ALPA Pilots Were Everywhere at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
A Grumman Tigercat, Bearcat, Hellcat, and Wildcat fly in formation during an afternoon air show at EAA AirVenture.

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) AirVenture Oshkosh touts itself as the “world’s greatest aviation celebration,” providing a forum each year at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisc., to showcase almost every aspect of air transportation. Nearly 650,000 participants from 92 countries attended EAA’s 69th convention and fly-in, which took place July 25–31, breaking the previous attendance record set in 2019.

Among the many attending aviation enthusiasts this year, throngs of ALPA members could be seen everywhere on the airport grounds—working in the union’s information booth; performing in air shows; exhibiting for and supporting other air transport organizations; and, in many cases, simply enjoying the spectacle that is fondly known as Oshkosh.

ALPA participates in this aviation extravaganza, in large part, because it’s an ideal environment in which to promote the airline piloting profession to future generations, an important component of the Association’s strategic plan. Oshkosh is a family event drawing multitudes of young people and their parents as well as other potential future airline pilots who want to learn more about aviation careers, the best paths to attain them, and available resources such as scholarships to help them on the way to the flight deck of an airliner.

Located squarely between the United States and Canada, Oshkosh is also the perfect location for ALPA to reconnect with its members. Many airline pilots and retirees who still have a passion for flying journey to eastern central Wisconsin this time each year to take part in and enjoy this annual celebration of aviation.

Given the limits of available area accommodations, some opt to fly to the event and pitch tents in nearby Camp Scholler or, in many cases, directly beside their general aviation aircraft. EAA reported that more than 10,000 airplanes arrived at Wittman and other nearby airports during AirVenture this year. In fact, Wittman averaged 121 takeoffs and landings per hour from July 21 to 31 during the hours the airport was open.

Center of Activity

The last few years, ALPA has leased a large outdoor booth a block and a half from Wittman’s Boeing Plaza, the location of Oshkosh’s premier static displays and the center of activity for much of the week’s events. ALPA configured the booth to include a meet-and-greet area in which dozens of volunteers, including Capt. Brian Florence (United) and Capt. John Tabet (Spirit), answered questions from AirVenture guests and chatted with fellow members.

The booth also featured two Jay Velocity Redbird flight simulators for guests to use and a small theater in which ALPA members conducted half-hour presentations each day from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. At night, the theatre was used to provide dinners to members, retirees, and their families.

At each of the dinners, Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA’s vice president–administration/secretary, who heads ALPA’s Professional Development Group (PDG) and who coordinated this year’s activities, welcomed the crowds. In his brief remarks, he nightly reminded the many attendees of the importance of coming together as union members and highlighted a mobile display positioned in the dining area that outlined ALPA’s legacy as a safety and security pioneer and advocate.

The Association’s presentation schedules were posted on a dedicated ALPA Oshkosh webpage and the EAA’s Presentations and Workshops webpages, as well as published in the daily EAA AirVenture Today newspapers. This promotion was necessary because the union’s speakers were competing with 1,400 other sessions offered throughout the week by other organizations. A portable sign was also positioned strategically along one of the main routes to and from Boeing Plaza to catch the attention of those passing by, further increasing ALPA’s attendance numbers.

Starting the daily Association lineup, F/O Justin Dahan (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Education Committee chair, drew large crowds with his “A Day in the Life of an Airline Pilot” presentation. Dahan covered a wide range of issues, including topics like bidding schedules, dealing with irregular ops, and managing layovers.

Capt. Mike Arcamuzi, (FedEx Express), an active ALPA and EAA volunteer, presented “Classroom to Flight Deck—How to Navigate the Various Options to Get to the Airlines as Quickly as Possible.” Arcamuzi is well versed on this topic not only from his extensive knowledge, but also because he’s the father of three airline pilots (and ALPA members).

On Monday and Tuesday, F/O Camila Turrieta (JetBlue), who leads the ALPA President’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI), talked about “Landing an Aviation Scholarship.” Later in the week, F/O Mark Bomber (United), a PCDI member, continued the discussion on this topic, answering many questions from interested attendees. Both pilots referenced ALPA’s Cleared to Dream website, which includes information on existing scholarships and other available resources.

Capt. Kandy Bernskoetter (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Membership Committee chair, shared her thoughts on “What Has My Union Done for Me? The Benefits of ALPA Membership.” From access to the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service (ALPA’s Aeromedical Office) to pressing members of Congress and Parliament for airline- and pilot friendly-legislation to offering professionally tailored insurance products, the Association offers a wide range of programs and services to its members.

On the days when Bernskoetter wasn’t scheduled to speak, F/O Avin Sumesar (Endeavor Air), ALPA’s Veterans Affairs Subcommittee chair, briefed audiences on “Military Vets to Airline Jets—Funding Your Airline Career.” In addition, Sumesar spoke with many service members throughout the week about tools like ALPA’s Military-to-Airline Transition Guide, which provides information on how members of the military can transition more smoothly to civilian flying jobs.

