Rally GA: So you want to have a fly-in?

A story of trials, tribulations, and ultimately success

June 1, 2011

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Imagine a sky full of Golden Age museum pieces, the thunder of splendid warbirds, the buzz of lightplanes, and a ramp lined with these monuments from aviation history.

This vision danced in our heads like the sugar plums they were. We would have a fly-in and it would be magnificent. There remained only one question—how do we do it?

We have a small town out here in what Ernie Gann, long-time resident and author, called “the last civilized outpost in North America”—Friday Harbor in Washington’s San Juan Islands (see “ Postcards: Friday Harbor, Any Day of the Week,” April 2010 AOPA Pilot). And, to many, the airport was a source of noise and pollution and a playground for pesky pilots. The powers that be, unfortunately, agreed, and viewed a dead airport, buttoned up and closed, as a good airport. So our first question was, how do we fight city hall?

Rally GALuckily we gained a new airport manager who thought airports were good things, was a pilot, actually knew a fair amount about aviation, wanted his own airplane, and made his airport rounds getting to know us. Along with a new executive port director with an open mind, we perceived the divine as typically working in mysterious but pleasant ways. City hall actually said yes to our first fly-in.

Now what? An incredible amount of work had to be done, and considerations made concerning topics of which we were novices. Setting a date, a back-up date, conflicts with other events, rest facilities, drinking water, transportation, parking, sanitary facilities, EMS availability, volunteers for everything from parking of airplanes to pedestrian traffic control. And we had to decide if this event would be for aviators or were we hoping to entice the general island population to enjoy and appreciate the airport—or both?

What displays would we have? What food and beverage vendors did we need or desire? If we wanted pilots to show up with their classics and antiques and freshly restored airplanes, we couldn’t pay them, but could we have judges and awards for the various classes? And if we did that then we needed judges, and they had to be people who had actually restored, recovered, or at least assisted in the work of renovating an airplane.

Did we want posters? And if this event was for the general population, why not have an announcer who knows something about aviation and can provide interesting commentary? How many chairs and tables will we need? Can we use some of the hangars for the displays?

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The Blackjack Squadron—all RV aircraft—from Arlington, Washington.

Because of our late start, meetings were weekly, sometimes intense, always productive. Then it was suddenly time to throw the switch, that bright morning of July 24, 2010, starting with a traditional pancake breakfast courtesy of our EAA chapter. Around 300 people ate well to the music of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.

Our American Legion Post 163 provided the color guard and while at attention, the national anthem was played followed by Gen. Bill Anders, retired astronaut of Apollo 8 fame, in his Douglas A–1 Skyraider on a fantastic fly-past. An awesome start!

Drawings were held and more than one dozen people got free helicopter rides. Four people got free warbird flights. Stu MacPherson flew his Travel Air 4000 throughout the day, giving some 30 flights to paying passengers plus half a dozen free flights. Beautiful award certificates were given to the winners of the various aircraft judging categories. The Blackjack Squadron out of Arlington, Washington, performed two magnificent formation passes. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island provided a search and rescue demonstration with a Nighthawk helicopter. Bands played, aircraft paraded past, and the weather gods smiled with a clear, sunny sky. And more than 1,000 people made our efforts worthwhile.

The next Friday Harbor Fly-In and Open House will take place July 23, 2011.

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Richard Drury is a 20,000-hour pilot based at Friday Harbor Airport who recently completed restoration of his Great Lakes biplane and now has a Stinson 108-3 project. He is the author of My Secret War. Photography by Steve Brandli.