour down the runway.  seriously.

I again stand in amazement at the teamwork, accomplishment, respect, experience, and composure of the crew of controllers that work this show.

The awards and honors dinner is tonight.  It’s a rare moment of seriousness from controllers; where the truly accomplished of this group receives honor and praise for their contribution to this show.

Simply amazing.


Hitting the Gaps

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Thursday afternoon, when we worked out at IM, which stands for Itinerant Mobile (which is shorthand for Mobile Operations Communications Workstation – which really only means a platform right next to Runway 27), the weather was marginal VFR with a low cloud ceiling that hampered visibility and made seeing aircraft tougher and also caused more pilots to come into OSH IFR.  The IFR’s get their own procedure and have to be blended into the flow of other arrivals.  We normally wouldn’t be affected much by this when we are working the departures, but there were SO MANY airplanes inbound that we couldn’t clear any of ours for takeoff.

The IFR pilots who want to DEPART talk to us at IM.  We had a line of 8 waiting to go IFR, and we can’t let them go until MKE Approach, Ripon Sector, releases them.  So we whittled away at the departure list, but it was only like 1 IFR release every 10 minutes.  There was nothing we could do; there was just no room on the runway for departures because of the constant stream of landing airplanes.

About 6th in line for IFR release was N2 – none other than the FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt on board.  That airplane waited at LEAST and hour and a half before finally departing about 15 minutes ahead of the closing of the airport for the afternoon airshow.

We flagged most of the VFR’s wanting to depart ACROSS the runway so they could take off the other set of runway’s with the other Mobile position – they didn’t have nearly as much going on. An F-16 had rolled off the end of the main runway, Rwy 36L, so that was closed and only the little 36R was open.  The VFR’s used Rwy18L to depart and get on outta the airshow.

Stressful but powerless to change anything at the same time.  So stress-free, in a way.

Still awesome to behold.



My Oshkosh tower shift yesterday morning to start the day promised to be exciting and eventful and more of the “controlled mayhem” that amazes me continually.  We were the first crew there so got to start talking right at 6 a.m.  The airport is only open to departures from 6 to 7 a.m. so it is a relatively easy start for both the airplanes and the controllers.  One of our first customers was a Kodiak float plane painted like a Bengal Tiger.  It t took off along with another Cessna that was going to take some photos of it.  The nose has a roaring tiger’s face on it, and the floats are painted with tiger stripes with waves painted about halfway up the floats.

I found out this morning in looking at the pictures in the daily EAA newspaper that one of the P-51’s we talked to (a WWII warbird that made a HUGE difference in turning the tide of that air war) was none other than Bob Hoover’s plane.  He’s the guy who did all those acrobatic manuevers in a Commander for so many years.  He was, in fact, a POW during WWII and escaped by forcing a German airplane mechanic at gunpoint to start a German warplane and show him where the controls were. He then flew to Allied territory and landed the plane in a ditch, where he was confronted by Dutchmen with pitchforks who thought he was a German.  Although I don’t think he was FLYING the plane, I think he was the one on the radio when I talked to him.  What a privilege to talk to a true American treasure.

Many of the airshow performers came in during the day, or went out to practice during the day and then came BACK in.  A Blue Angels F-18 took off to go practice.  I got to say “Blue Angels 7, cleared for takeoff”!  He stayed low all the way down the runway and then pulled almost vertical  at the end of the runway – the thunder of the twin jet engines is a rush that just doesn’t translate unless you’ve stood there and felt it.  He climbed to 5000 feet in about 5 seconds, leveling off to find a “little-airplane-free” zone to practice his moves for the airshow.

We worked about 1000 planes on Tuesday.  Once again I tried to keep up with the flow of inbound traffic from all directions, blending the arrivals into a braid of airplanes that all straightened out on the runways and taxied off to parking.  And once again, the Team Lead took over to fix the seemingly impossibly snarled traffic situation with calm words of reassurance.  He fixes these Gordian knots like you and I would sit on the patio and drink a cool glass of iced tea.

