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Gathering heralds spring in AlaskaGathering heralds spring in Alaska

More than 20,000 attend twentieth annual eventMore than 20,000 attend twentieth annual event

The Alaska Airmen Association held its twentieth annual Great Alaska Aviation Gathering at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport May 6 and May 7, drawing an estimated 20,000 people over the weekend to the event’s unique venue—a cavernous FedEx maintenance hangar typically occupied by MD-11s and other large cargo jets.

  • Airplanes vie with exhibit booths for space in a FedEx maintenance hangar during the Alaska Airman Association's Great Alaska Aviation Gathering, held at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Photos by Mike Collins.
  • Twin brothers Aaron Hadfield, left, and Nate Hadfield, 8, of Soldotna, Alaska, learn about the cockpit of a UPS MD-11 cargo jet.
  • Rune Duke, AOPA director of government affairs, talks about Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast implementation and the approaching mandate.
  • Outside the FedEx maintenance hangar, the Chugach Mountains east of Anchorage provide a snow-covered backdrop to the static display aircraft.
  • Participants in a Rusty Pilot program listen to presenter Jamie Patterson-Simes, owner of SkyTrek Alaska Flight Training. The course was taught in the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum's Odom Hangar.
  • Visitors top the stairs to enter the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 cargo jet, exhibited by host FedEx.
  • A purple-and-white Kitfox fit easily beneath the wing of a Quest Kodiak on amphibious floats, inside the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering's exhibit hall--a FedEx maintenance hangar at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
  • Visitors look at the uncowled engine of a nicely refurbished Cessna 185.
  • Attendees inspect the Alaska Airmen Association's sweepstakes Piper Super Cub. Jim Williams of Kearney, Nebraska, won the refurbished airplane.
  • Exhibit booths fill the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering's unique venue--a cavernous FedEx maintenance hangar at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport..
  • This Boeing YL-15 Scout, owned and restored by Keith and Kathy Brunquist, was displayed at the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering. Designed for forward air control, observation, and liaison work, it lost the Air Force contract to Cessna's L-19 Bird Dog. The Brunquists said it is the last piston-powered, propeller-driven airplane that Boeing built.
  • Visitors learn about the landing gear of a Carbon Cub FX.

The organization said attendance was higher than last year’s event. Also for the first time in several years, it sold out of tickets for its airplane raffle several weeks in advance of the Gathering. Jim Williams of Kearney, Nebraska, won the immaculate Piper Super Cub; second place—a set of Airglas skis—went to Rodney Holshier of San Angelo, Texas.

The family friendly Gathering saw visitors of all ages and many children, most of whom appeared to be enjoying their low-altitude view of aviation. Exhibitor booths and several aircraft—from a Kitfox to a Quest Kodiak on amphibious floats—packed the FedEx hangar. Outside were more aircraft, ranging from the utilitarian Cessna 185s and 206s popular in the state to a Mahindra Airvan outfitted with skis, a Beech King Air 350i, and a Cessna Citation CJ4. Nearby were a FedEx MD-11, Boeing 777, and ATR 72; as well as a UPS MD-11; a Douglas DC-3; and U.S. Air Force C-17 and KC-135 jets. While exhibitors covered the full gamut of general aviation, there was a distinct emphasis on tundra tires, shock struts, survival gear, and other equipment especially suited to flying in the forty-ninth state.

“This is a big event, if you’re here,” said Karl Kisser of Anchorage, who flies a Citabria and attends the Gathering whenever he’s not working. “Cars are parked half a mile down the road. This is our welcome to spring.”

The Hanson family of Anchorage never misses the Gathering. “I haven’t missed one in 18 years,” said Bryan Hanson, 18. Currently finishing high school, he plans to start flight training through the University of Alaska Anchorage in the fall.

“He used to come here in his baby jogger,” said his father, Scott Hanson, who used to fly the C-130H for the U.S. Air National Guard and now has a 1952 Cessna 170B as a hobby.

“I didn’t stand a chance—I was going into aviation,” Bryan Hanson said with a laugh.

Volunteer Griffin Kellar, right, who works as an A&P mechanic, helps young people rivet letters onto a sign at an Alaska Airmens Association workshop during the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering. Photo by Mike Collins.

The Alaska Airmen Association ramped up its youth program this year, adding A&P mechanic, piloting, airport management, and air traffic control tasks targeting youth ages 6 to 12—a segment the organization hadn’t addressed before. “We’re trying to show kids potential careers in aviation that they might not be aware of,” explained Nick Kellar, an association board member. At one station, participants riveted letters onto a metal sign that eventually will be hung on the Alaska Airmen building. They also learned how to install spark plugs, use a torque wrench, and work with safety wiring.

“As an organization, we’re trying to ask millennials what they want, and to see where they want aviation to grow,” Kellar said. As a result the organization has a growing number of younger members. “It’s been very successful.”

The FAA’s Surveillance and Broadcast Services office shared information on a little-known loan program offered by Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. The program offers financing, currently at a 4 percent interest rate, for avionics upgrades to aircraft operated in Alaska for at least 51 percent of their flight hours. The aircraft must be equipped with, or have installed, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) avionics; however, the loans also can be used to install GPS/WAAS navigators, multifunction displays, and related equipment. More information on the loan program is available online.

AOPA was an exhibitor at the show, and provided several programs. Jamie Patterson-Simes presented a Rusty Pilot seminar Sunday morning at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum; Rune Duke, AOPA director of government affairs, discussed ADS-B implementation and the approaching Jan. 1, 2020 mandate; and Warren Hendrickson, AOPA Northwest Mountain regional manager, talked about how to start and sustain a flying club.

Also at the Gathering, AOPA asked pilots to participate in beta testing of a new FAA weather camera website. The new site integrates camera images with weather observations, forecasts, and pilot reports, customized for aviation, explained Tom George, AOPA Alaska regional manager. The program seeks feedback from pilots both in and outside of Alaska; eventually the program is expected to expand nationwide. To learn more and access the site’s current link—it changed on May 1—read George’s blog post.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Events

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