The eleventh annual AOPA Fly-In and Open House nearly became the "first annual AOPA Drive-In" as Saturday morning dawned with Frederick Municipal Airport well below IFR minimums. But pilots were undaunted, and the parking lots quickly filled to overflowing. Some pilots canceled their flight plans and drove from as far away as Michigan.
An estimated 4,500 people turned out for this year's Fly-In, and despite instrument weather conditions that restricted arrivals until just before noon, more than 300 aircraft flew in. Pilots flew from as far away as California, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada, to attend.
The first pilots to make a successful approach into Frederick airport Saturday morning were an instrument student pilot and instructor in a Cessna Cutlass RG from Ann Arbor, Michigan. It took four tries.
"This was a wonderful event not only for pilots, but for the community as well," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Local politicians, a U.S. congressman, local media, and the general public came out to see the value of their local airport.
"The Fly-In was important to pilots, but the Open House was important to the community and the future of the airport. Our Fly-In, while bigger than most airport open houses, still shows how this kind of community event can help build support for a local airport."
(AOPA published earlier this year The Complete Guide to Holding an Airport Open House, a comprehensive "how-to" booklet for airport and pilot groups interested in showcasing their general aviation airport and demonstrating how it benefits the local community. A copy is available online.)
More than 30 aircraft made it through the weather for the static display. Included in the display were the new Cirrus SR22, an Eagle 150, the four-place Diamond DA48-180, and new aircraft from Cessna, Commander, Mooney, Pilatus, Raytheon, and Socata.
One aircraft that didn't make it, though, was AOPA's Sweepstakes Bonanza, much to the disappointment of many pilots. The classic V35 Bonanza, which will be awarded to an AOPA member early next year, is being customized with almost $200,000 in upgrades, including an "all-glass" Meggitt Avionics New Generation Integrated Cockpit (MAGIC) electronic flight instrument system (EFIS). But the cutting-edge system had just been installed and still awaits FAA certification. That limited the sweepstakes Bonanza to VFR day flight only and prevented it from making the IFR trip to Frederick.
But pilots did get a chance to see another advanced avionics system as AOPA demonstrated the Capstone avionics suite. Using a multifunction display, the system shows near-real-time weather radar and other weather information uplinked from the ground. The system can display other ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast)-equipped aircraft both in the air and on the ground.
But an added feature demonstrated at the Fly-In was the first public display of TIS-B (traffic information service) traffic on the Capstone system. Any aircraft being tracked by radar can be displayed on the multifunction screen using TIS-B.
Many attendees came for the 25-plus hours of free seminars. Many were standing room only.
Registered Fly-In attendees won some great prizes right at the event. The top prize, a Garmin GPSMAP 295 handheld GPS, went to George Katalenas, an AOPA member who drove in from East Greenville, Pennsylvania. William J. Kossowan won an AOPA watch from Sporty's Pilot Shop. He drove in from Salem, Massachusetts.
The FAA's Leesburg Automated Flight Service Station provided on-site departure briefings, utilizing weather data and graphics accessed through the AOPA Online Web site.
The next opportunity to fly in to a major AOPA gathering comes this November 8-10 at the AOPA Expo 2001 annual convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.