The opportunity to fly in a small plane, take an “inside the fence” tour of the airport, or to sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 727, drew quite a crowd to Fairbanks International Airport on May 17th. This year’s edition of Fairbanks Aviation Day was blessed with good weather, and in spite of competition from a dozen competing community events, let approximately 2,000 members of the public experience different aspects of aviation.
The action started early on Saturday morning—at 7 a.m.—with a the traditional pancake feed, inside the University of Alaska Fairbanks/Community and Technical College Aviation Program hangar. Almost immediately, families with kids eager to fly started to sign up for EAA Chapter 1129’s Young Eagles flights. At 9 a.m. the event was in full swing with the Fairbanks ATC controllers operating a 70 by 30 ft. mini-airport, complete with real hold lines, taxiway and runway markings. Kids, wearing orange vests with individual tail numbers were getting instructions from the “tower” to taxi, take off, and–after a trip around the pattern—cleared to land. No runway incursions were reported during the 140 “airport operations” that took place during the day. Meanwhile, exhibitors ranging from flight schools to airlines, military groups and the Alaska State Troopers visited with the crowd.
Outdoors, over two dozen aircraft were on display. These featured everything from old (1929 Travel Air on floats) to the newest aircraft (Jack Schnurr’s Zenith 750 made its first operational flight to participate in the event). While some airplanes were used “just for fun,” many were working aircraft, which demonstrated some of the roles airplanes serve in a big state with few roads. Tasks included hauling fuel, medevac service, corporate travel, game surveys, forest fire initial attack, parcel delivery and everything in between.
Other popular activities included a tabletop flight simulator, courtesy of the Fairbanks FSDO, and a face painting/balloon art station. Outside the hangar, the Airport Fire Department set up an air-filled slide, along with an impressive array of fire and rescue equipment. Next to the hangar door, UAF operated a “riveting challenge” demonstration, where anyone could try their hand at driving rivets in a mock wing section. Indoors, short “aviation sound bites” were going on—15 minute presentations on topics such as the history of the Fairbanks Jenny, air touring opportunities and destinations you could fly from the Fairbanks airport. Civil Air Patrol’s presentation included a two-minute video showing their cadet glider camp operated out of the Clear Airport each summer. In short, there was something for all ages and interests during the day.
Who makes it happen?
Events like this don’t just spontaneously occur. A committee of over a dozen people put countless hours of their time into planning this event. Fairbanks Aviation Day is organized by the Airport Operator’s Council at Fairbanks International Airport. Over two-dozen organizations sponsor the event by providing the cash, equipment and/or labor to share our passion for aviation with the public.
And what did this accomplish? A segment of the public, most of whom don’t fly or work in an aviation field, got a look at something very different from the passenger terminal they normally associate with an airport. Some went for a flight. Many more got to sit in the pilot’s seat of an aircraft on display. They interacted with people in aviation businesses and groups that make up the fabric of general aviation. The food they purchased, buying pancakes for breakfast, or burgers at lunch, brought in about $2,500 that will fund aviation scholarships or safety meetings. Some of these people will be the next generation of pilots, mechanics, airport managers and air traffic controllers. You could tell by the looks on their faces!