Swarming to San Marcos

April 26, 2014

AOPA’s first regional fly-in kicked off in fine style at San Marcos Municipal Airport in San Marcos, Texas, April 26 as more than 2,500 people and 350 aircraft descended on the airport.

“This is a jewel of an asset that we have here,” San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero said of the airport, as he presented a key to the city to AOPA President Mark Baker. “We hope to see you in years to come.”

A whopping 700 airplanes had originally been scheduled to attend, but an overcast kept the airport IFR and then marginal VFR for much of the day. About one-third of the airplanes that made it to San Marcos arrived April 25, taking advantage of a fuel discount offered by Redbird Skyport. 

Still, the clouds served to keep temperatures cooler than usual and made conditions pleasant for the thousands who came to stroll the static display, check out the exhibitor tent, attend a seminar, or enjoy some barbecue. Admirers of all ages wandered among the diverse array of aircraft on the static display, ranging from a Great Lakes biplane to a Quest Kodiak to an Aero Vodochody L-29, a jet trainer built in the former Czech Republic. AOPA's Sweepstakes Debonair was at the center of an admiring group of visitors throughout the day. After San Marcos, the Debonair travels back East to receive its paint job.

The sounds of aircraft engines mingled with music on the flight line, performed by Alex and Marti Whitmore, who belong to the Flying Musicians. Parked in the shade under a high-wing Cessna, the duo “did some picking and singing,” said Marti Whitmore. The Flying Musicians is a nonprofit group whose mission is to promote the connection between music and aviation.

By 1 p.m., the sun had reappeared on the scene, and spectators were treated to the sight of two V-22 Ospreys in formation, as well as arrivals and departures of EAA’s B-17 Aluminum Overcast.

The event got underway with a traditional fly-in breakfast: pancakes and sausages prepared by AOPA staff members. For lunch, AOPA turned over the cooking duties to the pros at Hays County BBQ, who prepared brisket, sausage, and side dishes for hundreds of hungry guests.

Seminars proved popular as members crowded into sessions that discussed owner-performed maintenance, flying with iPads, stick-and-rudder flying, and improving radio communications. Baker’s Pilot Town Hall was overflowing with members who crowded Redbird Skyport’s massive main hangar to ask him about the third class medical initiative, ADS-B, and how to lower the cost of flying.

The FAA has said it will consider a rulemaking on the proposal to permit pilots to fly VFR with a driver’s license, but that does not mean AOPA is backing off the congressional legislation that has been proposed, Baker said. The bill has 98 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 10 in the Senate, he said. “I think it’s really important we keep this engaged,” he said. Fly-in attendees signed a petition on display at the fly-in in support of third class medical reform. The petition will travel to each of the regional fly-ins so that all who attend can add a signature.

While the fly-in was expected to attract hundreds of Texas pilots, AOPA member Fred Hughes of Oklahoma City said he drove the entire distance—eight hours by car—because thunderstorms were forecast at about the time he would have been returning by air in his Cessna 172. But he didn’t want to miss the fly-in.

“We’re very glad to see an event like this in central Texas,” said Jason Sills, who was enjoying barbecue with his wife, Christine, and their 18-month-old son, Ethan. The Sills live in Austin, about 29 miles from San Marcos. 

Scott and Jean Friend flew their Cessna 172 in from Houston with their 7-month-old daughter, Mackenzie. It was the baby’s third trip in an airplane, they said proudly, and she did fine—sleeping the entire way. 

Bill Lavers and his son, Will, saw the fly-in as a chance to get some feedback on a ground trainer, akin to a go-kart but designed so that the driver steers it with pedals akin to rudders. The vehicle gives student pilots an opportunity to practice steering with their feet and parking a vehicle without the stress of operating a moving aircraft and burning aviation fuel, Lavers explained. Engineered by Dennis Westmoreland, the ground trainer is equipped with a radio so that the driver can wear a headset and practice radio calls as well.

The Lavers and Westmoreland brought the prototype from Snyder, Texas. Bill Lavers, a student pilot who recently soloed, said a CFI friend came up with the idea, and he believes it could be a cost-effective tool for flight schools. Check it out online.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman | AOPA Technical Editor, AOPA

AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.