And rounding out ALPA’s presentations was F/O Mark Lockwood (Delta), ALPA’s Leadership Committee chair, who addressed the question “What Does a Union Do?” He and the other presenting pilots could often be seen standing off to the side or in the meet-and-great area after their talks, answering additional questions.

On the Airwaves

To reach those beyond ALPA’s booth, the Association ran an ad in the EAA AirVenture commemorative souvenir program. In addition, Turrieta, Bernskoetter, and Dahan took to the airwaves, participating in interviews conducted by EAA Radio (96.5 FM/1210 AM). During the featured Squawk 1200 program, Turrieta emphasized the importance of fostering diversity and inclusion on the airline flight deck. During the Tuesday interview, she noted that broadening the pool of competent airline pilot job applicants has many wide-ranging benefits for airlines and the industry as a whole.

The following day, Bernskoetter reviewed her experiences as a member of the FAA Women in Aviation Advisory Board, which recently provided 55 recommendations to the agency. The board’s 80-page report examines the dramatic gender gap in airline pilot jobs in the United States, offering strategies to recruit, retain, and advance women in aviation.

Later that day, Bernskoetter participated in a panel discussion on Forum Stage 8 titled “Breaking Barriers for Women in Aviation: A Flight Plan for the Future” in which she and four other board members discussed their activities and the many considerations/factors that went into the final recommendations.

Dahan spoke with EAA Radio interviewers on Thursday, reviewing ALPA’s Education Committee efforts to promote the airline piloting profession to the next generation. As pilot supply remains a hot topic in the news, Dahan highlighted the extensive volunteer ranks of the Education Committee, the Association’s ongoing collaborative efforts with organizations like the American School Counselor Association, and the establishment of ALPA Aviation Collegiate Education (ACE) Clubs at colleges and universities with aviation-degree programs to mentor students.

Though not in the studio for these discussions, one of EAA’s on-air talents, Capt. Jeff Montgomery (United), alias “J Mont G,” hosted a daily program called On the Fly, providing live feed to the radio station during the week from various locations around the airport grounds.

On the Ground and in the Air

In addition to ALPA’s planned activities, many Association members attended EAA AirVenture to support their airlines and other aviation organizations. Some performed in the daily air shows. In Warbird Alley, others exhibited vintage aircraft and, in some cases, participated in flight formations in the skies.

Delta Air Lines on Monday landed a state-of-the-art Airbus A330-900neo in Team USA livery in celebration of the 2022 Olympics held in Beijing, China, this past winter.

The Delta aircraft—whose colorful A330 livery was strictly for promotional purposes as a Delta Airbus A350 actually transported U.S. Olympic team members—spent 30 hours parked in Boeing Plaza, offering tours to Oshkosh guests before taking off from Wittman and conducting a series of low-level flybys as part of Tuesday’s air show. In the left seat performing the maneuvers was Capt. Karen Ruth (Delta), an instructor pilot who brought her three children—Molly, John, and Kate—along for the ride. Beside Ruth on the flight deck sat F/O Shelia Baldwin (Delta), who in addition to being an instructor pilot is also a U.S. Air Force Reserve pilot and a veteran of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Another flying demonstration featured a United B-777-300ER, which crisscrossed the airfield several times on Tuesday before heading back to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, its point of origin.

Throughout the week, the skies above Wittman were filled with a wide array of aerobatic solo and team performances and large-scale flight formations. Because of the sprawling plains that make up the Oshkosh landscape, it was often easy to spot clusters of aircraft along multiple horizons, positioning themselves for aerial displays. In addition, a cacophony of never-ending sounds could be heard, from the whining piston engines of the P-51 Mustang to the deafening roar of the F-16 Fighting Falcon’s jet.

Many of this year’s featured Oshkosh performers were ALPA members or recent retirees. Headliners included Capt. William “Skip” Stewart (FedEx Express), who regularly performs at Oshkosh, the Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo, and other premier air shows around the globe (see “Our Stories” in the September 2018 issue). Defying gravity in his Pitts S2S Prometheus, his routine includes a high alpha pass on takeoff and aerobatic maneuvers that bring him as close as a foot from the ground. Stewart was awarded the 2015 Art Scholl Award and the 2013 Bill Barber Award for Showmanship and has flown in aerobatic performances for more than 16 years.

Another remarkable showman featured this year was Capt. Randy Ball (Air Wisconsin), who amazed audiences with his vintage Russian MiG-17F. A rock star on the professional air show circuit, Ball has conducted more than 1,400 performances flying 44 different types of aircraft.

Punctuating the skies on several afternoons and evenings was the four-member Aeroshell Aerobatic Team with Capt. Jimmy Fordham (Delta, Ret.) flying in the slot position. The former A330 pilot has accumulated more than 22,000 hours of flight time in more than 100 types of aircraft, including a Pitts Special, Midget Mustang, and Schweitzer 126 sailplane. As a member of the Aeroshell crew, Fordham flies a T-6 Texan performing a series of loops, rolls, and bomb bursts in close formation in what EAA describes as “a classic aerobatic routine.”

