Spending time at airports as a child helped convince me that I needed to learn to fly. Typically, my father would hear about an open house, fly-in, or air show for which the airport gates would be thrown open. These were great opportunities for a kid like me to get inside the fence and see the hardware up close.
I got my first look at a Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing during a fly-in at Lincoln Park Airport (N07) in New Jersey when I was 10. I still have photos of it, snapped with my primitive Kodak Instamatic camera. A Fairchild 24 showed up as well. Even in the 1970s, those airplanes seemed amazingly old, and I waited hours just to see them take off as the event wound down.
Community events are still wonderful tools for helping airports connect with their neighbors and for spreading aviation excitement to the uninitiated. By reaching out, pilots can start showing nearby residents that there is much more to general aviation than the roar of engines, and that there are many benefits to having a local airport.
In northern New Jersey, where I live, I have watched at least a dozen airports close and vanish over the decades. I sometimes drive past housing developments and strip malls where I can recall the orientation of the former runways or picture where the hangars used to be. Lincoln Park is still there, though, and I have to believe that its many years of community outreach are part of the reason.
Below is a sampling of airport events aimed at making and maintaining community connections. There are many more taking place from now through the fall, possibly at an airport near you.
August 6, Towanda, Pennsylvania, Bradford County Airport (N27)
There is a good chance that people who come out to see airplanes at a fly-in will also be interested in other serious equipment, like fire trucks, police cars, police and medical helicopters, tractors, and cranes. Static displays of these and more are on the schedule, along with a pancake breakfast from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and food vendors from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Don’t miss music in the hangar or chances to win airplane rides. For more information click here or call 570-265-4900.
August 7, Weedsport, New York, Whitford's Airport (B16)
Dairy farmer Joe Whitford founded Whitford's Airport in 1950 after learning to fly and acquiring a Piper J-3 Cub. He initially created a short grass runway for his personal use but was soon fielding requests from other pilots who wanted to base their aircraft on his field. The place still has a vintage feel, and although the main runway is paved and more than 3,600 feet long, there is still a turf runway next to it that might suit the classic taildraggers that are sure to show up for breakfast. The event runs from 7:30 a.m. until noon. Contact John Whitford at 315-834-9950.
Aviation Explorers Post 8000 Breakfast Fly-In
August 13, Ottawa, Kansas, Ottawa Airport (KOWI)
Breakfast runs from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on the second Saturday of the month. The event benefits the local Aviation Explorers club that is open to young men and women from 6th grade through age 20 who are from Ottawa and the surrounding area. The hands-on program meets at the airport twice a month and offers classroom training, flying lessons, and insights into what life is like for pilots, mechanics, and other aviation professionals. Click here or contact Milton Scott at 785-229-2710, for more information.
Wyoming's 'Third Highway Into Dubois' Fly-In Community Aviation Day
August 13, Dubois, Wyoming, Dubois Municipal Airport (KDUB)
This will be the airport’s third annual fly-in, which runs from 6:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and gets started with the Flyin' Flapjack Breakfast. Other attractions include static displays of military aircraft, a pilot safety seminar, aviation vendors, and entertainment for children, including rides in a tethered hot-air balloon. For more information, click here or contact Cathy Groves at 303-250-5155.
Lunch on The Fly
August 27, LaPorte, Indiana, LaPorte Municipal Airport (KPPO)
LaPorte is a neat airport with a history dating to the early days of aviation. The town was home to a number of early aviation enthusiasts who operated from smaller fields before the current airport was developed in the 1940s. Lunch on the Fly happens every fourth Friday of the month from April through October. Food is served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the airport organizers ask for at least $5 per person to defray costs. Contact Rachel Boulahanis at 219-324-3393. For more information, click here.
Bowers Field Fly-In
September 17, Ellensburg, Washington, Bowers Field Airport (KELN)
There is a first time for everything, and officials say this is the first fly-in at Bowers Field. The Airport was established as Ellensburg Army Airfield during World War II and served as a training base for military pilots. Today, the field is home to Central Washington University’s aviation program. The fly-in will include military and static displays, and activities for children. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and parking is free of charge. For more information, contact Ken Grannan at 509-933-8219.