|Jon Eisele (right) gives a departure briefing to Mark Lightsey (left) from Riverside, California just as Lightsey is tying down his Hatz Biplane. (photo by Randy Dufault)
By Randy Dufault
July 28, 2013 - For the 26 years Elton Eisele has volunteered at AirVenture, departure briefing typically happened - as the name seems to suggest - before departure. But he always believed there was a better way.
"It sounds funny, but now we want to catch (pilots) as soon as they arrive," Eisele, the current departure briefing chairman, said. "If we catch them early, they will know how to get gas, have their VFR sign made up and ready to go, and can think about all the types of things they should be prepared for when they depart."
In addition to proactive, earlier briefings, the departure volunteers also took on Runway 9/27 departures this year. Previously the service had been limited to operations on Runway 18/36.
Departure briefings at AirVenture are not about the weather. Instead they cover what should happen with any airplane while it is on the ground here at Oshkosh.
"We want to be sure we talk to the pilots and let them know how to get out of their space, make sure that they know they shouldn't be taxiing before 7 a.m. without a wingman...a lot of people don't know that they can't taxi before then," Eisele stressed.
(Editor's Note: This may not be true for all aircraft parking areas. In all cases pilots must follow the times and procedures noted in the NOTAM.)
"And we want to make sure they have the NOTAM. We want them to put it in the window of their plane to know that they have it and that they are going to follow it. It's not just a showpiece, but will help them know it is there to use."
While an individual pilot may have years of experience flying into and out of Wittman Regional Airport during Oshkosh, changes are made to the NOTAM every year. Those changes may be slight, but even the smallest change may affect safety in this busy airspace.
"If everyone is following those carefully worked out procedures we shouldn't have problems," said Eisele. "Of course the pilot needs to stay alert in the cockpit - they have to do that - but knowing what the procedures are, and if everybody is following those procedures, it all works. We will keep the skies safe."
This year's volunteers have a relatively elaborate plan for achieving the ultimate goal of reaching each and every pilot here. Early in the week briefers wearing blue shirts will be at the registration buildings and bus stops looking to catch folks just as they arrive. Others will walk up and down the rows of airplanes over the course of the event just to make sure no one is missed.
New too is the addition of three just-restored Volkswagen Beetles. The cars sport silver paint to identify their departure briefing role. They are part of the ubiquitous fleet of modified VWs Oshkosh is famous for.
Also new are the departure briefing home bases. Their old building - which they shared with EAA Radio south of the Brown Arch - was taken down just after the show last year. This year briefers will be available in two locations: one just south of Homebuilders Headquarters near the Federal Pavilion, and another at the intersection of Knapp Street and the Papa-1 Taxiway near Warbirds. Briefings are always available at the buildings just in case you missed the roving volunteers.
Speaking of volunteers, Eisele said there's always room for more.
"We can always use more volunteers to cover this," he said. "I don't know how many miles of parking we have here, but it's a lot of ground to cover.
"And it's fun, particularly for people who like to visit. Go and talk to the pilots at their airplanes, ask them where they are from, and throw in the briefing on the side."