“I would do this every week,” claimed Colorado Jet Center manager Aaron Wood, whose fixed-base operator was a host for the fourth 2015 AOPA Fly-In. “This is at the heart of what we’re all about. There are wings everywhere!”
Wood’s enthusiasm was matched by the more than 2,150 attendees who reveled in Colorado-blue skies, warm temperatures, and the happy camaraderie of aviation enthusiasts out for a fantastic fly-in event. As AOPA crisscrosses the country with its regional fly-ins, it was bound to land in the Rockies. AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Stephen Ducoff said, “We worked it really hard” to get AOPA to host a fly-in at Colorado Springs Airport. “We think we have a fabulous airport that includes a great general aviation airport.”
The event started auspiciously with a highly successful Friday night Barnstormers Party that saw nearly 650 attendees enjoying an incredible potato bake, hosted by the Recreational Aviation Foundation. The potato bake has become a hallmark of Recreational Aviation Foundation events, and it added that backcountry feel to the fly-in. With the moon rising over the Front Range, the potatoes popped and sizzled and were accompanied by homemade toppings from the foundation’s chef/pilots. If hot stuffed potatoes weren’t enough, there was also great barbecue and a swinging country/western band.
Colorado Springs delivered on a promise of a beautiful day on Saturday and nearly 300 aircraft flew in for the event. With an aircraft display of nearly 40 aircraft—highlighted by a Czech L-139 that is flown by Dianna Stanger, a Recreational Aviation Foundation “campfire” with great backcountry aircraft, and displays from Cirrus and others—the Colorado Springs Fly-In was a great celebration of all-things aviation. Nearly 60 exhibitors enticed visitors—an Aspen Avionics rep said the attendees “just keep coming”—and speakers and product showcases whet the appetites of those who love to fly.
Colorado Springs is home to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and Adm. William Gortney was a featured speaker. He discussed ways that GA pilots and the command can work together to avoid unnecessary airspace violations. An F-16 delighted attendees with a fly-by mid-afternoon.
Jane Thompson of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was one of the attendees. “AOPA has done an awesome job,” she said. She and her husband had come to see the “beautiful aircraft” and learn about starting or joining a flying club. Flying clubs, Rusty Pilots, and other AOPA initiatives targeting growing the pilot population were all part of the event.
In fact, at his Pilot Town Hall, AOPA President Mark Baker announced that since its inception, the Rusty Pilots program has hosted 5,200 people and returned more than 1,000 lapsed pilots back into the air this past year. And, he said, as flying clubs “gently move people back into flying,” AOPA now has more than 600 clubs in its community.
Of the AOPA Fly-Ins that he initiated, Baker admitted that they have been even more successful than he and AOPA staff dreamed. Colorado Springs is the eleventh regional fly-in, and more than 25,000 attendees have enjoyed AOPA Fly-Ins across the country. Oct. 10, the last 2015 fly-in, will be in Tullahoma, Tennessee. New dates and locations for 2016 are to be announced in the coming weeks.
No fly-in would be complete without Baker’s town hall and his address to attendees updating them on the association’s work. Top of mind was third class medical reform and Baker promised, “I won’t be happy until we get it done.” As of Sept. 25, some 67 Senators had signed on as co-sponsors to the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2.
And back to Wood, the Colorado Jet Center manager who was so enthusiastic about the fly-in—Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers presented Wood with the “Spirit of the Springs” award because of his “can-do attitude.”