Air Boss!

By Jim Roberts

While enjoying the daily air show at EAA AirVenture, have you ever wondered who controls the multiple acts, mass formations, high-speed jet demonstrations, and pyrotechnics? Enter the air boss.

According to the FAA, an air boss is “the individual who has the primary responsibility for airshow operations on the active taxiways, runways, and the surrounding airshow demonstration area.” Because of the complexity involved, AirVenture relies on multiple air bosses. Their leader is Wayne Boggs, who is in his 36th year working the show.

Wayne is a retired FAA controller and pilot of nearly 50 years. He and his wife enjoy flying their Piper Comanche, but Wayne is especially fond of their Fairchild PT-19. It was restored in honor of his mother, a flight instructor who trained military pilots in the PT-19 during World War II.

His introduction to the air show world came in the 1980s when, as a controller at O’Hare airport, he was assigned as the ATC liaison to the Chicago Air and Water Show. That led to a job working with EAA Warbirds of America at Oshkosh, and, as they say, the rest is history.

When asked about the air boss qualification process, Wayne recalls that in the early days most folks learned by watching others, and there was little standardization or oversight. “Back then all you needed was a business card,” he said. With the proliferation of air shows and FAA concerns about safety, Wayne and his colleagues came together under the auspices of ICAS (the International Council of Air Shows) to develop an air boss training program that’s become the industry standard.

Much like the different types of pilot certificates, air boss qualifications fall into a tiered structure, ranging from “basic air boss” up to “recognized air boss/multiple venues.” Of nearly 60 air bosses nationwide, approximately 10, including Wayne, hold the highest level of FAA authorization.

Wayne’s typical day at AirVenture begins before 7 a.m. and may last until 10 p.m. if a night show is scheduled. First he joins Dennis Dunbar, manager of AirVenture air show operations, for a briefing on the day’s flying schedule, show aircraft arrivals and departures, military flights, and other significant events. Next there’s the “new guy” briefing for performers making their debut. Finally, Wayne delivers the “Air Boss Briefing,” covering details of the upcoming show. Attendees include performers, ATC and airport staff, emergency responders, and FAA operations inspectors. Picture a locker room before the Super Bowl.

When the national anthem begins and Old Glory drops, check out the air boss platform located along the show line northeast of Boeing Plaza. There you’ll find Wayne joined by two or three teammates. Each “boss” has a role to play; one may work the warbirds, another handles the solo acts, and yet another deals with military demonstrations. This year’s cadre includes George Cline, Jim “Cookie” Crumb, Tim Fitzgerald, Boyd Martin, and Ralph Royce.

It takes a dedicated crew to safely pull off a production this size, and each has their own motivation for being here. Wayne sums it up best with the adage, “Our heroes have become our friends.” He warmly recalls his association with aviation legends Scott Crossfield and Chuck Yeager, and treasures his military ties, having been named an honorary Blue Angel and Thunderbird. Along those lines, EAA is grateful to count Wayne and his colleagues among our friends.

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