AOPA set a new fly-in attendance record Oct. 1, with more than 6,300 people coming to the association’s fourth and final 2016 Regional Fly-In, which was at Ernest A. Love Field in Prescott, Arizona. Some 565 aircraft flew in to the event, not quite reaching the aircraft record set earlier this year in Bremerton, Washington; 2,160 automobiles arrived at the airport. An estimated 275 volunteers shared their time to make the event happen.
Contributing to the high attendance were Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott campus, which was celebrating its annual homecoming weekend, and strong local support. ERAU hosted a static aircraft display adjacent to the AOPA aircraft display, and also presented an hour-long aerial demonstration at noon.
The Prescott Fly-In pushed cumulative attendance above 40,000 for the 16 Regional Fly-Ins that AOPA has held since 2014. Through the Battle Creek Fly-In on Sept. 17, 37,460 aviation-minded people had attended an AOPA Regional Fly-In; the three-year total is now 43,760.
Friday afternoon, early arrivals had an opportunity to tour the Robertson Aircraft Accident Investigation Laboratory—better known as the “Crash Lab”—at nearby Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where professor Bill Waldock and some of his students explained several accident scenarios. The facility includes re-creations of more than a dozen general aviation aircraft accidents, and is used to teach accident investigation skills to ERAU students and industry professionals. “Most of those accidents resulted from the same cause—bad decisions,” he said. “How many of you own airplanes?” A number of hands went up. “Watch out for situations where you try to save the airplane—and possibly sacrifice your passengers.”
Learning about the crash dynamics and understanding what happened was interesting, said Ed DiEnno of Tucson, Arizona. “The biggest thing is to see there’s a lesson in every one.”
“It was a good tour, but it would have been better without the rain,” said Bill Talman of Knoxville, Tennessee, who flew to Prescott in his Piper Turbo Lance. A late-season monsoonal shower moved through during the tour.
Steve Crouse of Chandler, Arizona, has read accident stories for 40 years and also appreciated the tour. “I was always fascinated to learn what went wrong,” he said. “To be able to see some of that firsthand was well worth coming up a day early.” It was Crouse’s first opportunity to camp with his Cessna 172. “This is really a fun change, because you’re right on the airport.”
Nearby, Jay Burris of Houston, Texas, pitched a tent beside his Beech Baron 58—also for the first time. “We’re just having a great time and enjoying the weather,” he said. “It’s a gorgeous place.”
Steve Manweiler of Valley Center, Kansas, said flying his Vans RV-6 to Prescott for the event was well worth the trip. “It was really great,” said Manweiler, who watched a demonstration of AOPA’s Internet Flight Planner. He said he also enjoyed aviation author and humorist Rod Machado’s morning talk—and then raced off to catch Machado’s afternoon presentation.
As part of its annual homecoming celebration, Embry-Riddle presented an aerial demonstration at noon. Melissa Andrzejewski, an alumna of the university’s Prescott campus, flew a solo act in her Zivko Edge 540, followed by Skip Stewart in his modified Pitts S-2S biplane and Bill Stein, also flying an Edge 540. Then, after a brief demonstration by members of ERAU’s national champion collegiate flight team in a Cessna 150—prized by the flight team for its 40 degrees of flap travel—Andrzejewski and Stewart performed a dramatic two-ship routine.
The event concluded with an ice cream social following AOPA President Mark Baker’s Pilot Town Hall. “What do you think of these fly-ins?” Baker asked to open the session, eliciting rousing applause. “There will be four more in 2017 that we’ll be announcing in a couple of months.”
Baker and other AOPA leaders—joined by Jack Pelton, leader of the Experimental Aircraft Association, as they have at all of this year’s AOPA Fly-Ins—took questions on getting young people into aviation, third class medical reform, user fees, and the Santa Monica airport.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), whose district includes Prescott, also addressed the audience. Gosar is a member of the House General Aviation Caucus and was an early supporter of third class medical reform. “You have to get involved,” he told the crowd. He suggests watching out for new government fees and charges—depending on which candidate is elected this November, he said, there could be a push to increase collections. The best way to head off such changes, he said, is for pilots to get to know their representatives and senators. “AOPA and other organizations do a great job,” he explained, “but there’s nothing like looking a voter in the eye.”