Saturday, August 08, 2009

Post Oshkosh Recap

Not surprisingly, I've taken a while to post some Post-Oshkosh information. This week-long show, always at the end of July, is a crazy undertaking for Girls With Wings and the post-show recovery always takes a while. On top of that, I have also been preparing for our Girls With Wings training session at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome this weekend.

Our booth at Oshkosh has two purposes (at least). It's an opportunity for us to spread the word about the mission of Girls With Wings to the crowds attending the airshow. As you can see in this photo to the right, Girls With Wings is connecting the generations; the past and the future of aviation. I am not applying first aid to the arm of Bee Haydu, an amazing woman and former WASP pilot I met on the AirRace Classic, but applying a Girls With Wings tattoo. Observing intently is one of the many young, female attendees of the airshow that are so happy to see a space just for them (For my critics out there, the whole REST of the show is "Boys With Wings!").

Our undersized little booth (we really need a double booth but can't yet justify the additional expense), is a gathering place for our many supporters and friends. It also attracts new recruits all the time who say GWW is JUST what they've been looking for! It's a wonderful way for us to make new contacts and get more volunteers. At the end of every show I am completely exhausted, yet can't wait til next year.

From the EAA website:

Comment from EAA president Tom Poberezny: “I had high expectations for AirVenture 2009, but even those expectations were exceeded. After each event, you like to say it was the best ever, but you can’t do that every year. But I’m going to say it this year – AirVenture 2009 was the best ever. It’s difficult to imagine a week that matched the highlights, enthusiasm, and passion for aviation that we saw this year at Oshkosh.”

Attendance: 578,000 – An increase of 12 percent over 2008.
Great numbers, huh? But we are located inside Hangar A in booth 1006 and I daresay quite a few people didn't ever make it into the hangars, except of course, when it rained (which it often did this year). In fact, I estimate that I only gave away a couple thousand brochures. So there's a big portion of this audience we still didn't reach. Helping us to reach more of an audience is plugs like this on Aero News Network, which was recorded at our booth at the February's Women in Aviation Conference. Click to watch this great interview.

However, it is so great to see people making a special trip to the booth every year.
A special treat is seeing those people who bring their kids back in their "Yes, Girls Can Fly!" t-shirt that they bought last year but is getting a bit too small. I also get to see in person the people who I have met on Twitter and Facebook or those folks that have been involved with Girls With Wings website from the start, but only in cyberspace. Or those folks I have known for a while and are looking for a chance to catch up. Unfortunately, the booth is too often mobbed by visitors and those buying Girls With Wings merchandise to take home with them for me to be able to chat. I am so bummed when I can't chat more - my sincere apologies to those who came by and felt neglected.

The Girls With Wings items that we sell in the booth and online help us to raise funds for the educational outreach program. The vast majority of funds are raised in a week at Oshkosh and must cover a year's worth of activities! So every year I spend a couple of months looking at what I sold last year (almost everything is also on the Girls With Wings online store) and reorder in the quantities that I think I'll be able to sell. However, it seems like every year something is more popular than last year. For example, the "Yes, Girls Can Fly!" tee in Lime was the big seller. Last year, it was turquoise. The "It's not how tall you are, it's how high you fly" tee sold out in the smaller sizes, so I ordered twice what I had last year, and they still all sold out! One might look at how busy the booth is and think we are really raking in the funds, but running an organization (especially a volunteer one) doesn't come cheap, and I can guarantee you that we need everyone's year round support.

I also get requests for different colors, specific airplanes, long sleeves, tall size
s, sleeveless, different materials, etc. So even though I try to make everyone happy, stocking a lot of variety and loading up a trailer with a ton of merchandise, I just haven't been able to please everyone. *Sigh* Every year there are a couple of folks who balk at the prices of the merchandise. I can assure you that I have a very small "profit" margin (or rather return on my investment) on selling these inspirational and motivational items. Far more people exclaim how reasonable the prices are, and are so pleased that their purchase is helping a good cause.

So, the booth helps us to get the word out and raise money for our mission. It also helps us to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. But none of this would be possible without the support of many people.

So in chronological order, the following people deserve a huge thank you for their help in the booth over the course of the week:

Erika, an honorary Girl With Wings, who, at only 15 years of age, probably could have run the booth by herself after being there only 15 minutes.

Jodi, a Flight Instructor and Flight School Manager that was one of the original GWW supporters,

Chris, of the blog Lessons from the Cockpit,

Terry, who I met at the AirRace Classic (and who organizes the transcontinental women's air race) and who's been doing me favors ever since (like flying me home from the AirRace Classic!),

Amy, who brought along her boyfriend Rich, who has been so kind to give advice on GWW issues,

Joyce and her daughter Alisa, who also agreed to be the depot station for extra brochures I had sent after the show started.

