Flying Into Major Aviation Events Needn't Be Scary

But it does require unique preparation.

Sun 'n Fun (April 13-18)Al Struna

Next week's Sun 'n Fun event unofficially kicks off the 2010 fly-in season, and Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (KLAL) will be buzzing. For many pilots, it's just too intimidating to even consider flying in to such a hornets' nest. Maybe most of their flying is in rural areas where they seldom see another airplane in the landing pattern. But even for those of us who fly in more congested airspace (I can see the Manhattan skyline as soon as I clear the tree line at my airport), preparing to fly into an event like Sun 'n Fun takes some doing. This will be my first time flying into Sun 'n Fun, and I'm looking forward to it.

The other biggie, of course, is EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, and I have plenty of experience with that procedure. I always make it a point to express how well that works when I meet pilots who shy away from attending because they're scared of the arrival format. Here's what I suggest: First, make sure you have the notam and carve out some quality time at home to read it over a few times as part of your flight planning. For Sun 'n Fun it's 43 pages (I suggest printing it two-sided and in grayscale to save paper, ink and clutter) and there is a lot there that you don't need to know, but you'll only learn the difference by studying the whole thing. Then you can highlight the key parts that you'll need to have at your fingertips as you enter the high-traffic zone. Attach the key elements of the notam to your clipboard where you assemble your charts.

Next, I suggest you stop somewhere along the way that is well outside the beehive to collect your thoughts, but close enough that you'll be fresh when you arrive at the final destination — about a half hour's flight time works for me. I figure I don't want to be entering a time of high alert after I've been lulled by several hours of cruise flight. Also, it's a chance to top off fuel tanks so you have absolutely no worries about holds or other delays in the air. Another point, if you have another pilot on board, have a chat about who will be responsible for what. For non-pilot passengers, brief them on spotting traffic and how you'd like to be alerted. For example, make sure they know how to gauge relative altitude and recognize the danger zones — ahead and on the horizon. That way, you can be confident they won't be shrieking with horror because they spotted an airliner's contrail 30,000 feet overhead.

Finally, make sure you also have a look at the departure procedures ahead of time. You might need to pre-file flight plans or make specific arrangements that would best be handled from home, rather than from your hotel or campsite. And of course, whether it's AirVenture Oshkosh or a cozy pancake breakfast 25 miles from home, be sure to be extra alert for traffic — and if you spot an orange-and-white V-tail Bonanza, be especially careful.

Thanks. Now, I'm off to study the notam.

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