President's Position: Flying fun

Kicking off the season with a great fly-in

May 12, 2014

mark bakerFlying is fun. Or at least it should be. Most of us can give 100 well-thought-out reasons why we fly—transportation, business, convenience, efficiency, productivity. And they’re all true. But these very good reasons to fly are almost never the reasons we wanted to fly in the first place. Let’s admit that we fly because it’s fun.

There’s something uniquely joyful about lifting off and climbing above your day-to-day concerns, whatever they may be. So much so that when we aren’t flying, most of us are thinking about it, or—to the dismay of our nonflying friends—talking about it.

But, like anything else, it can be all too easy to get wrapped up in the mechanics of flying and forget about the fun. That’s one reason events such as our AOPA Fly-Ins are so great. They are a chance to really enjoy aviation and to share it with your fellow pilots, aviation enthusiasts, friends, and family.

We just wrapped up our first AOPA Fly-In in San Marcos, Texas, and it was a great experience (see “Briefing,” page 39). The morning’s IFR weather was followed by marginal VFR, and I have heard from some folks who just couldn’t make it in and others who changed plans and decided to drive—in some cases eight hours or more—to be with us. I wish we could have provided a perfect CAVU day, but even with the morning overcast, turnout was impressive.

I want to thank the more than 2,500 people who came out to enjoy the day with us, and especially the 185 volunteers, air traffic controllers, and FBO personnel who helped make sure everything ran smoothly. And let’s not forget the wonderful sponsors and exhibitors who gave attendees the chance to learn more about a wide range of services and products to make their flying easier. AOPA’s staff got into the swing of things, greeting members and flipping pancakes for a traditional fly-in breakfast served over the course of several hours.

Even the serious aspects of the day were enjoyable. Hundreds of people attended seminars on topics that included owner-performed maintenance, flying with iPads, and improving radio communications. And it was no surprise that Rod Machado’s humorous take on aviation delivered laughs and learning to a packed house.

For pilots who’ve been away from flying for a while and want to get back into the cockpit, we held a Rusty Pilots program the night before the fly-in (see “Member News and Notes,” page 102). About 90 pilots spent the evening with us, getting up to speed on the latest regulatory, airspace, and other information needed to get back in the air. The program is free, and participants can get a signoff for the ground portion of the flight review. If you’re a little rusty, join us the night before any of this year’s fly-ins to polish up your skills, and then spend the next day celebrating with us.

I was pleased to see young families out and enjoying Saturday’s event. Not surprisingly, the more than 35 airplanes on display were a big hit with kids and adults alike. Everyone was treated to the impressive rumble of EAA’s beautiful B–17 Aluminum Overcast as it took off and landed, giving rides throughout the day. Other big hits included a Great Lakes biplane, a Quest Kodiak, an Aero Vodochody L-29 jet trainer, and AOPA’s Sweepstakes Debonair—which is now headed back to the East Coast for a paint job (see “Briefing,” page 28).

At lunchtime, AOPA staff turned over the grills to the professionals, and everyone enjoyed a Texas treat with free barbecue brisket, sausage, and all the trimmings.

Later in the afternoon, I had a chance to take questions during a Pilot Town Hall. I was impressed with the high level of engagement around issues such as third class medical reform, avgas, Customs and Border Protection stops of GA aircraft, ADS-B, the cost of flying, and aircraft certification reform. It’s gratifying to know just how much our members care about the freedom to fly and the work we do to protect it.

That was especially evident when it came to our traveling petition in support of third class medical reform. This was the first chance members had to sign on and deliver a message to decision makers in Washington, D.C.—and they did, in droves. In fact, we collected almost 2,000 signatures by the end of the day.

We started these fly-ins to accomplish a few very important goals—to meet you, our members, where you fly; to hear what you have to say about the issues that matter to you; and to put a little fun back into GA. I think we achieved these goals and I can’t wait for the next AOPA Fly-In. We’ve got events scheduled May 31 in Indianapolis; July 12 in Plymouth, Massachusetts; August 16 in Spokane, Washington; September 20 in Chino, California; and November 8 in St. Simons, Georgia. Our seventy-fifth anniversary celebration—the AOPA Homecoming—is October 4 at our Frederick, Maryland, headquarters. I hope to see you there.

AOPA President Mark Baker says his favorite aircraft is his Piper Super Cub, which he has flown for fun for more than 25 years.

Email mark@aopa.org