In a booth just west of the flight line, Capt. Gerry Molidor (United, Ret.), a pilot for the Phillips 66 Aerostars, was signing autographs. He’s a three-time U.S. Advanced Aerobatic champion and a captain of the gold-medal-winning 1997 U.S. Advanced Aerobatic Team. Molidor, who’s president emeritus and current director of the International Aerobatic Club, and his fellow Phillips 66 performers didn’t fly in this year’s air shows but were on hand to promote the Aerostars.

Warbird Alley is a perennial favorite of regular Oshkosh goers, as is U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation flyer Capt. Stuart Milson (FedEx Express). He flies a variety of vintage aircraft including the P-51 Mustang, the F8F Bearcat, the F4U Corsair, and the A-1 Skyraider. He flew throughout the week in small, tight formations with fighter aircraft from other eras. Milson also serves as chief pilot for the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Tex., and has flown vintage warbirds on television shows and in movies.

Nearby in the rows of parked aircraft, Oshkosh regular Capt. Valerie Scott (United, Ret.) answered questions about Devil Dog, a blue twin-engine PBJ-1J—the U.S. Marine version of the vintage B-25 Mitchell bomber—which flies with the Commemorative Air Force. And just behind Devil Dog, Capt. Justin Zgoda (Endeavor Air) talked with Oshkosh attendees about Placid Lassie, a restored C-47 Skytrain that was flown in World War II’s D-Day invasion and Operation Market Garden. Zgoda serves as the aircraft’s crew chief.

Making Personal Connections

In EAA’s Aviation Gateway Park area, many ALPA pilots staffed their airline booths to recruit pilot candidates and answer questions. F/O Brian Reedy (Ravn Alaska), one of Association’s newest members and a former ACE Club member at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., talked with AirVenture guests about job opportunities at his carrier and what it’s like to fly in the “Last Frontier.”

F/O Dean Chironis (Envoy Air) and F/O Connor Jackson (Envoy Air) spoke about flying the sleek Embraer 175 as well as the recent contract gains at their carrier. F/O Jody Brandel (PSA) and F/O Katherine Burnett (PSA) discussed the advantages of flying for their airline, noting the significant pay increases that PSA pilots recently negotiated.

Some of the other ALPA pilots proudly staffing airline booths in the Gateway Park area included Capt. Justin Contreras (Mesa), F/O Nick Bhardwaj (Mesa), F/O Kwabena “Nana” Amponsah (Endeavor Air), and F/O Peyton Arata (CommutAir).

Just west of Boeing Plaza, Kalitta Air had a large outdoor display area featuring a show car and a truck trailer depicting a B-747 and the words “Now Hiring.” ALPA pilots promoting flying jobs for the all-cargo airline included Capt. Douglas Kirk (Kalitta Air), a Hotel Committee and Professional Standards Committee volunteer for his pilot group. Capt. Brian Elferdink (Kalitta Air) and Capt. Jesse Moore (Kalitta Air) were on hand another day to chat with AirVenture guests.

Other ALPA pilots promoting outside aviation organizations included F/O Brian Gambino (JetBlue), the president of the National Gay Pilots Association, who represented the LGBTQ community and worked the organization’s booth in Hangar D.

On Wednesday during each recent AirVenture, EAA recognizes Women in Aviation International with a series of events beginning with a group photo in Boeing Plaza of the organization’s attending members. Many female ALPA pilots were in this year’s photo, including Capt. Margie Freeman (United). As part of this year’s ceremonies, EAA officially opened a dedicated EAA WomenVenture Center, which is located in Aviation Gateway Park.

In the new EAA WomenVenture Center, Capt. Theresa Claiborne (United) answered questions about Sisters of the Skies, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of Black female airline pilots (see “Our Stories” in the June-July issue). F/O Stacey Jackson (WestJet), the 2020 “Elsie” Flight Operations Award winner, welcomed guests to the Women in Aviation booth. Nearby, F/O Karen Larson (United) talked to Oshkosh attendees about the legacy of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female pilots that provides networking, mentoring, and flight scholarship opportunities.

EAA offers a variety of programs for young people, including its GirlVenture Camp, an aviation experience for young women in grades 9–12. F/O Tina Druskins (United), who previously attended the camp, gave back to the program by working as a volunteer this year.

So many ALPA members could be seen on the grounds and in the skies at this year’s EAA AirVenture, reflecting their inherent interest in aviation, their commitment to see it prosper and grow, and their willingness to engage and get involved. Meanwhile, thousands of prospective pilots and their families spent the week learning more about the airline piloting profession, what becoming an airline pilot entails, and the many pathways to an airline flight deck. If the record turnout at this year’s EAA AirVenture and the tangible success of ALPA’s participation at this annual gathering are any indication, the future of aviation certainly looks bright.

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ALPA at Oshkosh Airventure 2022

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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