Story and Photos By GUY R. MAHER
It was the Saturday before SUN ‘n FUN and I was about an hour north of Gilbert Field (KGIF) in Winter Haven, Florida, in a Cessna Cardinal RG when Jacksonville Center asked me what was going on. He indicated there were three other Cardinals also heading for KGIF.
What was going on was a gathering of members of the type club for Cessna 177 Cardinals — the Cardinal Flyers.
This was the 16th annual Cardinal Fly-In and it was a good one.
The final count of Cardinals was 34 parked on the grass section reserved especially for the event. The expected count of Cardinals was closer to 40, but weather forced a few members to resort to driving. A few based on grass fields had conditions so wet from soaking rains that they knew it would be unsafe to try to depart.
Regardless, 103 Cardinal lovers made it to KGIF. For those arriving on Saturday night, there was the customary reception and cocktail party at the home of Palmer and Faye Gehring, which is just blocks away from the airport. These folks are also the hard-working anchor team for this event. I dubbed Palmer “Pope Palmer” because of his pull at KGIF and his ability to get anything done.
Sunday is the big day at the fly-in. It starts with a morning walking tour of the Cardinals. Owners describe their planes, what’s been done, what’s in the works, and field any questions.
The members also carry around voting slips for the “Nicest Cardinal” award. Competition is tough. The 2002 award for the RG I owned at the time is still proudly displayed on my wall. All award winners have special reserved front row parking at subsequent Winter Haven fly-ins.
Adjacent to the dedicated parking area for the Cardinals is a beautiful grove of trees with plenty of picnic tables. This is where a catered BBQ lunch is served and it’s always exceptional.
Following the lunch, Cardinal Flyers principals Keith Peterson and Paul Millner moderate a discussion on all things Cardinal. Sponsors provide important updates on what they are doing for the Cardinal community and then members can open up on anything that’s on their mind, from maintenance to operations to safety.
Following the session in the “grove,” there’s free time for individuals to roam as they please, talk with other members or take a closer look at specific airplanes. I took the time to close a sales deal on the RG I flew down to the fly-in for the prospect to see. He was welcomed into the Cardinal fold in grand fashion.
The day was capped off with the customary awards banquet at a near-by country club. A few of the awards included: The member who came the furthest — from England; the member who flew their Cardinal the furthest — from South Dakota (Cardinals arrived from 21 states plus Canada); and the grand award — the nicest Cardinal — went to Woody Beck of Athens, Ga., and his beautiful 1978 fixed-gear Cardinal.
Whether they’ve owned their Cardinal for just a day, or for decades, the Cardinal gathering in Winter Haven is clearly the event to attend. Making new friends, seeing long-time friends, learning how to take care of and better enjoy their Cardinals, and getting the overall Cardinal “booster shot” are all components that reinforce their decision to become a Cardinal Flyer.