The organizers at Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, S.C., have a pleasant problem. Their annual fly-in has such a remarkably good reputation in the flying community that expectations for more and better activities grow with each successful year. And the recently completed Sept. 9-13 event was no exception.
This year more than 320 planes flew into Triple Tree’s 7,000- by 400-foot-wide manicured grass runway in the South Carolina upstate near Greenville. An additional 800-plus visitors arrived by car during the five-day event.
For starters, it’s a blast from the past looking at the vintage aircraft. In a two-hour stretch, I saw two Howards and a Boeing Stearman, a P-51 Mustang, several Champs and vintage Cubs, a T-50 Bamboo Bomber, plus a Stinson Voyager. You name your favorite and it will probably go past during the event.
Of course, there were all the modern favorites too, including Piper and Cessna twins, Cirruses, RVs in droves, a few amphibs, ultralights, a Just Super Stol and many others. Display aircraft this year included a C-46, plus a big Army Chinook helicopter and two Euro Copters.
Visitors applauded the Friday afternoon arrival of the Swamp Fox, the P-51 Mustang flown by R.T. Dickson, Jr. Dickson did a low pass near the Aerodrome’s 85-foot World War II tower followed by a textbook landing in his polished warbird, then climbed out of the cockpit to meet Morris McKinney, a 95-year-old American hero.
McKinney, of nearby Simpsonville, S.C., flew 74 missions for the legendary 357th Fighter Group in a P-51 and recorded 4-½ kills. His flying mates included aviation legends Chuck Yeager and Bud Anderson.
Walking is the preferred method of getting around the grounds. And you have to be constantly aware of the volunteer guides. They are the ones wielding bright orange batons as they scurry about the sprawling aircraft parking areas ensuring that the individual aircraft, each led by a golf cart guide, safely reach an assigned space or taxi back out to the runway. It is fly-in choreography at its best. There are free shuttle busses for those who don’t want to walk.
The beginnings of Triple Tree can be traced to the year 2000 when businessman Pat Hartness, who had been active in general aviation as part of his worldwide commercial activities, started to develop the 440-acre property outside Woodruff into what would become an aviation park and educational venue for the public.
Hartness, who had begun his flying with radio control models as a boy, said he wanted a place where all kinds of aviation could be celebrated. Thus, he and his group of volunteers have organized special events. They include Joe Nall Week, held in May as the world’s largest RC meet, plus a fabric and tailwheel fly-in lunch, an electric RC event featuring model airplanes and helicopters, and the big general aviation fly-in, usually held in early September. The property is now part of a non-profit organization set up to promote all aspects of aviation.
On Saturday of this year’s fly-in, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) President Mark Baker held a Town Hall meeting at the Triple Tree Museum Hangar. AOPA Air Safety Institute Senior Safety Advisor Bruce Landsberg spent time individually talking safety with many who attended. Representatives from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) were also on hand.
Triple Tree boasts some of the most beautiful fly-in campsites in the world. The Enoree River flows around one end of the property and many of the camping spots are along or within view of the waterway. Others are tucked into forested corners of the property or close to the 50-acre lake that serves as the Triple Tree water runway.
One of those choice spots, adjacent to a shaded and partially wooded area near the river, was occupied by N2735D, a Cessna 170B owned by Thomas and Dorinda Morpeth of Columbus, Ga. Dorinda is a CFI and her husband Thomas, is a veteran aviator with more than 23,000 flying hours. She said the 170B was a recent acquisition.
“We’ve had it only a few months,” Dorinda said. Neither pilot had flown tailwheel aircraft before but got their endorsements and were learning to enjoy the plane they nicknamed Bella. They pitched their tent beside the airplane and had some towels drying on the wing strut on Saturday morning of the fly-in. “Very enjoyable,” Thomas said of their time at the fly-in.
“Camping is great here and it’s not expensive,” said Rob Traynham, a volunteer spokesman for Triple Tree. “I can bring my grandson here for a couple of days with my plane and all our fees amount to about $32 a day. Two days at such an event where you can introduce a young person to aviation is great.”
Traynham said improvements were constantly being made to the grounds, including the addition last year of 32 premium camping sites that include 50 amp electric hookups and water connections.
“Prices vary according to the event, but they are $250 for the fly-in week,” Traynham said. “They sell out in seconds for most events.”
One of the campers, Doug Oakley of Bald Head Island, N.C., said, “It’s the people I come here to meet.” Oakley was part of a Cessna Pilots Society group that had flown in.
Jeffrey Chipetine of Long Island, N.Y., came in with the same group. “This is great event for people who want to keep the fun in flying airplanes,” he said.
Glenn Wimbish of Burlington, N.C., said he had gotten a good camping spot not too far from the newly expanded shower and bathrooms on the grounds. He pitched his tent near the tail of his 1973 B-35B Beechcraft Bonanza and was enjoying watching the new arrivals come in looking for a good camping spot.
“I’m here for Wednesday through Sunday and setting up in a tent is better,” the Vietnam veteran said. “This is such a beautiful place.”
Guy Boisseau of Gulf Breeze, Fla., said he flew his 1958 Cessna 310B to the event for the fourth year. Boisseau, a U.S. Air/American Airlines pilot, said, “This grass is incredible and there are lots of little airplanes. It’s great every year.”
Traynham noted the weather was not optimal on two of the five days this year and that held down the turnout.
“When we have good weather every day, we expect at least 800 aircraft in here,” Traynham noted. “We still had over 1,700 aircraft movements, takeoffs and landings, during the event.”
He added that the Triple Tree organization would look at suggestions coming from visitors this year and make improvements where possible.
“We’ve had a suggestion for WiFi on the grounds and we’ll look into that and other things,” Traynham said. “We want this to be a great experience for our visitors.”