What Oshkosh Meant to Me
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Although EAA AirVenture Oshkosh ended one month ago, we would like to continue to shed light on the exciting event. NATCA member Bob Obma (ZID) had the opportunity to participate as a NATCA representative at Oshkosh. He wanted to share his experience with those who haven't attended and would like to know more, and with those who have been and want to relive the memories.
This year, I had the honor and privilege to represent NATCA at Oshkosh. I was there Tues., July 24, through Sun., July 29, and got to experience most of what Airventure and NATCA had to offer, and I'll do my best to sum up that experience.
Tuesday kicked off with an early morning forum, "Top 10 Air Traffic Control Saves of 2011," at the Pacific Coast Avionics Pavilion. Steve Hansen and Lisa Cyr led it, and although I was not able to attend, I heard there was a great turnout. However, I was able to help Manager of Outreach and Special Events Kelly Richardson with the NATCA booth, making it presentable for visitors. Once that was complete, I then helped man the booth, while talking to pilots and controllers about NATCA's presence in the aviation industry.
Early Tuesday afternoon, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert arrived at AirVenture. It was great having our national leadership able to attend. Everyone had a chance to talk to pilots, controllers and aviation enthusiasts while visiting our booth. Both Paul and Trish visited the control tower, while also taking in all the sights and sounds by walking around the grounds of AirVenture.
Wednesday morning came way too soon, as most of the mornings did, and marked my first experience at KidVenture. I was inspired watching the kids get fired up and excited about aviation and aviation safety. The kids received a pilot log book, just as a student pilot would, and they were able to go around and experience different aspects of aviation from riveting space flight to Pre Flight Checks to helicopter simulators to building a wing and testing it in a wind tunnel; KidVenture had it all.
But let’s be honest, the coolest spot to visit was the air traffic area. We were able to teach kids how to use speed and routes to sequence aircraft and show them what it would be like to work as an air traffic controller. I have to say, I was pretty surprised. Some of the young kids were math geniuses and they were putting me to shame at that age... well maybe even now! While at the air traffic area, Leanne Martin and I got the chance to briefly chat and meet Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. It's not everyday you get to meet your boss when he is in charge of 30,000-plus employees.
Thursday came as a bit of a whirlwind as we almost lost our NATCA tent. The day started like most days with a nice sunrise and plenty of sunshine. Up until that day, the weather had been pretty good throughout the week. But Thursday was about to change all of that. Sometime early in the afternoon, as Kelly and I were working the booth, we looked off to the west and noticed some pretty ominous clouds in the distance. A couple minutes later we could see the clouds literally twisting like a sideways tornado, Kelly gave the "batten the hatches" command to close the tent up as best as we could. Just as Kelly was snapping the final hooks, the brunt of the storm hit. I remember everyone pitching in to literally hold down the fort while being drenched by the thunderstorm. The booth with the blue stripes and wind sock was ours. Several airplanes on the airfield were damaged from the storm.
There's a link of this experience HERE.
Friday had many highlights, the first being able to meet a six-week-old puppy, Bell. Bell was brought over from the Maine Border and Customs Patrol as a future search and rescue dog. In the afternoon I got a chance to help Dave Osteen (OKC) a.k.a. "Little Buddy" at the AOPA airplane simulator. It was a full motion simulator that AOPA used at AirVenture to gauge pilots’ reactions to adverse conditions. I, along with other controllers, stood outside the simulator and changed the environmental factors, such as wind patterns, cloud visibility and rain. We also gave pilots the opportunity to practice talking with air traffic controllers if they were not yet used to it.
As Saturday rolled around, spirits were high, sunglasses were on, and thousands of people and airplanes filled the Oshkosh grounds. With some spare time, Jennifer Van Rooy and I took some Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) students from Western Michigan on a tour of the tower during the airshow. It was also the first time Jen and I got to go up the tower. The best part of being inside the facility was watching the faces of the CTI students. As I once was a young controller, new to the profession, I still remember that feeling of both awe and anticipation for becoming an air traffic controller. If those kids weren’t hooked on becoming a controller, they certainly were after the tower tour.
One of the many highlights of the week was attending the night air show at Oshkosh. I’ll never forget looking around at the crowd and seeing all of my NATCA brothers and sisters staring up at the stars, watching the planes and fireworks in fascination. It reminded me why I got into this profession — for the love of aviation. And while that was why I initially joined, I didn't expect to gain a family along the way.
As Sunday rolled away it was time for everyone to say their goodbyes. And after a great week, it's always hard to say goodbye to new and old friends. I can’t say thank you enough to Kelly, Steve, Leanne and the rest of the people who helped make AirVenture possible. Once again, I was blown away by my experience, and I was so happy to be able to represent our profession that week. NATCA made its presence known this year. To the old and new NATCA friends, thank you for thousands of memories I will never forget. Toast to NATCA and AirVenture, and get ready -- only 346 more days until we do it again.
Pictured left to right: Bob Obma with FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta and Leanne Martin
Radio interview with Bob Obma and Dave Osteen