Memorable Flying Aviation Expo Rocks Palm Springs

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A successful third edition of Flying Aviation Expo included some notable firsts that made the show in Palm Springs, California, over the weekend one that attendees will be talking about for a long time to come.

It was the first time the show was held at the Palm Springs International Airport after moving from the downtown convention center where it was held the previous two years. The change in venue allowed for a broader variety of aircraft, adding airplanes that are simply too large to be taken through city streets to the convention center — including the HondaJet, Cessna Citation M2 and Embraer Phenom 100.

The show also featured the first-ever live debate between two of aviation's most colorful educators as John King and Rod Machado faced off over the new Airman Certification Standards. Moderated by Flying Editor-in-Chief Stephen Pope, the debate was spirited, informative, funny and at times testy as John and Rod poked fun at each other and traded barbs. In the end, they hugged it out on stage as the capacity crowd cheered.

In another first, Saturday night featured a James Bond-themed party at the Palm Springs Air Museum highlighted by the surprise arrival of renowned aerobatic helicopter pilot Chuck Aaron, who landed in his specially modified Bo105 — the same stunt helicopter from the James Bond movie Spectre. Out of the helicopter stepped Aaron in his trademark sandals accompanied by Sal Valentinetti, the 21-year-old America's Got Talent finalist, who blew the crowd away with his incredible voice as he belted out Frank Sinatra hits — starting, fittingly, with Come Fly with Me.

Sponsored by Flying magazine, the show held Oct. 20-22 has a new owner, luxury eyewear and watchmaker Scheyden, which has had a major presence at Aviation Expo since the inaugural show in 2014. The change of venue to the airport was a success, said Scheyden founder Jeff Herold, who noted that holding the event at an airport offered many advantages — though not without challenges.

Aerobatic helicopter pilot Chuck Aaron showed up in style at the Expo party Saturday with the night's entertainment, America's Got Talent finalist Sal Valentinetti. George Kounis

"I will never forget the first time I arrived on Taxiway Golf at Palm Springs International Airport," he recalled. "Two abandoned hangars, tumbleweeds, bird nests, and even a dead rodent here and there. A quarter-mile-long taxiway with hangars on both sides and plenty of room for static display and exhibit booths. As pilots we all see airports differently than most people, and in this case our vision for the new site of Flying Aviation Expo could not have been more appealing."

A favorite spot at the show was the Oasis viewing area, a tent right next to the runway with picnic tables and music where attendees could relax, watch airplanes takeoff and land, and escape from the afternoon heat, which reached 90 degrees under cloudless skies.

Patrons attend a seminar this weekend at Flying Aviation Expo in Palm Springs. Stephen Pope

"The new show site was truly impressive," said Flying Editor-in-Chief Stephen Pope. "The Expo team was able to create an aviation village at the airport that made this show extra special. I heard from many attendees who said they loved the venue and are looking forward to the show remaining at the airport — I could even imagine putting on a mini airshow there in the future."

More than 1,100 cards were turned in for Wings credit by pilots who attended 40 educational seminars and tech talks. Attendance, at nearly 2,000 people, was somewhat less than had been anticipated, but it was a fantastic crowd, organizers said.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Expo this year. Stephen Pope

“The common sentiment from exhibitors at our event was, though the traffic is not heavy it is certainly qualified,” Herold said.

Cirrus Aircraft, which brought two airplanes to the show, said it sold a 2017 model to a customer, who signed his purchase contract on the spot. The show static display also included a Pilatus PC-12, Piper M500, Cessna TTx and 182, Beechcraft Baron, Mooney Acclaim, Epic LT, Diamond DA62, Glasair Sportsman, Aviat Husky, Searey amphibian and others.

The HondaJet was a popular display over the weekend. Stephen Pope

Plans are already underway for next year’s show, which organizers say will be held Oct. 19-21, 2017.

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