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Unique fly-ins across AmericaUnique fly-ins across America

Almost as long as Americans have been flying, they’ve been gathering their airplanes together at fly-ins. These days, you can find fly-ins from small to large, for airplanes on wheels, floats, or skis. The one thing they all have in common is the chance to meet and enjoy the camaraderie of other pilots. We’ve chosen a few from across the spectrum, the country, and the calendar year, to give you an idea of what’s out there.

  • A Cessna Skywagon departs the Garden Valley, Idaho, airstrip during the International 180/185 Club’s fly-in, held there each July. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • From the early days of aviation, fly-ins served as demonstration and competition platforms, as daredevil pilots coaxed improved aircraft designs to ever-greater aerobatic feats. At the Texas STOL Roundup, the 50-foot obstacle short-field landing test has big blow-up pylons that make it interactive for pilots and spectators. Charles Zinsmeyer Photography.
  • At the Texas STOL Roundup, pilots must land as short as possible, but not before the chalk line. Aircraft are separated into different classes, so a Beaver or a Cessna 172 doesn’t compete against a Super Cub. Photo courtesy Phil Whittemore.
  • A competitor drops a sack of flour during the bomb drop at the Texas STOL Roundup. Photo courtesy Phil Whittemore.
  • A pair of Skywagons fly in formation over the Stanley Ski Plane Fly-In at Stanley, Idaho. Photo by Santiago Guerricabeitia.
  • Ski plane flying is a blast, as this passenger’s big smile shows. Beverages and snacks are provided by Jeff Welker, the pilot/organizer of the Stanley Ski Plane Fly-In, along with the Stanley Chamber of Commerce, [email protected] Photo by Santiago Guerricabeitia.
  • The Blackwater Airfield lies in the Florida Panhandle. The Florida Sport Aviation Antique & Classic Association hosts fly-ins there each year. 2,500 feet of Runway 18/36 is available, patterns are flown west of the field, and parking is at the south end of the runway. Photo by Steve Knouse.
  • The RAF holds a Blackwater Airfield Anniversary Weekend Fly-In each April. Swim in the spring-fed lake or hike to another lake where you can fish. Camp by your plane, enjoy the evening fires with good company, and listen to the breeze as it filters through the pine needles. Restrooms and hot showers are available. Photo by Wayne P. Whitley.
  • During the Ozark Backcountry Fly-In, participants fly out to several area airstrips, including “Ponca International” at the Buffalo Outdoor Center, which offers zip lines, canoeing, and fishing on the Buffalo River. Photo courtesy CubCrafters.
  • Paddlers enjoy the Buffalo River during the Ozark Backcountry Fly-In. Participants base at Gaston’s White River Resort (3M0) which boasts a 3,200-foot Bermuda grass airstrip. Short takeoff/landing and flour-bombing demonstrations and competitions are held, all in good fun. There’s a cookout and live band both Fri & Sat nights. Photo by Rhonda Mills.
  • Ozark Backcountry Fly-In participants also land at Byrd’s Adventure Center for some four-wheeling through the forest. Back at Gaston’s, you can enjoy world-class trout fishing as well as hiking and boating. The restaurant is famous for its deep-fried catfish and trout, the best in the Ozarks, and they’ll cook your catch, too. Photo courtesy Scot Warren.
  • Each year, the Treasure Valley Chapter of the Idaho Aviation Association organizes a Father’s Day Fly-In at Garden Valley (U88). A potluck BBQ takes place Saturday evening; bring meat to cook for yourself and a side dish to share. IAA pilots cook up a full hot breakfast Sunday morning. Photo by Molly Mouser.
  • Garden Valley (U88) has ample parking and camping along the runway, plus a clean facility with hot showers and a covered picnic area. This photo was taken during the International 180/185 Club Fly-In held each July. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The Round-Engine Roundup is held each June at Smiley Creek, Idaho (U87). Some of the world’s most beautiful airplanes, including immaculately maintained Beech Staggerwings, Twin Beech Model 18s, DC-3s, Stearmans, Howards, and more, descend out of the blue sky onto this gorgeous emerald carpet. Backed by the dramatic Sawtooth Mountains, they line up in an unforgettable tribute to timeless aviation machines. Photo by Thomas Hoff.
  • Each June, Stuart Fenwick, owner of the Tanglefoot Seaplane Base (D28) on Priest Lake, Idaho, organizes a Lake Amphibian Fly-In. Photo by George J. Parker III.

