Sunday, January 30, 2011

#Avgeek Abundance - Flight #4

Next up in the series is Phil Derner Jr. I had the privilege of meeting him at a Google Travel tweetup in NYC several months ago. Phil is a pro plane spotter and he is half of the dynamic duo behind NYCAviation a site and forum specializing in plane spotting photography and aviation news. Already acquainted with Phil? Than maybe you'll learn a few new tidbits, or if you don't know him, allow me to introduce him:

When did you first discover your passion for the aviation community?

I grew up in an apartment overlooking La Guardia, and like any little boy, aside from watching fire trucks, police cars, I was watching the planes. Binoculars in hand, studying books that I had gotten from the library to identify types and was a natural fascination from early on.

Do you or have you had an aviation hero? Who?
When I first came across aviation photography online when I was 19, I was amazed by the quality of the first Digital SLR camera capabilities, among them from shooter Chris Sheldon. His La Guardia shots from inside the terminal were not only of gorgeous aircraft, but also showed my town clearly in the detailed background. He became an instant legend to me, and that's what got me rolling into planespotting. There are many photographers that are like sports heroes to me (Ryan C. Umphrey, Tom Turner, Rudy Chiarello, to name a few), and I'm lucky enough to call them friends as well.

In your opinion what makes you or someone an aviation geek (avgeek) or propeller head (prophead)?
Just anyone who loves what flies. It's natural to be mesmerized by the fact that we, humans, take to the air, thanks to advancements made in technology that are so very recent compared to how long our species has been on Earth. It's something to be celebrated, and you don't have to be all-knowledgeable to do so, or to be considered a bonified geek. It's all in the heart.

Why do you recommend that your friends and family become avgeeks or propheads?
Because it's good, clean fun. To spend a day at the airport with fellow enthusiasts taking photos, we get to relax and enjoy those friendships we've's the planes that bring us together and allow us all to have a good time even if there aren't many planes flying that day. The comaraderie among friends I've made along the way make me love the hobby even more.

What are the biggest challenges facing the aviation industry today, in your opinion?
Our biggest challenge, no matter what your interest or profession in this industry is, is the public's perception of it all. Ever since TVs started popping up in homes across America, the only times people would see aviation is if there was a terror attack, a crash, or catastrophic delays. It's unfortunate, misleading, and something that needs to change. That is one of the primary goals of NYCAviation, to teach people that it's ok to look up to the sky and be proud of our technology, how safe it really is and to take advantage of our ability to travel thousands of miles in mere hours! Turn off the TV and all of the negativity and come fly with me instead.

Like Phil, did you have the privilege of growing up with an airport in your backyard? How do you think media could help to improve their reporting and influencing of the public's opinion or air travel and the aviation industry?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

#Avgeek Abundance - Flight #3

Next up in the series is Marvin Smith. I've had the privilege of Marvin's acquaintance via Twitter. He aptly self-describes as a graphic designer from Austin, who loves airplanes more than most things in the world. So much so that he created as a place to share aviation-related media. Already acquainted with Marvin? Than maybe you'll learn a few new tidbits, or if you don't know him, allow me to introduce him:

When did you first discover your passion for the aviation community?
I've certainly had a passion for aviation since I was 3 or so, however, I only feel I've really been a part of the aviation community for the last year or two. After starting my website over a year ago, I quickly discovered that there were many people just as plane-crazy as me -- which was an awesome discovery. This first became apparent to me upon the creation of my website persona's Twitter account. Slowly but surely I found or stumbled across like-minded pilots, spotters, private companies, and enthusiasts with a passion for aviation and the aviation community at large. My passion was further enhanced upon my arrival to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to attend AirVenture 2010 last Summer. Never had I met a kinder, more enthusiastic and genuine group of people who all had one thing in common -- a love for aviation. I found that aviation lovers in general will jump at the chance to talk about their passion, offer you a ride in their aircraft, answer your questions, and do anything they can to foster and nurture a person's interest in aviation. Experiencing all of this and meeting various aviation lovers over the last year or so has made the time very special for me.

Do you or have you had an aviation hero? Who?
It's hard to come up with just one hero or person in aviation whom I really admire, but I must say, after having read North Star Over My Shoulder, I was instantly a fan of Bob Buck and the life he spent in the aviation world. It should be required reading for anyone who even remotely likes airplanes.

