I have a confession to make: in my bathroom there is a bookshelf. Yes, this is one of my contemplative zones. And of the many books and manuals on that crowded shelf is one that is fairly unique: John F. Purner's 101 Best Aviation Attractions. Flipping through the contents of this 101 chapter book one is quickly struck by how many of Purner's “attractions” are actually air shows,airfests and fly-in adventures all over the world.
Out of date though my copy may be, it is still relevant, and when I'm looking for an excuse to go flying it is perfect. I cross-check the information in the book with more recent data found on the Internet and more times then not I can find the perfect excuse to pull my airplane out of the hangar, fuel up, preflight and be off.
Flying in to an event can be an experience all on its own. It's one worth preparing for, too. Don't discount information from friends who have been there! Some of my most fun fly-in experiences, from seafood fests in the Everglades to glider competition weekends, to an all-women's backcountry fly-in educational weekend were tips from good friends who were in the know. And those good friends who have been there are also knowledgeable about how those arrival/departure/parking procedures work in real world conditions, such as a misty marginal visibility morning arrival, or departures scrambling rapid-fire in the moments after the last performer lands and the first crack of summer lightning and thunder strikes.
I remember with an eerie clarity the opportunity I had to be a backseat passenger in a French Robin (think of it as a Grumman Traveler), one of four, who flew in formation into Paris' Le Bourget airport, where Lindbergh landed nearly a century ago. We waited with impatience half the morning in front of a roaring fire at the tiny FBO in the countryside for the Paris skyline to clear of low cloud before we could takeoff. Once airborne the whole of the city of lights spread below us; the Seine a jeweled belt winding through its middle, sparkling in the sudden sunshine of mid-morning.
We were vectored onto downwind and glided deftly over the gritty industrial buildings and apartments that now surround Le Bourget. Scenery? Nothing to write home about right around the airport. But getting to land where Charles Lindbergh landed? Where the Paris Air Show is held every other year? Even from the backseat it doesn't get any better than that.
All fly-ins have these items in common: arrival and departure procedures. If you do anything in yourpreparations to go even to the smallest of fly-ins, please, check the NOTAM for your destination airport. Even if the fly-in is small, check web information and, if you find nothing there, call the principal listed for the event. They all have a plan for how to get the bulk of traffic safely in and out of their airfield. You need to know that plan before you takeoff. Why?
Fly-ins are notorious for bringing aircraft much closer together than what is normally encountered in a traffic pattern. Most of us are accustomed to seeing a couple of airplanes in the airport traffic pattern, but at a fly-in of any size you are more likely to encounter as many as a dozen aircraft converging on one point in space (say, the entry waypoint on the arrival procedure). Some will be eye-popping close! Be ready. Bring an observer to help you spot and avoid traffic. And study your arrival procedure carefully before your flight, so that you can focus on flying the airplane. Finally, spot landings are often necessary when airfields are crowded with incoming airplanes. Practice a few before you venture out, so that you can be flexible and capable of helping ATC get all those aircraft safely on the ground.
Am I making you itch for an excuse to go flying? Autumn can be the best season of all for flying in much of the country with events such as Triple Tree and Petit Jean affording you wonderful venues for cross country flying. If you don't have Purner's book, you can still find great ideas for fly-ins on the internet. Browse to Socialflight.com, Funplacestofly.com and Flyins.com. Don't discount your AOPA or EAA calendar, either. They are also loaded with national and sometimes international fly-in treasures. You'll want to check next via direct email or telephone call to confirm the dates and get detailed information on each event. Then practice your pattern skills, study your NOTAM or arrival procedures, and go fly!