Make plans now for fly-in season

As I write this, Seattle is in the midst of a record-breaking rain spell. It has rained for 28 days straight. The record is 33 days. Some Pacific Northwest residents have a perverse desire to break that record. I’d just as soon see the sun again. The cold and gray weather is tedious. I think birds have the right idea flying south for the winter.

On the subject of migration, is a flight to one of the nationally recognized fly-ins on your list of “trips I want to make this year?”? If so, you better start planning. Unlike the $100 hamburger flight, a trip to a well-attended fly-in requires a lot of homework before the prop starts turning.

The first big one, Sun ‘n Fun, happens April 4-10 in Lakeland, Fla., at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (LAL). To many, this show marks the beginning of the fly-in season. Many businesses use the show as an opportunity to update the masses on products in development. Last year Light Sport Aircraft manufacturers and importers stole the show.

Camping is allowed on the grounds and there is a fair number of hotels, motels and private homes to rent. See Sun-n-Fun.org for details.

The Alpha of fly-ins is AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. This year it is July 24-30.

Because it is such a popular show, lodging arrangements should be made now.

Many people opt to stay in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh dormitory. There is shuttle bus service between the dorms and Wittman Regional Airport (OSH), where AirVenture takes place. Some people enjoy the shared accommodations, saying it brings back fond memories of their youth.

Private housing reservations start March 1. Offerings range from single rooms to modest three-bedroom ranch homes to mansions on the lake where you expect to find Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby playing croquet on the lawn while Daisy and Tom Buchanan look on.

There are those who say you have not truly experienced AirVenture unless you camp on the grounds. Camp Scholler, open to members of the Experimental Aircraft Association, requires a three-night minimum stay. There is no preregistration β€” it’s first come, first served. Go to AirVenture.org for details.

If you plan to fly your own plane to the shows, figuring your route is the easy part. Factor in favorable winds, weather and fuel stops and you are there. The most exciting part of the trip will be the last 10 minutes. You need to be comfortable in high traffic situations and a second set of eyes in the cockpit to watch for traffic wouldn’t hurt either. If you are not comfortable with towered airports, get some practice before you go. Controllers will be issuing instructions at a rapid pace and you will be expected to acknowledge them by rocking your wings. Brush up on your spot landing technique too, because when they tell you to touch down in a specific spot, they mean in THAT very spot.

The NOTAM outlining the arrival procedures is published several weeks before the event and can be downloaded from the website. It is a good idea to study the NOTAM and compare it with a VFR sectional of the area before you get there so you will be able to identify correctly the landmarks that you may be told to report over.

Some pilots avoid the busy airspace over the fly-in airport by landing at a field nearby and arranging ground transportation to the show grounds. If you go this route make sure to get your rental car reservations early.

One of the best things about fly-ins is the instant camaraderie. Aviation permeates everything β€” and I mean everything. During my first trip to AirVenture I had the unique experience of attending mass in the Theater in the Woods on Sunday morning as the warbirds were taking off to form up for the noon show. The theater is open-sided, so the roar of Merlin, Wasp and Pratt and Whitney engines intermingled with the recitation of prayers. The white-haired gentleman standing next to me noticed that I kept looking over my shoulder to see what airplane was taking off. He smiled and whispered in my ear, “This is what it sounded like before we left for a mission over Germany.” After the service he explained that he had served on a B-17 during the war and it was customary to say mass on the ramp before they launched.

See you at the fly-ins!

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