How Does That Work? 2023 Fisk Facts FAA Air Traffic Control at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh - FISK FACTS

Friday, September 8, 2023

The tiny town of Fisk gives its name to the FAA’s approach control facility for EAA AirVenture.  Unlike its radar room counterparts located throughout the country, Fisk consists of a camper trailer parked in a field at the top of a hill.  Bright strobe lights blink at the sky, capturing pilots’ attention.  Four bright pink-shirted controllers, binoculars in hand, watch traffic from lawn chairs perched on the grass clearing.  One sends commands to pilots via a hand-held radio.

“Red Cessna, Follow the yellow Mooney, and rock your wings.  Thanks, red Cessna.  Piper Cherokee, follow the Cessna ahead and rock your wings.”  The controller pauses to wait for the wing rock.  “Thank you, Piper Cherokee, continue up the railroad tracks and monitor OSH tower on 118.5.”

The controller’s job at Fisk is to line up aircraft for landing at Oshkosh.  Traffic counts at this location can reach 1,000 operations per day!  In spite of the hectic pace, control instructions are given in a friendly, although rapid, tone, and wing rocks are required for feedback (rather than verbal replies) to reduce frequency congestion.

“Blue Piper, I need your wing rock as acknowledgement, please.” The controller pauses again to wait for the sign.  “Thaaaaank you, blue Piper.  Enjoy the show.”

The controllers work their outdoor post rain or shine, and breaks provide little relief from the bristling July heat and humidity.  Their shift consists of craning their necks to scan the sky for aircraft and line those planes up for landing.  

“White Experimental, slow it down a bit and line up behind the blue Piper ahead.  Rock your wings – thank you – continue up the tracks for a right downwind entry to Runway 27 – monitor OSH tower on 118.5 – welcome to Oshkosh!”

Cans of bug spray are required office equipment, as is a large cooler full of soft drinks and sandwiches.  The few residents of Fisk bring their folding chairs to the hill to sit and silently watch the steady parade of small planes pass overhead.  Children lazily circle their bikes on the quiet road just a few yards away.  

Sun, country air and an occasional piece of freshly-baked pie are just a few of the job perks at this site.

Despite the casual appearance, the job at Fisk is serious, and the air traffic professionals staffing the facility handle their role with one thought in mind:  safety for the thousands of pilots heading into the EAA Air Venture daily.

Tomorrow, this team of four controllers will rotate to one of the other FAA Air Venture sites:  Inside the tower, where they will continue to use binoculars to site aircraft and request wing rocks as acknowledgement; or on elevated platforms near the runways (dubbed MOO-COWS, in honor of Wisconsin’s celebrated bovines), where they direct departing aircraft.  

The team will continue this daily rotation until the last day of the air show.  It’s a job they volunteer for, and often return to, for the entire seven years they are allowed to participate.

Controllers love to move aircraft, and they say working at Fisk gives them the chance to do their jobs in its purest form.  “I love working airplanes, and there’s no place better to do it than here,” says one veteran.  “This is the absolute best week of the year!”