August 27 dawned hot and humid just as one would expect of a mid-Atlantic summer day. There was a threat of thunderstorms later in the day, but that did not deter the more than 500 visitors, 50 exhibitors, and 45 companies eager to join their fellow aviation enthusiasts at the first AOPA Aviator Showcase in Manassas, Virginia.
The first AOPA event since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic halted all activities, the AOPA Aviator Showcase is a single-day consumer-focused event designed to connect pilots and aircraft owners to the general aviation industry. The high-quality, in-person buying experience with the industry’s leading experts is one of two events planned this year—the first took place on August 27 at Manassas Regional Airport/Harry P. Davis Field at host Chantilly Jet Center; the second will take place October 1 in Fort Worth, Texas, at Fort Worth Alliance Airport.
Attendees came from the local area as well as from areas such as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Buffalo, New York. Those visitors said they had been very focused on attending the event, looking forward to seeing friends, speaking with vendors, and asking a lot of questions. They seemed to collectively emit sighs of relief that they could be out at the airport, sharing flying stories and enjoying aviation again.
Chantilly Jet Center hosted the exhibitors in its gleaming, handsome hangar. Companies and organizations ranged from Duncan Aviation, the superstore of aircraft refurbishment, to Mission Aviation Fellowship, the granddaddy of public benefit flying. AOPA strategic partners such as Aircraft Spruce and Specialty Co., as well as large and small companies including David Clark Co., Spencer Aircraft Supply, and Bell, were represented. Attendees benefited from the long COVID-19 hiatus as companies were more than happy to share swag, such as pilot hats, stickers, key fobs, and luggage tags.
Longtime AOPA friend and earthrounder Adrian Eichhorn donated the use of his hangar for the hourly seminars presented during the day. Presentations with industry leaders in avionics and cockpit technology, flight planning and weather resources, and aircraft manufacturing drew many participants. Presenters included Aero-Space Reports, AOPA Aviation Finance Co., AOPA Legal Services Plan, AssuredPartners Aerospace, ForeFlight, Genesys Aerosystems, Hartzell Engine Technologies, Hartzell Propeller Inc., Jeppesen, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., and SiriusXM Aviation.
David Ovad of Baltimore brought his 10-year-old daughter Audrey and his friend Arthur St. Clair. While St. Clair was headed to the Garmin booth to ask questions about his Bonanza panel, Audrey said, “I’m here for the Chick-fil-A; tell them how much I like Chick-fil-A.” The food service was one of several options on the field.
Cyriel Kronenburg, a vice president with uAvionix Corp., was impressed by the attendance.
“There’s been a lot more people than I anticipated and a steady flow of airplanes flying in,” he said. “There’s been a lot of interest [in his product].” uAvionix makes ADS-B devices and other safety equipment for GA.
The AOPA Sweepstakes aircraft for 2021-2022, a 1978 Grumman Tiger, was on display at the Aviator Showcase. AOPA Vice President of Publications and Editor Kollin Stagnito flew the airplane to Manassas and answered questions about the aircraft throughout the day: “People look visibly wowed by the panel, but the first thing they ask is, 'Are you going to replace the interior?'”
J.A. Air Center, based at Aurora Municipal Airport in Aurora, Illinois, tore out the entire instrument panel and crafted a custom-made panel that showcases a stunning glass cockpit, courtesy of Garmin. Both the paint and the interior are still original; ongoing renovations and refurbishment will change this Tiger’s stripes soon.
Members who are interested in attending the AOPA Aviator Showcase in Fort Worth should register in advance.