Pink-shirted special air traffic controllers staff the tower at Oshkosh's huge aviation festival this week.

Editor’s Note: CNN’s Thom Patterson covered the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Follow him on Twitter at @thompatterson.

Story highlights

An air traffic control tower in Wisconsin claims it's the world's busiest during an annual air show

Oshkosh is hosting one of the world's biggest aviation events, which draws 10,000 aircraft

The FAA brings in special teams of experienced air traffic controllers to work the event

Oshkosh, Wisconsin CNN  — 

This week, the world’s busiest air traffic control tower isn’t in Atlanta or Chicago or London or Dubai. It’s in the tiny town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

At least that’s what the gigantic banner plastered across the tower at Wittman Regional Airport says.

For seven days every year, Wittman plays host to organized chaos in the skies. It’s the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture aviation festival, a fly-in celebration better known as Oshkosh.

About 10,000 aircraft of all shapes and sizes fly in. Then they fly out.

For those who’ve not experienced Oshkosh, you have to understand: During the day, dozens of planes are flying here.




And someone has to keep tabs on them. Like the song says, “You gotta keep ‘em separated.”

Traffic is so heavy during Oshkosh that the FAA says it rivals two of the world’s busiest airports, Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson.

So the Federal Aviation Administration brings in the Pink Shirts.

You could call them wizards of spatial relations. Armed with binoculars, hand-held radios and bright pink golf shirts, about 85 experienced air traffic controllers volunteer every year from airport towers across the nation to push the planes coming in and out of Oshkosh. They stay busy wrangling as many as 3,000 separate airport operations daily.

How do they do it?

Part of their secret sauce is creating teams. Some teams focus on arrivals; others just do departures.

Then, to keep themselves sharp and thinking about the big picture, the teams exchange roles.

Arrivals are handled by pink-shirted controllers in Oshkosh and a temporary platform at a nearby airport in Fond du Lac.