Airport ‘open house’ shares aviation with the public

balloon sign sgeorgeIMG_0867 tallIt takes a lot of work to organize an event that will bring 1,500 people to see what aviation looks, sounds and feels like. That is exactly what a dedicated group of people from the businesses and aviation groups at Fairbanks International Airport did on May 16. Several months of planning went into the effort, but on that Saturday, starting at 7 a.m. the public got a glimpse of our world. The doors opened to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Facility, a hangar with class rooms and instructional facilities that houses an A&P program, and pilot ground school classes. Inside, EAA Chapter 1129 teamed up with NANA Management Services and other sponsors to host a pancake feed. Since the food supplies were all donated, the proceeds will go to aviation scholarships and safety events—about $1,800 dollars’ worth, this year. Seventeen exhibitors also were on hand to talk about summer air travel, what their organizations do, or how to learn to fly.

At 9 a.m. more activities kicked into high gear. The FAA opened the “Funbanks Airport”—a 70 foot long scale model of the general aviation runways at Fairbanks International Airport. Complete with paved and gravel runways, as well as a float pond. “Pilots” were equipped with a vest, assigned an N-number, given a radio and guided by real air traffic controllers, to taxi, take off and make a trip around the traffic pattern. Before the day was over, over 150 non-pilots had participated in this event.

Future pilot "takes off" from the scale model runway at the "Funbanks Airport."

Future pilots “takes off” from the scale model runway at the “Funbanks Airport” under the direction of Air Traffic Control. (Photo by Ron Dearborn)

Exhibitors answered questions, provided information and helped satisfy the audience.

Exhibitors answered questions, provided information and helped satisfy the audience. (Photo by Shari George)

Display aircraft covered the range from home-built to cargo jet, and everything in between.

Display aircraft covered the range from home-built to cargo jet, and everything in between. (Photo by Shari George)

Outside, thirty aircraft were on display. Organized by Delcourt Aviation, participants got to see everything from a kit-built Searey amphib to the Fed Ex 727 owned by UAF. A long line of kids could be found waiting their turn to sit in Andy Bibber’s North American AT6. Float planes and helicopters, graced the display, along with a Grumman Widgeon and Staggerwing Beech. Another outside attraction was the “inside the fence” airport tour. Organized by Fairbanks International Airport staff and Northern Alaska Tour Company, 78 people took advantage of the fifty minute tour which included stops at Alaska Aerofuel’s corporate FBO, and Everts Air Cargo’s ramp with DC-6 and other vintage aircraft. Something for everyone!

Weather is always a factor in aviation, and this event was no exception. While the sky was blue, and sunshine bright, a morning gusty wind caused EAA to cancel Young Eagles flights for the day. EAA is planning a “make up” day for later in the summer to get an estimated 60 kids a trip aloft, in what may be their first general aviation plane ride.

UAF's "riveting challenge" actively engaged participants.

UAF’s “riveting challenge” actively engaged participants.  (Photo by Shari George)

Weather didn’t limit another outside event. UAF’s Aviation Maintenance Program had a “riveting challenge” going on right outside the hangar. Anyone who wanted to could try their hand at driving a rivet into a wing section, which by the end of the day looked like it had a lot of attention. Fire trucks, also part of the airport scene, were also on display. And when the wind came up, blowing dust on the crowd (and the riveting station), one of the trucks was put to good use to dampen the gravel surface, that helped with dust control. All in a days work!

Twenty-seven sponsors provided the resources for Fairbanks Aviation Day.

Twenty-seven sponsors provided the resources for Fairbanks Aviation Day. (Photo by Shari George)

Fairbanks Aviation Day had lots of community competition to contend with. The planning team knew to expect that, and had raised something over $8,000 from airport related businesses and organizations to advertise in the newspaper, on radio and with flyers spread across town. A huge Thank You to the sponsors and exhibitors that provided the funding to make this event a success. Already organizers are talking about how they might make this event better next year, as a way to share the joy of aviation, and inspire the next generation of aviation pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and airport professionals.

SouthEast Alaska Panhandle Fly-In features Canadian SAR Team

Last weekend the SouthEast Alaska Aviation Association (SEAKAA) hosted their second annual Panhandle Fly-In.  The two-day event, held at Sitka’s Rocky Gutierrez Airport, included activities for pilots as well as the public, and brought over 600 people to see what happens “behind the fence” at an airport.  Saturday turned out to be a dreary weather day (at least by my interior Alaska standards) that kept pilots from other parts of the the region from flying in, but that didn’t keep the local community from turning out to look at an array of display aircraft and a number of classic cars, courtesy of a local auto club.  Guardian Flight generously provided the use of their hangar to host the event.

