Spotlight: West Ramp Rats (aka Phillips66 Plaza)
This job description could be simply a series of action verbs: push, pull, tug, tote, coordinate, cajole, steer, sweat, and switch. Through 25 years, this area has been known as the Convention Taxiway (with "The Fingers"!), West Ramp, AeroShell Square, ConocoPhillips Plaza, and most recently Phillips 66 Plaza. But one group that stays the same is the 50 to 60 volunteers who move and place the aircraft and a variety of other things from stages to satellite trucks.
They're known as the West Ramp Rats, a name that's stuck for more than 20 years. It began in 1987 by the late Marion Gregory - an EAA and Warbirds member - his wife Fay, and current chairman Mike Williams, along with one military pickup truck and a few assorted tow bars.
The area has grown to become the crossroads of the AirVenture grounds and a flurry of activity every day. The mission of the area is provide a safe environment for aircraft display as well as towing and parking operations for all commercial exhibitors; host aircraft and crews on the ramp; support other areas on the AirVenture site needing towing operations; support towing operations for the daily air show; and present a spectacular, safe display area for Oshkosh main aircraft showcase.
More than 1,000 towing operations will occur during the 12 days before, during and following AirVenture. Throw in an enormous stage for the opening day concert, continual presentations, various TV crews, and who knows what else on the daily assignment list.
There are people who drive tugs, those who walk with wingtips to ensure safety, and those who make sure their fellow volunteers are fed and watered. The average volunteer experience is more than 12 years, which makes them skilled and knowledgeable.
How skilled? Take a 90-minute period during AirVenture 2009, for example. The Airbus A380 needed to be towed to the runway, which involved moving every person off the ramp to move the airplane. The after the A380 was moved, the ramp needed to stay clear of people to allow a C-5 AND a C-17 to arrive and be parked. It was an incredibly complex and labor-intensive task, but if one would look at overhead photos of the ramp separated by two hours that afternoon, all you'd notice were people gathering around airplanes - although they were completely different large airplanes.
Why do the West Ramp Rats do it each year? Because for 25 years they are a family that has created a display containing aircraft that people will see together no place else in the world. Their efforts may not be known personally by AirVenture attendees, but it is recognized the world over in every photo that shows the big airplanes at Oshkosh.