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.
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.”
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.”
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.