In your opinion what makes you or someone an aviation geek (avgeek) or propeller head (prophead)?
I don't think there's too many requirements for considering yourself or someone else an "avgeek" or "prophead." In my case, I came to the realization years ago. It was clear to me that I loved airplanes more than most things in life. Family and friends of course will hold the #1 spot, but right behind them is airplanes. I've never seen an airplane I didn't like, I absolutely must look up if I hear one, and given the chance I'll talk airplanes for hours. I suspect that these three traits are not unique to me and I'd consider anyone who shares even one of them an "avgeek."

Why do you recommend that your friends and family become avgeeks or propheads?
I generally don't try to force my love of aviation onto others, but if they show even the slightest interest in airplanes or aviation in general it's off to the airport we go! Here in Austin I think spotters are pretty lucky in that there are several excellent spotting areas to go to around the airport depending on the weather. I've found that airplane spotting and being able to get close to the airplanes really piques someone's interest when they've previously never been able to witness aviation from that perspective. In this case, I like to take people to one of my favorite spots where the airplanes pass overhead at close distance as they're coming in to land. The sound of the engines and the rush of turbulent air followed by the whistle of the landing aircraft's wake often leaves the newcomer grinning and wide-eyed. "Welcome to my world," I say. It's a wonderful feeling to know that I've planted a seed of interest in that person.

What are the biggest challenges facing the aviation industry today, in your opinion?
Since I'm not employed in the industry it's hard for me to speak about the challenges the aviation industry faces. However, I think most aviation lovers would agree that interest in general aviation has been waning in recent years and there's been an effort on the part of many in the industry to boost interest, especially in the younger generations. Documentaries like One Six Right have shed light on the fact that we're losing scores of general aviation airports every year. And that, of course is cause for concern. Those who love the industry and work in it see the benefits of general aviation very clearly, whereas many politicians and policy makers do not. And that's probably the biggest source of adversity for aviation in general and is something I think the aviation community-at-large is trying to make the general population more aware of.

Take flight, share something about yourself that you don't think was covered in these questions...
I suppose that's enough out of me. I'll take this opportunity to thank you Stephanie for letting me expound on my love of aviation and look forward to reading others responses. I always enjoy meeting and talking to other self-professed "avgeeks" and the chance to geek-out about airplanes is always one I try not to let slip by.

Do you agree with Marvin on the challenges facing private (general) aviation? How do you think these challenges could be overcome? Have you plane spotted in the Austin, Texas area?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

#Avgeek Abundance - Flight #2

Next up in the series is Brett Hooyerink. I've had the privilege of meeting and working with Brett on several projects. He aptly self-describes as a marketing guru for a mAAjor airline. And, plane crazy. Already acquainted with Brett? Than maybe you'll learn a few new tidbits, or if you don't know him, allow me to introduce him:

When did you first discover your passion for the aviation community?
My passion for all things airplane runs pretty deep. It was cultivated at a very early age as I was fortunate enough to be a kid in the Antelope Valley of Southern California, a place well steeped in aviation history. My mother has joked that my first word(s) was, “hocks and peas”. In my case, sadly, it wasn’t a hearty pork dish but toddler-speak for “helicopters and planes”. I had it bad. I could identify particular aircraft types in the sky before I could utter sentences. When I went to school, lunchtime on the playground meant the SR71 Blackbird with T-38 chase-plane in tow performing seemingly endless touch-and-go’s, Lockheed L-10-11’s, KC135 tankers, and at the very least a P3-C Orion or C-130 Hercules. Most of my friend’s parents were employees of big aviation names like Lockheed, Northrop, and McDonnell-Douglas. Those who weren’t parents’ worked at Edwards Air Force Base.

The whole town came out to see all the completed Space Shuttles be rolled down 10th Street East (now called Challenger Way) for the twenty or so mile trek to Edwards AFB before they were loaded onto the back of the 747 for transport to Florida. I remember kids cheering in the playground when the B-1 Bomber flew over because their dad worked on it. School was released and everyone filed outside to see the maiden flight of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. My friends went to Joe Walker Middle School. Pete Knight was the mayor. Sonic booms were an everyday occurrence, and kids knew where to look in the sky after the familiar “double-boom” to catch a glimpse of the Space Shuttle returning to earth. (Remember when the Space Shuttle still landed in California?)