I am grateful. I am inspired to do my best. I am moved to try harder the next time I work.  No one could ask for more.


Day Off

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What do you do at Oshkosh during your day off? Go out to Airventure of course to walk around and see the sights.

I walked down to the ultralight strip to watch the ultralights do their pattern work. This small strip is just west of runway 18/36 on the airport. Often times when runway 36 is the active runway ultralights (“flying monkeys”


as they are so affectionately called here) are confused with an actual airplane entering the pattern for runway 36. I have attached a picture of the ultralight controller. Yes they have their own controller at the approach end of the runway. This controller has a paddle with a green side and a red side. The ultralight controller shows the pilot the red side of the paddle until he is cleared for takeoff then flips the paddle over to show him the green side.  They can have 5-6 ultralights in the pattern at one time.

We are also able to view Fifi, the only airworthy B-29 in the world. It is very interesting to view such pieces of history. Even more interesting is talking to the men who have actually flown these aircraft in combat.

Wisconsin Local News Stories

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Here are a couple of links to the local news channel’s coverage of the Oshkosh Airventure Fly-in:

This second one has John Trowbridge in it!


The total of both links is less than 4 minutes and a really good look at what we are doing here.

All roads lead to Fisk

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We worked the Fisk VFR approach control this morning.  The NOTAM advises pilots to navigate to Ripon then follow the tracks to Fisk where we would give them arrival instructions to a runway at Oshkosh.

Sounds simple; and it is, after years of using the same (or very similar) arrival procedure for all the VFR arrivals for the Airventure fly-in.  We sit on a 6 by 12 deck covered in astroturf with 4 sets of binoculars and one radio that comes out a speaker.  We repeat the broadcast for “all aircraft to follow the tracks from Ripon toFisk 1/2 mile in trail of an aircraft of similar speed. stay at 1800 feet and 90 knots or 2300 feet and 135 knots. We will issue specific runway assignments and frequencies once you’re within a mile of Fisk.”

Still simple and it works like a charm; BUT … when there are 127 airplanes in one hour (you will have already worked out that’s over 2 per minute) that ALL need to be identified (blue and white cherokee) and then issued either rwy 27 or rwy 36, plus a tower frequency to monitor, plus a wing rock to acknowledge, it was as busy as I could do.  And sometimes I gratefully handed the mike to the veterans to clear up a mess of airplanes that had all arrived and were flying overhead the little trailer and deck that we broadcast from.

It’s SUCH a rush to be there working; but more than that is the rush of listening to the two guys who are the best in the business at sorting out these VFR arrivals.  Seriously, these 2 guys are probably the best in the world at providing ATC service to this airshow.  They are both 20 year veterans and are the humblest guys out here.  They have so much expertise and quick thinking skill that they can straighten out ANY contorted line of airplanes that I or the airplanes can give them as a starting point.

We worked at least 600 airplanes in the 6 1/2 hours we worked there today!

No greater work than what we are doing right here. Lovin’ it!

Fond Du Lac


Remember the mobile towers that are placed temporarily at airports during construction or for small-time airshows?  That is what they have out at FLD.  (FLD is air traffic talk for Fond Du Lac so I don’t have to keep typing out Fond Du Lac). (Because I’m not sure what” Fond” means, let alone “Du”.  And it bothers me to use a word that I don’t know the meaning of.) (Not to mention ending a parenthetical sentence with a preposition)

This shift started with an early drive from the hotel, so we could open the tower at 7.  There was VERY little traffic until almost noon, and we were due to be relieved at 1230 or 1300.  But that’s ok, it was a gorgeous morning, we talked to a FEW airplanes, and got lots of practice time with the ATIS, plus told a bunch of stories to each other.  You know the ones…  “I remember a time when we had a whole BUNCH of Beechjets coming up from the airforce base, and they ALL wanted own navigation….”

Although this shift was free of fireworks and a ton of traffic, it is such a privilege and a pleasure to be working up here for the week and a half, and be part of such a huge mobilization of people with a common interest.

Thanks for reading – we wish you could be up here with us. You’d love it!

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