Over 500 aircraft and more than 30,000 aviation enthusiasts descended on the Buckeye Municipal Airport in Arizona for AOPA’s first fly-in of the year at the Buckeye Air Fair February 17 through 19, a weekend of high-octane entertainment.
The successful partnership between AOPA and the Buckeye Air Fair could be seen from the ground up as attendees explored a ramp brimming with unique and eye-catching aircraft, local vendors, aviation industry leaders, and an airshow that is among the most popular aviation events in the United States.
On February 17, the Buckeye Air Fair put on its annual Field Trip Friday, where over 1,500 students from 16 local schools enjoyed learning about aviation and career opportunities.
The first stop for most AOPA members in attendance was the AOPA exhibit hall, where aviation industry leaders, flight schools, and vendors were ready and waiting to answer questions and demo their products and other offerings. Here, members also had the opportunity to sign up or renew their AOPA memberships and pick up their wristbands for the AOPA Flightline Chalet, an exclusive, members-only area where visitors could take a load off, grab some food and drinks, and watch the airshow from some of the best seats in the house. The chalet was packed with smiling faces and cameras all pointed toward the sky during the private practice airshow on Friday, and subsequent airshows on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday, Zachary Covey, a newly certificated private pilot, and his grandfather, an AOPA member for over 50 years, flew into the event in their beautiful, polished 1948 Cessna 140. Pilots from across the aircraft parking ramp and camping areas gravitated to the eye-catching vintage aircraft eager to swap their own 140 stories, meet a fellow taildragger enthusiast, and talk aviation as pilots are known to do. The duo spent the day checking out airplanes on display and watching the airshow from the comfort of the AOPA Flightline Chalet.
The aerial performances were perhaps the biggest draw of the weekend as visitors began clambering for spots in advance of the show hoping to stake their claim on a premium perspective. By the time the show started, nearly the entire flight line was brimming with spectators. The nearly two-hour show was chock-full of aerobatic and entertaining performances that dazzled viewers from start to finish.
Tucker’s Air Patrol, a low-altitude aerobatic performance by Eric Tucker in his Piper J–3 Cub, entertained Buckeye Air Fair attendees for the first time this year and brought with it the excitement of aerial acrobatics and the comedy and fun of a choreographed production. Tucker’s performance as “Red,” the unwilling and accidental pilot who manages to land the J–3 Cub on the roof of a modified vintage ford ambulance after a series of aerobatic maneuvers, brought raucous laughter and smiles from everyone watching.
First-time Buckeye Air Fair performer Karl Gashler, who flew his Yak 50 from Red Thunder Airshows, said, “My favorite part of any airshow is talking to the kids. I believe airshows show people what is possible. General aviation really changes lives! As for the Yak 50, it’s the wildest aerobatic ride you can get in any warbird. It puts a big grin on my face every time.”
Other entertainment included formation flyovers by the Condor Squadron’s four North American AT–6 Texans and Arizona Air National Guard F–16s. As well as a surprise fly-by of a Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer, the only remaining airworthy Privateer.
Behind the scenes, AOPA and Buckeye Air Fair volunteers worked tirelessly making sure things moved smoothly throughout the weekend. From setup, check-in, and visitor assistance to aircraft marshalling and crowd control, there was something for everyone interested in giving back to the aviation community and the Buckeye community at large.
On Saturday, AOPA president Mark Baker led the Pilot Town Hall to brief attendees on our latest efforts to protect freedom to fly through advocacy, supporting development and distribution of the aviation fuels of the future, growing the pilot population through the You Can Fly program, and building on the Air Safety Institute’s many contributions to pilot education and accident reduction.
This AOPA fly-in event is just the first of many AOPA partnerships with established aviation events across the country this year. Those who were unable to attend will have plenty of other opportunities to gather with their fellow aviators as airshow season takes off in 2023. Keep checking back on AOPA’s website for updated information on upcoming events.