Attendance soars at Virginia Festival of Flight

May 5, 2011

WWII trainer and powered parachute

Perfect weather on April 30 and May 1 contributed to what may have been a record attendance at the fourteenth annual Virginia Regional Festival of Flight. More than 350 aircraft flew in to Suffolk Executive Airport for the two-day event—an increase of 183 percent over last year—and the number of visitors walking through the gates was up by 150 percent.

Aircraft flew from as far away as Maine, Ohio, and Florida to attend the event in southeastern Virginia. The arrivals began with the landing of the Spirit of Freedom, a restored Douglas C-54 transport operated by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, that arrived on Friday afternoon. The airplane was positioned by the ground crew on the end of Runway 15, close to the highway, where it served as a massive billboard for the event.

AOPA President Craig Fuller arrived in the AOPA Caravan with nine staffers to exhibit the airplane, enjoy a pancake breakfast, and see the show.

A pretty RV in the aircraft line.

Powered parachute

AOPA President Craig Fuller snaps a picture of visitors to the AOPA Caravan.

Navy helicopter

AOPA President Craig Fuller (left) and Fly-in Manager Judy Sparks

Remote control flying models sport nearly noiseless engines.

Super Cat

Volunteer marshals ensure usher aircraft through the Fly-in.

Wiping down a Waco

At midmorning Saturday, airplanes were landing at such a rate that Mike Glave, the aircraft parking chairman, opened a new grass area to relieve the congestion. Planes directed there were expertly parked by a group of 10 Civil Air Patrol cadets led by Rick Solana, an RV-6A builder who had trained his cadets well. A Stearman, a PT-19, and a new Waco were kept busy taking folks for rides, and a Robinson R44 also lifted attendees for a sightseeing ride around the area.

Janie Fowler, the Youth Area chairman, reported a brisk business at the youth tents. Next door, radio-controlled model airplanes fascinated the kids by flying with almost noiseless electric motors. On Sunday, volunteer pilots flew 51 Young Eagles.

A variety of topics attracted visitors to the forum tents. Topics included a variety of aircraft maintenance topics, flight operations, flight services, and ELTs, among others. David Cook of the Virginia Beach Police Department discussed his department’s helicopter operations, and Mike Collins, AOPA Pilot technical editor, spoke about aviation photography and videography.

Gordon Campbell, the outgoing president of the Virginia Aviation Council, and Judy Sparks, manager of the fly-in since the event’s inception, both were amazed at how well the Festival of Flight operated this year. They said initial setup was done so quickly that by midafternoon Friday, almost all areas were ready for drive-in and fly-in attendees.

Following judging, awards were presented to aircraft in eight categories; a list of winning aircraft—with photos—is available online. The 2012 Virginia Regional Festival of Flight is currently scheduled for April 28 and 29.