Archive | July, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why I Loved Attending EAA AirVenture/Oshkosh

29 Jul

Kids, let’s be real – we all know that Aviation Week actually pays me to cover my hobby, my lifelong passion. This past week, I was smack in the center of the aviation geek universe, covering the annual Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Air Show in Oshkosh, Wis. For the uninitiated, more than 500,000 people and more than 10,000 aircraft converge on the headquarters of EAA, based at Wittman Regional Airport and go into an aviation bacchanal. Folks fly and drive in from across the globe to meet, learn and have fun with like-minded people. You can check out AvWeek’s Oshkosh coverage here.

Thanks to my friend and Airplane Geeks host Rob Mark (@Jetwhine), I stayed in the Fairfield Inn Oshkosh, a stone’s throw away from the show. But the VAST majority of folks actually camp, on the airport grounds and surrounding areas. You see everything from a tarp slung over an aircraft wing to tents, to RVs to tricked-out, rock-star-looking tour buses.

But I digress. I’m giving myself the nearly impossible task of ranking my top 10 events from Oshkosh, God help my soul. Airplane Geek David Vanderhoof (@dmvanderhoof) said I’d have to expand to 20, but I love a good challenge. So here goes.

10. The Wittman Regional Airport Tower. For one week, this average-looking air traffic control tower becomes the busiest in the world – busier that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, busier than London Heathrow and busier than Singapore’s Changi — handling the in-and-out flights and daily air show demonstrations.

Beechcraft Starship

9. Fifi, the only B-29 bomber still flying AND The Beechcraft Starship. The Commemorative Air Force has lovingly restored this titan of World War II, and Oshkosh attendees, for a donation, could take a tour of this piece of history. The Starship, a 6- to 8-seat business aviation turboprop, was designed to be the successor to the popular King Air. According to Wikipedia, FAA has nine active registrations on the Starship.

8. The aviation podcasting/video/blogging universe is lovingly overseen by Rod Rakic and Mike Miley. And they were out in full force at Oshkosh, in a tricked-out RV that doubled as a mobile studio, coffee/food dispensary and hangout for those documenting the events at Oshkosh. I was honored to hang out with a great group of folks the night before I departed.

7. Embraer Executive Jets. Wednesday it rained cats and dogs at the show, and it was a touch chilly. We were all scheduled to attend a breakfast press conference being held at their tent. Not only did they have hot coffee and hot chocolate, we got rain ponchos that protected us for the rest of the day.

Ford's Fly-In Theater

6. Fly-In Theater. Across the street from Camp Scholler (probably the most popular campground), was this outdoor movie theater, sponsored by Ford. You bring a blanket or chair and sit out among the stars to see a different movie every night. And did I mention the popcorn is free? Monday night’s feature was “Top Gun,” a film, amazingly enough, I had never seen. And the bonus was we had an actual Top Gun instructor introduce the film. My fellow Airplane Geek Dan Webb (@danwebbage) is now the only person on earth not to see this movie.

5. JetBlue Airways. The New York-based carrier flew in its “I Heart NY” Airbus A320 into the show on Wednesday and did free tours all day, complete with a bag of Blue Chips. I was thrilled to see some friends that work there who came on the flight, including COO Rob Maruster, who I worked with at Delta Air Lines. And a BIG bonus for me? I got a Twitter shout-out from CEO David Barger for all my #OSH11 JetBlue Tweets and photos!

4. What Just Flew By?I felt like I was actually living Airplane Geeks Historian David Vanderhoof’s blog. There were planes on the ground and planes in the air, making it really hard to decide where to focus!

3. The photos/videos of Jo Hunter (@futureshox). A group of us went to have dinner at Red Robin Oshkosh (if you go, get Robin to be your waitress), and I met Jo, who happens to be one of my Twitter followers. She showed me her ubercool time-lapse video of Oshkosh preparations. And check out all her aviation films, on YouTube, here.

Grant McHerron and Steve Visscher

2. The Australians. Regular listeners of the Airplane Geeks podcast know that Steve Visscher and Grant McHerron (who literally sees the world through rose-colored glasses) offer up an informative, but funny take on all things Australian aviation with their Plane Crazy Down Under podcast. They also do the Australia desk for the Airplane Geeks podcast. I’m a BIG fan and we’ve corresponded by Twitter and Skype, but we had never met – until Oshkosh. If you think they’re funny on the air, they’re even better live. And check out the July 25 edition of Airplane Geeks, which has them all together.

1. And speaking of Steve and Grant, the number one entry is the people attending Oshkosh. I met literally hundreds of folks, many who shouted “Aunt Benet” when we met. I met so many of my Twitter fans that I’ve admired for years, and it was very humbling to me when people came up and said they were fans of my work. I want to list every one of them, but I’m afraid I’d miss someone and offend them. But I WILL give a big shout out to the 2 guys who pushed my Chevy Aveo out of the mud at Camp Scholler around midnight Wednesday.

