By DAVID KUJAWA
The diversity of airplanes at this year’s Copperstate Fly-In, which ran Oct. 21-23 at Casa Grande Airport in Arizona, covered the gamut from powered parachutes to heavy iron, offering something for everyone’s aeronautical tastes.
The Early Bird Award was earned by Tanker 121, a Consolidated P4Y-2 Privateer. Much to the delight of the volunteer work party laboring all day under the Arizona sun, Tanker 121 arrived in Casa Grande on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 16, the weekend before the show. N2871G is the only airworthy example of the naval version of the famous B-24 Liberator. Featuring a single, tall, vertical tail in place of the familiar twin tails and with a lengthened fuselage, Tanker 121 had just come out of a five-year rehab at Hawkins & Powers in Greybull, Wyo., to her public debut at Copperstate. She was parked on the ramp next to the terminal, motivating site preparation activity during the week.
A much needed, dust-settling rain fell in the hours before daybreak on Thursday, Day One. Volunteers hustled to put the finishing touches on the site as exhibitors began setting up. An Apache attack helicopter taxied to the helipad near show center as the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17 “Sentimental Journey” and her recently restored stablemate, 18-mission World War II combat veteran B-25 “Maid In The Shade” arrived. Top cover was provided by “Little Friends” — a sleek Spitfire Mk IX replica R-ED and the stunning P-51 Mustang “Red Dog.”
These classics were complemented by contemporary turbine power — a smiling, shark-faced T-34C Turbo Mentor, a midnight black Shorts S-312 Super Tucano, a camouflaged bird dog SIAI-Marchetti SM.1019, and a pair of L-39 Albatros.
The flying circus came to town in the form of a red and white 1930 New Standard D-25 biplane emblazoned with the word RIDES on its lower wings, the CAF’s navy blue SNJ trainer and a Teutonic-colored T-34 Mentor, all hopping rides with many passengers and performing crowd-pleasing fly-pasts.
Contrasting the heavy iron were the lite flyers — powered parachutes, trikes and ultralights that had their own parallel desert runway directly accessible from their rampside hangout. Local PPG guru Mo Sheldon entertained early morning attendees with the first showcase flight each day.
The Copperstate Fly-In is unique amongst its peers in that there is no daily airshow. There is, however, a nearly continuous parade of airplanes on display — a stream of showcase flights throughout the day are interwoven with aircraft arrivals and departures. Not having an airshow means never having to shut down the airspace, allowing fly-in guests to come and go as they please.
Friday, Day Two, featured intermittent high overcast and sunshine with highs in the mid-70s. EAA-sponsored workshops and forums were running full tilt and the rib building Kid’s Program got underway. New this year to Copperstate was the AZ FAASTeam providing FAA safety seminars and Wings credit for participants. The weather surrounding Arizona was such that many would-be attendees from bordering states were unable to get through, although one determined Cessna 195 owner started with a Pacific Ocean-facing departure and climb to an eastward VFR-on-top flight from California. Local aircraft owners began turning out in force through the afternoon.
Saturday, Day Three, dawned bright and clear. Tower staff and aircraft parking marshals were busy from the start as arrivals begin filling the ramp. The juxtaposition of a turbine powered, single seat Helicycle sitting in front of the B-17 was a vignette of the day to come. The mid-morning arrival of a 15-ship formation of Nanchang CJ-6s and friends excited the increasingly large crowd. After a formation break the group landed and rumbled to a stop in line between rows of showplanes. A formation of Stearmans dotted the sky with smoke-on passes. By noon the ramp was covered with people and airplanes.
Experimental aircraft were represented by a tiny silver Hummelbird through a fire-breathing Lancair IV-P. Award winners ranged from a snappy white and yellow GY-20 Minicab, an amphibious Challenger in Coast Guard-livery to a custom painted Rotorway helicopter. Antique and vintage enthusiasts admired Waco biplanes, an Oshkosh award-winning Stinson Gullwing, round-motored Cessnas and a Globe Swift with all the mods. Perhaps the most unusual looking airplane in attendance was a 1962 Nardi FN-333 amphib with a single, large hull float and outriggers and a twin tail.
Afternoon flying activities amplified with the arrival of Fuelventure 400 race participants who launched and recovered at nearby Phoenix Regional Airport. After completing their final weigh-ins to determine the most fuel efficient airplane in the sky, a gaggle of racers made high speed passes down the runway. The third annual Fuelventure’s overall winner was Klaus Savier who averaged 57 mpg at 225 mph over the 400 mile course in his highly modified VariEze.
Copperstate is the largest all-volunteer run fly-in in the United States. It takes the assistance of over 250 individuals and for the first time fly-in organizers were able to say thank you in a big way Saturday afternoon to two people who had gone above and beyond the call in their efforts to ensure the success of the show. Thanks to the gracious donation of flight time from the CAF’s B-25 crew and the owner and pilot of the P-51 Red Dog, Al Lerfald and Marty Skalon received warbird rides they will long remember. Lerfald produced the event signage hanging throughout the grounds and Skalon solved numerous electrical issues at the site that greatly improved safety.
The crowd stayed late into the afternoon, lining the edge of the parallel taxiway to watch departing showplanes make demonstration passes before they headed off for home.
Fly-In Chairman Jim McChesney received many positive comments from those in attendance who appreciated the county fair-like, family fun environment at Copperstate. “We’ve created an atmosphere like the way fly-ins were in the late 1960s and early 70s. It’s a mellow, calm, enjoyable fly-in. Nobody is showing off, but the pilots are showing their airplanes well,” said McChesney. “I think we’re doing it right.”
The 2011 Copperstate Fly-In will be held Oct. 20-22. Mark your calendar now!
For more information: Copperstate.org