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AOPA HQ Welcomes Aviators

20150606_123518by Hillel Glazer

Talking about the weather is usually not a good sign in polite conversation. It usually means there’s nothing better to talk about. However when it comes to aviation the weather is a highly interesting topic—if not outright critical. On this day even more relevant. AOPA’s homecoming fly-in was under threat of unpleasant weather all week long.

Keeping everyone guessing was clearly Mother Nature’s prerogative. Cloudy. Clearing. Low ceilings. Higher ceilings. Broken clouds. Dark clouds. Distant build-up. Sun. Wind. Gusts.

But no rain.

In fact the weather was just about perfect for a Breitling seven-jet fly-by, a thrilling Michael Goulian aerobatic show, and acres of outside displays, covered talks and exhibits.

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Credit: Breitling Jet Team website

I toured the exhibit hall a few times. Once when I arrived around 0900, again when more people had shown up closer to 1130, then again before I left after 1600. I was pleased to see the numbers swell in the middle of the day with exhibitors being patronized by many prospects. In true general aviation fashion, there were exhibits from all facets of flying: avionics to volunteering, FAA and EAA to parts and pilot wares. Exhibitors included special interest groups, flying schools, sales agents and even sponsor Breitling was seeing regular inquisitors modeling five-figure timepieces. About the only exhibitors appearing lonely were the aircraft financers.

Lockheed-Martin flight services were on hand to answer questions about their capabilities and several FAA facets were nearby. Crowds at both booths indicated that pilots are keen to get information “from the source.”

11174905_938024616249156_7367158502859915363_nOne of the most heart-warming scenes was in the “rusty pilots” tent. It was full. It was early in the day and still full nonetheless. What a great scene to catch with my own eyes!

On the flight-line were many variety of aircraft. From the larger-than-expected Pilatus PC-12 to the 2014 AirVenture One-Week-Wonder—built by hand, by hundreds of volunteers at the EAA’s Oshkosh event last year. It may only go about 105mph but it burns about FOUR gallons of auto gas per hour!

Lunch was handled by a convoy of food trucks with a delightful variety of options. BBQ seemed to be on demand as several choices of the American favorite were available from different trucks. But if your “thing” happened to be pizza, vegetarian, or something a little more ethnic, there were plenty to choose from. Actually, as someone who likes to eat, I wish I could have tried several! Drink stations were positioned at a number of crossroads and reasonably priced—given the clear opportunity to exploit a captive audience, it was nice to see that AOPA doesn’t play that game.

1780750_10152635628612224_6111172068475424455_nMy original plans were to attend with one or more of our young children. I ended up alone so I checked in at the volunteer hangar to see if I could lend a last-minute hand. After an “air side” briefing I found myself starting up 2nd shift along the active taxiway between the crowd and the aircraft parking area. We volunteers kept planes and people from getting entangled as visitors would want to cross the taxiway to or from their planes as other planes were parking or departing.

With golf carts scurrying this way and that among people and planes, and pedestrians moving among hangars and the viewing area, this turned out to be a fairly busy spot. From there I met pilots who had flown in from all over the northeast US, and I even spied a Cessna 172 with Canadian registration parked on the grass. This role gave me a perfect place from which to watch the two aerial demonstrations. That was all the reward anyone could ask for.

I’ve attended dozens and dozens of professional and hobby-related conferences. It’s very easy to find one’s niche and bury yourself in it. It’s also easy to see how such events break into (sometimes contentious) factions. But mostly, many of these events are highly individual and often selfishly motivated—by necessity—or driven to be revenue-generation for the organizers or “star” participants. This event is ‘nothing’ like that.

It may be cliché, but the fact is that I attended and decided to volunteer because aviation is a passion and I fly because there’s nothing else like it. When everyone around you can express the exact same sentiment, you understand why fly-ins are unlike any other coming-together of like-minded people.

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As are so many aviation events, the fly-in turned out to be about the people. AOPA members were clearly identifiable by their slick but subtle AOPA-adorned “staff” polos. Anyone who reads or watches AOPA media would have seen all the recognizable people. And each I encountered were open, chatty, and eager to interact with visitors. Many were very busy with real responsibilities, but none were too busy to shake a hand, thank you for coming, or to field a question.

I met several people I’d only previously communicated with online or on the phone. I had AOPA staff recognize my name from my participation in online activities. I met a lady who’d stopped flying to raise a family and is now looking to return. I even ran into a college roommate who’s now about to retire from the US Army. Neither of us knowing the other had become a pilot.

20150131_164105If you’re able to attend an AOPA fly-in, do it. And if you see Mark Baker, tell him how great an idea it is to have brought back the fly-ins. He’ll appreciate it.

Hillel Glazer – author, aviator and operations performance expert – has been flying for two decades. He serves as COO in residence of Baltimore’s Emerging Technology Center and to start-ups, small, and mid-market businesses. 

 

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