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'A sense of community''A sense of community'

AOPA Fly-Ins brought the aviation family together in 2017AOPA Fly-Ins brought the aviation family together in 2017

From Connecticut to California, from the Oklahoma heartland to Florida’s Gulf coast, general aviation pilots connected with thousands of their closest friends—and GA made new friends along the way—during the fourth year of AOPA Fly-Ins in 2017.

  • Dennis Akers of Ballast Point, Florida, holds his son, Sonny, age 1 1/2, in the aircraft camping area at the AOPA Tampa Fly-In. They weren't camping, but wanted to check out the scene. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Lauren Putman helps a member in the AOPA Village. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Sarah Bartush; her son, Bradley, 16 months; and husband Chris Bartush enjoy the pancake breakfast Saturday morning. Their family owns Channel Islands Aviation, based at Camarillo. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Paul New, owner of Tennessee Aircraft Services, demonstrates how to change an oil filter during the all-day owner-guided maintenance workshop on Friday, Sept. 8, at AOPA's 2017 Norman Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Matt Woodland of Moore, Oklahoma, makes balloon animals for young Norman Fly-In visitors at an activity arranged by the University of Oklahoma's Sooner Air Academy. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Participants in Friday's all-day weather workshop during AOPA's 2017 Norman Fly-In watch a demonstration of a drone operated by the University of Oklahoma's Advanced Radar Research Center. The workshop was held at the National Weather Center. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • After the DJI drone flying in AOPA's drone cage turned away from them, Bryan Fogle of Thousand Oaks, California, and his son, Elijah Fogle, 2, wave goodbye. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • During a Friday seminar on owner-guided maintenance, pilot and A&P mechanic Adrian Eichhorn holds a cylinder as he talks about spark plug installation. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • AOPA President Mark Baker talks with visitors to AOPA's 2017 Norman Fly-In during Saturday morning's pancake breakfast. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Kurt Engelmann of Long Valley, New Jersey, center, gets help trying on an immersion suit from Tom Horne, left, and Groton Fly-In volunteer Gail DeCoteau of Groton, Connecticut. Englemann attended AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Horne's seminar on water survival. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Two amphibious airplanes--a Waco biplane and a Piper Super Cub--wait to be positioned in the static display area Friday as final preparations are made for the AOPA 2017 Tampa Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Guests enjoy a twilight dinner on the ramp at Peter O. Knight Airport during the Friday night Barnstormers Party at AOPA's 2017 Tampa Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Warbirds from the Commemorative Air Force serve as a backdrop for the Jonathan Moody Band at Friday night's Barnstormers Party at the AOPA Fly-In at Camarillo, California. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Holly Ciochetti of Clayton, Georgia, dances with her daughter Bella, age 4, to the live music at the AOPA 2017 Tampa Fly-In. They live on the Heaven's Landing residential airpark. "She's been flying since she was six weeks old," Ciochetti said of her daughter. Photo by Mike Collins.

Starting off with a fly-in at Camarillo, California, in April, and concluding with a conclave in Tampa, Florida, in October, AOPA Fly-Ins featuring a new two-day format, with more educational workshops and fly-outs to places of local interest, “were a real hit” with the aviation community, participant surveys show.

The updated format will continue in 2018 as the fly-ins extend to new territory high in the Rocky Mountains on June 15 and 16 in Missoula, Montana; in the desert Southwest on Sept. 14 and 15 in Santa Fe, New Mexico; at a new location in the heartland Oct. 5 and 6, in Carbondale, Illinois; and at a gem of the Gulf Coast Oct. 26 and 27 in Gulf Shores, Alabama, said Chris Eads, AOPA director of outreach and events.

A key aim of the fly-ins is to bring pilots together to share their passion and learn together in a social atmosphere—and if member feedback is an indication, that objective was met and exceeded.

“I felt very welcomed and ‘part of the family’—this was the first wholly AOPA event I have attended and I was extremely impressed. Staff were warm and inviting and volunteers super friendly and helpful,” a pilot commented.

A longtime AOPA member wrote to express appreciation for opportunities to make personal connections in the world of GA. “The value added to my membership is because of face to face with AOPA reps" as well as with industry personnel "that online or on the phone can't match.”

The educational opportunities provided by AOPA Air Safety Institute seminars and the newly added workshops were a consistently big draw, with more than 30 percent of those surveyed rating the activities as their No. 1 reason to attend a fly-in—a result that “tremendously exceeded expectations,” Eads said.

Many praised the fly-ins for the opportunities for individual contact with AOPA leadership, with two-thirds of survey respondents saying the fly-ins enhanced their sense of the value they receive from their AOPA membership.

Attendance, spurred in some instances by significant local media attention, was strong at the individual fly-ins, and became record-setting at the Norman, Oklahoma, fly-in, which was held at the University of Oklahoma Westheimer Airport in conjunction with the airport’s eleventh annual aviation festival.

One local newspaper headlined its story: “OU Aviation Festival goes big with regional fly-in."

Of the attendance at that event, “3,000 were members of the general public coming out to explore aviation,” noted Eads, adding that OU’s Sooner Air Academy provided special activities for young people during the joint event.

Overall, the 2017 fly-ins drew just under 25,000 people, and 1,733 aircraft, to the four fly-in airports.

Participants also gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the fly-outs that offered pilots a chance to visit selected destinations by relatively short flights, and immediately apply learning gained at fly-in educational sessions—as those who tackled overwater flying to the Bahamas enjoyed following the Tampa fly-in. Other excursions from Tampa included touring Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach, and a Tampa-area visit to MacDill Air Force Base.

AOPA plans to offer more excursions modeled on the success of those activities and others from 2017, such as the fly-out from Groton, Connecticut, to Rhode Island’s Newport State Airport for a day of cruising on the water and touring The Breakers, the most famous of Newport’s mansions. The fly-out was arranged in partnership with the Cessna Pilots Society.

As the 2018 AOPA Fly-Ins continue to expand the areas of the country where AOPA has brought GA pilots together, look for extended hours of exhibits and activities on the fly-ins’ opening Fridays, along with exciting new fly-out opportunities and other new features, Eads said.

Responses to date demonstrate that the AOPA Fly-Ins provide a real opportunity for the extended family of AOPA members to have fun together, share their ideas, and become ambassadors for GA with the public, he said.

Or, as one 2017 participant summed up the experience: “The AOPA Fly-in gave me an opportunity to go on a ‘mission’ doing something I love and meet with other pilots, a sense of community.”

The setting sun, camaraderie, and scenery afforded by the Cessna Pilots Society campout on Catalina Island was described as 'an exclamation mark' following the AOPA Fly-In at Camarillo, California. Photo by David Tulis.
Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: AOPA Events, Fly in, Air Safety Institute

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