ALPA Returns to Oshkosh
Promotes the Airline Piloting Profession, Celebrates the Wonders of Flight
By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
ALPA returned to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) AirVenture Oshkosh this year to meet with the legions of attending young people and their parents, as well as others pursuing new careers, all wanting to learn more about what it takes to become an airline pilot. The union’s participation at “the world’s greatest aviation celebration” also provided an opportunity to reconnect with the countless ALPA members who traveled to Wisconsin’s “Event City” to serve as volunteers, exhibitioners, air show performers, or simply to enjoy this annual aviation spectacle.
The 2020 air show was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many wondered how this year’s event would fare. Further complicating matters were the proliferation of the delta variant and EAA’s restrictions to help contain the spread of the virus. However, despite these and other obstacles, AirVenture later announced that for only the third time in its history, this event’s turnout surpassed 600,000 attendees (in this case, 608,000). Clearly, Oshkosh 2021 was a success!
Many of these attendees stopped by ALPA’s new booth facilities, located a block and a half from Boeing Plaza at the heart of Wittman Regional Airport, where the annual convention, air show, and fly-in is held. ALPA selected this particular facility for its visibility, meet-and-greet counter where event attendees could talk with pilot volunteers from a variety of carriers, a theater/reception area, and a walled-off section for storage and personal business.
The accessibility of the site coupled with the Association’s promotional efforts generated a greater number of booth visits and an increased turnout at ALPA’s various pilot presentations. In addition, the union’s evening social gatherings were well attended. While EAA required that no more than 50 people access the reception area at a time due to the pandemic, a long line formed beside the booth on several occasions as pilots, retirees, and family members graciously waited their turn for that evening’s fare.
Each year at this time, the pace of life dramatically changes for this small midwestern town, as its skies fill with elaborate flight formations, performing aerobatic airplanes, and the steady stream of general aviation aircraft coming to and from the host airport.
Accordingly, Wittman’s air traffic control facility dons a banner advertising that for this brief period, it maintains the “world’s busiest control tower.” EAA confirmed this claim, later reporting, “At Wittman alone, there were 16,378 aircraft operations in the 10-day period from July 22–31, which is an average of approximately 116 takeoffs/landings per hour when the airport is open.”
Those traveling on Interstate 41 couldn’t miss the throngs of general aviation aircraft parked in the airport’s outer fields and the hordes of pilots camped beside them or sometimes under canopied wings. EAA estimated that more than 12,000 sites in aircraft and drive-in camping accounted for nearly 40,000 of this year’s attendees.
Pilots Helping Future Pilots
Among ALPA’s strategic goals, enacted by the Association’s Board of Directors at its 2020 meeting, is to encourage future members by “promoting, inspiring, and supporting an accessible and sustainable airline career.” ALPA does this by sparking interest in the profession, educating influencers, and mentoring aspiring aviators. AirVenture provides an ideal environment for the Association to promote the profession as it showcases everything related to air transportation. If it’s flying-related, there’s a display, a presentation, or an associated activity somewhere on Wittman field, and those who attend Oshkosh are likely to have an intrinsic fascination with flight.
Just outside ALPA’s meet-and-greet area, a board advertised each day’s pilot presentations, including “A Day in the Life of an Airline Pilot,” presented by F/O Justin Dahan (FedEx Express), the Association’s Education Committee chair. This half-hour discussion covered schedule bidding, legalities, the differences in passenger and all-cargo operations, and other considerations pilots routinely contend with while flying the line. Dahan’s presentation was so popular that on several occasions EAA’s ad hoc restrictions required ALPA volunteers to ask some of those interested if they would come back for another session.
Immediately following Dahan’s presentation, Capt. Mike Arcamuzi (FedEx Express) gave a daily talk titled, “Classroom to Flight Deck—How to Navigate the Various Options to Get to the Airlines as Quickly as Possible.” Periodically pausing for the roar of passing aircraft, Arcamuzi highlighted the many ways aspiring pilots can accrue flight time, prepare themselves for interviews and evaluations, and the variety of resources they have available.
In addition to his extensive experience as an ALPA and EAA volunteer and an airline pilot, Arcamuzi has firsthand knowledge of his subject matter. He has three children who in recent years began flying for airlines and are ALPA members.
In addition to the board listings, ALPA advertised its educational segments on alpa.org/oshkosh, which outlined all of the Association’s activities for the week. ALPA pilot talks were also posted on EAA’s presentations and workshops webpages.