Speaking of California, it has been burning as long as I can remember, and I loved it because it meant the “borate bombers” would be flying. Where else would a kid born in the era or turbofans be able to see vintage DC4’s, DC7’s and Electra’s thundering over, insanely close to the ground with nary an angle-of-attack due to their soupy payload? One has not lived until they have felt the symphony of four piston driven engines stirring their senses. I am a big sucker for the music of (two is good – four is just gluttony) RB211-535’s spooling up, but trust me that is like Rachmaninoff versus Bjork; both amazing, but no comparison.

Do you or have you had an aviation hero? Who?
Aviation has so many heroes, and I am not sure I can narrow it down to one. So here is an answer a bit more fun: I am going to go with Pancho Barnes. Florence “Pancho” Barnes was a larger than life character of the early days of aviation who certainly deserves better than the 1980’s something made-for-TV-movie about her starring Valerie Bertinelli. I’ll let you wiki her for the whole story. She’s cool to me because of the stories my parents told me about her when I was a kid. In addition to her aviation pursuits, she ran a fly-in ranch near Edwards Air Force Base that may or may-not have been a house of ill-repute. (Google – Happy Bottom Riding Club) Another favorite Pancho Barnes story comes from my mother, who remembers her (and her Chihuahuas) as a client of the veterinary clinic where she worked. Apparently, she died alone and was discovered by her son weeks later…and the Chihuahuas were not hungry. Yes…ewww, I know, but it goes along with the whole larger than life thing.

In your opinion what makes you or someone an aviation geek (avgeek) or propeller head (prophead)?
I truly think the symptoms of prophead can be variable. In my case it means being able to hear what kind of aircraft is flying over simply by the sound of the engines. It could be plane-spotting while bird-watching with my mother-in-law… Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, Kiskadee, Qantas Boeing 747-400... and then cross referencing them with a Sibley’s Guide to North American Birds and FlightAware (it was QF 107 on the LAX-JFK leg of the trip!) when I am back home. It could be having to explain the bookmark in my browser labeled “airplane porn” is just and not something lascivious.

Why do you recommend that your friends and family become avgeeks or propheads?
I’ve tried in vain I’m afraid to make those closest to me propheads, to no avail. When you point to an ATR (honestly the ugliest thing in the sky) and ask, “What is that?” and they reply, “an MD-80” you should recognize that perhaps your prophead teachings have fallen on deaf ears. I also think the airport code game is honestly just as fun as punch-buggy or I spy on car trips as well.

On a serious note, I wish more people would be a little more avgeek. Air-transport is a resource so often taken for granted and it pains me to live in a world where so many do not understand just how much went into getting that plane off the ground. I fear we (the flying public) are heading down a pretty dark path unless we shed some light on the issues the industry as a whole faces.

What are the biggest challenges facing the aviation industry today, in your opinion?
Honestly, I think a lot of what plagues the aviation industry today is not often addressed. Of course crude prices, labor relations, and the fact that bankruptcy equals “passing go and collecting $200 bucks” are huge issues, but what about technology? Why have we slowed to a snail’s pace? We’re moving much too slowly on the development of alternative sources of fuel. The entire of spirit of aviation was hinged on discovery and innovation, but we’ve got problems when innovation means repackaging and repainting.

I think a lot of the same issues face the space industry as well. We’ve been to the moon and I am lost without my iPhone, but I fly to California on an airframe design that was engineered when John, Paul, George, and Ringo were on tour? Sure we can put new engines on the A320, but can’t we do better than that. I know it’s a lot more complicated than my juvenile simplification of the issue, and I certainly understand why the 737 NG is not your father’s 737 classic…but I feel like we can do better.

Take flight; share something about yourself that you don't think was covered in these questions...
One last thing: I prefer the window seat. The aisle is great, but the window is better. I am so fortunate to be able to fly as often as I do, and I never get sick of looking out the window. Flight is still an absolutely divine concept to me. Combustion and propulsion versus gravity - such angry, violent forces, yet these combined lifts man to profound heights and gives him the power to see how small (or how large) our influence is on our environment. The amazing things I have seen from the window seat; the indescribable blue of the submerged portion of an iceberg, the sun rise twice in the same day, all of the Grand Canyon at once from 40,000 feet. For those of you who prefer the aisle seat, this is what you’re missing. Yes…you may be three deep when you have to use the lav, but trust me on this one. This is our equivalent of stopping to smell the roses.

