Wired Takes You Inside the World’s Busiest Air Traffic Control Tower

July 31, 2009 at 10:33 am

(Source: Wired)

The awesome folks at Wired recently covered the AirVenture aviation show @ Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Check out the excerpts below from the Wired article.

OSHKOSH, Wisconsin — For one week every year, the air traffic control tower at the small airport here is the busiest in the world. And today is the busiest day of all for the hand-picked all-star crew of controllers who will handle more than 3,000 flights in just 10 hours.

On a normal day, Wittman Regional Airport might see a few hundred take-offs and landings. But more than 10,000 aircraft from around the world descend on Oshkosh for the week-long AirVenture aviation show. On a slow day the controllers might direct 1,500 flights. Some days see more than 2,000. But with many of those who arrived early in the week heading home — and those coming in for the weekend arriving — Thursday is usually the busiest day of the week.

On this day last year, the tower directed 3,035 flights in just 10 hours. That’s about 400 more than the crew at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport — usually the busiest in the world — handled on the same day, and the flights coming into Atlanta were spread out over 24 hours. Oshkosh tower manager and veteran controller Wanda Adelman told Wired.com there are some bragging rights that come with the job here, “we actually beat O’Hare” she says referring to the Chicago airport which is the busiest in the region, “we beat Atlanta too, but nobody cares about Atlanta. They just want to know that we beat O’Hare.”

They get a bright pink polo shirt that is one of the most sought-after prizes of their profession.

It’s a carefully choreographed ballet that requires the utmost attention from both the controllers and the pilots, who must read a 32-page guideline (.pdf) of the procedure. Flying into or out of Wittman during AirVenture can be unnerving for the uninitiated, as pilots often find themselves flying much closer to other airplanes than they typically would.

Inside, there are two teams of controllers at any given time. Each team has two people. One keeps watch over the airfield and the airspace through binoculars and relays information to the other person, who communicates with the pilots.

A formation flies over the control tower at AirVenture, which for the week of the show is the busiest in the world.

Click here to read the entire article and to check out some more awesome pictures.