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An inside look at one of the world's busiest air traffic control towers during EAA AirVenture 2022

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Posted at 7:30 PM, Jul 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-25 20:30:28-04

OSHKOSH (NBC 26) — FAA air traffic controllers expect to direct more than 17,000 planes as pilots fly in and out of Wittman Regional Airport this week during EAA AirVenture 2022.

It's hard to miss the control tower at Wittman Regional, although its workers remain behind the scenes.

There are 16 air traffic control teams with four people per team: two spotters, one communicator and a team leader.

“The spotters are looking out the window and seeing the aircraft coming in, and they’ll say whatever needs to be said," said Jay McKinty, air traffic manager.

The air traffic controllers at EAA AirVenture come from around the country. Each meets a certain criteria to work at the event. McKinty said experience and availability are evaluated.

Messages are communicated straight from the tower to the pilots.

“It was very efficient. There were so many airplanes out there," said Douglas Gibbs, a pilot from Toledo, Ohio.

Gibbs has been a pilot for nearly 30 years. He landed his hand-built Stolp Starduster Too SA300 Monday in Oshkosh.

“We started almost 30 miles away on the arrival. We followed a guy, one mile behind him. Tracked him all the way to the airport. He landed on Runway 27. We landed on runway 36."

Gibbs said he tried to land on Sunday, but decided to wait it out due to heavy air traffic.

According to the FAA, they saw more than 2,300 operations Sunday.

“We were going through that big conga line. There were 300 airplanes in it and we were getting light. I was looking at my watch. I said, "let’s just go to Fond du Lac and play it safe." So we did. Got fuel and came up here today," Gibbs said.

It took Gibbs 7.5 years to finish building "The Pretty Penny," an aircraft made out of mahogany, spruce and chromatic tubing. Although he's been to EAA AirVenture the past five years, this was the first time he's flown his newest build to the airshow. Gibbs said he's glad everything went smoothly and hopes to win a contest or two this week.