By Mary Grady, Contributing Editor
Despite a bit of morning fog and the forecast of a sweltering early-summer day, AOPA hosted a robust turnout for their annual fly-in and open house in Frederick, Md., on Saturday. By mid-afternoon, temperatures were in the 90s, with a heat index hovering near 100 degrees. But with a cool breeze, plenty of shady tents, and an air-conditioned headquarters to escape to, the heat drew few complaints -- in fact, most were happy that at least it wasn't raining, the all-too-usual open-house weather. By day's end, over 500 aircraft had visited Frederick, including the 40 on display, and AOPA spokesman Chris Dancy estimated the day's crowd at about 5,000.
These weren't casual visitors. They climbed in and out of cockpits, asked tough questions, peered into engines and luggage compartments, and hoped it might be their turn to win the sweepstakes airplane (a restored and updated 1976 Piper Archer). They explored a pair of trikes, a few light sport aircraft, lots of piston singles, a Diamond Star twin, a couple of turboprops, and light jets from Eclipse and Cessna. Inside the AOPA building, they made themselves at home, flying the simulators and roaming the halls, often hesitating politely at office thresholds until smiling staffers encouraged them to come on in -- even into the intimidating Office of the President. They asked about tax issues and how to help save their local airport. They brought their kids, their parents, and their friends and neighbors. They posed in front of a giant airplane picture so they could see themselves on the cover of AOPA Pilot magazine, keeping two Photoshoppers busy all day.
Folks from Eclipse flew in from Albuquerque with two jets, the single-engine Concept Jet -- which is no longer a concept but now the E400, part of the product line -- and an E500 twin. Eclipse pilot Howard Judd said it took just over six hours and three stops to fly the single-engine jet across the country, but that's for the unfinished demonstrator version -- pressurized production copies will be able to fly higher, faster, longer, and more efficiently, and will also have a more powerful jet engine. Randy Brooks, Eclipse director of training, said interest in the E400 is high, and he expects first deliveries by early in 2011. Fuel efficiency is a strong point for the little jet, he said: "It will get 330 knots on less fuel than anybody."
AOPA staffers worried all day about pilots navigating the narrow airspace corridor into Frederick, with the ADIZ looming to the south and just a few miles to the north, an expanded prohibited area above Camp David, where President Bush was spending the weekend. At his hour-long noontime seminar, AOPA President Phil Boyer joked with the overflow crowd about his weeklong efforts to get President Bush to change his plans ("I hope he's sweltering out there," he said), but in the end he had to accept that the airspace would be restricted during the fly-in. Staffers took on an unprecedented effort to get the word out. The day went by incursion-free.
Boyer told the crowd that along with advocating for GA in Congress, as FAA reauthorization drags along -- it seems likely a new administration will be in power before any substantial decisions about FAA funding and user fees are made -- AOPA is looking ahead to GA issues of the future. On AOPA's radar screen are the deployment of ADS-B, what will replace 100LL, airport encroachment, and concerns over noise and emissions. And Boyer said AOPA plans to spend up to $5 million a year to recruit new pilots, offering free introductory lessons through a new nationwide rebate program.
Boyer sat down for a chat with AVweb about these topics and more in an exclusive podcast.
Click here to view photos from the event.