By CAROL LEE ANDERSON
NEW HAMPSHIRE — Heavy downpours threatened to create a repeat of last year’s open house at Laconia Municipal Airport (LCI) in Gilford, but as if on cue the rain stopped and the clouds parted just as the doors opened to this year’s Wings, Water & Wheels open house held on June 8. An estimated 3,000 visitors were treated to a vast array of things to see, do, and experience.
Airport Manager Diane Terrill was out among the crowd, and as she looked across the airport at the people filing into the airport, she said, “I thought the weather wasn’t going to cooperate, but the rain stopped and the event is going on as planned. We hold the open house each year so that the public can see what we do and what general aviation is all about. It’s also a way to educate people on how the airport benefits the community.”
One weather delayed arrival was Dave DeVries, president of the NH Pilots Association. The association is an organization 200 members strong that supports general aviation and looks for opportunities to share it with the public. Devries arrived in his fully restored 1946 Grumman Widgeon after waiting out the weather in Nashua. Not wanting to miss the event, he flew to Laconia Airport as soon as the weather allowed and immediately put the aircraft on display. It turned out to be a big crowd-pleaser.
“I wanted to be here to support Diane and the event here at the airport, as well as support the promotion of general aviation,” he said. “As president of the state’s pilots association, I will always assist and encourage events that introduce the public to general aviation.”
Dozens of families with young children could be seen waiting in line for a chance to look inside the airplanes that were on display, which included local favorites, Phil DiVirgilio with his Waco Classic biplane and Dave French with his amphibious Cessna 206.
Both fixed base operators at the airport had aircraft on display. Dave Emerson of Emerson Aviation had two of his airplanes open to the public, a twin-engine Piper Navajo (top photo) and a Cessna Skyhawk. Lee Avery of Skybright had a Piper Warrior on static display. All three airplanes had long lines of young children waiting for a turn to sit in the pilot’s seat and chat with flight instructors.
C-R Helicopters, based in Nashua, arrived with a Robinson R-44 helicopter and with the improving weather, was able to offer rides. They, too, had scores of people waiting in line for a turn for a ride in a helicopter and a chance to view the Lakes Region from the air.
The event offered more than just static aircraft displays. Numerous cars from all eras were parked on the field for public viewing. One of the oldest on display was a 1930 Ford Model A, owned by Peter Ellis of Stone Gate Vineyards in Gilford. AutoServ, Cantin Chevrolet, and Granite State Harley Davidson had new cars and motorcycles on hand for attendees to test drive. For those looking for a different type of wheels, Gilford’s Gunstock Mountain Resort brought along some of their Segways, and offered the public demonstrations and rides.
A youth-based aviation organization, WinnAero, based at Laconia Airport, was busy selling raffle tickets for the many prizes that had been donated by Lakes Region businesses such as Lakes Biplane Inc., Lakes Region Seaplane Services, the Inn at Mill Falls, Sawyer’s Diary Bar, and Mame’s Restaurant. By the end of the event, through the generosity of the event’s sponsors as well as raffle donations, nearly $3,000 was raised for WinnAero’s ACE scholarship fund.
Colin McIver, manager of Plymouth Municipal Airport in nearby Plymouth, stopped by to donate a certificate for a glider flight to WinnAero’s raffle. His airport will be hosting a similar event in the next few weeks, and he was interested in seeing how the open house at Laconia Airport was organized. “I wanted to see this event, and I have to say that I’m very impressed – there are a lot of people here!” he said.
Outside the airport terminal, numerous booths with Made in NH products were packed with customers. Civil Air Patrol, Sea Plane Pilots Association, NH Boat Museum, NH Aviation Museum, and Marine Patrol also had booths and members that were kept busy answering questions and promoting their organizations. Inside the terminal a popular display attracted the attention of many of the youngsters. Winnipesaukee Radio Controllers had a large display of radio controlled (RC) aircraft and offered visitors a chance to try their hand at a virtual flight of a RC airplane.
The open house saw a nice blend of people, from families to flight instructors and pilots to individuals who had never been around a general aviation airport. The event met its goal and that was to bring the benefits of general aviation and community airports to the public.
Terrill was both overwhelmed and inspired by the commitment and generosity of the community. “I want to thank the sponsors and exhibitors that stuck with us despite the early morning rain so that the approximately 3,000 visitors had plenty to see and do. I sincerely thank the many volunteers and the community for making this year’s Wings, Water & Wheels so successful,” she said.
“This event is positioned to increase in size and breadth next year, giving the Lakes Region an opportunity to experience a wide variety of new and vintage modes of transportation. It is also an increasingly strong venue for local businesses to showcase their products and services. Everyone has been enthusiastically positive about the event, both visitors and exhibitors alike — we’re already planning for next year!” she added.
For more information: LaconiaAirport.com