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Touchdown in Tampa

A just-right 78-degree-Fahrenheit temperature, 59-percent humidity, and four-knot wind greeted the first arrivals at the AOPA Fly-In at Tampa, Florida, presented by Peter O. Knight Airport. The unusually mild and dry conditions might not have been typically Florida-like, but there’s no doubting that the estimated 5,478 attendees—339 of whom flew themselves in—certainly appreciated them.

The Friday workshop sessions proved especially popular, as some 2,400 attendees arrived on that day alone. For John Creedon, owner of a Piper Comanche 260, the event was his first-ever regional fly-in. “I came for the IFR Refresher workshop on Friday and the ADS-B seminar on Saturday,” he said. “I learned a lot and really appreciated the great work by the AOPA staff and the nice friendly atmosphere of the entire event.” George Robbins of Jacksonville had been to the AOPA Fly-In at Beaufort, North Carolina, in 2016, and he flew his Cirrus SR22 for the same IFR workshop. He arrived on what he called a “no sweat” IFR flight plan that featured a clearance to land five miles out. But vast numbers of the arrivals followed the published VFR arrival routes below Tampa’s Class B airspace, the latter segments of which were under the control of AOPA’s “Air Boss” on 120.35 MHz.

The fly-in proved that general aviation pilots dwell in a small world, as Knoxville, Tennessee’s Richard Baldwin discovered. “I got into a discussion with another pilot and the longer we talked, the more we realized we had lived and worked in the same places. Turns out I worked for him as a pilot at Boeing Field 40 years ago!” he said.

Front and center on the fly-in flight line was a brand-new Waco YMF-5F on amphibious floats. Waco Aircraft president Peter Bowers said that the airplane should get its FAA certification by March 2018—right before the Sun N’ Fun International Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland, Florida. Bowers did four demonstration flights during the show, landing on the seaplane base that immediately adjoins Peter O. Knight Airport. “I like these shows a lot,” Bowers said. “They’re a nice size, and manageable.”

Visitors to AOPA's Tampa Fly-In stroll among the static display aircraft Saturday morning. The event was held at idyllic Peter O. Knight Airport, located on the city's waterfront. Photo by Mike Collins.

The Waco wasn’t the only airplane at the show. The additional 56 aircraft on display included a Tecnam P2006T Rotax-powered twin, an Air Cam, a Mooney Ovation Ultra, the Veteran’s Airlift Command’s Eclipse 500, a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet, a Diamond DA-42-VI, a Cessna TTx, a TBM 930, among others. Even astronaut John Glenn’s 1981 Beechcraft B58 Baron was there.

The Icon A5 also was prominent, with Icon Aircraft's Tampa facility located right on the field. “We did 35 demo flights in two days, with each flight featuring at least one water landing” said Icon sales representative Ryan Arndt.

Meanwhile, the 57 exhibitors in their hangar showed off their wares, including drone marketer DroneNerds from Aventura, Florida, and maintenance and charter shop Southern Sky Aviation of Birmingham, Alabama. The event marked Southern Sky's first time running a booth display.

The aircraft camping area at the airport may have been the most picturesque yet for an AOPA Fly-In. Camping was right along the water—the airport is situated on the tip of Davis Islands—with a view of the Tampa skyline in the distance. Chuck and Rhonda Stevens, who keep their Piper Warrior at Johnston County Airport in Smithfield, North Carolina, enjoyed the view after pitching their tent. “We’ve wanted to go to one of these,” Chuck Stevens said. “I wanted to go to Battle Creek—I’m from Michigan—but something came up.”

Buzz and Lori Hohmann of Zephyrhills, Florida, install the rain fly on their tent at the 2017 AOPA Tampa Fly-In. It was the first AOPA Fly-In the couple has attended. Photo by Mike Collins.

Nearby, Buzz and Lori Hohmann told a similar story. Weather kept them from attending AOPA's Beaufort Fly-In in 2016. They made the much shorter trip to Tampa, however, flying their Piper Arrow from Zephyrhills, Florida, just 24 nautical miles northeast. “The arrival procedure had an altitude of 2,500 feet, but we only got up to 2,000 on our way over,” Buzz Hohmann laughed.

Baldwin had high praise for the camping experience: “We had four hot showers and met a bunch of friendly people.” You’ve heard of port-a-potties? Well, the camping area had port-a-shower units.

The fly-in closed with a Pilot Town Hall in the main stage tent. There, AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker and AOPA senior staffers reviewed AOPA’s principal political and other goals. The emphasis was on preventing ATC privatization, an effort that requires us all to “keep up the pressure until March,” according to AOPA senior vice-president of government affairs and advocacy Jim Coon.

Baker updated the audience on egregious pricing by certain fixed-base operators, reporting that AOPA had received some 800 member complaints about exorbitant ramp and other fees. Members should submit their experiences to AOPA, Baker said.

Prizes were awarded to those who had collected their “passport” stamps for attending seminars. One such prize, a free year of AOPA membership, went to Creedon, the first-time attendee with the Comanche 260. “It’s OK,” Creedon said. “I’ve been a member since, well, forever. I’ll just use it to add another year.”

Wrapping up the day was the traditional award to the pilot who flew the farthest to attend the fly-in. The award went to James McCague, who flew his Cessna 182 983 nm from his base at Alliston Airport in Ontario, Canada. The prize? A Stratus ADS-B receiver by Appareo systems.

Free ice cream for all came next—yet another AOPA Fly-In tradition.

All that’s left now is to await the first of AOPA's 2018 Fly-Ins, which will take place in Missoula, Montana, on June 15 and 16, 2018. Subsequent fly-ins will be held at Santa Fe, New Mexico, Sept. 14 and 15; Carbondale, Illinois, Oct. 5 and 6; and Gulf Shores, Alabama, Oct. 26 and 27. We hope to see you there.

  • The aircraft static display is arranged across the ramp at Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa, Florida, during the 2017 AOPA Tampa Fly-In. Tents and various hangars provided spaces for seminars, workshops, and an exhibit hall. Old City Helicopters and pilot Matt Kinkaid provided the vantage point. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Adrian Eichhorn, the 2016 national aircraft maintenance technician of the year, explains the Continental 550 engine's fuel system to participants in the Friday maintenance workshop during AOPA's 2017 Tampa Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Chuck and Rhonda Stevens of Smithfield, North Carolina, enjoy the view of the Tampa skyline from beside their Piper Warrior. They had been wanting to attend an AOPA Fly-In for several years. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • This overhead view of Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa, Florida, shows the AOPA Fly-In activities in the center; fly-in aircraft are parked north of Runway 4/22 and on temporarily closed Runway 18/36. Old City Helicopters and pilot Matt Kinkaid provided the vantage point. 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.
  • The Veterans Airlift Command's Eclipse jet taxies past the Tampa skyline after arriving for AOPA's 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.
  • 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.
  • The sunrise Saturday morning illuminates the Tampa, Florida, skyline and aircraft attending AOPA's 2017 Tampa Fly-In at Peter O. Knight Airport. This scene was taken in the aircraft camping area, which was located along the water. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • AOPA President Mark Baker, seated second from right, talks with visitors during the Saturday morning pancake breakfast at AOPA's 2017 Tampa Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • John Collins, manager of aviation safety programs for the AOPA Air Safety Institute, presents the seminar "Takeoff Surprise: Preparing for the Unexpected" on Saturday morning at AOPA's Tampa Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • 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.
Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.
Topics: AOPA Events, Fly-in

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