OSH: “This is the World Series of Air Traffic Control!”
Thursday, July 26, 2012
(TOP) The ATC team working the tower at OSH during this year's event.
(ABOVE) NATCA President Paul Rinaldi (second from left) and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert (center, sunglasses) join the NATCA team at EAA AirVenture 2012.
This is one of the biggest weeks in the aviation world—the annual Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture event at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisc.
Called “The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration,” the festivities run through Sunday.
NATCA has been involved with AirVenture for many years. This year, the Union has made one of its biggest impressions, with an interactive tent staffed with a great team of member volunteers, some of whom have given presentations to pilots on hand. NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert were there this past Tuesday.
Working as a controller at the event is a special, coveted privilege. The pink shirts they wear are iconic and prestigious—the ATC version of the green jacket awarded to the winner of the Masters golf tournament. This year there are 50 NATCA members working the traffic, which on this particular week turns OSH into an airport more resembling ORD. The comparison is appropriate given that NATCA’s team is being led by ORD Facility Representative Dan Carrico. Simply put, Carrico says, “This is a blast.”
It’s a particularly special week for those members who get to work the event for the very first time. We caught up on Wednesday with NATCA member Rick Balinski from East St. Louis Bi-State Park ATCT (CPS) in Cahokia, Ill., who had just finished his morning shift. Rick is a veteran controller who, before going to CPS, spent six years in the Air Force, five years at a contract tower, three years as a flight service specialist and six years at Champaign, Ill (CMI).
Here’s our conversation with Rick:
Q: What has it been like this week, working your first AirVenture?
RICK: “I feel very honored to be here and to have been selected. I would like to thank NATCA and also Chuck Adams (veteran NATCA member and AirVenture controller from Grand Forks), my team leader. I feel very honored and privileged. It’s a real eye opener as far as the way things are run here. It’s real fast paced. There’s a steady stream. You learn a lot.”
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you had been selected to join this year’s team?
RICK: “I was really surprised I was selected. I have been applying since my flight service days. Then I went to Champaign and I was still trying to get here.
“It was like winning the lottery or tickets to Disney. I work with Kelly Winston (at East St. Louis Bi-State Park ATCT), who has been coming here for years. He told me about it. But I was beginning to think that only one person from our facility would be chosen in any one year; I thought I might have no shot.”
Q: As a veteran controller, what does this event mean to you?
RICK: “This is the World Series of air traffic control! It should be on every controller’s bucket list. You get to see so many different aspects of the job, from the tower to the moo cows (OSH slang for the mobile operations command platforms next to the runway). All this morning, I was by the edge of runway, clearing aircraft for takeoff.”
Q: We know teamwork is so important in air traffic control; it’s something you strengthen over time by working with the same people. But what is it like at Oshkosh, where all of you are coming from different places and suddenly find yourselves working together in such a busy environment?
RICK: “We are definitely working as a team here. You’ve got to have teamwork abilities; it’s something you have to have in you before you come here. If you’re a lone wolf kind of person, that isn’t going to work here. You have to trust the person to the right of you and the left of you and then there’s someone behind you, telling you information.
“We’re all Type A personalities, but you have to give up some of that control to work here effectively. Everyone has an important role here. You have a certain portion of the runway you are scanning, or you have an assignment you have to carry out.”
Q: What’s the atmosphere like around the event?
RICK: “We’re hanging out together and having a great time. It is great camaraderie.
“This is phenomenal. We hung out a couple nights ago at the Steve Miller Band concert. Everybody was looking at us with our pink shirts. You feel like a rock star here. They want to take pictures and talk to you. They treat you like kind of a dignitary. It’s a real honor to be a representative of ATC and NATCA.”
Check out more pictures on the NATCA Facebook page HERE.