Other booth discussions included a one-day presentation from F/O Christian Schirra (Delta) who shared tips for young aviators and their parents on “Acing the Pilot Interview.” F/O Camila Turrieta (JetBlue), who chairs the ALPA President’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, spoke on two occasions about “Finding Your Way: Navigating Scholarships and Interviews.”
Turrieta and her husband, F/O Gabriel Mercado (JetBlue), also participated as representatives of the Latino Pilots Association in a Monday ceremony conducted by partnering United Airlines. The carrier flew a new B-737 MAX 8 to Oshkosh that day, in part, to highlight its goal to train 5,000 new airline pilots by 2030, to help support this endeavor with its Aviate Academy, and, moving forward, to promote diversity and inclusivity within its pilot ranks. In addition, United presented Delia Nava, a Hispanic woman, a United intern, and a student at the University of Houston, with a full scholarship to the Aviate Academy.
Turrieta also spoke at the ceremony, congratulating Nava and emphasizing the importance of promoting the airline piloting profession to people with a variety of backgrounds.
Over the Airwaves
ALPA ensured that the Association was not only more visible at this year’s AirVenture but that it could also be better heard. Dahan and Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA’s vice president–administration/secretary, participated in onsite interviews on EAA Radio, locally broadcast at 96.5 FM/1210 AM.
“A day in all our lives is always different,” said Dahan, who talked about what to expect flying the line, which he also outlined in his daily ALPA booth presentations. “We try to cover everything from when you show up to work, whether you’re a commuter or live in base, to when you finish the trip…airplanes, layovers,” he said.
“That’s the type of education we’re trying to bring to people looking to get into the career,” Dahan continued. He also mentioned the other ALPA pilot presentations scheduled for the week and discussed airline trends and the Association’s safety programs.
Two days later, Couette reviewed for radio listeners the different programs ALPA makes available through its Professional Development Group. Reviewing the Association’s Education Committee activities, he noted, “We have 2,800 volunteers who are willing to talk to grade school, middle school, and high-school students.” Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, the Association was able to reach out to nearly 30,000 students “and talk about what a great job it is to be an airline pilot,” he said.
Couette added that ALPA’s outreach also extend to collegiate programs. “We have 13 memorandums of understanding with aviation universities around the country. We’re trying to get a relationship going with Webster University and McMaster University in Canada, which are both big aviation schools as well.”
He also made a point of reminding listeners about ALPA’s 90th anniversary, which occurred earlier in the week on July 27, and the union’s longstanding presence in the aviation community.
It was difficult to roam the grounds at this year’s AirVenture and not encounter countless current and retired ALPA members celebrating their various aviation interests. In Boeing Plaza where EAA exhibited its featured static displays, United’s B-737 MAX 8 and an Air Wisconsin Bombardier CRJ200LR were parked head-to-head on Monday.
The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital, across from the two airliners, was available all week for tours, conducted by volunteers like Capt. Cyndhi Berwyn (see page 34). She and other FedEx Express pilots fly the reconfigured McDonnell Douglas MD-10-30, with its modernized operating and teaching facilities, promoting good eye health to communities around the globe.
Across the tarmac, Capt. Mark Ransom (United, Ret.) stood before a Douglas DC-8 in Samaritan’s Purse livery, addressing the many passersby. A charitable, religious organization, Samaritan’s Purse provides both spiritual and physical aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine around the world, and Ransom is one of its many volunteers.
Other ALPA members served in a variety of voluntary event posts, including aircraft marshals who directed traffic in the busy and expansive plaza.
Nearby, flying adventurists displayed their homebuilt achievements. Among these was Capt. Rob Zettel’s (United, Ret.) Blues Traveler, which won an “outstanding workmanship homebuilt” award at this year’s Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Fla. Blues Traveler competed for this year’s prestigious EAA “Lindy” Award; however, the Clamar 2180 all-electric amphibious airplane didn’t win. Nonetheless, the novelty aircraft was a big draw for attending homebuilt devotees.
To the west, numerous ALPA members staffed booths in EAA’s Aviation Gateway Park, promoting their carriers to aspiring airline pilots. Among the volunteers, Capts. Dalton Chocallo and Andrew McRae and F/Os Sam Jordan, Ryan Kilgore, and Oliver Stephenson shared the merits of flying for Mesa Airlines. Nearby, Capts. James Curry and Harrison Scott answered questions about flying for Envoy Air. F/O Shelby Satkowiak reviewed the many benefits of being an Endeavor Air pilot with AirVenture participants, and Capt. Evan Kopin proudly staffed the Piedmont Airlines booth.
