If you didn’t have the pleasure of attending an AOPA regional fly-in in 2014, then you’re in for a real treat when you do next year. These events are all about pilots, airplanes, pancakes, and presentations. They’re also free. As country artists Keith Burns and Michelle Poe sing it, “You can bet on this—don’t get no better than that.”
I was fortunate to attend four of the 2014 fly-ins: at San Marcos, Texas; Spokane, Washington; and Chino, California—as well as the Frederick, Maryland “Homecoming” Fly-In. At each event, I struggled to keep from flailing my arms and getting all giggly as I walked the flight line. How can anyone contain themselves when they can get up close and personal with a Gee Bee racer and a Boeing Model 40, as many did at Felts Field in Spokane? At Chino, I strolled past a Cherokee, circled a Funk, stumbled over a Stearman, turned left at a Cessna, and ended up nose-to-nose-cone with a Lockheed Constellation. So nice. While not all fly-ins have historical airplanes on display, there are many other interesting things to see and do.
All AOPA fly-ins have a vendors’ village where you can shop for your favorite aviation wares. Thinking about replacing your 172’s older navigation box—the one containing a trapdoor that releases a homing pigeon to lead you home? Perhaps you’re looking to upgrade your airplane’s Gosport-tube intercom system. Well, you probably won’t find the latest in speaking tubes and voicepipe technology here, but you might find a vendor willing to sell you a high-tech intercom system that works using something called electrons.
Speaking of voicepipes, you also have the opportunity to attend several first-class presentations offered by AOPA’s staff and industry experts. Been away from flying for a while? Then be sure to attend AOPA’s “Rusty Pilots” program, held on Friday evening before the fly-in begins on Saturday. Whatever you do, don’t trust your rust.
On Saturday morning, breakfast is served beginning at 8:30 a.m. At several of these events, I’ve had the pleasure of playing host and introducing AOPA President Mark Baker to the morning crowd. Then they set me free on stage for a few minutes with a hot mic and no adult supervision. Sometimes I’d share one or two stories about my little Cessna 150 and its Gosport tube and TSO’d pigeon. After consuming breakfast, the audience typically raced off to shop, learn, look, and listen.
OK, can we talk? It’s true that AOPA leadership took a bit of a risk in exchanging the yearly Summit for these regional fly-ins. No doubt, many individuals enjoyed the traditional three-day indoor Summit with its banquets and ancillary trappings. Because part of AOPA’s mission is to connect with its members, an effective way to accomplish this is to bring a fly-in to your backyard (or closer to it). It turns out that the first three fly-ins allowed AOPA to connect with more members than at the last annual Summit. Furthermore, the vast majority of fly-in attendees are folks who have never been able to make it to one of those yearly three-day events. From a grassroots perspective, this is anything but a “sod” story. It’s a happy and successful outcome for everyone.
Each fly-in’s signature event begins promptly at 2:45 p.m. Saturday afternoon with a town hall meeting hosted by Mark Baker. If you want to know how AOPA is representing you and helping sustain your pilot liberties, then this is a must-attend event.
Of course, these events would not have been possible without Mark’s wonderful leadership and the exceptional staff who assist him. It’s not easy to pull off a typical fly-in, much less six in one year. Chris Eads, Katie Pribyl, and the crack audio team—along with many others—all make these events possible. Each deserve props (no, not propellers) for their performance.
We look forward to seeing you at one or more of these regional events next year (schedule to be announced). If it pleases you, fly in the night before, pitch a tent, and camp out. Other pilots do it, and they love it. Wake up nice and early and grab a cup of fresh Colombian coffee (which isn’t your typical cup of airport joe, sometimes referred to as “pre-Colombian” coffee). Then prepare for a fun day of seminars, airplanes, and shopping. It don’t get no better than that.
Rod Machado is a memberof the Aviation Speakers Bureau.