A Coast Guard Jayhawk and RCAF Cormorant Helicopter were popular attractions.

A Coast Guard Jayhawk and RCAF Cormorant Helicopter were popular attractions.

A 1937 Chevrolet delivery van was among the vintage cars also on display at the PanHandle Fly-In

A 1937 Chevrolet delivery van was among the vintage cars also on display at the PanHandle Fly-In
Coloring books and an innovative "rocking plane" complete with runway centerline marking and lights kept the youngest set entertained.

Coloring books and an innovative “rocking plane” complete with runway centerline marking and runway lights kept the youngest set entertained.

Burgers and hotdogs fueled the participants, as they studied the display aircraft. Inside the hangar Civil Air Patrol opened the doors of their Cessna 172, allowing kids to sit inside, manipulate the controls and get what for many was the first taste of sitting in the pilot’s seat.  Larger aircraft on the ramp were also open for inspection.  Perhaps the aircraft that drew the most attention were the Search and Rescue aircraft provided by the Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Airforce.  Air Station Sitka provided a Jayhawk helicopter which complemented two aircraft from the Canadian Search and Rescue counterpart from Canadian Forces Base Comax, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  The Canadians flew a Cormorant helicopter and de Havilland Buffalo almost 600 miles to take part in the event, and participate in joint exercises with the Coast Guard (more on that later).  On Saturday, the public was welcome to come aboard all three of these aircraft, and visit with flight crews and SAR Techs.  It was a great way to become acquainted with the folks who are will fly out and save our bacon if we have a problem.

Rescue helicopters from a joint training mission made a pass infront of the crowd.

Rescue helicopters from a joint training mission made a pass in front of the crowd.

Sunday brought a welcome commodity to Sitka—sunshine!  Activities begin with a breakfast for SEAKAA members at the airport café, followed by a presentation on survival signaling conducted by the Coast Guard.  Shortly after noon the flying activities got underway, with the start of the second annual flour bombing contest.  As the participants had their pre-flight briefing, community members began to arrive at a viewing area, just outside the fence at the airport. A few miles to the east, we watched the Buffalo and the rescue helicopters orbit in a joint training exercise where Coast Guard crew members got to ride with and observe the Canadian procedures, and visa-versa.

The RCAF Buffalo was a serious contender in the flourbombing contest.

The RCAF Buffalo was a serious contender in the flour bombing contest.

Each flour bombing crew got two tries to hit the target, an orange basket just off the edge of the taxiway.  The first few attempts were a little wide, but slowly they begin to find their range.  About that time, the Buffalo landed, and picked up their flour bombs…  Just watching the big STOL transport aircraft land, with a decidedly nose-down attitude on short final, is enough to get your attention.  Having it pass in front of the crowd at a few hundred feet above ground to deploy an 8 oz flour bomb is just plane exciting!  At that point in the contest, the Canadian bombs were closest to the target, but that must have challenged the civilian entrants to new heights, who in the final runs of the day edged the Canadians out of the top positions.  In a show of good will and appreciation coming to the event, the Canadian team was awarded a much appreciated prize—a keg of locally brewed Sitka beer from the Baranof Island Brewing Company.

A jubilant team from Comox, BC accepts their prize.

A jubilant RCAF team from Comox, BC accepts their prize.

Following the contest, several local volunteers fired up their aircraft, and provided short flights to members of the public for a small donation, which gave a number of Sitka residents a chance to see their community from the air.  The smiles and comments from the passengers, young and old, as they left the airport made it clear that they enjoyed the chance to experience a ride in a general aviation aircraft.

Events like these take a lot of work to plan, execute and clean up after.  My hat is off to SEAKAA for undertaking this effort.  President Bill Lantz and Treasurer Jeannie Frank are but two of the team that devoted their time and talents to make this event a success.  The Civil Air Patrol Cadets and their leaders provided a lot of the people-power during the Fly-In, and a long list of sponsors donated hangar space, door prizes, display aircraft and much more.  The exposure to aviation that these events allow goes a long way to put a face on what some members of the public see as a “just a noisy airplane.”  The expression on the faces of the youngsters as they sat in the pilot seat of the Buffalo or the helicopters suggests that we are looking at the pilots of the future.

It doesn't take much imagination to tell that this young man is ready to fly!

It doesn’t take much imagination to tell that this young man is ready to fly!

Think about what you can do to help organizations like SEAKAA, or a group in your area, to share the joy of aviation with the members of your community.  As security procedures make it harder to get on an airport or close to an airplane, the importance of these events increases.  AOPA has a guide on how to organize an airport open house, which helps get started.  We need to help ourselves by inviting the public to have a glimpse of the world that we so proudly enjoy!