Best of Aviation Queen: Check Out The Internet Movie Plane Database!

28 Jul

Editor’s note: I’m in Oshkosh, Wis., this week for the EAA AirVenture show, so I’m pulling out some best-of.  On Monday night, I went to EAA’s Fly-In Theater, which showed “Top Gun.” They’re showing a movie every night of the week (FREE popcorn), so I thought this would be a great time to re-post my May 17 column on the Internet Movie Plane Database. And bonus–there’s a link where you can relive the fun of #AvGeekCinema!! Enjoy!

A funny thing happened after last weekend’s great game of #avgeekcinema (my post on that is here) — I discovered the Internet Movie Plane Database.

For the uninitiated, this wiki on steroids gives a comprehensive list of all types of aircraft that appear in movies or television.   And I admit it — I’m one of those geeks that loves seeing — and identifying — aircraft in movies.  You can check out a post from my old blog, written back in September 2004, about how I began watching the TV show “Lost” because I had heard the crash scene in the first few episodes were something to behold.  And they were.

And yes — I watch the opening credits of “Hawaii Five-0″ just to see that Airbus A330.  And I also watched the opening in the original show too.  But I digress.

Let’s say you want to check out the aircraft featured in one of my favorite movies, “Die Hard 2.” To me, despite all the aviation errors, that movie was an absolute aircraft joy, looking at all those Lockheed L1011s and Boeing 727s, plus my one true love aircraft — the Boeing 747.

If you go to the database, you’re taken to the page, which features links to the cast, a movie poster and shots of all the aircraft in the movie.  I was so focused on the L1011s and 727s, I forgot about the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, the Douglas DC-8, the Bell UH-1 Iroqouis and Aérospatiale AS350 AStar helicopter.

So let go, tap your inner avgeek and jump, feet first, into the Internet Movie Plane Database!

Best of Aviation Queen: 10 Aviation Blogs You Should Be Reading

27 Jul

Editor’s note: I’m in Oshkosh, Wis., this week for the EAA AirVenture show, so I’m pulling out some best-of.  We’re always looking for that great travel/aviation/airline blog to read.  Below are 10 among the many I read.  This post originally appeared on Jan. 25.  Enjoy!

I have been an avid reader since age 2 (I swear – and my Dad will confirm it).  I read books, magazines, cereal boxes, billboards and just about anything else with letters.  And for someone who loves to read as much as I do, the Google Reader is a godsend.

I have myriad interests, and the Google Reader allows me to get feeds from blogs covering those interests: aviation, business aviation, journalism, multimedia and social media.  So let’s take a look in my Aviation folder so I can tell you some of the  blogs you should be reading.  This is by NO means my complete list, and the list below is in no particular order.

  1. CrankyFlier – Brett Snyder is the little brother I never wanted but got stuck with anyway (I say that with love in my heart).  But seriously, Brett writes a humorous, yet informative blog on the whimsies of the airline business.  He offers a take that only someone who became a travel agent at age 12 and had his grandmother book a hotel at Los Angeles International Airport so he could watch the planes.  And bonus – he also writes about travel over at BNET.
  2. Flightblogger - What can I say about Jon Ostrower?  This man has forgotten more information about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner than most of us will ever know.  Did you read “The price of Boeing’s 787 sales success?” I rest my case.
  3. Delta/JetBlue/Southwest blogs – When airlines jumped into blogging, I was a bit apprehensive, because I’ve seen some really bad corporate blogs that had no personality, only regurgitating the latest talking points.  All three of these carriers tapped their own employees, who bring their unique voices to these blogs making them actual must-reads.  Delta gets bonus points for ANY post from archives manager Marie Force and Southwest gets the same for Flashback Friday posts!
  4. Air Transparency -  I heard airline employee Jesse Ziglar speak on an episode of the Airplane Geeks podcast and I was hooked.  Ziglar works his magic by explaining the good, the bad and the ugly of how the airlines work – in language my 5-year-old daughter can understand.  His topics include weather delays, the tarmac delay rule, deicing aircraft and crew uniforms.
  5. Chris Elliott’s - I wonder when Chris ever finds time to sleep, with writing this website and writing on consumer travel issues for National Geographic, Tribune Media Service, the Washington Post, MSNBC, USA Today and, among others.
  6. PlaneBusines Banter/Plane Buzz - The subscriber-based Banter and free Buzz are both penned by Holly Hegeman, who offers her own unique humorous/serious take on the business of airlines.  I’ve been reading her since she was the airlines analyst for The Motley Fool, and I take her work seriously enough to pay for my own subscription to the Banter.
  7. The TSA Blog - before I moved over to the business aviation beat, I wrote about airports and airport security.  When one of the public affairs folks gave me a call almost three years ago to pitch me on the blog launch, I admit I was HIGHLY  skeptical.  I thought the blog would read like the old Soviet government update reports.  I was wrong, and continue to admit it.  This blog has done a lot to put a human face on an agency that’s more vilified than the IRS.  Blogger Bob and his team have done a good job in explaining, as much as possible, what TSA does and why.  Bonus points for allowing comments and taking the time to answer as many as possible.
  8. Swelblog/Swelbar on Airlines - Bill Swelbar is a Research Engineer in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s International Center for Air Transportation.  He gets into the weeds — but always interesting — on airline/aviation policy.  A recent post, “Unbundling, Rebundling and Now De-Commoditization,” he breaks down how the airlines have been forced to adapt in things including how they sell tickets and how to keep passengers loyal to their brand.
  9.  I’m Black And I Travel - One, because I’m both.  Blog owner Greg Gross and I are kindred spirits, letting the world know of our travels and expounding on the joys of travel from our own personal experiences.  And Greg has given me access to a large community of black travel bloggers, which has helped me expand my own network.
  10. - If you want to keep up with air fares, Rick is your guy.  He’s the CEO of, created to keep track of airfares for airlines worldwide.   You can also watch fares from your hometown via Twitter.  What’s not to love?

