AOPA’s 2018 Fly-In locations are gateways to explore the mountain Northwest, high desert mountains, a cutting-edge center for the automobile and aviation industries in the Midwest, and a relaxed beach town along the Gulf Coast—all great family vacation destinations, all strategically located within an easy flight of tens of thousands of AOPA members.
“We really want to take our regional fly-ins where our members love to fly,” said Baker. “AOPA has never hosted a major aviation event at any of these locations, but they offer exceptional flying adventures for pilots and their families, and that’s what these fly-ins are all about.”
Missoula International Airport, Missoula, Montana: Located in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, Missoula boasts breathtaking scenery, unlimited outdoor activities, a rich arts and culture scene, breweries and wineries, shopping, and more. In other words, this city of less than 70,000 people has something to offer for pilots and their friends and families. Outside Magazine previously listed Missoula in its Best Towns section as the next big thing. Missoula is an ideal flight for pilots in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska. And it’s conveniently located for daytrip flights to Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, the Bitterroot Valley, and the Blackfoot Valley. This is one fly-in location where you should consider taking the entire family and planning a summer vacation just before or after the event!
Santa Fe Municipal Airport, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Along the southern stretch of the Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe offers majestic views of the desert mountains, particularly at sunset. At an elevation of 6,348 feet, the airport’s 8,300- and 6,300-foot-long runways will give pilots an opportunity to safely experience high-density-altitude operations. It’s centrally located for pilots to fly in from California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The airport is home to Jet Warbird Training Center, where pilots can take lessons in an Aero L-29 Delfin, Aero L-39 Albatros, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, Lockheed T-33 T-Bird Shooting Star, and Fouga Magister, with company founder and pilot Larry Salganek. Santa Fe is rich in arts, culture, shopping, and dining. National Geographic awarded the town No. 1 Sense of Place in its World Legacy Awards; AARP dubbed Santa Fe one of the top 10 cities for art lovers; and Conde Nast Traveler gave it Reader’s Choice for Best Shopping Cities in the World.
Southern Illinois Airport, Carbondale, Illinois: The Carbondale airport is no stranger to large aviation events after pulling off a weekend packed with pilots clamoring to view the total solar eclipse at its longest point of duration Aug. 21. Home to Southern Illinois University’s Transportation Education Center, the airport showcases the latest technology for in the automotive industry and includes three large labs for testing alternative fuels, advanced emissions controls, electrical controls, engines, and brakes; as well as labs for automotive transmission, engine, fabrication, and two- and four-wheel drive dynamometers. For anyone who is into cars, this building’s behind-the-scenes look at how they come together is a must-see. As part of AOPA’s larger effort to encourage young people in aviation, many of Southern Illinois University’s flight students will be volunteering during the event. The school’s Flying Salukis are a competitive force in the National Intercollegiate Flying Association championships, landing in the top three for the seventh year in a row in 2017. For outdoorists, Carbondale is located near Shawnee National Forest and the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. Carbondale is an easy flight from many points in Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, northern Mississippi and Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
Jack Edwards Airport, Gulf Shores, Alabama: Relax on the beach, spot bottle-nose dolphins on a dolphin cruse, take in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach fishing charters, and check out nearby golf courses while you are in town for AOPA’s Fly-In. For a fun food-tasting experience, follow tour itineraries for area specialties such as gumbo, oysters, shrimp, and key lime pie. Plus enjoy the rich U.S. Naval influence at nearby Pensacola, Florida, just 33 miles away. In addition to watching U.S. Navy pilots train, hope for a glance of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels practicing, or visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. Pilots in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi will enjoy a relatively short, scenic flight to the Gulf Coast event.
AOPA’s two-day fly-ins will continue with in-depth workshops on Fridays before the main Saturday event. The all-day intensive workshops, which included ground school for IFR proficiency, owner-performed maintenance, overwater and mountain flying techniques and survival skills, and aviation adventures in 2017 proved wildly popular with members.
“We are working on a new slate of workshops for 2018 that will offer hands-on experiences for pilots to improve their aviation knowledge, safety, and skills,” said Chris Eads, AOPA director of outreach and events.
On Friday evening, fly-in attendees can participate in the Barnstormers Party, peruse the exhibit hall, and walk through the aircraft display.
The main fly-in events continue Saturday, with a pancake breakfast, free seminars, lunch, an exhibit hall and AOPA Village, aircraft display, and Pilot Town Hall with AOPA President Mark Baker. AOPA plans to expand its fly-out and excursion opportunities, which members have enjoyed during the past fly-in seasons.
Since AOPA launched the regional fly-ins in 2014, the association has hosted 18 events in 14 states: Texas, Indiana, Massachusetts, Washington, California, Maryland, Georgia, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan, Arizona, and Oklahoma. Two more events in two more states, Connecticut and Florida, are still to come in 2017. The association has connected with more than 45,000 pilots where they fly. More than 5,500 AOPA members and aviation enthusiasts have volunteered over the past three years to help make the events run smoothly for attendees.
“When we set out to host the regional fly-ins in 2014, the idea was to be within a few hundred miles of each of our members within a four- or five-year period,” Baker said. “We are getting close to our members, only a short flight for most based on all of the locations we’ve been to so far.
“We love getting to meet our members where they are and enjoying a couple of days of aviation with them.”
AOPA still has two more fly-ins this year—we look forward to connecting with our members in in the New England area during the Groton, Connecticut, Fly-In Oct. 6 and 7, and in the South during the Tampa, Florida, Fly-In 27 and 28.