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AJF News

A Look at Recruiting Aviation: Oshkosh

9/12/2017 by Jessika Leatherbury
Tags: aviation, oshkosh

 A Look at Recruiting Aviation: Oshkosh

The air smells like Folger’s and sunscreen, and lanyards dangle off the edge of the kitchen table.  There is a folder with crisp edges containing schedules, booth assignments and meeting information.  The group slowly gathers around the kitchen table.

We are a sheen of blue polo shirts as we pile into a rented minivan.  We stop for coffee on the way and push through traffic heading into the airfield.  Volunteers flag us through the slow march to the exhibitor parking lot.  We’re all the way back in Lot Z this year, which is a nice way of describing a distant field of grass several highway stops away from the show.

We file onto a school bus with the other exhibitors and make neat rows of matching company polos.  Our lanyards collectively sway over each bump and roar of the bus.  Once we arrive at the show we walk to our booth, through Hangar A, through the midway-like center, and into Hangar C.  Before the hangars open to the public, there is a hushed roar as the booths flip on LED lights and displays.  The EAA staff has left us a copy of the day’s Airventure newspaper specially made for each day of the week.

We stuff our bags and plot our day.  Those working the booth on the first shift pull out bag of metal hat pins and fistfuls of plastic wrapped pens.  The stacks of flyers are pulled back into neat piles.  The pins are shucked like peas, ready for the grasp of children and the careful consideration of men with hats.

The group begins to split as people start to file into the exhibition hangar.  Those with a scheduled meeting march outside with a briefing folder tucked away.  With time, the show’s sprawling layout begins to make sense.  The booth numbers correspond to hangars.  The various parts of the show emerge as little territories.  The warbirds camp is distinct and separate from much of the show’s activity.  The lightweight aircraft serves as a kind of polar axis at the other end.  Finding a company can sometimes take some hunting, guesswork, and speculation. 

Back at the booth, we’re handing out scavenger hunt flyers.  The page is filled with Oklahoma companies at the show.  If someone visits all of the participating companies, they receive a stamp for each visit.  A full page of stamps earns the visitor a metal coffee tumbler.  Every hour, someone working the booth runs behind the curtain to grab another tumbler.

By the time the afternoon hits, the air is full of dust and heat and sweat.  Those who are not assigned to a booth shift wander towards the runway.  The airshows begin in the afternoon and stretch until about 5:00.  A radial engine barks over head.  People look up and follow it through the sky.  There are lawn chairs in the grass.  Walking closer to the runway, there is an announcer narrating the show.  Acrobatic dives and rolls are followed by jet shrieks and multi engine roars.  On some days, there are simulated bombing runs from World War II.  Other shows feature acrobatic biplanes falling out of the sky only to pull back up into a steep climb.

The noise is a kind of normalizing part of the show during the week.  The engines buzz constantly overhead in a way that is surreal.  There are few other environments with this kind of regular mechanization of the sky.  It feels natural at the time, and the absence of sound for the week afterwards is a bit jarring.

The exhibition hangars close at 5:00 each afternoon.  Once we’re sure that no one is left behind, we file back onto the bus, find the car, and head back to the house.  Everyone finds something not a shade of shimmering blue to wear and we find a place to eat dinner.  Jansen’s is a pick for lake trout, and Cranky Pat’s usually gets a vote for enormous pizzas with an absurd amount of toppings.  Other nights, some of the group returns back to the show for a night airshow or outdoor concert.  The rest seek out fried cheese curds and New Glarus sample packs.

Wednesday night is significant because it marks the division between those attending the first half of the week with those arriving for the latter part of the week.  It is the one time when almost everyone involved in the trip is in the same place.  Per unassailable tradition, the group heads to the Fox River Brewery.  Afterwards, the group heads back to the house and builds a fire in the back yard.  Stories gain teeth.  Political discussions are wooden swords.  Someone trips in the darkness.  Another person pokes the fire sending sparks into the cool, humid night. 

Background

In July, the Ada Jobs Foundation staff joined other communities from around the state to attended the Experimental Aircraft Association Airventure show in Oshkosh Wisconsin. Representatives from Ada have attended this show for the past 7 years as part of a group of communities who represent Oklahoma as a state at the show. We were joined by the following community partner organizations this year: Enid Regional Development Alliance, Enid Woodring Airport, Ardmore Development Authority, Bartlesville Development Authority, Shawnee Regional Airport, Guthrie Edmond Airport, and the Weatherford Stafford Airport. In addition to these communities, we were joined by Grayson Ardies, of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, Vince Howie, the Aerospace and Defense Director for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, Alba Weaver, of OG&E, and Scott Williams, of Western Farmer’s Electric Co-op. The group shares costs for the trip, including the house we rent for the week, booth costs, marketing materials, and appointment setting with prospective leads.

Meeting with Prospective Companies

A function of the trip besides operating a booth is to meet with aviation companies at the show who may have an interest in expanding or sales to Oklahoma.  This year, the group utilized a firm to help us set appointments as a group.  In the past, each community was responsible for setting appointments individually.  We set appointments with 10 companies and a community representative was often paired with a member of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission or with Vince Howie with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.  Those attending the meetings took notes and the group compiled and amended these notes in a debrief session after the trip.  OG&E is assisting the group in follow up communications with these company meetings. 

Hosting a Luncheon with Senator Inhofe

Every year, the group hosts a luncheon featuring Senator Inhofe as a keynote speaker. The group invites Oklahoma companies and pilots at the show as well as prospective companies and guests.  The Senator is a noted pilot and advocate for general aviation, and the luncheon provides an opportunity for guests to interact with the Senator and staff.  The luncheon has grown in size over the past several years and we hosted over 125 attendees this year alone.