General aviation pilots gathered in Idaho Falls for two days of fun and fellowship, and heard aviation news updates from the Idaho Aviation Association and AOPA during the fifth annual Idaho Aviation Expo on May 15 and 16.
The Idaho Aviation Association celebrated a membership milestone, having grown to 1,021 members, said association president Kerry Requa, who gave an upbeat presentation on the organization’s activities during the annual meeting on the first day of the expo. In conjunction with other aviation groups, the Idaho Aviation Association is working to encourage several federal government agencies to approve access to backcountry airstrips in Idaho and neighboring states—a project in which the groups have "made a lot of headway," he said.
David Ulane, AOPA Northwest/Mountain regional manager, was joined by former AOPA Regional Representative Mike Ferguson and his wife, Jeannie, in representing the association at the expo. Members, flight school operators, and other members of the aviation community were eager to discuss the status of the third class medical reform bill known as the Pilots Bill of Rights 2, and the association’s numerous initiatives to promote the pilot community, he said.
Nothing is more familiar about Idaho to the rest of the nation than its agricultural icon, the potato—and general aviation played a role in promoting the product: James Hoff of Idaho Falls fixed-base operator Aero Mark flew a Stearman biplane in broadcast commercials. Aero Mark has co-sponsored, hosted, and provided logistical support for the Idaho Aviation Expo and its associated trade show during its five-year history.
The Stearman is one of two "old sprayers" acquired at auction as "a big pile of parts and a smaller pile of parts" that were restored and kept at the Hoff family potato farm, said Bob Hoff, Aero Mark’s president. He noted that James, his son, did "a beautiful job" restoring the four-aileron, 450-horsepower, Pratt and Whitney R-985 radial-engine-powered aircraft that flew for the ad campaign. The two biplanes are "just for fun," and sometimes are used to donate flights to promote philanthropic causes, he said.
Idaho is also well known for its backcountry aviation, and topics offered in that realm at the expo included a presentation on short takeoff and landing techniques by Patrick Romano, liaison to the Recreational Aviation Foundation from Colorado.
John Muszala, founder of Idaho Falls-based aircraft restoration company Pacific Fighters, gave a presentation on the recent restoration of the "Berlin Express," a rare North American P-51B fighter.
Attendees also toured the Idaho Falls air traffic control tower.
Ulane also met with Airport Support Network volunteer Roger Blew and Idaho Falls Regional Airport management for an update on the future of Runway 17/35. The runway does not meet current FAA-required runway protection zone requirements because of existing development near the south end of the airport.
"During the meeting, we were informed that the airport has been working closely with the FAA’s Helena Airports District Office to program future runway and taxiway projects that will allow the runway to remain open for general aviation users," Ulane said.
Requa said in a telephone interview that when he became the group’s leader, it had just over 800 members. He had set a goal of increasing membership to give the group a stronger voice in its advocacy efforts.
"We’d like to have everyone know how much we value membership. That’s the voice we speak with," he said, announcing that the group’s membership had passed the 1,000 mark.
Ulane agreed that participation makes aviation groups stronger and helps members stay enthused and informed.
"Events like this offer members opportunities to engage with AOPA close to home, and share their input and learn about AOPA’s efforts first hand," he said. "Local and regional events like this strengthen the general aviation community, bringing pilots together to talk about aviation issues in their area and to share their love of aviation with the general public."