Today’s Tale of Two Towers presents the crowds at EAA
AirVenture Oshkosh 2008 with the old and retired
air-traffic-control tower on the right and the new taller tower
now operating on the left. Next year at this time the familiar
brick structure will be gone but not forgotten by the hundreds
of thousands of pilots privileged to fly into the world’s
greatest fly-in. Photo by Dave Higdon
tower was moved by about 240 tires that were placed on 30
dollies underneath the tower. Only
one tire failed during the move, and it was a valve failure.
finish work on the foundation after the tower was placed in
jacking stations were arranged in key places under the six
carrying beams placed beneath the tower. To ensure a steady,
level lift from the foundation, all jacks were powered from a
truck equipped with a unified jacking machine that activated all
of them simultaneously. Photos
courtesy Berg & Henn
was just one landmark you had to name at AirVenture Oshkosh, more likely
than not it would be Wittman Regional Airport’s control tower. Built
in 1962, the aged brick and mortar icon has more than stood the test of
time. It has served as a no-brainer rendezvous location (I’ll meet you
at the control tower), a natural point of reference (We’re about two
blocks north of the control tower), and ritual backdrop to undoubtedly
millions of snapshots over the years. Just type "Oshkosh Control
Tower" into Google’s image search and see what you come up with.
Well, that all ends
this year. With the new, state-of-the-art structure now operational, our
old friend is set to be demolished shortly after this year’s
convention. If you want to have your photo
taken in front of the old tower, this year is your last chance to do so.
five-story Oshkosh air traffic control tower has had a long and
prosperous life at the airport. Talk of a tower first surfaced in 1958,
but it was April 1959 before the Federal Aviation Administration (formed
the previous year from its predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics
Administration) officially proposed a tower be constructed for the
princely sum of $130,000 after determining that airport traffic
warranted it. That might seem like a bargain by today’s prices, but a
contract for engineering services at the time shows that survey helpers
were paid $1 an hour; draftsman $1.50 to $2/hour; with the "big
bucks" going to architects and top engineers, $4.70/hour.
A series of lengthy
delays caused by repeated changes in requirements due to new
developments in aviation engineering meant that the FAA didn’t approve
the tower’s plans until December 1960. P.G. Miron Construction Co.
Inc. was awarded the 60-foot tower project in 1961 and built it in 1962.
Total cost: $150,000. It was commissioned on May 15, 1962, and operated
16 hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., says the historical collection
at the Oshkosh Public Library. A seven-man team of
air traffic controllers worked the tower, led by chief traffic
controller Larry Davis.
New runway prompts move
north-south runway built in 1967 created problems for the tower—the
southern limit of Runway 18/36 was out of range—and by January of
1968, airport officials started studying whether the five-year-old
structure could be moved about four-fifths mile, or 4,600 feet
south-southwest to its current position.
one company submitted a bid to move the 900-ton tower—Berg and Hein
Company of Appleton, Wisconsin—for $125,000. The company proposed
moving the entire structure plus the ground three and a half feet below
the floor slab. Moving the tower wasn’t going to be easy, as the
proposal called for moving the building on tracks mounted on 240 tires,
according to the January 25, 1968, Oshkosh
Northwestern. And once moved,
the contractor would raise it approximately 10 feet and place it on a
cement foundation with steel columns in the center, providing a
moving the tower was cheaper than building new—estimated at
$342,750—so the bid was accepted after the chief engineer for the
Wisconsin Division of Aeronautics called it "fair and
37-by-50-foot concrete, brick, and steel tower didn’t just have to be
moved; it also had to be turned 180 degrees. Vincent Berg operated the
jacking machine to raise the building 5 feet so 240 wheels could be
placed below the tower. He still lives in Appleton and vividly remembers
that job. It was the heaviest building in the country ever moved on
wheels and brought national media attention to the company.
until they put the tower on the jack machine they didn’t know for sure
how much the tower weighed. "We knew about all the weight that went
into the building, so we did have a good idea of what it would
weigh—about 1,000 ton," Vincent says.
close. Newspaper reports show the tower weighing 880 tons, but Vincent
insists it was 980 tons.
began on September 4, 1968—the same day Republican vice presidential
candidate Spiro Agnew spoke at a campaign rally at the airport. The move
was completed on October 13; however, it took until early December
before it was operational. An FAA mobile tower served as the air control
traffic center from May 7 through December 17 while the tower was being
moved and installed. Final cost for the move: $322,000, including
installation and land acquisition.
facility has been replaced with a new, $5.6 million control tower
that went operational
only weeks before AirVenture. (Coincidentally, the Miron company built
this one, too.)
Manager Peter Moll said the old tower could not be remodeled to meet
accessibility standards, and the electric and heating, ventilating, and
air conditioning systems were old and ineffective. In addition, the old
tower was too short since trees have grown up, he said.
old tower is almost synonymous with Wittman Airport, there are some
things that won’t be missed. Like the stairs, the new control tower
has an elevator.
was quite a trip up the steps of the old tower—six flights," said
Ruth Elliott, who served as airport manager from 2003 to 2007. "I
remember when I first started working there wearing high heels and
dresses and having to go up those metal steps; it was something else. I
was out of breath by the time I reached the top, and I was much younger
an elevator, the new tower is nearly twice as tall as the old
tower—the controllers are sitting about 120 feet up—and allows air
traffic controllers to see the entire airport unobstructed, Moll said.
It also features up-to-date electronics and includes additional space
for controllers during AirVenture.
really glad this project was done," Moll says. "It’s the
shining jewel of the airport."
And it will provide a
whole new backdrop for the hundreds of thousands of EAA AirVenture
visitors who stop to take a picture at the bottom of the world’s
busiest—and newest—control tower.