In September, the Texas STOL Roundup in Hondo is the place to go for some of the best short-takeoff-and-landing competitions anywhere south of Alaska. Pilots arrive Friday to practice, attend a STOL seminar, cement new friendships, camp along the flight line, and enjoy live music. On Saturday, they hold both traditional STOL and obstacle-STOL competitions. One year the prize was a fabulous five-day fly-out Alaska fishing trip worth $7,000!

As winters get warmer, some ski pilots have trouble finding snow, but not at Stanley, Idaho, where the Stanley Ski Plane Fly-In is held in conjunction with the Stanley Winterfest. Some pilots just fly in for the day, others fly out to the Smiley Creek Lodge, but lodging and a good restaurant are also available at Stanley’s Mountain Village Resort, which has live music at night during Winterfest and an enclosed hot spring for guests.

Against the dramatic background of the Sawtooth Mountains, a ski plane departs the snow runway at Stanley, Idaho, during the annual Stanley Ski Plane Fly-In, held each February. Photo by Santiago Guerricabeitia.

Blackwater Airfield lies in the Florida panhandle, just south of the Alabama border. This Florida Forest Service airfield is surrounded by one of the South’s largest remaining longleaf pine forests, and is now open to pilots on a request basis, after much work by the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF). To celebrate this achievement, the RAF holds a Blackwater Airfield Anniversary Weekend Fly-In each April. Before you go, read and print the Blackwater Airfield Safety Briefing.

The Ozarks are home to many fun backcountry airstrips, some with luxurious lodges just steps from the runways. You can explore them during the annual Ozark Backcountry Fly-In, held over Memorial Day weekend. To attend, you’ll need to fill out the registration/waiver form. Your base will be Gaston’s White River Resort. Warren Aircraft has a video on its website; Scot Warren leads fly-outs to several nearby airstrips including the Buffalo Outdoor Center, where you can take a zip-line or canoe tour. Another stop will be at Byrd’s Adventure Center, for some four-wheeling through the forest.

There’s plenty to do when you fly in to Garden Valley (U88), Idaho. The beautiful South Fork of the Payette River runs alongside the airstrip. A hot spring runs right into the river, so you can soak with a view. Plus, there’s a target range across the road just northeast of the runway. Photo by Crista Worthy.

Clear June skies signal the start of the annual pilgrimage to Idaho, the Mecca of backcountry flying. The Idaho Aviation Association’s annual Father’s Day Fly-In begins on Saturday of that weekend, although many pilots fly in on Friday—everyone’s welcome! Garden Valley, 34 nautical miles northeast of Boise, is a long, perfectly manicured grass strip, suitable for nearly all aircraft. People often fly out to Sulphur Creek Ranch for breakfast Saturday morning. Numerous other Idaho fly-ins are found on the IAA calendar, including the International 180/185 Club fly-ins at Garden Valley and Johnson Creek. In 2018, the new Big Creek Lodge will open and surely host more fly-ins. Smiley Creek, in the shadow of the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains, is the setting each June for the Round Engine Roundup. Be sure to arrive the day before; camp on the field or stay at the lodge. Several seaplane splash-ins take place each year on Priest Lake, a gorgeous lake near the Canadian border, surrounded by pines.

Two of the biggest Eastern fly-ins take place each year on the weekend following Labor Day. Triple Tree Aerodrome hosts a huge event in upstate South Carolina. In Maine, the International Seaplane Fly-In takes place on Moosehead Lake.

Of course, the granddaddy of all American fly-ins is EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Other large fly-ins include Florida’s Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo, and the AOPA Regional Fly-Ins, which change yearly. State events like the Idaho Aviation Expo, hosted by Aero Mark, happen all across the country. Try some of the fly-ins we’ve introduced here, or contact your state pilots association or aircraft type club. Pilots will welcome you with a smile and a “Howdy!” when you fly in. Before you know it, you’ll have a bunch of new friends, all of whom share the same passion as you: the freedom to fly.

Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!

Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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