Rainy weather couldn’t keep 7,000 AOPA members and aviation enthusiasts from flocking to AOPA Aviation Summit Sept. 22 through 24 in Hartford, Conn., to participate in educational seminars, test and buy pilot products, and check out Airportfest.
“The crowd was enthusiastic and ready to explore all things general aviation,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “We had a tremendous array of aircraft and exhibitors, great speakers for our keynotes and seminars, and lots of fun and camaraderie at social events. And AOPA Live drew in an audience from around the world. In short, it was a wonderful three days for any fan of GA.”
Airportfest shines through the rain
Carrying umbrellas and donning ponchos, Airportfest visitors perused 50 aircraft on display ranging from light sport aircraft, like the Bristell announced at Summit, to turboprops and light jets. Two of the main attractions included AOPA’s 2011 Crossover Classic Sweepstakes Cessna 182 and 2012 Tougher than a Tornado Sweepstakes Aviat Husky. The association announced the Crossover Classic winner during the keynote session on Sept. 23. Those who missed out on winning the Cessna 182 could take a look at other Cessna models on display at Airportfest. A Cessna 172 that had been donated to the AOPA Foundation’s A Night for Flight auction also was on display.
During the day, members of the Flying Musicians Association serenaded visitors with song and instrumental numbers featuring guitars and a digital accordion. On Friday night, pilots gathered under tents to eat, listen to local Hartford band Out of Touch, and dance the night away during the Rock ‘n Rally at Hartford-Brainard Airport. Two of the dancers, Gene and Laura Poppel of Pennsylvania, were celebrating their honeymoon.
Meanwhile, others stayed dry with a host of activities in the Connecticut Convention Center, including an exhibit hall featuring 400 booths, educational seminars, and AOPA Live programs.
New products, cutting-edge aircraft in exhibit hall
With the record-setting Sikorsky X2, Terrafugia Transition, and Cirrus SR22T in the Connecticut Convention Center, the exhibit hall proved a major attraction.
Sikorsky’s sleek, high-speed X2 helicopter demonstrator drew stares near the AOPA Live stage. A flat-screen television looped through the development timeline and rendered how the technology might look in its first application, the S-97 Raider attack helicopter. In animation reminiscent of a realistic video game, the screen showed crews in night vision goggles at the controls of the glass-panel helicopters, swooping low and fast to lock their sights on the sources of ground fire and taking out one target after another.
At the ForeFlight booth, a crowd lingered throughout the show to find out more about how to make the most of the Apple iPad in the cockpit. As the show drew to a close Sept. 24, Eric Hake was still answering questions from attendees—not just about the company’s flight planning software, but about everything from how to mount the iPad to when and if you need an external GPS.
Seattle Avionics, which sells the Windows-based Voyager SkyPad Electronic Flight Bag, was taking shipping orders for the aviation tablet PC by the end of Summit, informing customers that its supply for the show had sold out.
The Klapmeier brothers were well represented in the exhibit hall: Cirrus Aircraft had an SR22T on display at the front, with miniature models of the company’s aircraft, from the SR20 to the Vision Jet, for each year from 2001 to 2011. The Vision Jet was on display in front of the convention center to help lure passersby to the show. A mockup of the fuselage of the Kestrel turboprop in the exhibit hall invited attendees to climb inside and imagine themselves owners of the six-seat composite airplane. The mockup showed the cabin’s dimensions and demonstrated cargo space with suitcases and a dog carrier (complete with stuffed dog) in the rear.
Good pilots are always learning
Attendees participated in more than 60 hours of educational seminars, pulling out their electronic devices or good-old-fashioned pen and paper to take notes. One of the most popular seminars, “iPads in the Cockpit” gave more than 400 pilots tips for how to use the popular electronic device for flight planning, pulling up charts and approach plates, and more. Others learned how to save their life in an aircraft accident and ditch successfully. Medical certification, aging aircraft, and aviation humor also were popular seminar topics.
In addition to seminars scattered throughout the convention center, pilots also enjoyed product demonstrations and mini seminars in the exhibit hall at the AOPA Learning Pavilion.
AOPA Live draws in-person attendees, online viewers
AOPA Live programming, brought to you by United Technologies, drew crowds to the exhibit hall for talks on safety topics and staying healthy, and the announcement of the Lightspeed Aviation Foundation grant winners, as chosen by pilots who purchased products from the Lightspeed company. Meanwhile, 17,000 viewers from 74 countries watched live to get a taste of Summit from their computers.
One of the biggest draws was an interview with Cuba Gooding Jr., who stars in the upcoming Lucasfilm production Red Tails, which features the trials and triumphs of the Tuskegee Airmen. AOPA paid tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen during Summit, with the Commemorative Air Force Mustang P-51 painted in the Red Tail scheme on display at Airportfest.
Aviation meets here
When 7,000 pilots gather in one area, there’s no doubt some strategic planning and business ideas and partnerships are blooming. AOPA used the opportunity to sign up prospective Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteers and meet with existing volunteers to talk about new strategies to promote, protect, and defend community airports. Fuller and EAA Vice President of Industry and Regulatory Affairs Sean Elliott joined the ASN team in speaking to the volunteer meeting.
Throughout the show, AOPA displayed airports that need an ASN volunteer, which caught the eye of John Hannon, a flight instructor at privately owned, public-use Monmouth Executive Airport. Upon learning that his airport had no volunteer, Hannon stepped up to offer his service while chatting with an AOPA staffer at Airportfest.
A delegation of officials from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) came to Hartford for Summit on Saturday during a visit to the United States for the 2011 U.S.-China Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C. The officials arrived at Bradley International Airport in Citation jets provided by AOPA and Cessna Aircraft; CAAC Aircraft and Airworthiness Certification Department Deputy Director General Shijun Yin remarked through an interpreter on the ease and convenience of corporate aviation in the United States. The delegation also looked at new aircraft and cockpit technologies in the exhibit hall at the Connecticut Convention Center.
AOPA Aviation Summit also featured a lighter side for members. The show’s social events kicked off Thursday evening with a benefit fundraiser dinner for the AOPA Foundation. The night was the culmination of the online A Night for Flight Auction, and proceeds from the auction and dinner contributed $200,000 to the foundation for its efforts to promote safety, boost the pilot population, protect airports, and enhance the public’s perception of general aviation. The night featured acrobatic performers with AiRealistic who performed magical feats of human motion and interpretation.
Those looking for a lower-key night on Thursday attended a double feature at the Connecticut Science Center to view aviation movies Memphis Belle and Legends of Flight.
Friday night featured the Rock ‘n Rally at Airportfest and intimate dine-around dinners with airshow legends, military pilots, the editors of AOPA Pilot, women leaders in aviation, doctors, and pilot authors.
Hundreds gathered for the closing dinner on Saturday evening at the New England Air Museum. Groups dined to music and walked through the museum’s exhibits, which featured a B-29 Superfortress called Jack’s Hack, a Sikorsky VS-44 Flying Boat, Gee Bee racers, a Lockheed Electra, a DC-3, a balloon basket from about 1870, a Chance-Vought XF4U-4 Corsair, and a Grumman F-14 Tomcat.
Summit 2012 headed to Palm Springs
The sunny weather and desert mountains of Palm Springs, Calif., will greet pilots at AOPA Aviation Summit in 2012. The show returns to the West Coast and will feature all of the popular seminars, social events, and exhibitors that members come to expect at each event. Details and registration for 2012 will open in the future. One thing is for sure: It’s a show pilots won’t want to miss.