So that’s my list.  What are you reading? I’m always looking to add to my folder!  Also, in the next few weeks, I plan on doing a reader question edition of this blog. So if you any questions, now is the time to start submitting them. Thanks!

Best of Aviation Queen: Psssst-What’s In Your Travel Bag?

26 Jul

Editor’s note: I’m in Oshkosh, Wis., this week for the EAA AirVenture show, so I’m pulling out some best-of.  I have 2 soild weeks of travel right now, so I thought I’d do a replay of this post on what I’m carrying in my travel bag. Just for Oshkosh, I’ve added sunscreen and a hat. Enjoy!

I was chatting with a friend this weekend about travel bags and what I carry in mine.  I get this question a lot as a frequent flyer, and there are things you’d have to take from my cold, dead hand before I’d leave them on a trip.

I was a Girl Scout from age 7 to 17, and I took that motto — Be Prepared — very seriously.  I am the girl you want to travel with, because I’m ready for almost every emergency.  I usually carry a SwissGear Laptop Backpack I scored at Sam’s Club for $40.  Here’s what I carry in it:

  • Laptop computer (or sometimes my Netbook, depending on the trip)
  • computer cord and mini mouse
  • Passport
  • FujiFilm S800 FinePix camera with 2 sets of 4 Kodak rechargeable AA batteries
  • Allegiant Air mouse pad
  • 1 4-pack each of AA and AAA batteries
  • Battery-operated iPhone/iPod charger (also has USB, cigarette lighter ports)
  • Olympic digital audio recorder with hand mike, USB mike and lapel mike
  • Bag of plug adapters that cover the world
  • Ethernet cord
  • Victorinox SwissCard (thanks Bombardier) with nail file, ruler, scissors, toothpick, tweezers and screwdriver (the size of a business card)
  • Medicine bag (ibuprofen, lotion, hand sanitizer, Neopsorin, cortizone cream, BandAids, Sudafed, Benadryl, Ricola cough drops and Claratin)
  • 4 ink pens (1 with 1GB thumb drive) and 4 reporter notebooks
  • 2 1GB thumb drives
  • Baby wipes (great as face wipe, tray table/lav clean-up)
  • Business cards (work and personal)
  • Mini Totes Umbrella
  • Belkin 3-outlet, 2 USB port mini surge protector (I’m very popular in airports)
  • iPhone 4
  • iPod Classic (as a back-up)
  • Sharper Image noise-canceling headphones (for flights and editing podcasts)
  • Apple iPod recordable headphones (for recording on the run and Skype calls)
  • Universal iGo charger for Blackberry and iPods (one unit, different charging tips)
  • Flip Video Camera
  • Mini camera tripod (scored it for $1 at Dollar Tree)
  • Blow-up travel pillow with sleep mask (thanks SITA)
  • Chap Stick
  • Breath mints
  • Bijoux Terner pashima scarf (can be used as wrap, pillow, clothing accessory)
  • Sewing Kit
  • 4 different sized safety pins
  • Snacks (granola bars, nuts, jelly beans and chewy Lemon Heads)

All of this fits comfortably into the back pack, with room to spare.  The back pack has venting, so your back doesn’t sweat, and the shoulder straps are wide and comfy, so you don’t feel a strain as you carry it.  I’ve had many friends and acquaintances mock me for my bag — until they need something. So — what are the things you must have in your travel bag?