Which seat do you prefer on when flying? I'm with Brett on this one, nothing beats the window seat! If you already know Brett, what did you find most fascinating about his interview?

Do you want to participate in the #avgeek interviews? Contact me @airport_girl for more info!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#Avgeek Abundance - Flight #1

I am a member of an avid and ever-growing community. The community otherwise known in aviation shorthand as avgeeks (aviation geeks) or propheads (propeller heads). We're a community of diverse and varied interests, but therein lies a common theme of admiration for aviation and aircraft.

A few days ago I summoned an all call to the social crowd to see if any community members would want to be interviewed. The response was overwhelming and positive. So today I unveil the first of many interviews that I received back in response to my investigative questionnaire. I will not alter the responses in any way, shape or form because I find them to be most interesting (and hopefully you will too) in their pure, unadulterated form.

First up in the series is Paul Thompson. Paul self describes as a photographer, traveler, blogger, aviation geek and sports fan. Already acquainted with Paul? Than maybe you'll learn a few new tidbits, or if you don't know him, allow me to introduce him:

Paul, when did you first discover your passion for the aviation community?
My love for aviation began at a very early age. My Dad worked for Southwest Airlines since shortly before I was born, so my first commercial flight took place when I was only a few weeks old. One of my earliest aviation memories was at about age 2, flying around in a Cessna 172 that he co-owned. We would go from the desert scrub of El Paso, TX to the mountains of Ruidoso, NM where my grandmother lived. In addition, when I was in kindergarten my Dad would lead my class on tours of Houston's Hobby Airport, where we would get to see the operations behind the scenes and tour the 737 cockpit. I found it all so fascinating!

Do you or have you had an aviation hero? Who?

My Grandfather Gene "Hack" Hackney is my aviation hero. He was a Navigator on the B-17 during WWII. He lied about his age and enlisted just to serve his country. He successfully completed a tour of 35 missions in Europe, guiding a severely crippled plane home on more than one occasion. The things he and his crew experienced - at such a young age - are amazing. I always admired him for that.

In your opinion what makes you or someone an aviation geek (avgeek) or propeller head (prophead)?

An avgeek / prophead is someone who just can't be around planes enough. They have a constant desire to fly. They can easily identify many aircraft types. They probably have a collection of photos, books and/or models of planes at home or work. (I have 37 models of various airlines at my work desk). An avgeek is someone who gets distracted at the sound of a plane flying overhead or daydreams at the sight of streaming contrails.

Why do you recommend that your friends and family become avgeeks or propheads?

There is so much about aviation that is fascinating. First of all, the physics of flight just seems magical to me. Next, there is the engineering of the planes themselves. The aerodynamics, the airframe design, and the intricacies of the controlling electronics and engines... WOW! I think so many people take all of this for granted without appreciating the brilliant knowledge that goes into designing, building and flying planes.

What are the biggest challenges facing the aviation industry today in your opinion?

The biggest challenge facing the aviation industry is the push-pull pricing battle between airlines and customers. People must understand that airlines are in business to be profitable, like every other business. For the last 10 years or so, the public has had very little flexibility in how much they are willing to pay for a plane ticket. Yet during this period, airlines' operating costs have continued to rise due to labor cost, fuel and other forces. Airlines have been forced to reduce amenities like meals and free checked luggage in some cases. In other cases, airlines have added fees for what should be considered simple customer service. These fees have only increased the animosity between passengers and the airlines serving them.

Take flight, share something about yourself that you don't think was covered in these questions...

Part of my avgeek-ness is that I'm also a planespotter, which is someone who photographs planes as a hobby. I've been honored to be published in some internal magazines and calendars at Boeing and Southwest Airlines, as well as Airways Magazine and USA Today. Some of my biggest photo accomplishments were that I was able to publish some of the first photos of Southwest's "Slam Dunk One," "Maryland One," "Illinois One," and "Florida One" to the internet before anyone else.

Those of you that know Paul, did you learn something new about him? If you're not already an #avgeek or #prophead has Paul convinced you of the merits of joining the community?

Are you interested in participating in this #Avgeek Abundance series, tweet me at
@airport_girl for more information.