“I thought it was awesome,” said Fred Salisbury, the airport director. “That back runway probably hasn’t seen aircraft for fifty years and it was packed with parked airplanes all the way down.” The airport’s second runway had long since been converted into a drag strip until it hosted overflow aircraft arriving for the event.
After setting up camp Thursday for the weekend event, the father and son piloted their Cherokee to nearby Paine Field in for an exclusive Boeing VIP tour Friday that included stops at the Historic Flight Foundation and the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, north of Seattle.
“Oh man, it’s been awesome,” echoed the younger Lima, who recently earned his instrument rating. “Just waking up to airplane noise—there’s nothing better. It’s the best alarm there is.”
Local resident and Washington Pilots Association member Rick Kriss guided his Cessna 182 around the pattern with a conga line of some of the 690 aircraft landing for the day’s events. Kriss said he preferred the intimate regional fly-in over EAA’s “massive” AirVenture in Oshkosh. “I’ve been to those events before but here we have more ambiance and we get to show off our airport,” which is cradled between the Olympic and Cascade Mountains.
The Historic Flight Foundation’s North American B-25 Mitchell bomber nicknamed Grumpy turned heads when its large radial engines kicked to life. The aircraft was on hand for scenic rides that “could accommodate six, with four up front and two in the rear,” said Crew chief Bob Otero as he preflighted one of the aircraft’s two big engines. “She’s allowed to burn, leak, or blow one gallon of oil per hour, per engine,” he told a gathering crowd.
While many attendees were happy to walk among the many aircraft on official display, others were content to share hangar stories and camaraderie with other pilots.
One such camper was Jim Hall of Stockton, California, who settled in next to his 1960 V-tail Bonanza with wife and pilot Lyn as a nearly full moon rose above them. A colorful LED light drew attention to their camping spot after the Friday night Barnstormers Party that featured the U-2 tribute band U-253. The Halls and 750 others were treated to tunes, a barbecue dinner, and some dancing as Grumpy and Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics’ Beechcraft Staggerwing provided the backdrop.
On Saturday attendees busied themselves with educational opportunities that included topics ranging from around-the-world pilot Adrian Eichhorn’s risk management lessons to Tennessee spin doctor Catharine Cavagnaro’s tips for maintaining aircraft control in an emergency.
Japanese pilot and inspirational speaker Shinji Maeda brought his parents who were in town from Japan to learn more about the flying community that embraced their 37-year-old son who, as a teenager, was severely injured in a car crash that cost him half his eyesight.
Maeda left Japan to pursue aviation in the United States and worked his way up through private, instrument, seaplane, and multiengine training to earn his commercial pilot certificate. “As long as you have a passion you can follow your dreams,” Maeda said, as his parents beamed nearby.
Behind him, the Rusty Pilots Seminar buzzed with pilots learning how they could get back into the air. Across the ramp, experts from AOPA’s Pilot Information Center fielded frequently asked questions about the third class medical reform that President Obama signed into law July 15.
According to AOPA Director of Outreach and Events Chris Eads, more than 4,000 attended the fly-in, making it the association’s most popular by a wide margin. Eads said the Washington Pilots Association helped park 1,064 cars, and the young people of the Civil Air Patrol volunteering throughout the event “rocked the house.”
Seaplane Pilots Association state field director Austin Watson said the event was “record breaking by all accounts.” He credited the Pacific Northwest’s outdoor culture, “a huge aerospace industry” that includes Boeing, and the summer’s favorable weather pattern. Watson said a dozen seaplane pilots gathered at nearby Long Lake to celebrate the weekend and share flying stories after the fly-in officially ended. “We fly all year and on great days it’s amazing!”
Peninsula Helicopters flight instructor Jacob Musson took a break from flying his Robinson R22 above the crowd to marshal a large group of attendees together for a photo. He praised Bremerton National, where he is based, and said he had never seen that many aircraft at the airfield.
Student pilot Eduardo Jimenez was giddy as he climbed steps near the airport’s newly installed aviation-themed playground to snap a few photos of the dozens of aircraft on static display, including Carbon Cubs, King Airs, Glasairs, and warbirds. “For our little town to have something like this,” he said, “it just doesn’t happen every day.”
Airport director Salisbury said his telephone kept ringing with curious callers asking why so many aircraft and cars were descending on the airfield.
“When they asked, I told them there was no charge. I said ‘No, it’s absolutely free,’ and they said, ‘Well, we’re coming.’ It’s amazing.”