Laurence, a Girls With Wings Role Model, originally from France,

a Girls With Wings Role Model, and leader of the MN GWW Club, who brought along friend Ryan,

p.s. in case you haven't noticed, quite a few guys support the GWW mission. They also have a great time applying those GWW tattoos!

Jo, aviation photographer extraordinaire, Brit, and fellow twitterer I first met at Sun n Fun,

p.p.s. our GWW support is international!

Juliana, a fellow AirRace classic participant and student at Purdue University,

Mary, who I met at my first 99s international conference and keep running into every so often, like at the AirRace (well, not literally "running into") and a former Air Traffic Controller,

Eric, Citation Shares pilot and EAA Radio Host, kind enough to record an interview of me talking about Girls With Wings (link to be posted later),

Robin, coincidentally a fellow Lakewoodite, though I only seem to meet up with her 500 miles away in Wisconsin,

Cheryl, and her friend, Lisa, two very helpful women pilots up from Des Moines, IA,

and Gretchen, my Mama Bird during the AirRace classic and quite an impressive executive within the aviation industry.

Last but not least, I must again thank my dad, without whom Girls With Wings would have never gotten "off the ground." He has been a tremendous sounding board, advice giver and hard worker. He was there from the beginning, literally and figuratively, as it was his reflection that he regretted not pursuing many endeavors over the years that launched my jump into pursuing my dream of the Girls With Wings organization. Literally, because he shows up at Oshkosh every year to help me set up and is with me until tear down. In fact, he and I were very nearly the last souls on Camp Scholler as we pulled out of there with my trailer full of displays and unsold merchandise (all those turquoise t-shirts, darnit!) and he with a camper he borrowed from his friend Doug (so another thank you to Doug!) to keep us dry during those inevitable rainshowers.

Thank you everyone for your support! I'll see some of you this weekend in Rhinebeck, NY, perhaps some more of you at the AOPA Summit in November. In the interim, I'll be plugging away at all of the behind the scenes work of Girls With Wings, reviewing our Scholarship applications, and scheduling more presentations teaching girls "everything" we pilots need to know to take to the skies!

Hangar Talk

Several of my twitter friends have made mention of the fading tradition of "hangar talk." Hangar talk is, as best as I can describe, an activity enjoyed by pilots just hanging out at the airport wherever they can plop a chair, drink coffee and share "there I was" stories to meet folks, build camaraderie, learn from each others' experiences, pick up "right seat" time, etc. Unfortunately, it seems to be a dying art. In a podcast that @DaveFlys and @PilotWill and I did last April at Sun n Fun, we discuss how hangar talk seem to be fading (as in aging?). Do people not have time to hang out in person any more? Do awesome online social networking sites, like www.MyTransponder, replace that need? Are we so strapped for time these days that "hanging out" is a luxury we can't afford?

Many in the aviation community would argue that it is a necessary "expense" for a couple of reasons. One, like a twitter friend has mentioned a couple of times, he is interested in taking up flying lessons at a nearby airport and so goes to visit for more information. Walking into the facilities there, he was met with apathy, if not annoyance. Not very encouraging to our future pilots. Are we pilots so competitive that welcoming another into our fold jeopardizes what we have worked so hard for? Or, again, are we just to busy to take the time to talk with someone who interrupts the flow of what we're trying to get done? The goofy picture to the right portrays the tradition of having the back of your shirt cut off and displayed in the flight school with the date you solo. It celebrates how sweaty you can get flying an airplane alone for the first time!

Second, hangar talk is educational. When you share a "there I was" story with other pilots, you are relaying a possibly hairy story that you learned a lesson from. Or bragging, like this scene from the movie Top Gun:
Maverick: Well, we...
Goose: Thank you.
Maverick: Started up on a 6, when he pulled from the clouds, and then I moved in above him.
Charlie: Well, if you were directly above him, how could you see him?
Maverick: Because I was inverted.
Iceman: [coughs whilst saying] [Baloney].
Goose: No, he was man. It was a really great move. He was inverted.
Charlie: You were in a 4g inverted dive with a MiG28?
Maverick: Yes, ma'am.
Charlie: At what range?
Maverick: Um, about two meters.
Goose: It was actually about one and a half I think. It was one and a half. I've got a great Polaroid of it, and he's right there, must be one and a half.
Maverick: Was a nice picture.
Goose: Thanks.
Charlie: Eh, lieutenant, what were you doing there?
Goose: Communicating.
Maverick: Communicating. Keeping up foreign relations. You know, giving him the bird!
Goose: [Charlie looks puzzled, so Goose clarifies] You know, the finger
Charlie: Yes, I know the finger, Goose.
Goose: I-I'm sorry, I hate it when it does that, I'm sorry. Excuse me.