Random Aviation Photo – The Milwaukee Edition

25 Jul

Yesterday, I flew into Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Airport on my way to Oshkosh, Wisc., for this year’s EAA AirVenture air show — the world’s largest.  I thought it was only fitting to make today’s picture a shot from this, one of my favorite airports (another post for another day).

Milwaukee used to be the main hub and headquarters of Midwest Airlines, which used to have the tag line “The Best Care In The Air.” Back when I flew it in 1994, it had an all-business class layout that served great food and wine, along with great chocolate chip cookies baked onboard.

Below is a shot of a Midwest Airlines Embraer E170 I took last May on a trip to MKE to speak at the Regional Airline Association convention.  And as a bonus, I took a (bad) shot of the Farmer’s Insurance zeppelin (thanks, Jim Way) on my iPhone yesterday as I arrived in Oshkosh.  Enjoy!

All photos by Benet J. Wilson


Top Five Most Interesting Aviation Stories Of The Week

22 Jul

This week’s big news was the massive American Airlines order split between rival manufacturers and the potential partial shut-down of the Federal Aviation Administration.  But there were other things going on, below.

  1. There were hundreds of stories on the American Air order, but I really liked this one in Aviation Week from my colleague, Darren Shannon. In this story, Shannon explains why the carrier had to split its order between Boeing and Airbus.
  2. Aviation Week has been all over the potential shut-down of FAA because Congress can’t get it together and stop doing short-term reauthorizations over and over again.
  3. Delta Air Lines and US Airways finally got approval from the Dept. of Transportation to do a swap that will give Delta more slots at LaGuardia Airport and US Airways more slots at Washington National Airport, reports USA Today’s Today in the Sky blog.
  4. Back when I worked at Delta Air Lines, it was during a time when the carrier was struggling to make its pension fund more stable.  With questions on what would happen to the fund in the long term, there were cases where pilots divorced their wives so their spouses could get a lump-sum payment, but they would still live together.  The airlines caught on and Continental took nine of its pilots to court over what they called “sham” divorces.  The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling dismissing the lawsuit, reports the Houston Chronicle.
  5. Anyone who’s ever flown on a plane knows the drill — when the boarding call is made, people start flocking to the boarding gate even though their row isn’t called. Sometimes it’s so bad you feel like a salmon spawning upstream when it’s time for you to board.  Which is why I read Scott McCartney’s Middle Seat Terminal blog post on the boarding process with interest.  In my humble opinion, I think Southwest Airlines has it right.

We have some really crazy stuff in this week’s edition of Strange But True Aviation News, including airline panty checks, the Octomom having a bit of kid trouble in business class and folks with TSA screener issues.  Next week I’ll be in aviation geek heaven, covering the annual EAA AirVenture air show, the world’s largest.  So I have to decide — will I try and post from the show or do a best-of next week?  We’ll see.  Meanwhile, enjoy your weekend!

Delta’s Small Community Air Service Cuts – Justified?

22 Jul

Talk about timing! The same day that guest blogger Nate Vallier wrote about the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, Delta Air Lines (my former employer) announced it was cutting service to 24 small communities (see this story in the New York Times).  And you all know about my feelings on EAS, which I posted about here.

I’m a regular reader — and big fan — of the Jaunted blog. But I must disagree with their premise in this post, Totally SUX: Delta Set to End Service to Some Smaller Cities, although I do love the headline (and remind me to blog sometime about my day flying into SUX).  And there were quite a few more stories from local communities lamenting the loss of their flights.

I wrote stories about EAS for almost 10 years and I worked for an airline that was a large provider of flights, so I’ve seen both sides of this issue.  And I have to side with Delta on this one.  When EAS was originally created, it was designed to protect small towns that would have surely lost air service after the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

But unfortunately, has morphed into is a program that really isn’t serving the people it was originally designed to protect.   One, communities aren’t using the service and two, airlines like Delta continue to lose money on the flights despite $200 million in federal subsidies.

Like it or not, it is not any community’s God-given right to have air service.  And like it or not, airlines like Delta are in the business to make money, and they’re not doing that flying these routes with 30-seat turboprops.

I’m not unsympathetic to these communities.  I visited a lot of them during my time at Mesa Air Group.   But if Mesa was having trouble filling a 19-seat Beech 1900D, I can only imaging what those Saab 340s are costing, which is why Delta needs to cut them.

I wish we could see a revamp and expansion of the Dept. of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program.  DOT has communities apply for up to $15 million in grants to help then develop their own air service programs.  “The core objective of the program is to secure enhancements that will be responsive to a community’s air transportation needs and whose benefits can be expected to continue after the initial expenditures,” according to DOT.

Only time will tell what will happen with EAS.  But something has to give, kids.


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