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.
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!
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.
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!