Ok, I'm not suggested you go formation flying with a MiG, but you get the point. Pilots may share stories of how a maintenance problem led to a larger, more expensive repair, or a trick to deal with a confusing nearby section of airspace, thereby helping fellow pilots who may have experienced the same troubles.

In the type of flying I do my "hanging out" time is usually done in a fancy FBO with a widescreen TV and recliners. Most conversation is made impossible by the loudness of the football game on the tube. I don't usually spend much time in the General Aviation hangars. General aviation covers a huge range of activities, both commercial and non-commercial, including private flying, flight training, air ambulance, police aircraft, aerial firefighting, air charter, bush flying, gliding, and many others. Experimental aircraft, light-sport aircraft and very light jet have emerged in recent years as new trends in general aviation. I don't do any of these very often, if at all.

I did have one very memorable opportunity to participate in hangar flying, though, and I was reminded of it when I saw this piece in an email newsletter from AOPA:

The personal library of renowned flight instructor and author William K. Kershner will be donated to the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame Kershner, who died in January 2007, wrote and illustrated a series of five highly regarded flight manuals. The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual, first published in 1959, sold more than 1 million copies. He was a frequent contributor to AOPA Flight Training and AOPA Pilot magazines. He was inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame in 2002 and has been nominated for induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

I had actually met Bill Kershner back in 1998, at the Winchester Airport in Tennessee. The story was that I was relocating back to the US after being stationed in Germany with the Army for 3 1/2 years. I took a very long convoluted route to my next duty station at Fort Huachuca, AZ, and included in there a stop to visit my grandparents in Decherd, TN. I was able to get some Army National Guard buddies that had been activated for operations in Kosovo and attached to my unit, to plan a training flight via this airport on their way up farther north to where my parents lived.

So I ended up spending some time just hanging out at this little airport and talking with the locals waiting for them to arrive. Imagine my surprise when I found out that one of them, this unassuming man pictured above, was Bill Kershner. Of course I had heard of him, and he was truly flattered when I said so. He even autographed one of his books to give to me. But the best part of this recollection, I must say, is what happened when the C-12 finally landed to take me on to the next stop.

At the airport that day it was just me and my grandpa, accompanied by my aunt, watching the C-12 land on the runway and observed by the local hangar talkers gathering around to watch the Army King Air come in. My grandpa had never made it past the 8th grade and he was so proud of my graduating from college and then getting my wings pinned on as an officer in the military. Every time I visited the tiny town of Decherd, population 2,246, I was able to meet people that knew exactly who I was, from my Grandpa talking about me and my current adventures. I had even been featured in the local paper there. Luckily he didn't have time to call the local media to see me off in a military aircraft.

A little background on military protocol: As a Captain, I outranked the two other pilots who were Warrant Officers. Junior members of the military are required to render a salute when within 6 paces upon recognition of a senior officer. That's the book answer. Reality was that I was a. not in uniform though they were. Technically, since they still recognized me and knew my rank, that shouldn't matter. b. Warrant Officers, who I truly have great respect for, are known for their technical expertise but not so much for their adherence to military pomp and circumstance. c. We were out in the middle of nowhere. d. The two pilots, though not quite old enough to be my father's age, might be understandably embarrassed by admitting their relative rank to a young woman in front of a crowd of gritty old timers.

So imagine my surprise when the two pilots shut down the airplane and started walking toward the hangar and when within the proper distance of me, presented me with two perfect salutes to return. Seems like such a minor deal, but I can assure you, at my grandpa's funeral only a few months later, there were many, many people that approached me to tell me that all my grandfather had talked about since was how proud being able to see that interaction had made him feel. I hope the two pilots, who I unfortunately did not stay in touch with, realized how much of an impact their actions had on my grandpa, me, and to a lesser extent, everyone else there at the airport that day.

I have quoted a friend many times his observation that being in aviation is like having an instant circle of friends. I relay many occasions of fellow pilots I barely know going way out of their way to help me with just about anything I need. This has not changed in my 16 years of being a pilot, and I hope it continues, even if the hangar talk aspect of our aviation community seems to be becoming a thing of the past. To other pilots reading this, I hope you have similar stories. To prospective pilots, I hope this encourages you to delve a little deeper into the activities of your local airport until they warm up to you. To you ground pounders, you should be a little jealous. Come join the circle of friends!