For those of you who are flying yourselves to the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In this week, the experience begins with carefully studying the fly-in notam. With the swarm of airplanes flying in to the show it’s critical that everyone is on the same page. A very specific route must be flown to enter the pattern around the airport and there are many other critical instructions that must be followed to reduce the risk during the approach.
When I flew into Sun ‘n Fun a few years ago, there was a steady stream of airplanes coming in. I got in line at Lake Parker and followed the path from the notam’s instructions. It was easy to follow the directions as they include a very detailed map and actual pictures from the approach path.
I lined up behind a long line of airplane types ranging from Piper Cubs to Bonanzas. I kept following them along the freeway and the flight proceeded in a very orderly fashion. But when we arrived at the towers where we turned toward the airport, a twin Baron cut in to the line. Because of the Cub, the line of airplanes had maintained speeds slower than the notam required, (a Cub can’t maintain 100 knots level) so the offending Baron was unable to line up in file.
The orderly line turned into a bit of a mess, with some airplanes flying side-by-side and some passing slower airplanes. By the time I arrived on the downwind I counted 20 airplanes between my position and the runway. While the line was no longer single file I followed as best I could, keeping a close eye on the flight paths of the surrounding airplanes. I was instructed to land near a colored marker at the approach end of the 8,499-foot runway 9 and I rocked my wings to acknowledge. Two other airplanes were landing simultaneously at other marker positions ahead of me. I was quite pleased to be last in line since I was able to see the airplanes landing ahead. (The current notam includes runway 9L and 9R with two colored markers, so the procedures have changed since then).
And knowing there was a continuous flow of approaching airplanes, I exited the runway at the first available taxiway and sighed in relief.
While the approach was a challenge, it was very satisfying and a lot of fun. My biggest recommendation is to read the notam very carefully, follow its instructions closely and keep very alert in case the pilots around you don’t. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep before you fly in. And most of all, have fun!