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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed A 10-year tower veteran in a pink shirt

Story and photo by JOSEPH E. (JEB) BURNSIDE
Wanda Adelman
Wanda Adelman has run the control tower at AirVenture for 10 years.

Wanda Adelman’s day job is running the FAA’s Milwaukee, Wisconsin, air traffic control tower 50 or so weeks out of the year.

She’s a mother of five, and a CFI-IA with some 1,200 hours of stick time.

But each summer, she steps away from those responsibilities to tackle an even greater challenge: running the world’s busiest control tower, the one at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

And this is her 10th year at the helm.

When AirVenture Today caught up with her in the tower cab earlier this week, she was calm, collected, professional, smiling.

After all, much of the work necessary to safely handle the thousands of aircraft operations during the week had already been done.

ATC’s own top guns…er, mics…
It started shortly after last year’s AirVenture, when debriefings occurred and planning for this year’s event began.

“We start immediately to make improvements” after each year’s show, Adelman pointed out.

By November, bids have gone out to all FAA controllers nationwide; the competition is fierce.

In December, the 64 controllers who won the hard-fought selection process are named.

Training materials are updated and shipped out to them.

Once the selected controllers arrive in Oshkosh, they receive more training conducted in the tower itself.

One of this year’s winners is David Thomas, a controller at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and whose pink-shirted colleagues dubbed the “Motor City Madman.”

Despite 29 years of trying, 2011 marked his first year at AirVenture.

What’s the best thing about being in the AirVenture tower?

“Attitude,” he told us. “Everyone here is so professional. They work as a team like I’ve never seen.”

Flexibility at the World’s Busiest Tower

Despite the well-defined planning and selection processes, each year is different.

“We’re already way busier than last year,” Adelman told AirVenture Today early in the week, “but not as busy as 2009.

“Last year, we worked twice as hard on the parking situation, but total operations were way down,” she explained, remembering last year’s wet-field constraints.

Several times during the 2010 event, the field was closed to arrivals for lack of adequate parking.

Friday of the 2009 event saw the tower handle more than 3,400 operations—and that doesn’t include the air show, which is the Air Boss’ responsibility.


That same day, Chicago’s O’Hare International (ORD) handled some 2,400 movements and Atlanta Hartsfield International (ATL) saw about 2,700.

The punchline?

Both the numbers for both ORD and ATL were for a full 24-hour period.

By contrast, the AirVenture tower’s numbers are for only 10 hours during that day—again, exclusive of the air show.

And as Adelman said, this year’s movements are well ahead of 2010—so they’ve been nearly as busy as ever.

Why does she keep coming back?

“The opportunity to work with the best of the best,” she said.

“Every year is better; I see more new things.”

How much longer will Adelman manage the control tower during AirVenture?

“As long as I can,” she said.


FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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