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Volunteers the heart of AOPA Fly-InsVolunteers the heart of an AOPA fly in

“I’m so happy we have so many volunteers!” Toni Mensching, director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center, said May 20. “I thought you were going to cancel on me!”
Airside volunteers gather for an operations briefing. Photo by Mike Collins.

May 20 dawned with cloudy skies for AOPA’s first fly-in of 2016 at Michael R. Smith Airport in Beaufort, North Carolina. The forecast for May 21 talked about rain and wind—not the most promising weather for a fly-in, and nobody enjoys the prospect of spending a rainy Saturday standing outside.

It’s not hard to see why Mensching might have had her doubts. She needn’t have worried. Her charges, assembled to hear a safety briefing before heading out to the flight line, take their responsibilities seriously. Dressed in fluorescent yellow shirts and beige caps, they listened intently as Mensching outlined safety procedures.

Mensching has supervised aircraft and static display logistics for AOPA Fly-Ins since 2010, and she takes a disciplined approach to the task of keeping airside volunteers and visitors safe. No matter the size of the event or the weather forecast, she lays out three rules that volunteers must follow: Do not approach a spinning propeller; do not try to physically stop an aircraft; do not abandon your post. “If you’ve been assigned a position, we need you there desperately,” Mensching said. “You’re important, so please don’t wander off.”

Mensching’s airside group, tasked with marshalling arriving and departing aircraft, make up just a portion of the hundreds of volunteers who help at AOPA Fly-Ins. Others spend long hours setting up tables and chairs, or carting boxes and signs. Whatever they’re asked to do, the volunteers do it with enthusiasm and smiles. Some at the Beaufort event were repeat volunteers who had helped out in 2015 at St. Simons Island, Georgia, or Frederick, Maryland. All devote a day or more to helping each show be a success. They ask for nothing in return (but they receive a T-shirt, hat, and lunch).

Toni Mensching, center, director of AOPA's Pilot Information Center, meets with airside volunteers. Photo by Jill Tallman.

Amelia “Mimi” Reiheld was one of the veterans who had joined AOPA’s volunteer squadron at St. Simons Island. She had driven to Beaufort from Edenton, North Carolina, rather than fly her turbocharged Mooney. “I’ve got to be somewhere Sunday,” she explained. If she had flown in, she might have had to wait around until Monday to depart. But she wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to help out.

Wearing a bright-orange vest to make her more visible on the flight line, Reiheld was one of a group of volunteer pilots charged with parking airplanes in the designated camping area. “It’s so much fun,” Reiheld said, adding that she loves meeting other volunteers and hearing their stories.

Jerry Gable, also a repeat volunteer, flew his Cessna 172 from Southport, North Carolina. Like Reiheld, he said he loves meeting other volunteers as well as AOPA staff. At Beaufort, Gable was a showside volunteer, doing any one of a hundred tasks associated with putting on a large fly-in. He’d rather be a volunteer than a spectator, he said. “It’s kind of boring, just going to [a] show.”

Beaufort Fly-In

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.
Topics: AOPA, Fly in

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