ALPA pilots represented a variety of aviation organizations in the EAA hangars, including F/O Troy Merritt (United), who worked the National Gay Pilots Association booth, speaking for the global LGBTQ aviation community.
Other groups were also in attendance. On Wednesday afternoon, to commemorate their time at Oshkosh, members of the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, including Capt. Tiana Daugherty (United) and other ALPA pilots, assembled at EAA’s iconic Brown Arch for a photo.
Historic Birds of Prey
Warbirds Alley at the north end of the airport field is a perennial favorite among repeat Oshkosh attendees, with its displays and presentations of vintage military aircraft now operated by civilian organizations and individuals. Among the rows of classic fighters, bombers, and other transports, ALPA pilots answered questions and shared stories about the history of their exhibited aircraft.
A member of the commemorative D-Day Squadron, Capt. John Grones (FedEx Express, Ret.) walked around his Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Placid Lassie, pointing out features like the names of previous pilots’ wives (for example, Eager Eileen), which appear on the airplane’s engines. Grones observed that although the aircraft has been refurbished, the original airframe transported U.S. paratroopers as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II.
North American B-25 Mitchells are often remembered for their role in dropping bombs on Tokyo, Japan, in Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s April 1942 raid in response to the infamous Pearl Harbor attack. A blue B-25J-30-NC, nicknamed Devil Dog, is a Warbird regular, and flying the airplane this year were Capt. Valerie Scott (United, Ret.) (see “Our Stories” in the August 2017 issue) and Capt. Robert “Rip” Torn (Delta, Ret.).
Capt. Stuart Milson (FedEx Express) piloted a Vought F4U Corsair for the Navy Legacy Flight Foundation as part of several historic aircraft formations and flybys. Milson flies a wide range of World War II-era airplanes for the foundation and has appeared in the television series Zoo and the 2014 motion picture Get on Up about music legend James Brown.
These and other ALPA pilots exhibited their classic aircraft on the ground and in the skies. F/O Jeff Shetterly (Spirit) flew a bright yellow North American T-6 Texan for his first-ever solo performance at Oshkosh. And when he wasn’t working at the ALPA booth, Capt. Jeremy Keyes (Kalitta Air), his pilot group’s Master Executive Council chair, was giving rides and participating in air show flybys in his green Nanchang CJ-6, a 1950s-era Chinese trainer.
While ALPA pilots engaged in virtually every activity at Oshkosh, it was truly remarkable to see the number of members headlining the daily air shows. Aerobatic megastars like Capt. William “Skip” Stewart (FedEx Express) (see “Our Stories” in the September 2018 issue), who flies his Pitts S-2S Prometheus biplane, singlehandedly drew large crowds to the afternoon flight line.
F/O Justin Lewis (United) conducted aerial feats in his FLS Microjet, a high performance, low-wing, all-metal aircraft built from an amateur homebuilder kit. The world’s smallest jet, the MicroJet was featured in a 1983 James Bond film.
And in the category of the truly unusual, Capt. Jeff Boerboon (Delta) piloted a Yak-110, constructed by joining two Yak-55 fuselages together and mounting a jet engine between them. Boerboon is a premiere performer in aerobatic circles, and his aircraft is an air show favorite wherever he flies.
Several world-class aerobatic teams participated at AirVenture and, again, ALPA was well represented. Capt. Chris “CT” Thomas (JetBlue) wowed audiences as the right wing for the GEICO Skytypers, and Capt. Jimmy Fordham (Delta, Ret.) flew the slot position of the AeroShell Aerobatic Team, performing tight maneuvers high above Wittman field.
Meanwhile, Capt. Jerry Molidor (United)—call sign “Fossil” (perhaps because he’s Number 2 in his pilot group’s seniority list)—flew media flights from nearby Appleton International Airport as a member of the Phillips 66 Aerostars, giving riders an aerial view of the Wittman grounds.
The 2021 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is now one for the books, and while the COVID-19 pandemic may have hampered some of this year’s arrangements, it didn’t prevent the greater aviation community from coming out in droves to support this one-of-a-kind event.
Throughout the week, ALPA demonstrated its unique status among the many participating aviation industry partners, helping to promote nearly every aspect of air transportation while urging those who love to fly to consider becoming an airline pilot.